It’s been two long years since we last had a official episode of Star War’s flagship show but Jon Favreau and company don’t hang around for reintroductions and go full throttle from the start. The recap simply ignores the fact the dynamic due of Din (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu were separated when we last saw them in Chapter 16 and that anyone who didn’t watch the back end of ‘The Book of Boba Fett’ won’t know that they have been reunited. But it’s a smart move, if you’re watching this then those episodes are available to you, there’s no need to waste precious screen time.
Confidently directed by Rick Famuyiwa, who is now also an executive producer on the show, the episode throws us straight into a Mandalorian coming-of-age ceremony that plays like it may be a flashback to Din’s early life. Mandalorian cult leader The Armorer (Emily Swallow) forges a helmet and walks to the shore of a lake, flanked by dozens of her creed, to place it in the head of a young foundling. The event is then rudely interrupted by a hungry kaiju-esque alligator-turtle monster who begins munching its way through the attendees. All looks lost until Din swoops in and saves the day in his hotrodded Naboo starfighter.
From the outset it is apparent this show is no longer held back by trifling things like budgets and Covid protocols. And while the Volume was a breakthrough technology for the first two seasons it did appear to hinder the epic scale of the filming process but now either the technology has advanced so far that you can’t tell real from fake locations or some scenes have moved onto more traditional sets or are shot outdoors.
But the biggest win for the show is its fearlessness about what elements of Star Wars that they are going to show on screen. When it was first announced that Jon Favreau was doing the show there was great excitement because he was a fan but came whispers “but he’s only a fan of the films”. This may or may not have been the case back then but now, working alongside George Lucas’ acolyte Dave Filoni, he has clearly embraced the entire franchise. ‘The Mandalorian’, for which Favreau virtually has a solo writing credit, is pulling in elements from everywhere.
Having already pulled from animation, books, and comics in the previous seasons of ‘The Mandalorian’ and ‘The Book Of Boba Fett’ Favreau and team take their biggest swing yet by introducing the purrgil. These are giant space whales who travel through hyperspace that were introduced in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ and became an important part of that show’s finale. Grogu witnesses them as mysterious shapes in the blue blur of hyperspace. For the casual viewer it is a moment of wonder, for those who know it hints towards important events to come. This is Star Wars pushing the barriers of what will be accepted similar to what George Lucas did with the introduction of Yoda in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, if its not accepted you risk losing the audience but if you can sell it to them then you have them hooked.
The purrgil aren’t the only tease, with Famuyiwa also directing the last two episodes of the season this whole first episode lays out the road map for what is to come in the next seven and possibly beyond. The visit to The Armorer sets up a return to Mandalore and answers to what went on there. Then a stop off in Navarro to catch up with Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), who offers a retirement plan, gives Din his first side quest of the season. He wants to reactivate IG-11, the only droid he trusts, and a group of Anzellans (the same species as Babu Frik from ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’) send him off to find the part required. This is the most delightful scene of the episode, uniting possibly the two cutest aspects of recent Star Wars with Grogu wanting to make one of the Anzellans his pet.
The time on Navarro also sets up new secondary/tertiary antagonists for the season, in the form of a group of space pirates, until the storyline catches up with the remnants of the Empire again. For the people who complained that there was not enough aliens in ‘Andor’ this should fill the void. The gang of pirates that Din and Greef run into in a western style showdown are a complete mixed bagged of already established species and then their pirate king, the gloriously named Gorian Shard who we encounter after a movie-level space battle, looks like Swamp Thing crossed with Davey Jones.
These pirates now have the possibility of returning to the story at any moment. They want to that control of Navarro back from Greef so you can see Din and Grogu being called back to aid in defense but they are also hunting Din and could turn up at any time to make a situation awkward. But Din does say to Grogu “never trust a pirate” which might signpost that he may have to trust a pirate in the future – could we finally see Hondo Ohnaka in live-action?
The episode’s epilogue takes us to the planet Kalevala, the home of House Kryze, and a meeting with Bo-Katan (Katee Sackoff) that picks up from last season’s cliffhanger – who will wield the Dark Saber and become the ruler of Mandalore? Bo seems broken by not winning the saber in battle and, though she mocks Din for following the rules of a cult, she has fallen into the same trap herself. She appears to have become a recluse and all her followers have left her to become mercenaries. But the credits of the show reveal something else – Sackoff is now a co-lead. So now the big question is how will all this play out, will Bo-Katan be the villain as was hinted in the season two finale or will she aid Din. The show is called ‘The Mandalorian’, not ‘Din Djarin’, and we now have more of their creed in play than ever before so who is going to step up and take control. I feel that in the end it will be Grogu’s fate to unite all of the Mandalorians but he is still a child so we have plenty of storytelling before we get there.
The only complaint you can hold against the episode is that it feels too short. So much is crammed into its thirty five minute run time but you feel it’s just getting started when it smash cuts to black. But after the unevenness of ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ and ‘The Book Of Boba Fett’ and the stellar but slow burning ‘Andor’, this is a triumphant return for the purist form of Star Wars.
This is the way.