‘The Mandalorian’

Iron man: Pedro Pascal is the Mandalorian behind the mask in the Disney + streaming series, which recently dropped its third season.

The first season of "The Mandalorian" had a fairly simple road map. Most of the episodes were self-contained adventures that followed bounty hunter Din Djarin and young Grogu as they made stops around the Star Wars galaxy. Its easy-to-follow structure was perfect for casual fans who didn't need to be well-versed in the franchise's history and lore to know what was going on. Season 2 was much the same although it introduced some new characters and began opening up other new corners of the galaxy.

And then came Season 3 with its different feel and much broader scope. Many viewers have had a hard time connecting with this season and have struggled with writer, creator and showrunner Jon Favreau's storytelling. Granted, there is plenty to question regarding the season's structuring. Yet every episode has purpose and expands the Mandalorian universe in a number of interesting ways.

Without question these eight episodes will resonate more with the seasoned Star Wars fan. They demand at least some understanding of the sequel trilogy, the animated shows, Mandalorian lore, the franchise's history with cloning, etc. in order to fully grasp where they're going. That's a big request, especially for those who simply want more of Din and Grogu bouncing around the galaxy facing new threats and creating more cute GIF-worthy moments to enjoy.

But Favreau and company have bigger ambitions. They are building an interconnected world that will extend into other shows before culminating in the Dave Filoni directed feature film recently announced at Star Wars Celebration. You can certainly tell in Season 3 as nearly every episode expands the Star Wars universe in some kind of way. That's not to say it doesn't have its problems. Favreau gives us plenty of meat but leaves a lot on the bone. He doesn't go as in-depth on some things as he needs to. And he doesn't always communicate well with his audience. It leaves certain story angles feeling underserved and some viewers scratching their heads.

But I love this kind of stuff. I love combing over the episodes, connecting the dots to past Star Wars material and trying to figure out where things are going to land. Basically I'm the target audience. And even if the structure is a little wonky and the storytelling a bit demanding, I found a lot to enjoy in Season 3. And not just from the story stuff. But also the great assemblage of characters, the many scenes of thrilling action, and the jaw-dropping visual effects which are easily the best of the series so far.

Pedro Pascal steps back behind the beskar helmet and armor reprising his role as Din Djarin. In this season his journey goes from seeking reinstatement into his Mandalorian clan to playing a key part in unifying the fractured Mandalorian tribes so they can reclaim their home world of Mandalore. Along the way he reconnects with such familiar faces as Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee). And then of course there are the shadier sorts such as the villainous Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), the slimy Elia Kane (Katy M. O'Brian), and the curious Penn Pershing (Omid Abtahi).

But it's the Mandalorians who take center stage. We again meet The Armorer (Emily Swallow), Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides), Paz Vizla (Tait Fletcher), and Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado). Of them all, Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) is given the biggest boost. Over the course of the eight episodes Bo-Katan finds her courage, shows her resolve, and proves herself to be the unifying leader her people need. She's a terrific character dating all the way back to The Clone Wars animated series, and it's great seeing her get her live-action due

Sprinkled throughout the season are a number of other delights: Anzellan mechanics, R5-D4 facing his anxiety, a "remodeled" IG-11, and of course the infinitely lovable Grogu. He's not as big of a player this season and it's still bizarre that his big reunion with Din took place in another series ("The Book of Boba Fett"). But he still has a significant presence and gets some meaningful character progression.

A couple of episodes have sharply divided viewers. One hones in on Dr. Pershing who is now part of the New Republic's amnesty program. The episode may seem extraneous, but it actually sheds light on the flawed New Republic while revealing some darker forces at work. Then there's the reasonably fun yet glaringly contrived "Guns for Hire" marked by its distracting Jack Black and Lizzo cameos. The episode is bookended by a couple of good moments, but otherwise it's the weakest of the eight.

Still, with Season 3 Favreau and company once again deliver with terrific characters old and new, extraordinary visuals, and the kind of Star Wars action fans crave. It taps into what many of us enjoy about the series while also exploring new parts of this rich galaxy we love. I can see it being catnip for die-hards yet confusing for more casual viewers. But even with its occasional wonkiness and a handful of questionable choices, I found myself locked into every episode. Even better, it ends with a bang and left me starving for more.

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