The first two episodes of The Mandalorian’s new season do not offer any huge surprises – no big, fat, Jabba-sized moments that will be dissected and meme-ified the minute they become available to stream on Disney+. (Okay, there’s one creature cameo that will make people go, “awwww,” but it’s not like [redacted] pops up to fight Baby Yoda.)
This is, selfishly, good news for reviewers like me, who don’t have to worry about inadvertently betraying Disney’s hard line against spoilers, a corporate policy that essentially sees critics agree to be fed to the Sarlacc should they let details slip into their copy. But this is also welcome news for regular viewers of The Mandalorian – emphasis on the “regular” part.
This is the kind of formula-first genre storytelling that sticks to what has worked in the show’s previous two seasons: weekly adventures of gunslinging and starship-fighting that are steeped just deep enough in Lucasfilm lore to satiate Star Wars devotees, but constructed with a keen understanding of, and appreciation for, week-to-week casual viewing. You can enjoy The Mandalorian no matter if you’ve binged the Clone Wars cartoon or cannot tell a Wookiee from a Woostoid to save your life.
At least, for now. Two episodes into its third season, and The Mandalorian is still about following the stoic lone-ranger Mando (Pedro Pascal, now an expert in guiding young charges across dangerous lands thanks to his duties on HBO’s The Last of Us) and his little buddy Grogu/Baby Yoda as they travel the galaxy.
Season 3 initially starts off in pure quest mode, with Mando trying to redeem himself to his Mandalorian brethren after daring to take off his space helmet last season, a big no-no in the culture/religion. To become spiritually whole again, Mando needs to return to his people’s home world, which involves securing the proper droid for such a mission, which involves finding a rare droid part, which leads to other missions, etc. This familiar man-on-a-mission narrative is fine, even welcome, as the strength of the show is its comfort.
In the background, though, there are hints that The Mandalorian’s narrative ambitions, under the watchful eyes of producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, is going to become larger, and more interconnected with the rest of the franchise. Which seems to be part of Disney’s ultimate design to slowly, carefully, delicately inch Star Wars agnostics closer and closer toward embracing the Force (re: Disney+ subscriptions).
This was highlighted when, during last year’s otherwise underwhelming miniseries The Book of Boba Fett, that show’s central action paused for a spell to include a significant narrative update on Mando and Grogu, who were separated (seemingly for good) at the end of The Mandalorian’s second season. I’m unsure of another instance in the history of television where, to find out what happened to a show’s central characters between one season and the next, you had to tune in to the middle run of a spinoff. (Hilariously, this crucial plot development isn’t even mentioned during The Mandalorian’s “previously on” Season 3 premiere episode recap, ostensibly highlighting what viewers have missed or forgotten.)
The memo from Favreau and Filoni seems to be: If you don’t want to miss any further Mandalorian plot developments, you’re going to have to catch up with all the other Disney+ Star Wars series, too. Forever.
All of this makes The Mandalorian a gateway drug toward a stash of other, increasingly addictive Star Wars series. Over the next seven months alone, prepare for the premieres of Ahsoka (focusing on Rosario Dawson’s Jedi warrior), Skeleton Crew (billed as a coming-of-age Star Wars series starring Jude Law), and possibly The Acolyte (a prequel to the original George Lucas prequels, which I guess makes it a pre-prequel, or prequel-squared).
Given the strengths of this new season of The Mandalorian just two episodes in – plus the stellar first season of Andor, which was one of the best television series, Star Wars-centric or not, of 2022 (we’re all going to forget about that misbegotten Obi-Wan Kenobi series) – it appears that Disney+ is barrelling toward creating something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe tried to engineer with its ABC and Netflix series but never quite could: a streaming-first dynasty.
In fact, the future of Star Wars as a franchise might just rest on the small screen, instead of the large. Consider how many Star Wars movies have been in development over the past few years, only to fall apart or disappear into development hell: a trilogy from the Game of Thrones guys, a trilogy from The Last Jedi director/franchise pariah Rian Johnson, a standalone film from Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), another from J.D. Dillard (Devotion).
At the moment, there are only three Star Wars movies with any real promise of materializing: one from Taika Waititi (who was hired on the strength of his Mandalorian episodic directing), one that is rumoured to be in the works from Ms. Marvel director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and another from Shawn Levy (Stranger Things). And if these films even get through the Lucasfilm machine, the earliest audiences might be able to see a new Star Wars feature film would be … 2024, if everything lines up just so? By then, we’ll likely already be on the fourth season of The Mandalorian, the second season of Andor, and who knows what other Disney+ efforts.
This shift to episodic television might all be for the best, especially given the terrible taste left by J.J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker. It all makes sense in a full-circle way: Lucas was originally inspired by the sci-fi and adventure serials of his youth (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers) as much as he was cinema.
And if people keep coming back to Disney+ to keep up with the Star Wars canon – if laundry-folding viewers can be converted into franchise acolytes – then it might be enough to help the Mouse House live to fight another day in the streamer wars. Which have been so far more expensive and existentially disastrous than any conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
The first episode of The Mandalorian Season 3 is available to stream now on Disney+, with new episodes added every Wednesday.
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