This review contains some spoilers for the season 3 premiere of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 17: The Apostate.”
Though it’s only been three and a half years since The Mandalorian first premiered in November 2019, it somehow feels like a lifetime ago. Arriving just a few months before the pandemic, the series helped launch Disney+ as an immediately successful streaming service. The future of Star Wars was bright, with The Rise of Skywalker just on the horizon. And the series seemed to be filling a gap in genre television left after the finale of Game of Thrones earlier that year. Things were good. Things were exciting. This was the way.
Cut to 2023, and the landscape couldn’t be more different. The Star Wars films are in an uncertain state of flux after the disaster that was The Rise of Skywalker. We’re on the heels of Andor delivering one of the best seasons of TV in years and one of the best Star Wars stories period. And prestige genre television is thriving, with House of the Dragon, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and The Last of Us all feeling like their own monoculture events.
All of this begs the question – where do Mando (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu fit in this new landscape, and how will The Mandalorian season 3 reintroduce them to us?
Well, turns out, they did that by delivering an episode in “Chapter 17: The Apostate” that almost acts as another pilot, reacclimating us to the galactic waters while simultaneously taking us on a series of micro-adventures that feel like a video game fetch quest.
Written by Jon Favreau and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Chapter 17 runs through the gamut of greatest hits that we’ve seen in the prior seasons. The episode begins with a massive battle against a crocodile that feels straight out of Lake Placid and ends with an exciting dogfight against space pirates. Mando and Grogu jet off to planets new and old, meet some familiar faces, and remind us of the stakes. We get both a main quest and a series of sidequests, and by the end of the episode, it feels like we have ourselves a list of objectives for the remainder of the season.
In order to repent for taking off his helmet, Mando is told by the Armorer (Emily Swallow) that he must baptize himself in the Living Waters beneath the Mines of Mandalore. To find this place, he needs the help of the only droid he can trust, IG-11, who has been a non-functional statue since his sacrifice at the end of season 1. To bring the robot back online, he needs to procure specific parts. To procure those parts, he needs to avoid a new group of marauders led by the Pirate King Gorian Shard (Nonso Anozie). And to do all of this, he could use the aid of Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), though she’s become apathetic to the cause after losing out on the Darksaber once again. Oh, we also get passing mentions of Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon (who’s definitely coming back) and Gina Carano’s Cara Dune (who’s definitely not coming back).
So yeah, all of this is to say — by the time the credits rolled on the season 3 premiere of The Mandalorian, it felt like I understood exactly what we’d be doing over the next 10 hours of this open-world action RPG. It’s not the most nuanced storytelling, but to be fair, this series has never pretended to be that. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. It’s a series of cool adventures on neat planets, set to a killer score, and featuring a healthy dose of cute moments from Grogu.
But my biggest gripe with “Chapter 17: The Apostate” doesn’t come from what it is, but rather what it isn’t. I know that can seem unfair, but it’s impossible for me to watch this without thinking about the greater Star Wars streaming experiment at large. Now, despite thinking Andor is in an entirely different league of its own when it comes to storytelling in this universe, that’s not what bothered me about this episode. The Mandalorian is its own flavor, and it’s a flavor that I generally dig.
My problem lies in how the series solved its dramatic conflict at the end of season 2 by sloppily tossing a Mando side story into the middle of the mediocre The Book of Boba Fett. The pathos of Mando having to part with Grogu for what he saw as the greater good was immediately undercut in a separate series that I have to believe a large portion of the audience didn’t even watch. Where this season could’ve used their separation to build up towards an emotional reunion, The Book of Boba Fett expedited that out of what feels like a fear of taking a risk by trying something different.
But ultimately, this show is what it is. And honestly, I’m just relieved that it didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the past and constantly referencing other Disney+ series. I’ve really soured on the deus ex machina of Luke Skywalker showing up at the end of season 2, so I’m happy that this episode kept its nostalgia bait at a relative minimum.
That’s not to say that the nods aren’t there, but they’re far more subtle and playful. Seeing Kowakian monkey-lizards mill about the trees of Nevarro was wonderful, and having the crew take IG-11 to a group of Anzellan mechanics made me remember how much I love Babu Frik, aka the only good thing to come out of The Rise of Skywalker. And in a much deeper cut, I loved the moment where Grogu looks out through hyperspace to see the silhouettes of space whales, reminding us that somewhere out there are Ezra and Thrawn in their uncertain post-Rebels future that will undoubtedly be further explored in the Ahsoka series.
If the job of “Chapter 17: The Apostate” was to remind audiences of why they fell in love with The Mandalorian in the first place, while also mapping out the trajectory of the rest of season 3, then it absolutely nailed it. If it was trying to do something different, built off the separation of our two leads at the end of the last season, or exist in a similar conversation with Andor… well, not so successful there. But from the very start back in 2019, we’ve been told that “This is the way,” so why would we start expecting something different now?