This review contains some spoilers for season 3, episode 8 of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 24: The Return.”
“Chapter 24: The Return” caps off the uneven season 3 of The Mandalorian in a dull and unremarkable fashion. In a season that saw the focus shift away from the bond between Din (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu in favor of political machinations, Bo-Katan’s (Katee Sackhoff) personal journey, and the revival of the Mandalorians as a whole, it felt kind of strange to swerve back to the relationship between our two leads. And while a lot of the hanging threads were tied up by the end of the episode, I was left wondering what the past eight hours of storytelling were all really for.
“The Return” picks up right where the last episode left off, with Din being taken captive and Bo-Katan leading the rest of her crew away from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and his super troopers. Of course, Mando doesn’t stay shackled for long, and between this and HBO’s The Last of Us, it’s the second time in a 2023 season finale that Pedro Pascal pulled a fast one on two armed guards escorting him as a prisoner. Though I guess this finale was a bit less of an ethical and moral gray zone than The Last of Us.
This chapter, once again directed by Rick Famuyiwa and written by Jon Favreau, moved at a brisk pace and featured some exciting action set pieces. I dug Mando fighting waves of modified stormtroopers through a series of corridors blocked off by laser gates. This sequence had echoes of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon battling Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, which is something that’s always appreciated.
It also highlighted Mando’s resourcefulness, as he picks up new weapons and shields from his fallen enemies at every stage, exuding heavy video game vibes in a pretty effective way. Plus, this was paired with a really great visual gag of a growing number of mouse droids bumping up against R5 as he attempts to unlock Mando’s way forward.
But while I liked the individual action beats across the episode, I had a hard time wrapping my head around it all at a larger plot-structure level. My main problem here was that the stakes of the battle are never really fully realized. When Bo-Katan rallies her fellow Mandalorians, saying, “Let’s take back our planet,” before they all jet off to battle, I had no idea what kind of odds they were facing. Did Moff Gideon and the burgeoning proto-First Order have dozens of troops? Hundreds? Thousands?
This lack of clarity regarding the finer details of both individual motivations as well as the greater picture as a whole was a persistent problem throughout this entire rocky third season. After several episodes of the story meandering through various tangents, it felt like this last act just whizzed by without the level of build-up I would’ve liked to see.
On top of this, Moff Gideon has been a lingering issue for me throughout the whole of the series. Giancarlo Esposito is a fantastic actor in everything from Do the Right Thing to Better Call Saul, but he felt extremely underutilized during his brief runs on The Mandalorian. It felt like each season would try to cram him into wherever the plot might be in the final few episodes, but he never had time to really breathe or grow as an adversary.
In addition to all of this, the ultimate reveal that he was using Dr. Pershing’s (Omid Abtahi) Project Necromancer to create a clone army of himself imbued with the Force was the kind of one-dimensional motivation that works for a single episode. But as the culmination of three seasons of build-up, the whole thing just fell flat for me.
By the time the credits roll, this episode succeeds in wrapping up a lot of the sidequests that were set up at the start of the season. Bo-Katan finally comes into her own as a leader, and the combination of flora growing back on the surface of Mandalore along with the waking of the Mythosaur points to a rebirth for the planet and its people.
As for our two leads, Mando adopting Grogu so that he can have him baptized as a Mandalorian is equal parts sweet and dumb as hell. This is followed up by Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) giving Din a plot of land on Nevarro to call home and repairing IG-11 (Taika Waititi) to have him become the new sheriff in town. With all that done, the ending feels very much like a return to the status quo, of course with the lingering promise that Din and Grogu will be around to help out with any dirty work the New Republic might need done.
It ultimately felt like this season couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a bridge between Rebels and the upcoming Ahsoka, a salvaging of the canceled Rangers of the New Republic series, or just more of what made us fall in love with The Mandalorian in the first place. And by not having a clear focus, we’re instead left with eight episodes of a room-temperature sampler platter that are just empty calories we’ll forget about tomorrow.