The Mandalorian’s third season kicked off with a jarring reminder. In order to understand how Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and his nonverbal ward Grogu ended up reunited after their emotional goodbye in season 2, which made it seem like the pair would be split up for a much longer time, you also had to watch The Book of Boba Fett. The logic behind that choice — Disney using the hype around one show to goose interest in another — was easy to understand as part of the studio’s exhausting project to keep everyone constantly thinking about Star Wars with a steady stream of interlocking shows.
But rather than simply setting up whatever it is that Jon Favreau has pitched for the show’s next chapter or bringing in another Star Wars heavy hitter for a cameo designed to send fans into a tizzy, The Mandalorian spent its third season worldbuilding just for the sake of it — a choice that was always going to leave some people unsatisfied. In its season 3 finale, “Chapter 24: The Return,” The Mandalorian finally got itself “back on track” by ultimately leaving Mando and Grogu in a somewhat similar situation to the one they found themselves in when the series was first getting started.
The Mandalorian’s path to “The Return’’ was as haphazard as it was scenic, and this season wasn’t without its puzzling quirks. To call the season a failure, though, is a bit of an overstatement given what The Mandalorian is trying to be: an adventure that never ends.
Though it took a little while for its larger themes to come into focus, The Mandalorian’s third season was ultimately a longform exploration of Mandalorian culture and history that reinforced how Din Djarin is part of something much larger than himself or his jobs, despite his insistence on working mostly solo. When we were first introduced to Mando and Grogu, there was quite a bit of novelty to the idea of shiny new spins on Boba Fett and Yoda — because that is what these characters are at their cores — being destined to become family to one another.
Throughout the show, the significance of Grogu being a member of Yoda’s species and preternaturally strong in the Force has never been downplayed, and his powers are precisely what made him so important to both heroes like Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and villains like Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). But from its very first episode, The Mandalorian’s third season took great care to illustrate that despite how unlikely a pairing Mando and Grogu might have seemed at first, taking in and protecting foundlings — orphaned children with nowhere else to go — is one of the most important aspects of Mandalorian society.
The idea that, after the destruction of their homeworld, the survival of the Mandalorians as a people was contingent upon their willingness to adopt young outsiders into their ranks has been present in The Mandalorian from the very beginning. But rather than simply restating that point or playing coy about the reality that Mando and Grogu have been father and son for quite some time now, The Mandalorian’s third season instead chose to emphasize other Mandalorian family units like Ragnar Vizsla (Wesley Kimmel) and his heavy infantryman father Paz (voiced by Favreau, physically portrayed by Tait Fletcher).
The point of spotlighting the Vizslas this season wasn’t just to give Grogu a pseudo-rival to best in play combat or to give Djarin a fellow hard-ass to butt heads with. It was to highlight how, in this time when different parts of the Mandalorian diaspora were fractured and in conflict with one another, unity and a collective reconsideration of The Way were the keys to their survival. You could clearly see these ideas being spelled out in the way Mando repeatedly took it upon himself to help the members of the Mandalorian covert on Nevarro who exiled him for removing his helmet in season 2. But it was through Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and her admittedly circuitous quest to retake the planet Mandalore (and rein in her fellow former Death Watch members) that The Mandalorian was able to unpack and explore these ideas most effectively this season.
Between following Mando and Bo-Katan to the Mines of Mandalore for a Mythosaur meet and greet, and their brief detour to the planet Plazir-15 to help Lizzo and Jack Black quash what definitely seemed like a droid civil rights uprising, it’s more than fair to say that The Mandalorian occasionally felt like it might have been veering off track. Occasionally, all the time the show spent showing us just how much work Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) was putting in to keep Nevarro safe felt like it could have been more evenly split with this season’s fleeting exploration of how figures like Elia Kane (Katy O’Brian) and Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) have been moving through the world. But even with all of the unanswered questions left by the end of this season, those plots all made “The Return” a surprisingly satisfying finale because of how complete the episode felt by comparison.
After two seasons of building up to dramatic reveals meant to shock viewers, “The Return” switched things up by playing out almost like the final act of a Star Wars film in which the ultimate avatars of fan id — a heroic squad of unique Mandalorians and villainous cadre of Stormtroopers in beskar-plated Mandalorian drag — have at one another in a series of epic action sequences.
As frustrating as it might have been to finally see the fruits of Moff Gideon’s labor — a big batch of fully grown, Force-sensitive clones of himself — only for Mando to kill them all before they got a chance to try out their powers, they were not the point of the episode. They definitely served to make Moff out to be an unscrupulous madman exceedingly willing to do anything necessary to gain power, and their presence immediately established the possibility of his having stored backups elsewhere we’re not privy to. Again, though, the clones weren’t really the point here, as was made evident by them being unceremoniously disposed of while the original Moff spent most of the episode strutting around in a ridiculously luxurious bit of Dark Trooper kit that called to mind both Captain Phasma and Darth Vader, depending on the lighting.
In the final episode of a season of The Mandalorian that’s spent so much time explaining how clinging to the past has both helped and harmed the Mandalorians, it was not in the least bit surprising to see the darksaber — a lightsaber with a blade made of… darkness — crushed. Mysterious relic though it may be, important lightsabers have been destroyed and reassembled in the past, and the darksaber’s true role in “The Return” was to leave no doubt about how primed for change Mando, Bo-Katan, and the other Mandalorians truly are at this point.
That openness to change is so deeply felt that when Din Djarin officially adopts Grogu in order to convince the Armorer (voiced by Emily Swallow, physically portrayed by Lauren Mary Kim) to let Grogu begin training to become a Mandalorian, everyone’s like, “Yeah, sure.” Of course, Grogu’s role in helping the Mandalorians reclaim Mandalore factored into their feelings about the unorthodox move to invite a literal baby into their ranks. But even in Din Grogu’s perplexing new name, “The Return” seemed to be making a very easy to understand point considering how breaking naming conventions is also a kind of change.
It’s perfectly fine to feel a bit disappointed that The Mandalorian’s third season didn’t explain every single thing that happened and wrap up all of its plotlines with a definitive finality. But that feeling should probably also come with the understanding that television shows like The Mandalorian — that is to say, popular, well-funded pieces of massive multimedia franchises — have a way of continuing, particularly when they so reliably get fans up in arms.