After quite a while away—though maybe not as much as they’d like us to think—Disney+’s flagship The Mandalorian has returned. Thankfully, it has brought with it a return to the classic Star Wars atmosphere that made the initial season of The Mandalorian something special. The need to seed spin-offs and tie into larger continuity has been mostly scaled back for now in favor of getting Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) back on the horse and re-establishing the status quo. This is key to making this first episode a winner, even as it remains incredibly annoying that things kick off by hoping everyone’s caught up on Book of Boba Fett.
If there is anything worth dragging, it is absolutely the presence of Grogu. I’m still firmly in love with the little guy and showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are making the right choice by keeping him involved. That choice was made in an entirely different series, however, and it is not the only pretty big thing that happened. Din’s new mission this season is to seek redemption for his actions in the previous seasons and while “The Apostate” sees fit to re-explain this detail at the outset, Grogu’s return is handwaved off as “It’s complicated.”
The decision to force casual watchers to do the MCU-style catch-up game for the Baby Yoda show is not a great choice, especially since the episode and a half that effectively serve as The Mandalorian season 2.5 of Book of Boba Fett are the best episodes. Half of Book of Boba Fett and the viewers deserve to enjoy that content beyond “It’s complicated.”
I’m stuck on this a bit, because this lingering arrogance hung over my watching of “The Apostate,” maybe because I have done all the required homework to keep up. A scene early on of Grogu peering through hyperspace while Din sleeps and seeing purrgil should be a warm and quiet moment to give us a look at Grogu’s point of view. However, I couldn’t help but think to myself “Oh yeah, this is some synergy with Ahsoka, isn’t it? Got to get everyone ready for live-action Ezra Bridger I suppose.”
Credit where it’s due, “The Apostate” doesn’t dwell on these things and focuses on breaking through my cynical vibe and it succeeds. The episode is dedicated to giving us the stakes and set up for what will likely be the rest of the season by sending Din to multiple locations across the episode, each with a sequence that easily reminds me of what I like best about this show. Beginning with a Mandalorian “baptism,” only to be interrupted by a random monster attack. At first, it feels like this might be a Din Djarin flashback of all things, right up until Din’s very cool Naboo Starfighter roadster pops in to solve the problem. For folks who’ve spent time away, it’s the perfect back-in-action scene for Din.
From there, we return again to Navarro and catch up with Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and for the first time get the sense that an extended amount of time has actually passed between seasons. It’s not exactly clear how much time (and a part of me is convinced its a ploy to do something like insert comic books into these gaps) and admittedly Din and Grogu appearing unchanged doesn’t really help sell it, but it also wouldn’t be Star Wars without a strange sense of time passing. Weathers as Karga is always a treat though, and he really shines as the now straight-and-narrow magistrate of Navarro. His showdown with some pirates while with Din actually has some tension to it and the scene does a pretty good job of showing rather than telling about the questions about whether or not Karga’s gone soft.
Din’s plan here on Navarro is to collect the parts of IG-88, who self-destructed in the first season, to enlist him to aid with an expedition to the original Mandalore. They attempt to repair him, but he quickly defaults to his original programming and in an actually fun use of continuity, resumes his last bounty—Grogu. Seeing the half-body of IG clawing like a zombie for Grogu as he’s passed between Karga and Din isn’t scary, but it is a fun kind of spooky. It also ends with the right kind of humor that would fit right in Han Solo’s mouth—I’m very much jiving with things at this point.
See, the thing that makes me enjoy The Mandalorian is that when things are good, the series captures the atmosphere of the original trilogy but chooses to avoid the scale of the films. When the show makes me remember the cantina scene of A New Hope, a scene that tells so many pieces of a story with all kinds of weirdos and costumes without needing to actually tell us their histories, that’s the kind of Star Wars I adore most. When “The Apostate,” tells us about Karga’s past through a standoff with some rubber-masked pirates looking for a drink or through Din trying to understand Anzellan (that’s Babu Frik’s race) in a droid repair shop, things are singing. I can’t be cynical when Grogu, a literal Muppet, is grabbing and squeezing an Anzellan, a literal Muppet but smaller, like a puppy. Incredible work, no notes.
All of this builds up to the best, most magnificent moment The Mandalorian has had since we all caught Baby Yoda fever. Leaving Navarro to supposedly go find an IG part needed (but then we don’t do that, more on that shortly) and Din catches the ire of the Pirate King, the captain of the pirates he helped Karga drive off before: Gorian Shard (Nonso Anozie). Folks, Gorian Shard is incredible, so wonderfully surprising in his appearance that it’s too easy to forget the pretty rad dogfight that led into this.
Gorian Shard looks like Disney put Ol’ Gregg in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He has a big floppy Muppet mouth and looks just so dang practical. Shard looks exactly like something that would have fit right in within a crowd scene from the original trilogy, where they just put a costume together out of whatever extra props they could get a hold of. He walks with a posh cane! This one scene with him has made me want to be his best friend even as I know gushing about him will get a spin-off greenlit over at Disney before the week is up.
Din escapes of course, and we have the one scene that I just do not get after a pretty fun return to form. Instead of proceeding on his video game quest list for a memory module for IG-88, Din pays a visit to Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) who has holed up on a planet nearby Mandalore. The two have a pretty pointless exchange: he has the Darksaber still and without it, she cannot rally the disparate Mandalorian clans. She seems to have given up, and Din resolves again to journey to the planet and figure out how dead the place is for himself.
The conflict between the two is still interesting, especially given the history of the Darksaber in the Filoni-led Star Wars series, but this feels like an exchange that should open an episode, not close one, much less one that just moments prior introduced us to the glory of Pirate King Gorian Shard.
Even with my cinematic universe-fueled skepticism, “The Apostate” was an excellent return to form for The Mandalorian. Right when everyone needed a reminder of why this popped off so hard a few years ago, the show bounces back to remind us. The episode overall might not be perfect, but we seem to have course corrected some of the missteps of Season 2. A clear mission with just enough questions on how to accomplish it is exactly what Din needs to be doing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does it.
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‘The Mandalorian’ 3x01 - 8/10