The Mandalorian season 3's premiere felt like reuniting with someone who hasn't changed at all ... after a decade apart. Sure it hasn't been that long, but two-plus years (Chapter 16: The Rescue aired on Dec. 18, 2020) is eons in TV time, and a lot has happened since that finale.
In case you haven't watched the episode yet (what are you waiting for, watch The Mandalorian season 3 right now!), though, I'll keep my early thoughts spoiler-free. After a lot of time apart (less if you count their cameos in The Book of Boba Fett), The Mandalorian returned with a season-opener that felt a little redundant, and it set up a season that feels like everyone's leaning into the most-obvious jokes about what this show does.
It's not a huge fail, though. There's certainly some fun (mostly bits where Grogu is enjoying himself) to be found, and even some adventure. But having watched The Mandalorian season 3 premiere as one of the first things I did this morning, I feel much less enthusiastic about doing that next week. Allow me to explain why, after the perfunctory spoiler warning!
The Mandalorian season 3 premiere felt like a to-do list
My biggest issue with The Mandalorian's return is that everything felt like Jon Favreau and company heard the critique that the series is a bunch of video game side-quests — and decided to lean into it. And all of these errands feel utterly uninteresting.
For starters, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) our titular hero, is focused on a redemption story that feels hollow. His quest is to find the Living Waters beneath the mines of Mandalore, but those regions are supposedly destroyed. He believes it's possible, though, but the argument with the Armorer (who told him he's no longer a legit Mandalorian after removing his helmet) where this all came to discussion felt like he was using a loophole to exit a contract.
This quest is taking him on a series of other side quests, including one to Nevarro. There, Mando reunited with Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and after some nonsense with pirates (more on them below), Mando picked up another side-quest from the tiny and adorable Anzellans. This species, which seems to love repairing small objects they're suited to get up close with, told Mando that in order to get IG-11 back up and online, he'll need to get a replacement memory chip, which is in fact hard to find.
So, Din Djarin's quest for redemption is now a hunt for a missing realm and a memory card. Sure, those things could prove fun, but neither feels thematically important.
The Mandalorian's latest bad guys are eye-rollers
Maybe I wouldn't be so sour if it wasn't for Vane (Marti Matulis), a space pirate whose gang of miscreants were terrorizing the good people of Nevarro. Their argument with Karga, over demanding to drink in a building that was built thanks to past transactions (I believe the phrase was "your cut of my boss's treasure built this saloon") came off as The Mandalorian team spinning their wheels trying to find filler content to get this episode to a big space chase.
And while said chase later in the episode was fun, with Mando's N-1 starfighter sneaking out of the corners of asteroids, it all felt silly thanks to Vane's boss, the pirate king Gorian Shard. A big jiggly pile of oddities, Shard feels very much like a baddie who will annoy Mando throughout the whole season, while we hopefully find the meat on this bone.
Grogu saved The Mandalorian season 3 premiere
While I did think the action scenes were OK-enough, the best parts of this episode came from Baby Yoda. The first, a serene bit of pretty, came early in the episode when Din Djarin was asleep in his cockpit. Grogu, in his little pod window, marveled at space as they sped along, seeing oddly large shadows and pretty blue lights. And when he went to sit down in Djarin's lap? It was adorable.
Of course, the little dude's mischief came into play. The moments of Grogu using The Force to take candy from Greef Karga's desk and spinning in a chair in Karga's office should be GIFs by the end of the day.
Similarly, when Grogu got too friendly with the Anzellans — hugging them to the point of smothering — I audibly chuckled. I never expected Baby Yoda to be able to physically overpower someone, so points to the team for that juxtaposition.
Outlook: The Mandalorian's living in a post-Andor world
One could argue I'm being unduly harsh on The Mandalorian season 3 premiere. But right now, after having seen Andor, my standards have increased for what a Star Wars series can be. I don't want it to be a high drama, but this episode just felt a little lacking.
Nothing we saw gives us reason to understand why Mando needs to be redeemed, and why he doesn't want to move to Nevarro. An overall desire for community? It's not up to me to figure this out — but I'm hoping to get more reason to be excited, so I'm not as depressed as Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff).
Maybe if Disney Plus dropped the first three episodes (something it's never done for The Mandalorian) I'd feel differently. For now, I'm trying to find the way.