‘The Mandalorian’ leaves casual fans behind in its season 3 premiere

If it wasn’t already obvious that reuniting Grogu and Din Djarin in a spinoff was Star Wars’ worst decision of recent years, the first episode of The Mandalorian’s third season removed all doubt. 

The show’s season 3 premiere, “The Apostate,” is a decent outing that mainly concerns itself with table setting, but while hitting some off notes along the way. Believe it or not, the very first off note comes in the recap, mainly due to what it fails to provide: any indication for casual viewers of why Grogu is back with Mando this season.

Keep in mind that this is Chapter 17 of the series, and Chapter 16 ended with Grogu and Din Djarin emotionally parting ways, as the former went off to be trained by Luke Skywalker. If you only watch The Mandalorian, which is surely true of many people, this is the last time you saw these characters. The clear indication in the season 2 finale was that they would be separated for some significant length of time, offering many intriguing dramatic possibilities for a third season in which Din would be on his own, and the idea that the status quo had been radically altered was exciting. So having the two get back together so quickly, immediately resetting the dynamic to where it was before, felt like a cop-out.

But the far bigger problem is that this all happened in a totally separate show, The Book of Boba Fett, and in the season 3 premiere, viewers who only watch The Mandalorian are given virtually zero indication of what they missed. At the bare minimum, one would assume that clips of Grogu and Din’s reunion would be included in the recap of “The Apostate.” But while the episode’s recap does incorporate scenes from The Book of Boba Fett, it focuses on establishing that Din was declared an apostate by his religion — something that’s already repeated in the actual episode, making its presence in the recap fairly pointless. You’re telling me that Obi-Wan Kenobi could include nearly four full minutes recapping the entire entire prequel trilogy, but The Manadalorian couldn’t toss in a few clips showing how the most important events in the history of these characters’ relationship happened? 

All we get in the episode is a laughably low effort scene where Din says that Grogu returning to him is complicated, which, for casual fans, must come across as hand-wavey as “somehow, Palpatine returned.”

Losing casual fans already started to become a risk during The Mandalorian‘s second season, which featured extensive tie-ins to the animated shows when it’s absurd to expect Baby Yoda-loving moms to have watched seven seasons of a children’s series that aired on Cartoon Network. But for the most part, the show made sure not to assume prior knowledge of this lore, introducing characters like Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano as if they were original characters, so newcomers could easily follow along. But setting up a question that’s crucial to the plot of this show — “when will Grogu and Din reunite?” — only to resolve it in an entirely different show and make nearly no attempt to clue casual viewers into what happened is a totally different beast.

Some might argue it’s reasonable to expect that everyone watching The Mandalorian season 3 saw The Book of Boba Fett, as the Star Wars Disney+ shows are now one long interconnected story. But this seems like a great way to diminish your audience by making the viewing experience into homework, similar to what we’re arguably beginning to see with the MCU. Now that it’s been established that the only way to be sure you fully understand The Mandalorian is to watch every single Star Wars show ever released, it’s hard to blame anyone for getting overwhelmed and tapping out.

This also feels like a catastrophic decision for the rewatchability of The Mandalorian. Should we really expect future viewers binging the series years from now to just know they have to stop between season 2 and 3 to squeeze in three specific episodes of The Book of Boba Fett (a show that, by the way, is not otherwise worth watching since it isn’t particularly good)? Imagine if it wasn’t possible to fully understand the Star Wars movies without stopping between the prequels and the sequels to watch an arc of The Clone Wars.

Other than this blunder, “The Apostate” is a fine premiere, albeit one with not quite enough narrative momentum. It’s oddly structured, feeling more like we’re running through a checklist of things that must happen before the season can begin in earnest rather than a naturally progressing series of events. Why, for example, does Din go to see Bo-Katan after finding out he needs a part to repair IG-11 when she has nothing to do with that, other than that the episode needed to remind viewers of what’s going on with her? Also, the idea that Din needs to repair IG-11 at all feels a bit contrived. There’s really not a single other droid in the whole galaxy that could help him through Mandalore other than this exact one that blew up?

One of the appeals of The Mandalorian from the start was that it offered one-off, episodic adventures without the weight of tying into some epic saga, and it was broadly accessible to any kind of Star Wars fan, even those not ultra familiar with the movies. The show has slowly moved away from that, and my concern is that we’re going to lose this for good in the third season, not only with shenanigans like the off-screen Grogu reunion, but also by getting too mired in Mandalorian lore that gets the Clone Wars crowd excited while everyone else’s eyes glaze over. Can we get a good old fashioned, self-contained adventure next week, pretty please? This is the way to assuage my fears about the show’s future.

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