It’s the season finale of The Mandalorian, and this show has a lot to prove and explain in 40 minutes. Can it be done? Let’s find out!
“The Return” sees Bo-Katan’s forces evacuating as an escaped Din Djarin and Grogu pursue Moff Gideon. Bo-Katan contacts Axe Woves to warn him about the impending attack on the fleet. However, the planet’s interference cuts off their conversation, and he enacts a plan, sending the remaining Mandos in for a firefight and crashing the Gauntlet directly into the Imperial base on Mandalore. Through Din and Grogu, we learn that the creatures in the tubes are Gideon’s own, Force-sensitive clones. Din hacks into the computer, killing the clones in one fell swoop. Bo intervenes in the fight between Din and Gideon, freeing the former to help Grogu face three Praetorian Guards who killed Paz Viszla. Together, Din and Grogu make it out alive. Gideon destroys the Darksaber but is killed as the Gauntlet crashes into his base. Din formally adopts Grogu, making him Din-Grogu, and the two head off to new adventures with Carson Teva and the New Republic. Bo and the others remain on Mandalore to rebuild.
Honestly, after the past couple of weeks, I went into “The Return” ready to be mad. Much of this season has been spent sidelining Din and Grogu in favor of other characters and storylines, and “The Spies” was a big middle finger to people who would rather forget the sequels exist. However, I find myself more confused than angered by “The Return” and the show’s apparent trajectory. My husband said it best when he asked me if this was the series finale. This feels like a very finite ending. Din’s story is essentially over, and Bo-Katan has everything she wanted except for the Darksaber. And apparently, the blade’s absence isn’t going to be a problem for Axe and his band all of a sudden. This feels like an easy way to write Din out without killing him, which was my primary fear going in. It was starting to seem like the rumors of Pedro Pascal having trouble with Lucasfilm were true, and they were going to bump his character off to solve the problem. I was almost certain this would happen when Din went toe-to-toe with the three Praetorian Guards who easily sliced up Paz Viszla last week. If this were the show’s finale, I think I’d be happy with the ending Din and Grogu get. Their main trials as characters are behind them (mostly, in Din’s case), but the promise of future adventure awaits. It’s so strange to end a season this way, though, when we know a follow-up season is already being written. Even if they do decide to double down on Bo-Katan, I don’t know where they’d take her story at this point. She has her home and her people back, and the Darksaber is no longer an option, let alone a prerequisite, for her to rule.
There are some things in “The Return” that I loved, and normally, I probably would have been extremely psyched. Bo facing Moff Gideon again should have been a huge, impactful moment. But in his brief appearance in season 3, Gideon felt like a completely different character to me. The lack of a mustache didn’t help, but ironically, they turned him into more of a generic, mustache-twirling villain this season. He has felt less like he has a grand, mysterious plan and more like he just has an inexplicable personal grudge toward Din. This episode’s revelations make him even pettier and less interesting.
“The Return” also makes the overall story feel smaller in a way that feels like a big finale. Rather than excitedly guessing what could come next, I find myself wondering how they can continue the story. Do we want to see Din and Grogu leave this peaceful life behind? Where do you take Mandalore and Bo-Katan now that they’ve resettled and kicked Gideon out? Why reveal all this new information on Gideon right before you kill him off? Gideon was a great antagonist in previous seasons, but I understand the choice to kill him. This is one of the big events in “The Return” that I don’t necessarily take issue with, especially given his changes in character of late. I won’t miss this version of Gideon like I was missing the original, more methodical portrayal. Now that all his mysteries have been solved, I imagine Thrawn will come even more into the spotlight as the big bad of this time in Star Wars history. Honestly, this was the main big reveal in the episode; I think most of the heroes ended up where we thought they would. I just expected them to get there at the end of the show, not at the end of season 3.
Bringing IG-11 back was a mistake, full stop. Some characters should die and stay dead, and he chose to sacrifice himself for Grogu at the end of season 1. This isn’t as egregious as resurrecting an organic being like Kuill, but I don’t like it, and it’s not necessary. What setup is there for IG being the marshal of Navarro? To me, this feels like a cheap shot to tug on the heartstrings. It rings hollow in my eyes because it comes out of left field. Sure, they toyed with the idea at the beginning of the season to have IG work with Mando. But this is just a strange, cheap brand of fan service. In retrospect, the plotline with the pirates was under-baked and unsatisfying. Several big stories feel that way now that we have the whole season. Gideon breaking the Darksaber is anticlimactic, and yet again, Bo-Katan has no agency in the situation. She accidentally fell into Din’s cult and then out of it, and now she has the weapon taken from her yet again. This time, it’s permanent. This is so disappointing, and honestly, what a waste of a cool weapon and over a decade of buildup. Remember, the Darksaber was important in The Clone Wars and Rebels too. Also, why did Din pledge to Bo-Katan in the previous episode just to leave her in this one? His characterization (or lack thereof) has been all over the place this season, and not in a good way. The mouse droids chasing R4 looked stupid; that’s a nitpick, but it was dumb. In the same vein, why didn’t Din take one of the lightsaber-like weapons from the Praetorian Guards and use that to fight them? They get disabled one at a time, so it stands to reason he could snatch the first one’s blade. One final gripe I have is with the previous title, “The Spies.” We never learn who is spying on whom beyond Elia Kane, who we already knew about. What did this title mean? Who are the spies?
This season of The Mandalorian has well and truly been a surprise from start to finish. “Guns for Hire” has to be the worst episode of the show thus far, but “The Return” may be the most disappointing. This simultaneously feels inconsequential/anticlimactic and like a series finale. What is this? How can any of the major storylines continue from here? I guess I shouldn’t be shocked after the other foolishness at Lucasfilm.