The Mandalorian’s Biggest Problem Is Its Serialized Story
Clearly, the side quests are better than the bigger plot.
When The Mandalorian premiered in 2019, one of the most arresting things about its format was the confident assertion that each of these episodes was, in fact, a chapter. Now, as Season 3 nears its end in a few weeks, the idea of chapter numbers on each of these episodes is starting to feel a little silly for one specific reason: The best episodes of The Mandalorian, are, at this point, stand-alone stories.
In Season 3, the least compelling element of Mando is the bigger season-long arcs, and the best stuff is the various side quests. If Mando is going to continue beyond this season, it should reinvent itself as a planet-of-the-week episodic show, and ditch the serialization. Here’s why the Season 3 episode “Hired Guns,” proves, that at this point, we hardly care about the bigger stakes.
Mandalorian Season 1 was about Mando projecting Baby Yoda. Season 2 was about Mando trying to find the Jedi so they could take Baby Yoda. Season 3 is about ... something. Although previous seasons of Mando have had a variety of side quests and seemingly self-contained adventures, those seasons still had a very coherent sense of momentum that every episode was leading somewhere. This is less true in Season 3, in which the closest thing to a unified theme we have is: What if the Mandalorians were reunited? Grogu is barely a character this season, while Bo-Katan has easily eclipsed the eponymous Din Djarin as the more interesting and dynamic Mandalorian on the show. Meanwhile, we’ve had one episode that completely cut away from Mando and Bo-Katan for most of the runtime, while the latest episode — “Hired Guns” — presents a kind of self-contained A-Team style mission for our resident Mandalorian gunslingers.
While the basic idea of “Hired Guns” is fine, and some might say very fun, the contrivance to even get Bo-Katan and Mando into this situation stretches credulity to the breaking point. In theory, the thrust of the episode is about Bo-Katan needing to reconnect with Axe Woves, and round up all her people who ditched her off-screen in between Seasons 2 and 3. We have no idea how she plans to make this reconciliation work and just tells Mando that she’ll know what to do when the time is right. Eventually, a technicality about who was holding the Darksaber back in Episode 2 resolves everything, and Axe Woves and the legions of other Mandos are suddenly all on board again. Basically, the big plot arc stuff for Season 3 was resolved very quickly in this episode, setting up some kind of epic finale, or something.
But, what’s strange about Bo-Katan finally getting the Darksaber in this episode, is that it feels anticlimactic because the rest of the episode isn’t about this conflict at all. Instead, the goofy side quest to find out why Christopher Lloyd was sabotaging droids on the planet ruled by Lizzo and Jack Black took center stage. And frankly, of these two storylines, the goofy one-off story was much more compelling than what is supposedly the focus of the season-long arc. By the end of “Hired Guns,” there’s a feeling that we’d rather just have Bo-Katan, Baby Yoda, Mando, and R5-D4 continue to roam the galaxy as hired guns, doing various jobs, and visiting a different planet every week. At this point, the larger, more serious “stakes” feel cumbersome and less realistic than the goofy side quests.
This isn’t to say “Hired Guns” was perfect, but it was a good template for a different kind of Star Wars show, insofar as it felt less concerned about its own mythology for a while. Of course, until it wasn’t, and then, suddenly the episode felt strangely generic, and the resolution to the Darksaber issue was treated like an afterthought. It’s as though for an instant, The Mandalorian tried to be a more fun kind of show and head in a direction with a slightly looser status quo, but then, everyone remembered that the show is actually very inflexible for some reason.
Regardless of how The Mandalorian Season 3 ends, it seems obvious that a hypothetical Season 4 would need to switch things up in terms of the week-to-week format. Not every big sci-fi series has to be serialized, which is something that Doctor Who has proven for 60 years. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds brought back the story-of-the-week episodic sci-fi in 2022, and even the mystery hit Poker Face uses a loose serialization to tell self-contained mysteries. If The Mandalorian is looking for a way to invent itself after Season 3, a true episodic approach seems like the one true way.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how many connections there are to Clone Wars or Rebels or the classic films, The Mandalorian needs to work on its own merits — which is why it might be time for these adventures to break out of the season-long arc format. We actually like seeing Mando and his friends do some random stuff. That’s basically what the show already is. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.