By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian – Season 3, Chapter 23
The Mandalorian Season 3 winds down with the release of its penultimate episode today on Disney+. Titled “The Spies,” Chapter 23 was first shown to audiences in attendance at Star Wars Celebration Europe in London on April 8.
Chapter 23 follows the newly united Mandalorians as they head to retake their home planet. Earlier this season, Din Djarin discovered that Mandalore is not cursed and that the atmosphere is indeed breathable, disproving the belief of much of his own clan, such as The Armorer and Paz Viszla. After arriving on the planet, Bo-Katan, Djarin, and company discover other Mandalorian survivors that are still living on the planet.
In a somewhat disjointed and unfocused season, Chapter 23 proves to be the strongest outing in Season 3 to date. The intriguing plot related to the Empire’s cloning experiments finally propels along, after several stuttering starts throughout this season. It’s exciting to finally see that more secrets are revealed regarding Moff Gideon’s role in the galaxy and the impeding creation of the First Order, with connections to all sorts of canon books becoming more relevant than the ever. The very first scene of the episode, where Gideon meets with various different Imperial officers in a Shadow Council and discusses their overarching plan, contains more intrigue than almost the entirely of Season 3 to date. The pacing of these reveals and key story beats has been odd to say the least, but it nonetheless is welcoming to finally get back into Gideon and the Empire again. The Mandalore plot threads in Season 3 are interesting, although they don’t capture the attention of the show’s previous arcs and fatally relegate the titular Mandalorian to the background (as we’ll discuss soon).
Chapter 23 becomes rather action-heavy in its second half, and thankfully a director of Rick Famuyiwa’s craft and vision helmed these sequences. Famuyiwa has had a more significant role behind the scenes this season, directing more episodes and adopting an executive producer role. Ever since garnering widespread attention with his 2015 film Dope, Famuyiwa has demonstrated why he is such a compelling filmmaker. Famuyiwa brings a prestige creative touch to the making of this show, which helps to make it feel more grant and cinematic. The planet of Mandalore looks significantly better and more visually interesting here under Famuyiwa’s direction than it did earlier this season, highlighting his abilities and showcasing why he’s one of the best filmmakers working on Star Wars right now.
Moff Gideon once again proves to be a compelling villain here as well, and Giancarlo Esposito gives another imposing performance as the Imperial warlord. Very little is known about Gideon, even now, but Esposito makes him mystifying and haunting at the same time. There are some compelling visuals with Gideon in this episode as well, as his base on Mandalore is reminiscent of Vader’s on Mustafar and Snoke’s throne room on his ship while his new Beskar armor clearly evokes the look of original Star Wars baddie Darth Vader. His newly introduced Mandalorian helmet, which appears to be a variant of the Maul-dalorian ones, looks visually interesting and only adds to his villainous nature.
The biggest issue with Chapter 23, and more concerningly the season more broadly, is the role of the Mandalorian himself Din Djarin. Din’s presence in this season has felt muddled and bizarre, particularly when compared to the first sixteen chapters of the show which was grounded so heavily in Din’s emotional arc. In the first two seasons, Djarin was firmly the main character alongside Grogu as he protected his adopted son from the remaining Imperials in the Outer Rim. Now, though, Djarin’s character arc from Season 2, where he seemingly learns to accept taking his helmet off, has been reversed in Chapters 17 and 18 as he made up for his transgressions by bathing in the living waters below Mandalore. After that, Djarin has completely stalled as a character, first by not having any sort of concrete arc and then by being sidelined in story importance by Bo-Katan in particular. While the promotion of Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan is welcomed, and Sackhoff has been fantastic in the role she originated in animation, Djarin’s distinct lack of a compelling character arc greatly hinders this season.
In a similar vein, it appears that writer and series creator Jon Favreau is having some trouble balancing multiple points of view in any given episode, as the last few have been centered entirely on Bo-Katan with barely any Djarin or Grogu. The same sort of thing occurred when the Mandalorian himself appeared in The Book of Boba Fett, essentially taking up one and a half episodes of a seven episode season. Boba Fett was completely out of focus, just as Djarin is here now. There’s absolutely no problem including characters like Bo-Katan more prominently (in fact, it’s a good thing), but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the lead heroes established in the show. Favreau would arguably be better to balance these unique points of view rather than focusing on each person one at a time, which creates a jarring narrative structure.
Speaking of Bo-Katan, her arc remains interesting in this episode and is another highlight. Very few expected Katee Sackhoff’s character to have such a huge role this season, but she has done excellently well with the screen time that’s been given to her. Her rivalry with Moff Gideon and guilt over her role in the way in which Mandalore fell during the Reign of the Empire are strong and emotional character beats in particular.
Despite an alarming lack of screen time, significance, or arc for the lead character Din Djarin, The Mandalorian Season 3’s penultimate episode is the best of the season so far. The plot finally moves forward with the reintroduction of Moff Gideon and the retaking of Mandalore comes to fruition (at least in theory), which should hopefully pave the way for refocusing on the Empire and cloning stories moving forward. A key question that remains following the release of this episode is why the rest of the third season has lacked the quality, intrigue, and emotion that this outing has.