When a Yorkshire drug dealer said “This is the way” in the final season of Happy Valley, it was a sign of the impact The Mandalorian has had since it started Disney+’s pivot into Star Wars TV shows back in 2019. Other series have followed, and some – notably the epic Andor – have been good, but none has had the sort of cultural impact that leads to BBC One dramas quoting your lead character’s catchphrase.
If you’re not fully plugged into the Star Wars universe, however, Disney+ has stitched you up by continuing The Mandalorian when you weren’t looking. The show itself has now returned for a third season, but last year’s final three instalments of the otherwise dull spin-off The Book of Boba Fett – which fairweather fans had given up on after the stultifying first episode – formed a crossover story, heavily featuring Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) AKA the Mandalorian, or Mando to his admirers.
He’s been busy! Our man acquired a reconditioned Naboo starfighter, fought to retain his frighteningly powerful new weapon the darksaber, and was reunited with his regular travelling companion Grogu (to devotees of the show, “Baby Yoda”) when the adorable little furball sacked off his Jedi training with Luke Skywalker and chose to ride shotgun with Mando instead. Hardly any of that is in the “Previously … ” montage at the start of the new Mandalorian episode, so for some viewers it’s a double surprise when Mando arrives in a sleek retro set of wings, with Grogu peeping out of a glass dome behind him as his tiny co-pilot, like R2-D2 back in the day.
The reappearance of the hero and his cuddly green pal caps off an opening sequence that adds to the show’s long run of exhilarating action sequences with impressive monsters: some Mandalorians are enjoying a lakeside coming-of-age ceremony, but just as a boy is fitted with the armoured helmet that signifies he is now an adult, a gargantuan crocodile-like creature emerges from the water and starts eating the congregation. When all looks lost, Din Djarin zooms in and blasts the thing’s guts out.
From there, the comeback episode continues to dole out a pacy greatest-hits set, packing several signature moves into a half hour that’s chiefly concerned with setting up the new season. After confirmation from the relevant authorities that his decision to remove his helmet in season two means he is now an apostate, Mando takes Grogu to the planet Nevarro to reconnect with old pal Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). Karga informs his visitor that their ally Cara Dune has got a new job and is no longer around, thus solving the mystery of how the actor who played Dune, Gina Carano – fired after a series of strident political tweets – would be written out. Then, pirates arrive, prompting a quick-draw shootout that is, of course, won by Karga and Mando.
The Mandalorian regularly features scenes lifted directly from old westerns, with a good lawman and a bad outlaw hovering their fingers over guns in holsters before the villain goes for his weapon, sealing his own fate. In the past, it’s even made use of the classic shot of a man in black approaching the saloon in a dusty one-horse town, filmed through the legs of the sheriff standing his ground out front. In The Mandalorian that horse might have six legs and a glowing horn, but the homage is unmistakable.
The Mandalorian is also happy to play around with the eccentricities of Star Wars itself. Still on Nevarro, Mando employs some Anzellans, a race of 4in-high mechanics, to attempt to fix his obliterated old droid friend IG-11. Amid the warm creature cuteness of the Anzellans and Grogu’s attempt to hug them (“No, Grogu! Not a pet!”), a neat gag develops about the miraculous ability Star Wars characters have to converse with aliens: the advice of chief grease monkey Babu Frik, who provided comic relief in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker when resistance fighters struggled to understand him, morphs from impenetrable gabble to broken English, which the officious Karga keeps translating long after an irritated Mando has learned to understand it.
Hearing Shirley Henderson voicing Babu again is a treat, as is IG-11’s brief return to sentience, which means a spot of extra work for Taika Waititi. The new episode keeps handing out gifts, such as the cracking aerial dogfight that develops when Mando leaves Nevarro and is chased through an asteroid belt by the dead pirates’ disgruntled colleagues. After that’s over, Din Djarin and Grogu set out for Mandalore on a quest for redemption, and if that’s barely got started yet, it’s still a thrill and a pleasure to see them back on their way.
The Mandalorian is on Disney+ now.