Moff Gideon has sprung his trap on Mandalore and despite his supposed distaste for clones, appears to be readying his own program with himself as a template. Even as Bo-Katan and the remaining Mandalorians race to escape and alert the fleet, Din finds himself captured. if Gideon cannot be stopped his dark plans could reignite the Imperial forces but to stop him, the Mandalorians will have to overcome huge odds…
Finales tend to be super-sized or at least on the longer side of running-times and building to massive pay-offs. So it’s interesting to note that The Mandalorian‘s third season ender is relatively short – in fact, take away the ‘Previously on…‘ and title sequence and The Return is only just over half an hour of new material. However, what it lacks in length it makes up for in spectacle, full of the both the aspects that have made it an innovative brand leader and yet the lightness of touch that has sometimes hobbled it being any more than Saturday matinee material writ large. On the action-front, it’s always good to see the Mandalorians acting as a team, though they are once again whizzing fly-by pixels for the most part. One of the few practical ‘action’ scenes is their staggered take-off from the caverns and that somehow reminds me of the launch of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. Up in the sky there’s definitely a King of the Rocketmen vibe. There are worse fates.
It goes without saying that the episode’s strengths lie mainly in those visuals – the CGI on The Mandalorian has always been a showreel and shop-window for Lucasfilm‘s ever-superior CGI and production designs… less so for their scripts. If you’re able to watch it on a large television screen then you’re essentially getting what feels to be cinema-level pixel action. Even with the news that the Star Wars will be returning to cinemas with new films, it’s unlikely their big-screen graphics will be ‘better’, simply ‘wider’.
Din was in captivity when last we left, but that doesn’t last long and his journey through the base, in pursuit of Gideon (especially through the crimson shields) is a fun set of sequences, a little reminiscent of pacing of the The Phantom Menace chase and with decent hand-to-hand combat and up-close-and-personal action, though it also feels like an end-of-level computer game sequence in the making. The Din and Gideon duel strives to be epic, but quickly gets interrupted by Bo-Katan who, frankly has remained the main Mandalorian of the entire season and reduced Din himself to a side-kick tetris’d together by Pedro Pascal on voice duties and Brendan Wayne as body double. And it shows.
We get to see Katee Sackhoff both in and out of the Mandalorian helmet and – as noted – Bo-Katan’s battle with Gideon is fine… again a kinetic and fierce confrontation, but like a highlight reel, it’s piecemeal, over far too soon and the smashing of the Dark Saber ultimately feels too easy and also a considerable anti-climax given it’s mythological importance to the latter parts of the whole Star Wars franchise. Moff Gideon walks around with a sudden RoboCop metallic clomping hiss, delivering the kind of expository dialogue so stiff that feels like it deserves its own exo-skeleton, like a cross between a bargain-bin Darth Vader and Evil Emperor Zurg from Toy Story. Giancarlo’s gravitas is largely submerged in the ‘Mwahaha‘ factored delivery at which even George Lucas would have flinched.
Grogu being more prominent and sticking around to help Din is also a given, though quite how he managed to do so after the attack by Gideon’s stormtroopers on the Mandalorian ground forces last week is never really explained. He’s still in his IG11’s exo-skeleton which makes a great action-figure collectible but never looks quite as safe or reliable as it should. Frankly, with the jerky movements and slow speed, the little guy should have been blaster-fodder fairly early on. One would also think that getting Grogu as far away from Gideon and his cloning plans would be the highest priority somewhat played out by Din unable to defend the little guy from the Imperial guard during his own battle with Gideon. But Grogu, cute both in and out of warrior-attire ,is still something of a sonic screwdriver: brought out for a punchline or a fix-all. Yes, his eventual saving of Bo-Katan and Din from the fiery eruption is a lovely FX sequence and memorable to watch, but it still plays to the ‘Grogu’s power-level is whatever’s needed’ (especially as mere scenes earlier he was bouncing around like a pixie on steroids to avoid those guards). The intercutting between Din and Gideon’s face-off and Grogu’s dilemma doesn’t help either, diluting both.
For humour and quirk value, R5’s side journey through the base is unapologetic filler and feels designed to replicate R2D2’s adventures on the Death Star in the original film that started it all and here is rather contrived. Asking a wheeled droid to navigate the broken surface of Mandalore and then work its way unseen through corridors is one of those things that could have been trimmed form the script with one-line and a convenient glance at a control panel (after all, when Gideon’s doing the same he has on-the-nose red and green dots showing in and Grogu’s positions). A beeping cybermatt-ish scooter droid reprises a memorable tuneful jaunt last seen on the Death Star. That R5 eventually engages VTOL thrusters to get away from those pesky droids really does make one wonder why he didn’t utilise them earlier. However after the jokey scenes, he’s abandoned – did he survive or not (and if so, how?).
Elsewhere, the cause of the eruption is the crashing of the Mandalorian-stolen Imperial starship. Axe Woves somehow managed to beat every TIE fighter to warn our heroes’ fleet and is able to warn them of the impending enemy arrival. The minute he tells everyone to get off the seized Imperial ship to go and help Bo-Katan and he manages to operate it all himself from the command-chair you pretty much know the crash is coming, though his expected suicidal run allows him to get away just in time.
Though the recharging of the Mandalorian’s Great Forge and the induction of new Mandalorian warriors has been the meandering core of this run and feels very Knights of the Round Table by the end, the final scene is very western… Din and Grogu on their homestead and all right-ish with the world. A rocking-chair, a spitoon and a banjo are all that’s missing. Last week’s offering was called The Spies but only offered one… this week’s The Return is equally ambiguous in title, applicable to several aspects without being firm or precise. All in all, the finale offered a technically well-executed chapter, all very pretty but by-the-numbers yet with no real surprises – nary a single one of the ‘dramatic finale’ conspiracy-theories played out and it was if a rather-rushed checklist of resolutions took turns for delivery… shiny but largely ornamental and echoing with paper-thin resonance.
This has been the kind of season where there’s plenty to admire in the moment and fun to be had… but no real core, no consistent tone and, unless you’re a purist…no real reason to revisit.
- Production Design / VFX10