The first two seasons of The Mandalorian ended with some kind of big Star Wars twist. In season one, Moff Gideon pulled out the Darksaber. In season two, Luke Skywalker arrived to help Grogu. And the expectation of something on that level for the season three finale seemed completely reasonable. Instead, fans were given a laundry list of payoffs that helped bring the season together in a satisfying way, which worked but also felt maybe a little too straightforward for a show that has thrived on exciting surprises.
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Chapter 24 of The Mandalorian, aka the eighth and final episode of season three, is called “The Return,” which is a title that at the start felt ripe with possibilities. Return of who? Return of a Jedi? Return of the Mythosaur? The return of something wild and crazy? Or would it be the most likely explanation, the “return” that’s been at the center of the show for the past few episodes? A return of Mandalorians to Mandalore. Because that’s where things picked up, in the middle of that struggle.
The previous episode, “The Spies,” ended with all of our heroes in a bad spot, and so “The Return” started there. Bo-Katan desperately reaches out to Axe Woves to let him know of Moff Gideon’s plan to destroy the orbiting fleet. The Mandalorian himself has been captured by Gideon’s powerful new troopers. That felt like something that could go on for a while but, no. This isn’t a show that’s comfortable with any real huge narrative swings, so very quickly the Mandalorian escapes his captivity, with a little assist from Grogu and his IG-12. He decides it’s finally time to hunt down and end Moff Gideon. A totally new storyline that we haven’t seen play out in a similar fashion in the past two finales as well. But hey. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This time, Moff Gideon has his brand new super suit and knows that the Mandalorian is coming for him.
After a very, very cool shot of the TIE Interceptors leaving the base on their way up to the Mandalorian fleet (this whole episode was stacked with really beautiful, new looks at ships and people flying, actually), Mando calls in a little help from R5-D4. Where the heck was he? Has he been there this whole time? We don’t know. But Mando needs him to patch into the system to find Moff Gideon’s headquarters and so he flies down, finds a terminal, and does just that.
Meanwhile, Axe Woves reaches the fleet and quickly explains, then executes, Bo-Katan’s plan: get all the people off the ships and down to the surface to help them, but leave the Light Cruiser in space as a decoy. The Mandalorians fly across space to the drop ships and down, through the clouds, toward the surface just as the TIEs begin to bomb the ship. The plan is working and even though the whole thing played out like Axe was going to betray his people—the acting captain giving him a curious look back—he does not. He fires back, making the decoy look good, as the ship gets quickly destroyed.
These scenes just felt like classic, iconic Star Wars. On the one hand, you have Mando and Grogu sneaking around a secret enemy base while their droid feeds them directions from a terminal somewhere. Then you intercut with a space battle where our heroes are facing insurmountable odds. Good stuff.
Back on the surface, R5 has gotten Mando and Grogu to the final corridor before Moff Gideon’s room. It’s the one we saw in the previous episode, with those Darth Maul/Qui-Gon Jinn energy barriers. Mando tells R5 to open them one at a time, and only on his signal, because he sees what we didn’t last week. Those troopers standing there are actual troopers, not just decorative costumes. And so Mando, who has none of his weapons, fights and defeats the first two troopers, picking up a knife along the way. Then the next two troopers, acquiring better weapons, then two more, then two more. It was a very fun scene that showcased Mando’s skills and also geared him back up for the battle to come. He thanks R5 on a job well done and despite having been discovered by a bunch of mouse droids, he escapes as well. Convenient, but it’s fine.
Now, last week, you might remember that after Moff Gideon passed through the red corridor, he passed some containers containing what we only assumed to be clones. Well, Mando and Grogu now pass through the same place and those suspicions are confirmed. Only these aren’t clones of Jango Fett like we’re so used to seeing in Star Wars. Oh no. They’re clones of Moff Gideon himself. We’re left to wonder, are all the troopers in the white suits Moff Gideon too? Or are these dozen or so clones the only Moff Gideon clones? We don’t know but Mando doesn’t care. He destroys them all.
Before that final showdown with Moff Gideon can occur though, we shift back to Bo-Katan and the rest of the Mandalorians. They’ve been able to escape Gideon’s base and take refuge in a cave that’s covered in beautiful plant life. The Survivor Captain explains that he and his people planted these gardens. That Mandalore is ready for life again. It’s a touching moment that’s interrupted by what I feel is the best moment of the episode, and maybe the season. In a moment reminiscent of the end of The Rise of Skywalker (but, you know, this time good), the Mandalorian fleet arrives led by the Armorer. “Let’s take back our planet,” Bo-Katan says, as everyone suits up and jet packs out of there. They head back toward the base, are joined by the rest of the fleet, and when Bo-Katan took out the Darksaber, reader, I cheered. As Gideon’s troops come to reach them, we got our very own version of Star Wars meets Braveheart as the two sides smashed into each other, mid-air. Sparking off a huge battle with moments for all our favorite Mandos. Excellent stuff.
Down below that mayhem, Moff Gideon locks Mando and Grogu into his room and monologues. He’s very, very upset that Mando destroyed his clones because these were the final evolution in a long journey. These clones, according to Gideon, would have been able to use the Force, which would have made his army unstoppable. Which, admittedly, sounds cool but, does he understand anything at all about the Force? It takes training to use, doesn’t it? Did he expect these carbon copies to come out and be Jedi? We’ll never know, cause Mando killed them all, and the battle begins. But Gideon isn’t fighting fair and the three Praetorian Guards who killed Paz Viszla come out. It’s a fight we aren’t sure Mando can win.
The Guards begin to overtake a clearly tired Mando when Grogu decides to step in. “No, no, no,” his IG-12 armor says as the Praetorians leave Mando and follow after Grogu. It’s a battle he for sure can’t win, and even though you knew Grogu wasn’t going to die or anything, there was some genuine worry there—worry which was warranted as the guards slice up his IG-12 armor (RIP, we hardly knew ye) and leave Grogu left to flip around on the lights, evading all the attacks.
With Grogu having peeled off the Praetorians, Mando is back to fighting Super Moff Gideon. And as they fight, you can just begin to see the other Mandalorians battling in the background. One of those, Bo-Katan, spots the fight and heads down, saving Mando and setting herself up to once again showdown her nemesis.
Gideon and Bo-Katan show down, which lets Mando peel off and save Grogu. Now it’s two on three and, by using the Force, the master and apprentice defeat the guards. As this is all happening, Axe Woves has been in space, on the ship, taking incredible damage but has somehow directed the flaming wreckage down to the base. He’s going to take out everything Moff Gideon has built, and he’s coming in hot. Literally.
Bo-Katan and Gideon’s battle continues and despite her obvious skill as a warrior, Moff Gideon once again bests her. Then, in a frankly shocking moment, he crushes the Darksaber. Talk about a relic that was not treated with the reverence it was given in previous seasons of this show and others! He’s about to defeat her when Mando and Grogu show up to help Bo by shooting Gideon. The coast is now clear. The Mandalorians, including Axe Woves, all fly to safety as the ship comes crashing down. Flames engulf and, we think, burn Moff Gideon to a crisp—but Mando, Grogu and Bo-Katan are still there. They do their best to shield themselves but it doesn’t look like it will work… until Grogu uses the Force to divert the flames away from them. It’s a very cool moment that loses its magic when you realize, “Wait, haven’t we seen this exact same thing before?” Yes! 16 episodes ago, in the season one finale, Grogu also saved Mandalorian and a female warrior friend who shall not be named by using the Force to stop fire. So it’s a solid moment but not quite the payoff the episode wants it to be.
The deed is done. Moff Gideon has been defeated and the season’s epilogue stars the same way the season itself began, with Paz Viszla’s son, Ragnar, being inducted into the Mandalorian way (wasn’t he already though?). Only this time, it’s happening in the Living Waters. Mando asks if Grogu can also be sworn in only to be met with the same answer from the Armorer: he can’t speak, so he can’t take the creed. Mando brings up some rule we haven’t heard yet about “parental permission” and since we don’t know who Grogu’s parents are, he offers to officially adopt him. That idea, the Armorer likes. She makes it official and names him Din Grogu, Mandalorian Apprentice. (Side note, while Din Grogu surely sounds better, shouldn’t it be Grogu Djarin? It’s Clan Kryze, not Clan Bo-Katan, right? And do they fuck in the helmets? Mandalorians have weird rules.)
The Armorer demands Mando take Grogu on journeys, just as his teacher did for him. And as Grogu basks in his newfound family, he seems to see something in the water. The camera dives deep and, yes, that Mythosaur is still there. Will it be ridden? Will it emerge? These are questions for another time.
On Mandalore, Bo-Katan and the Armorer relight the Great Forge, marking the official return (oh! The episode title!) of Mandalorians to Mandalore. Our Mandalorian and his now son, Grogu, aren’t there though. They’re off on some adventures. First, a stop at Adelphi base for a chat with Carson Teva (and a cameo by Dave Filoni). Mando offers up his services to help police the Outer Rim from Imperial remnants and though Teva knows the New Republic will never sanction that, they make an unspoken pact. Mando doesn’t want to just be a bounty hunter anymore. He can’t. Not with a son to take care of.
On Nevarro, Greef Karga gives Mando a home of his own to use as he pleases, and Mando returns the favor with a new and improved IG-11, who’ll be the town marshall it so desperately needs. And so Mando and Grogu head to their new home where they can kick up their feet and hang out, waiting for the next adventure to arrive. It’s such a storybook ending, we even get a classic iris out.
And that’s it. No end credit scene. No Jedi. No big reveal. Just the main storyline of the season, the return of Mandalore, completed. Our heroes? Content and safe. And that’s okay. We don’t need big, huge, surprises in our storytelling. Just cohesion and “The Return” had, well, some of that.
Now, with season three over, we can look at it as a whole and say it was rather uneven. It’s almost like showrunner Jon Favreau wasn’t sure about how fast to tell this story about Mandalore’s return, and so he forced in all these other little side stories just to pad out the season. (Remember Dr. Pershing? Remember Lizzo? Did those really add much in the end?) Frankly, the eight episodes felt a little sloppy. And yet, there was lots of Star Wars fun to be had and now the Mandalorians are officially back on Mandalore. That’s a fairly huge story piece for the Star Wars galaxy ahead. We’ll take that, moving into Ahsoka—and, probably, a fourth season of The Mandalorian too.