The Mandalorian Season-Premiere Recap: This Is the Way (Again)

The Mandalorian

Chapter 17: The Apostate
Season 3 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

The Mandalorian

Chapter 17: The Apostate
Season 3 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Disney+

Watching “The Apostate,” the third-season premiere of The Mandalorian, it’s easy to feel a little unstuck in time. The episode opens with the Armorer (Emily Swallow) methodically forging a new helmet, a process that, from all appearances, seems to be unchanged since time unknown. These Mandalorians are sticklers for tradition, though, as a character will remind us later, not everyone interprets tradition the same way. Helmet forged, she emerges from a cave to join the others on a lakeside beach in the middle of an otherwise desolate landscape, where she prepares, with great pomp and ceremony complete with drums and banners, to bestow the helmet on a somber-looking dark-haired kid. This could be a flashback to a previously unseen chapter in Din Djarin’s origin story.

And why not? It’s been over two years since the second-season finale of The Mandalorian sent Din (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu, the tiny but powerful creature he rescued and virtually adopted, on their separate paths. Naturally, this episode should pick up from that cliffhanger. It doesn’t. In the meantime, we got The Book of Boba Fett, a series that was only tangentially related to The Mandalorian apart from a stretch of episodes that were absolutely crucial to the story of The Mandalorian. Briefly: Grogu trained with Luke Skywalker at his still-under-construction Jedi school, but, given the choice between Yoda’s lightsaber and the armor gifted to him by Din Djarin, he opted to reunite with Din. And while it might seem like Grogu’s stay with Luke (and his time with Din, for that matter) was relatively brief, creator Jon Favreau recently clarified that a fair amount of time has passed since the two got together and Grogu was actually hanging out with Luke for a while. (Two years, to be exact.)

Kicking off the season with a flashback wouldn’t feel surprising or out of place, in other words. Except it’s not a flashback. It’s a different foundling standing in the water and reciting the Creed of the Children of the Watch, the splinter group that raised Din Djarin, and he doesn’t even get a chance to finish before he and the others are attacked by a giant alligator-like beast. Even the Mandalorians’ powerful weapons — flamethrowers, harpoons, machine guns, detonators, etc. — barely make a dent in its hide. Could this be the end of the Children of the Watch? But as disaster appears to be nigh, it’s time for a Grogu ex machina: Our heroes emerge from the sky in their N-1 starfighter. It’s a far cozier ride than the Razor Crest (R.I.P.), but it’s a slick and effective fighting machine, as this episode proves more than once.

With the gator (and the opening titles) out of the way, Din catches up with the Armorer, who’s not mad, but she is disappointed. Din removed his helmet (of his own free will, no less), and thus, per the Creed, is “no longer Mandalorian.” (No matter what the title of the series suggests, apparently.) Din counters that “the Creed teaches us of redemption” via the Living Waters beneath the mines of Mandalore. The only problem: Post-Purge, there are no Living Waters anymore.

But what if there were? Din counters with an artifact that suggests all is not lost on Mandalore. The Armorer takes a moment before replying, “This is the way.” And with that, the premise of The Mandalorian’s third season has been established.

First stop: A return to Nevarro, which a voice informs Din and Grogu is now “independent trade anchor and Outer Rim Hyperlane port.” It’s filled with evidence that, yes, years have passed since we first met Din Djarin. Nevarro’s looking pretty swell! The streets are filled with merchants (and a vegetable-chopping droid), musicians, and creatures of all races, including a Mon Calamari and some Kowakian cousins of Salacious Crumb. (Their presence raises all kinds of questions about how they got there. Are they just pets or a sentient spacefaring race? And, either way, who would want them around? But maybe it’s best not to dwell on that detail.) Kids frolic in the street and a statue commemorating the heroic sacrifice of IG-11 keeps watch over the crowd.

It’s home to a familiar face, too: Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) still runs the place, but he’s evolved from a bounty-hunter coordinator into a benevolent High Magistrate seemingly beloved by those he governs. What’s more, it’s a boom town, one Karga hopes Din will join. “You could settle down, hang up your blaster, live off the fat of the land,” Karga suggests. But Din shuts him down, however appealing the offer. His explanation: “I have some matters to look after.” Specifically, he wants to erase his status as an apostate. Why does this matter? To Karga, it’s nonsense Din can ignore and live the good life with Grogu by his side. And, frankly, it seems like a hard offer to refuse.

It’s also one that would be out of character for Din to accept, or at least out of character for the Din we’ve spent time with so far. But maybe that Din is changing. He’s clearly been tempted to give up life as a Mandalorian at several points in the series, and if he were a rigid true believer, he wouldn’t have removed his helmet even to save Grogu. He is technically an apostate, but it seems like the real tension of this season will be whether he also becomes an apostate at heart, a question raised again in the episode’s final scenes. (In Din’s own words, “It’s complicated.”)

But first there are pirates to take care of. Karga’s protocol droid calls him away to the courtyard, where a group of rough customers have shown up at the site of the old saloon looking to start trouble, never mind that it’s now a school. They’re led by Vane (Marti Matulis), who quickly reveals he’s shown up to collect on a perceived debt owed to the yet-unseen Pirate King Gorian Shard. Though Karga offers him a private meeting, Vane doesn’t back down, reminding him that he once contracted for all kinds of horrible deeds within the now-civilized walls of the school.

It’s a fair point in some respects, but Karga’s not having it. When Vane taunts him by saying, “Sounds like you went soft,” Karga easily disarms him in the short duel that follows. Nevarro, he wants them to know, is “no longer friendly to pirates.” When the other pirates don’t get the message, Karga and Din take them out. Seems like old times, but they’re times Karga wants to get past, telling Din he needs a marshal, Marshal Dune having been “recruited by Special Forces” after bringing in Moff Gideon, who was “sent off to a New Republic War Tribunal.” (The exchange explains the absence of two characters, one of whom is almost certainly not coming back.) Karga also wants to avoid reaching out to the New Republic in order to keep Nevarro independent and avoid bowing down “to yet another far-off bureaucracy.”

Din, he suggests, would be perfect for the job. But “something pressing” keeps him from accepting. (If he’s tempted at all. It’s hard to tell what’s going on under that helmet.) Karga takes it in stride, but he’s baffled by Din’s next request: He needs to bring IG-11 back from the dead. This, it turns out, is far easier said than done. Din’s own skills can revive IG-11 but not the IG-11 he remembers. Instead, he’s a pitiless killing machine hell-bent on destroying Grogu even if it means pulling himself along the floor with his one functioning limb. Din puts him down using a bust of Karga (“Now that’s using your head”) before bringing in some heavy hitters, the Anzellans, “the best droidsmiths of the Outer Rim.”

The Anzellans look familiar because they belong to the same race as Babu Frik, the one element of The Rise of Skywalker that everyone agrees is pretty great. (They sound familiar, too; like Babu Frik, they’re voiced by Shirley Henderson.) But, like a weary mechanic explaining that they simply don’t make synchronized gearboxes for Bandini 100 GTs anymore and good luck finding one, the chief Anzellan tells Din IG-11 needs a new memory circuit and new memory circuits are just about impossible to find. New objective just dropped.

With that, Din and Grogu take to the skies again, where, just as Din begins explaining how to navigate a spaceship, they engage in an intense dogfight with Vane and some other pirates. Din outmaneuvers his opponents using some nearby asteroids for cover only to wind up in the guns of the hulking vessel of Pirate King Gorian Shard (Nonso Anozie), an intimidating (if mossy-looking) villain who really does not like Din (and likes Din even less after he escapes his clutches). New antagonist just dropped.

Then it’s off to Kalevala, a planet in the Mandalorian system that’s also home to a looming Mandalorian castle. Looming but seemingly abandoned: After they’re greeted by a lonely medical droid, Din and Grogu make their way to the throne room, where they find Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) lounging bitterly. Din immediately offers his services, but Bo-Katan tells him “there is nothing left to join.” Without the Darksaber, her following dispersed and became mercenaries.

But Din does have the Darksaber. Surely that makes a difference? It might, if Bo-Katan had not apparently lost the faith. What’s more, she’s begun to think that bringing back the glory of Mandalore that was is now impossible, in part because of the role played by the Children of the Watch and other factions that, in her view, divided Mandalorian society. “Your cult gave up on Mandalore long before the Purge,” she tells Din, and the planet is “ravaged, plundered, and poisoned beyond repair.” But Din isn’t prepared to despair. After learning the mines are “beneath the civic center in the city of Sundari,” he thanks Bo-Katan and heads off without even hearing her good-bye.

With that, a new season of The Mandalorian begins. And it’s off to a pretty good start. There’s so much table-setting in this episode it feels more like a prelude than a discrete chapter unto itself, and one of the great strengths of The Mandalorian has been its ability to tell self-contained stories that serve as building blocks for the larger narrative. That said, we’re reunited with some old friends, we get a cool space battle, and Grogu uses the Force to eat a jellybean (?), so there’s plenty like here. Even if “The Apostate” is mostly about what’s to come (with some summing up of what happened between seasons), it still offers plenty of reasons to keep following Din and Grogu’s journey.

Bounty Pucks

• If you’re watching this after skipping The Book of Boba Fett, you must be experiencing some whiplash. And since it sounds like some viewers skipped out on opening that book, that experience could be pretty widespread. That’s somewhat understandable. I was on the high end of appreciating that series, which most were pretty lukewarm on, yet it still feels like a cheat to fold important developments into another show. But, if the terse summary within this episode isn’t enough, you might want to watch the relevant sections of the final three episodes of The Book of Boba Fett, which combined form a (pretty good) lost episode of The Mandalorian.

• There are some interesting ideas here for the season to unpack, if it wants to. Can Karga build a decent society on turf with such a dark history? Is Bo-Katan right about the Children of the Watch contributing to the decline and fall of Mandalore? Is Din’s faith misplaced? Are both he and Grogu better off avoiding the orthodox interpretations of their respective religions in favor of more personalized variations that have room for the bond they share?

• Another question, and one I’m guessing someone with a deeper command of Star Wars lore will be able to answer: What is the huge helmet in the Armorer’s workshop?

• The potential resurrection of IG-11 (voiced again, if briefly, by Taika Waititi) raises some issues too. If Din thought IG-11 could be repaired, why not attempt it before? That seems rude. And doesn’t an IG-11 return from the dead kind of cheapen his sacrifice? (That’s more an issue for those watching at home. I’m sure his friends aren’t worried about that if it means getting him back.)

• Din and Grogu’s space journey provides a lovely moment when Grogu wonders at what appear to be space whales, seen blearily through the window of their ship. They’re presumably these guys, but the absence of an explanation within the episode is a reminder that Star Wars has a history of offering glimpses of the larger galaxy around the story without feeling the need to explain everything. Like Grogu, we can just enjoy the image with wonder if we want.

The Mandalorian Premiere Recap: This Is the Way (Again)