The Mandalorian: Wacky casting, imploding ratings, tumbling appeal. What’s gone wrong with the Star Wars spin-off?

Television: Jon Favreau’s ‘well-made pulp’ became a phenomenon. But season three has been a letdown. Can its finale arrest the decline?

Star Wars fans have endured a lot since Disney acquired the franchise, 10 years ago. But even those traumatised by The Last Jedi (Star Wars by people who hate Star Wars) and The Rise of Skywalker (Star Wars by people who don’t understand Star Wars) will have done a double take when, during a recent episode of The Mandalorian, the ballad of Din Djarin and Grogu – aka Mando and Baby Yoda – was gatecrashed by a celebrity-casting triple whammy.

There was Jack Black, chewing scenery from behind a novelty beard. He was accompanied by Lizzo, pop queen but probably nobody’s idea of a potential best-actress nominee. The triumvirate was completed when Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, turned up as an embittered head of security with a dark secret.

The Mandalorian, it is true, has always been eclectic in its choice of actors. The comedian Bill Burr was in series one. Ahmed Best, aka Jar Jar Binks, portrayed a Jedi in a recent flashback to the fall of the Old Republic. There has even been a cameo by the teenage son of the comedian Jimmy Kimmel (though, unlike his Oscar-hosting dad, he has resisted the temptation to crack jokes about Irish people being genetically and culturally disposed to violence).

But it took Black and Lizzo, as the whimsical rulers of an obscure planet, to truly jam a spanner into The Mandalorian’s gears. They didn’t take the audience out of the action so much as cause the series to unravel before viewers’ eyes. Their appearance in week eight – the 10th and final episode drops today – also confirmed that series three has been a chrome-plated mess lacking the zip and derring-do of the first two seasons.


The Mandalorian started as a below-the-radar sidequest by Disney+. All of the attention was sucked by up the appalling “Sequels” trilogy, culminating in the disastrous Rise of Skywalker, where the undead Emperor Palpatine was revealed to have been hanging out on an obscure planet with a battle-ready fleet of refurbished Star Destroyers.

Mando was everything the Sequels movies were not. The stakes were low, even after the Mandalorian – one of an order of chrome-domed mercenaries – discovered Baby Yoda and vowed to reunite him with his people. Each week they would visit a new planet and have a new adventure. Well-made pulp was what Jon Favreau, the series’ showrunner, and his collaborator Dave Filoni aspired to and what they achieved.

But when The Mandalorian became a phenomenon you could sense the unblinking red eye of Mickey Mouse turn towards it and see in it the future of Star Wars (which also includes a sequel to the sequels featuring Daisy Ridley’s Rey). Which leads us to the present mess of a season, where the fun and frolics of early Mandalorian have been set to one side.

Instead the show has been repurposed as an attempt to bring respectability to the gruesome Sequels and their big idea – that Darth Vader’s evil Galactic Empire was reborn as the “First Order” and would eventually overthrow the New Republic.

The Mandalorian hasn’t been subtle about this mission. Episode three pivoted away entirely from Din Djarin and Grogu to tell the story of Dr Pershing, an Imperial cloning expert whom the Republic was trying to rehabilitate. Its fascinating depiction of the New Republic as slyly dystopian was obviously intended to clear space for the First Order (and set up the new Rey movie). What, though, was it doing in the middle of The Mandalorian?

The other issue has been that The Mandalorian essentially finished its big arc at the end of year two, when Grogu was reunited with Luke Skywalker, his Jedi teacher. That should have been that. Alas, the prospect of no more Baby Yoda clearly spooked Disney, so Mando and Grogu teamed up once again in the miniseries The Book of Boba Fett and have been tripping across the galaxy ever since.

However, with the mystery of Grogu’s Jedi heritage solved, there is no reason for the duo to stay together. Or, indeed, for anything in season three, which has bounced between unsatisfying storylines. These have included a pirate incursion on the planet Navarro and the warrior queen Bo-Katan’s dream of uniting the various subsects of Mandalorians.

The Grogu-Mandalorian dynamic remains the best thing about The Mandalorian. Unfortunately, we’ve just seen a much better example of this master-and-apprentice storyline in the post-apocalyptic thriller The Last of Us. Worse yet, The Last of Us also starred Pedro Pascal as a gruff dad archetype – which served only to underscore the decline in The Mandalorian.

That fall-off in quality has been reflected in tumbling ratings. Viewership for the series has imploded to half the season-three figure. Former fans have, presumably, been turned off by the lack of a compelling story – and by a conspicuous decline in production values, with the show looking increasingly shabby and cobbled-together (notwithstanding a budget of $15 million per instalment).

It’s possible that today’s season finale can arrest The Mandalorian’s decline. Disney will certainly hope so. If the Sequel films have taught us anything it’s that when modern Star Wars fails, it plunges the whole franchise into an existential crisis. No pressure, Grogu, but the fate of the entire galaxy rests on your adorable shoulders.