Sometimes all it takes is a simple idea executed flawlessly. In what has been an underwhelming season to date, The Mandalorian recaptures some of its old glory with ‘The Pirate’, a thrilling chapter that pits good against evil in the skies and streets of Nevarro.
The third season’s fifth episode begins with the return of Pirate King Gorian Shard. The foliage-faced villain descends on (High) Magistrate Greef Karga’s turf and attempts to raze the trade city to the ground.
In response, Karga turns to New Republic Ranger Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who is given a pleasingly meatier role here instead of infrequent bit-part appearances) who then passes a message up the chain from Adelphi Base to the New Republic on Coruscant.
Teva’s conversation with his superior (and, interestingly, Katy O’Brian’s betrayer-in-chief Elia Kane) is a fleeting, if emotionally charged one. The New Republic being presented as a shinier, more benign version of the Empire, with all the bureaucracy that comes with it, could be thought-provoking but it’s only prodded at in surface-deep exchanges between Teva and Kane. It also calls into question where the show’s politics lie if the new bosses are the same as the old bosses – but that’s a topic that The Mandalorian is never in danger of broaching.
With his hands tied by New Republic red tape, Teva is forced to find Mando and lead a charge against the Pirate King.
It’s here where the episode, after a slightly meandering start, really kicks into gear. The action – as it has been all season – is electrifying, each set-piece sliding neatly into the overall structure of the battle. The shifting momentum between Shard’s pirate forces and the small group of Mandalorians also allows each character to shine. The Armor’s hammer-heavy assault on embattled turret forces is a highlight – and about as brutal as hand-to-hand combat can get in a galaxy far, far away.
Again, it’s the airborne sequences that catch the eye. The dogfights between Mando, Bo-Katan, and Shard’s fleet are dizzyingly good; in an age of wonky and rushed CGI, the Volume proves its worth once more as a tool that – in the right hands – can turn something good into something altogether great.
A Pirate's life
As Shard’s ship goes down in flames, the Chapter’s final act writes off the show’s most unnecessary diversion by gifting the Children of the Watch their own land on Nevarro. The cave-set sequences have looked fundamentally uninteresting and have amounted to little more than religious zealots standing about playfighting and discussing The Way. A change of pace – and location – should be the jolt that faction needs if they return in future.
If ‘The Pirate’ has a serious flaw, it’s the continued focus on Bo-Katan’s redemption. The Clone Wars viewers could – and should – find it compelling, but it’s struggling to resonate with a casual audience.
Her conversation with the Armorer is a great example: at once unearned and out of nowhere, Bo-Katan’s mere mention of the Mythosaur is enough to propel the forgemaster – one of the most hardline members of the Creed – to allow Katee Sackhoff’s Nite Owl to remove her helmet and lead a charge to find more Mandalorians and retake their home planet.
The diaspora plot is a fascinating one – and one Star Wars could do well to mine more in such a rich and varied galaxy – but it feels so fenced-off from its own show that most of the key beats and revelations land with a thud rather than a flourish. Perhaps a Bo-Katan spin-off is The Way to fix things.
To end, The Mandalorian signs off with another simple idea done well. Teva discovers a breached transport ship – one that should have been escorting Moff Gideon, no less – with no survivors and one extremely tantalizing clue: whoever broke Gideon out was wearing Beskar.
A Star Wars whodunnit may not be on the table but, until the culprit is uncovered, it adds an extra layer of interest in a series that was rapidly running out of forward momentum until this week.
So, The Mandalorian’s aerial assault-turned-Moff-Gideon-hunt was an undoubted success. In truth, it’s a little too light on Mando and Grogu exploits, but there can be few complaints when the action and the intrigue are delivered to just a high standard.
The Mandalorian is currently streaming Wednesdays on Disney Plus. For more on the show, check out where The Mandalorian sits on the Star Wars timeline and our full The Mandalorian season 3 release schedule. We've also rounded up all of the new Star Wars movies and TV shows on the way too.