Midway through Chapter 22 of The Mandalorian, Din Djarin and Bo-Katan Kryze are chasing a super battle droid through a domed city on the supposedly paradisiacal planet Plazir-15. “Keep going,” Din shouts, and he peels off to the right as Bo continues on. Din tears down the side street he turned on to, and—wait, what?—the fleeing droid is still directly ahead of him, passing by the opening at the end of the alley. Naturally, Din … turns right again, which should mean he’s heading in the opposite direction from the one he was running in initially. This second right turn takes him through a restaurant, where a wall forces him to cut left. If you’re keeping track, which the makers of The Mandalorian hope you aren’t, Din should still be running at a 45-degree angle away from his initial trajectory, which Bo and the droid are still on. How could dashing in a different direction be a shortcut? Yet Din bursts through the eatery’s window just in time to tackle the quarry he’s somehow outpaced. Both Bo and the droid have, from all appearances, been sprinting straight forward, yet Din, running no faster than before, pulled ahead by taking two right turns and a left. Sure!
The pursuit ends as expected: Din catches the rogue droid. When you watch it even semi-closely though, the sequence makes no sense. If we want to be generous, we could say that instead of defying physics, the chase is just sloppily edited—that although it appears to be depicting continuous action, the cuts actually obscure some hidden twists and turns that enable Din to get the drop on the droid. Whether the problem lies in the conception or execution, the sequence seems like Season 3 of The Mandalorian in microcosm. This batch of episodes is headed for a predictable end point—even, perhaps, a satisfying and fitting one—but the path it’s taking to get there is increasingly confounding.
“Guns for Hire”—the sixth installment of the season, and the first since Season 1 to deviate from the series’ Seinfeld-ian format for episode titles—is, in some ways, the most frustrating episode yet. (That’s saying something, given that until this week, Chapter 19, “The Convert,” was the show’s lowest-user-rated episode, with the season premiere not held in much higher regard.) It’s an almost distractingly guest-star-studded affair that brings us closer to a resolution of the series’ Mandalorian plot line, but it does so in an inert, anticlimactic, and confusing fashion. Unlike “The Convert,” which cut away from Din, Grogu, and Bo in favor of an extended dalliance with Dr. Pershing, “Guns for Hire”—which is written by Jon Favreau and directed by Mandalorian veteran Bryce Dallas Howard—doesn’t sideline our heroes. Instead, it sends them on a dull, underdeveloped detour that culminates in an ostensibly big moment that falls flat.
In the aftermath of last week’s pirate rout on Nevarro, the Armorer charged a newly naked-faced Bo with uniting the Mandalorians. Given that the only other Mandalorians we’ve seen on this series (aside from Boba Fett) are Bo’s former sidekicks Koska Reeves and Axe Woves, it wasn’t tough to guess that we’d see them soon. Sure enough, they show up in the episode’s melodramatic cold open. In the season’s goofiest scene this side of Pirate King Gorian Shard, we meet a Quarren captain with the Lovecraftian (or Ghostbusters-ian) name of Shuggoth, who’s eloped with a Mon Calamari princeling despite the differences between their species. (During the Clone Wars, longstanding Mon Calamari–Quarren tensions on Mon Cala briefly boiled over into civil war.) The star-crossed, well-lubricated lovers are fleeing from the forces that oppose their union, but they run right into the Mandalorian mercenaries, who’ve been hired by the boy’s mother (a Mon Calamari viceroy) to bring him back. So much for this touching tale of aquatic Capulets and Montagues. (Or should that be Mon Tagues?)
The primary purpose of this whimsical scene is to remind us that Axe Woves, a character who appeared in one previous episode, still exists. Woves, you may or may not remember, debuted in the series’ last Howard-directed chapter, Season 2’s “The Heiress.” (That chapter, which also introduced Bo and Koska and reunited Frog Lady with her frog family, took place on Trask, the watery world that the Quarren navigator references in the first line of “Guns for Hire.”) Unlike Koska, Woves was mysteriously absent from the climax of the second season. After the finale, actor Simon Kassianides said, “There will be answers,” which must have reassured the many, many fans who were watching that episode and thinking, Loved Luke Skywalker, but where was Axe Woves?! Katee Sackhoff later reassured the Axe truthers that “there’s a reason” Woves “just wasn’t there,” but “Guns for Hire” doesn’t shed a lot of light on Woves’s no-show: Koska and the other mercenaries, we were told, deserted Bo because she couldn’t reclaim the Darksaber, so why did Woves leave before the battle with Gideon? Whatever his reasons—he wasn’t a big Bo fan, we gather, because of her “designs on ruling Mandalore”—Mandalorian Poochie is back, in possibly the second-most-exciting return to TV in 2023 by a character called Axe.
The opening scene, which visually echoes the Star Destroyer entrance at the start of Episode IV, also establishes that the Mandalorians’ mercenary lifestyle may be less enriching spiritually than it is monetarily. They still abide by a kind of code—they refuse to be bought off by the captain, out of loyalty to their client—but they’re now putting their prowess and principles toward the not-so-lofty goal of thwarting a Mon Calamari romance, which seems a bit beneath them. Remember, Mando was once hired to hunt down the son of Mon Calamari nobility, but he ditched that job when he caught feelings for Grogu, which gave him a more meaningful mission. “I thought Mandalorians were honorable,” the viceroy’s son pouts. “We are, kid,” says Koska. “All it takes is a few credits.” When the Mandalorians were determined to take down Gideon and take back their home planet, they—like Din after he adopted Grogu—had a higher calling than credits.
By the end of the episode, they will again. But before Bo and Co. can collectively set their sights on Mandalore, business takes them to Plazir-15, an independent planet that’s hired the mercs for protection. Gideon’s former fleet—captured by Bo and now under Axe’s command—is parked outside the capital of “the Outer Rim’s only remaining direct democracy,” but Bo, Din, and Grogu can’t simply land nearby and accomplish their quest. This is The Mandalorian, so some fairly flimsy obstacles must be placed in their path. An automated guidance system reroutes their ship to a designated landing spot—evidently, docking isn’t democratic—where they’re told that the Coruscant Accords (those pesky regulations that prevented Pershing from continuing his cloning research) also restrict access to “self-defense forces in the peacekeeping zone.” Bo and Din need permission from planetary leadership to talk to Axe—and once they scan their chain codes, planetary leadership really wants to talk to them. Their presence is “requested,” but the summons is mandatory, which doesn’t seem so democratic either.
On the surface, Plazir-15 looks like a “The World If” meme come to life, a bizarro Mandalore that blends Sundari-esque domes with a climate and landscape that seem much more hospitable than those of Bo’s home. (So much so that the dome seems unnecessary.) As often seems to be the case on sci-fi pleasure planets, though, there’s trouble in paradise, as indicated by the Imperial protocol droid and astromech (a.k.a. evil Threepio and Artoo) that greet our protagonists on the ground. Between the sinister droids, the pushy air traffic control, the Ugnaughts, and the white walls, Plazir smacks of Cloud City, and though Darth Vader isn’t dining behind the broad doors that Din, Grogu, and Bo pass through when they reach their destination, there is an ex-Imperial at the head of the table.
That official, Captain Bombardier, is played by Jack Black, who enters the Star Wars universe on the same day he debuts as Bowser. The Mandalorian is no stranger to guest stars, but Black is one of the biggest, especially if Bombardier doesn’t prove to be a recurring character. However, he’s outshined from a star-power perspective on this episode, because Bombardier’s wife, the duchess of Plazir, is played by Lizzo, in her first acting role since Hustlers. Throw in Christopher Lloyd as the city’s head of security, Commissioner Helgait, and we have the highest-wattage call sheet in Mandalorian history. Lloyd’s involvement had been previously reported, but Black’s and Lizzo’s cameos were kept quiet.
Bombardier, we learn, is a former Imperial facilities planning officer who helped rebuild Plazir as part of the New Republic Amnesty Program first seen in “The Convert.” While undoing the damage inflicted under Imperial rule, he and the duchess fell in love and got hitched, this episode’s second unlikely love story. But they aren’t living quite as happily ever after as they’d like, because some members of the city’s workforce—ex-Separatist droids, reprogrammed and repurposed by Bombardier—have been malfunctioning. The local constables can’t keep them in line, the planet’s charter doesn’t allow the other Mandalorians to enter the city, and the citizens—who, like the passengers on the Starliner in Wall-E, are no longer self-sufficient—have voted against deactivating all of the droids to fix the problem, so it’s up to Bo and Din to do some sleuthing.
Does any of this, strictly speaking, make sense? Not much more than that chase sequence. “Our charter forbids us from having a military because of my husband’s Imperial past,” the duchess says. Hence the hiring of Mandalorian mercenaries. Yet the mercenaries can’t help with the droid problem, because the charter also “forbids any standing army from entering our city.” A paid mercenary force doesn’t seem the same as a standing army—if it were, wouldn’t it qualify as a military, and thus be banned?—but this technicality creates the fairly flimsy obstacle that diverts Din and Bo.
There’s one more problem with this setup for Favreau to wave away. Why would the dynamic Mandalorian duo want to take on this task in spite of the “more pressing matters” on their minds? Two diplomatic concessions serve as inducement: In return for their help, Plazir will formally recognize Mandalore as a sovereign system, and it will petition the New Republic to recognize it as such. Well, that’s nice and all, but does it matter if one heretofore-unmentioned Outer Rim planet, with no non-Mandalorian military, recognizes Mandalore? Is there any reason to think a petition from Plazir concerning Mandalore would carry much weight, given that the planet isn’t even part of the Republic? (We saw how much pull nonmember worlds have last week, when the Republic wouldn’t help with Nevarro’s pirate problem.) Neither of these gestures seems to mean much, but don’t sweat the details. Lizzo! Jack Black! Christopher Lloyd!
“I wanna get the information fast and get to the fleet,” Bo says, one of a few lines that expose the stalling, make-work function of the Plazir plot. The thing that gets me about “Guns for Hire” is how much meat there might have been on the bones of this premise. On another, more meditative sci-fi series—for instance, any number of shows whose names start with Star Trek—a society such as Plazir-15 could’ve sparked some thought-provoking ruminations on human happiness and/or droid rights. Is leading a life of unalloyed leisure fulfilling? These “royals and elected leaders” may keep the hyperloop running on time, but is their decadent feasting—“I hope you like secretions,” Bombardier says—a sign that they’re exploiting the populace? Is rendering the citizens dependent on droids just another way for the former Imperial to exert control? Do robots deserve better than an existence of servitude, followed by deactivation? Is Plazir truly a direct democracy if the droids that do all the work don’t get a vote?
The Mandalorian isn’t the sort of series that explores such ideas in-depth; it’s the sort of series that uses the premise mostly as an excuse for a callback to the cantina in Episode IV. Which is fine, as long as the plot tracks, the action delivers, and the characters shine. Unfortunately, this episode is spotty on all three counts.
The investigation is fun for a while, in a “detective Obi-Wan” or Clone Wars way. And, to the show’s credit, the buddy cop act between Bo and Din does dredge up Din’s past. Although the diplomatic motivations seem contrived, this side quest is personal for him: Super battle droids killed his parents. (“You had me at battle droids,” Din says.) Following IG-11’s stirring sacrifice in the Season 1 finale, Din’s opinion of droids seemed to improve, but he’s back to being a hater—which, to be fair, is somewhat understandable after his run-ins with the Dark Troopers and the reanimated, murderous IG. “Guns for Hire” also hearkens back to Din’s time with Kuiil, as he draws on his knowledge of Ugnaught customs to wheedle info on the bad droids out of the workers (who somehow know which droids are due to malfunction but don’t do anything about it, possibly because nobody who asked them to help remembered to seal the request with an “I have spoken”).
After the Ugnaughts tip off the detectives to danger at the loading docks, Din straight up picks fights with the droids until he finds one that will take a swing at him, which sets off the chase. You know the scene in last week’s Yellowjackets—and every cop show ever made—where one detective asks another if they’re letting their feelings interfere with the investigation? That’s what’s happening here, though in Din’s defense, it works. After blasting the droid, Bo finds a “spark pad” that points to the Resistor, a droid bar where humankind isn’t served. (Between Chapter 19’s reference to Admiral Ackbar’s “It’s a trap,” last week’s allusion to Han shooting first, and this week’s shout-out to Wuher, Favreau is really laying the original trilogy references on thick, playing to the crowd even as Dave Filoni keeps catering to the Glup Shitto cognoscenti.) There, they learn that the misbehaving machines all imbibed from the same batch of Nepenthé, an ancient Greek term describing a “drug of forgetfulness.” In Star Wars, the word refers to a restorative substance that delivers software updates via nano-droids. Further digging reveals that these particular nano-droids are old Techno Union relics—and that they were secretly requisitioned by the head of security.
Helgait, the old Separatist and Count Dooku die-hard, is the unsurprising culprit. From afar, it would seem as if Helgait has gotten what he always wanted: democracy, independence, peace. So why has he turned into a terrorist/saboteur? Presumably, he believes Bombardier, like Elia Kane and Pershing, isn’t fully reformed by the New Republic’s rehabilitation and that—either willingly or because he can’t help himself—the ex-Imperial is still trying to deprive Plazir’s people of their agency (and, in the process, duping Lizzo’s Queen of Hearts–looking duchess). It could be a bleak commentary on the gullibility of the good guys, the potential for humans to positively reprogram themselves, and the potential to achieve order without some sacrifice of autonomy. Then again, we don’t see enough to know whether Bombardier is really up to anything nefarious. Maybe Helgait—who’ll be exiled to a moon, as the Children of the Watch once were—is just bitter that no one else wants to work.
All in all, the Plazir away mission amounts to, at best, a partial payoff to a promising scenario, and it underuses good guest stars: Black gets to ham it up, but Lizzo and Lloyd don’t have much to do. At least Lizzo gets to feed Grogu and make him a non-Jedi knight. (One of Lizzo’s lines, “Could I perhaps hold the baby?” may well have been one of her demands during her negotiations to play the part.) I feel a little cheated on the action end of things too: If Favreau is going to take us to a planet full of malfunctioning battle droids, he’s gotta give us more than one weirdly choreographed chase. But most of the episode is a hurdle that has to be cleared to get to the final five or so minutes, so to quote Bo, “Let’s just finish this so we can be on our way.”
Bo doesn’t have a plan to persuade Axe and the rest of her former followers to flock back to her banner, but when she shows up at the fleet, she goes with what feels right and challenges Axe to single combat. She makes him say uncle quickly, of course, but outdueling her rival isn’t enough to be Mand’alor; she needs a symbol of office. “You’ll never be the true leader of our people,” Axe says, Bo’s knife still at his throat. “You won’t even take the Darksaber from [Din]. He’s the one you should be challenging.”
Bo makes an impassioned plea for Mandalorian unity, and when Axe dismisses Din as a “misguided zealot” who has no Mandalorian blood, Bo defends his bona fides. But Bo has no defense for Axe’s clincher: “According to our ways, the ruler of Mandalore must possess the Darksaber.” Checkmate, Mandalorian.
Or is it? Din steps forward. “Then she shall have it,” he says, before attempting to turn over the blade to Bo. They’ve been through this before: As Bo reiterates, the Darksaber can’t be given as a gift. But this time, Din makes a counterargument: Because the cyborg on Mandalore in Chapter 18 defeated him, and Bo defeated the cyborg, she actually paid the iron price. “Would it not belong to her?” Din asks all assembled. “Yeah, I guess,” Axe grudgingly concludes. (OK, the actual quote is “It would.”) “I return this blade to its rightful owner,” declares Din, doing as he says. Just like that, possession is settled, and the Mandalorian fellowship is formed: You have my Bo, and my Axe. Bo brandishes the blade as she did the first time she got it:
The drama surrounding Din, Bo, and the Darksaber has been building for more than a full season, since Bo invoked its name in “The Heiress.” The weapon is a point of contention between two central characters, and its transfer determines the shape of the fight for the future of Mandalore—and, by extension, the rest of this season. This should be a blood-pumping capper right up there with Andor’s “Never more than 12.” Yet it’s hard to muster much more than a shrug. It feels like Favreau is saying, “Please clap.” To be clear, Din’s case has merit, which was obvious some time ago. Let’s revisit a trimmed passage about the cyborg battle from my recap of “The Mines of Mandalore”:
Isn’t Bo arguably entitled to the Darksaber now? As Moff Gideon explained to Din, “It must be won in battle. In order for her to wield the Darksaber again, she would need to defeat you in combat.” Well, Bo didn’t defeat Din, but the cyborg defeated Din, and Bo defeated the cyborg. Does a surprise attack not count as “combat,” because Din didn’t get a chance to fight? Does it matter that the cyborg tossed away the Darksaber and didn’t use it to duel Bo? Would the story of simply picking up the Darksaber and using it to cut down an unidentified cyborg lack sufficient power? … Even if Bo doesn’t think she’s technically entitled to the blade, wouldn’t the thought at least cross her mind? If so, she hasn’t shown it. We don’t even get a shot of her reluctantly, covetously handing the Darksaber back to Din, like Boromir returning the ring to Frodo.
If you’d asked me on Tuesday, I would’ve said that the statute of limitations had run out on that scene being significant. Surely something new would have to happen to spur the Darksaber succession. Yet here’s the end of “Guns for Hire,” essentially saying, Remember that fight from four episodes ago that we reminded you of on the “previously on”? The one the main characters have, inexplicably, not talked about until now? Well, that was what you’ve been waiting for! No sacrifice. No conflict. No catharsis. Just a listless handoff based on something that happened on an earlier episode.
It would be one thing if there was some sense that the delay was the result of a struggle going on underneath our heroes’ helmets—if Din had started to be seduced by the idea of ruling Mandalore, or if Bo had been reluctant to call dibs because of her growing fondness for Din. As far as we know, though, Din has never longed for a throne or resented Bo’s ambitions, and Bo has never contemplated throwing her support behind Din. (If she had, she might have mentioned the Mythosaur to him.) It just didn’t dawn on either of them that the Darksaber should be Bo’s until the script called for it.
Now that Din has handed over the Darksaber, this is basically Bo’s show—and look, I like Bo. (Plus, the title of the series still fits!) Din never professed to be Mand’alor material anyway, and I’m in this more for the father-son time than the interplanetary politics. But what do Din and Grogu want? In what ways are they evolving? Grogu got more screen time in “Guns for Hire” than he did last week—he cooed, flipped, and used the Force to help the duchess score a “quadro-blast”—but he didn’t develop, and for the second time in three weeks, Din and Bo left him to be babysat (this time by a total stranger) while they embarked on a side quest. Is Grogu wrestling with his newly reclaimed powers or his Mandalorian allegiance? Is Din any closer to renouncing his strict interpretation of the Creed and taking off his helmet? The season isn’t over, and there’s still time for Mando and Grogu to step back into the spotlight instead of playing supporting roles on their own series—as they made Boba Fett do on “his” spinoff—but throughout the first three-quarters, they haven’t had arcs.
With most sources of conflict among Mandalorians seemingly snuffed out, we seem to be heading for a Mandos versus Moff endgame, and possibly a battle at Gideon’s suspected secret base. Will the Mandalore plot line culminate in the defeat of Moff Gideon for the second straight season finale and possibly a tease of Ahsoka with further setup for the sequel trilogy? Will someone mount the Mythosaur and save the day, just like how Boba on rancorback turned the tide of the final battle on The Book of Boba Fett? Is that all there is to anticipate?
Maybe it’s time for Favreau to hire a writers’ room. The second season of this series set a high bar, and Andor only raised it, but Season 3 has been a bumpy ride, and “Guns for Hire” only intensified the turbulence. Will The Mandalorian salvage its so-so season in the two weeks to come? To use Bo’s words once more: “It’s the Outer Rim. Your guess is as good as mine.”