If Chapter 21 of The Mandalorian hit almost all of this season’s targets in spectacular fashion and kicked off what promised to be an explosive second half, Chapter 22 feels like the exact opposite: a tedious side mission with little to no payoffs nor character growth.
It all leads to a plot point which could’ve been resolved within the first 10 minutes and gave birth to an actually interesting episode which honored its title. The talent of Bryce Dallas Howard, who has quickly become a fan-favorite Star Wars director after three impressive Mando and Boba Fett episodes, also feels wasted here.
With only two more episodes to go, season 3 of The Mandalorian appears to be betting most of its chips on a large-scale resolution. As for Moff Gideon, he’s still completely out of the picture.
Spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Chapter 22: ‘Guns for Hire’
Things immediately feel off as we’re thrown right into a prologue centered on Quarren travelers who are stopped by an Imperial cruiser captained by one of Bo-Katan’s former companions: Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides). Also by his side is the trusty Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado aka Sasha Banks), who had been rumored to be part of season 3 for a while as well. They’re now privateers, working for anyone who pays handsomely.
This opening scene doesn’t feel off because of the content itself, but because it goes on for too long and awkwardly lingers on a forbidden romance between the Quarren leader and a Mon Calamari who has escaped his family. Typically, off-beat prologues in The Mandalorian help shape what comes right after, but this scene ultimately goes nowhere, and neither does the title: ‘Guns for Hire’.
Will Din Djarin and Bo-Katan Kryze have to deal with some Mon Calamari family drama alongside the Mandalorian warriors they need to recruit in order to earn back their trust? That could’ve been a pretty cool episode that honored its title. Nope, scratch all that. We’re doing low-quality riffs on I, Robot and Blade Runner instead.
Honestly, we’re well accustomed to Star Wars animation taking some time off to play with all kinds of genres and honor famous literary works, but a big difference between The Clone Wars (or The Bad Batch) and The Mandalorian is that the latter only has eight episodes to tell an entire story arc each season, so side quests typically have to offer some degree of progression. And so far, Jon Favreau’s scripts had managed to do that just fine.
Chapter 22 is too big of a detour too late into a season that’s been more focused on building up a larger plot and raising the stakes methodically. Such a change of general stance already riled up some fans, but we’ve been finding it largely refreshing for a show that needed to step out of its comfort zone just a bit. This episode, however, is exactly the type of adventure you’d like to go on way earlier in a season.
Din and Bo-Katan land on Plazir-15 looking to recruit the decently-sized Mandalorian fleet that Axe Woves has been building up. They’re immediately diverted to meet the man in charge though. And that’s none other than Jack Black!
All things considered, Black landed a pretty cool part that totally feels tailor-made for him. He’s extravagant and pompous in a Thor: Ragnarok kind of way (think of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster), and the surrounding hi-tech but lavish environment looks and feels the same.
Plazir-15 looks like a small utopian paradise: the rich appear to be at peace, but so are the citizens, who have managed to put 90% of the work on the droids’ shoulders. Trade is booming and everything seems to be in order, but something is amiss: rogue droids are growing in numbers, and it all appears to be related to a mysterious change in their AI instead of an organized rebellion.
Of course, our two very capable Mandalorians are perfect to find out what’s up, and are required to do so before they can meet Axe Woves and his crew, whom the leaders also hired for other jobs. As a bonus, they also offer to put in a good word for Lady Krize should she retake Mandalore and desire to join the New Republic.
Let’s stop a brief moment to address the bantha in the room: given Star Wars’ generally progressive – or at least revisionist – views, you’d think the endgame of this episode would be a strong disapproval of what’s basically slave labor. Droids are extensively used across the galaxy, but Star Wars has traditionally made a point they’re generally treated well by everyone who isn’t a jerk; they’re cheap labor, like many living beings, and that’s it.
Plazir-15’s society, however, has only been able to execute its plans for a stress-free paradise by abusing the machines, among which there are many leftover Separatist battle droids. The investigation is largely by-the-numbers, bartender interrogation and (droid) morgue visit included. And at the end of it all, any and all questions about the ethics of what’s being done to sustain Plazir-15 are brushed aside. What mostly feels like a classic Star Trek episode doesn’t offer any food for thought. Weird.
Fans can absorb a handful of cool locales in this episode though; we get to sit down with a bunch of Ugnaughts that bring back memories of Kuiil, and the droids-only cantina is great and as awkward as you’d expect. Moreover, we get a (long-rumored) Christopher Lloyd cameo as a pro-Separatist security head.
It also turns out that Lloyd’s Commissioner Helgait was behind the rogue droids, whose behavior had been altered through the use of nano-droids put into a batch of the only beverage they drink. He claims the planet is “unrecognizable” since Jack Black’s Captain Bombardier arrived (he used to work for the Empire), but the end goal isn’t clarified. We can only guess he planned to gradually take over the cities and replace Bombardier’s government, which is also kind of an odd thing to do, since the planet is doing great on its own and isn’t suffering under the yoke of the New Republic.
As for the Duchess (played by Lizzo), a renowned member of Plazir-15’s nobility, she spends the episode praising her husband and playing with Grogu, who once again takes some time off this week. She’s also greatly disappointed by Helgait’s betrayal, but that doesn’t have much of an impact on anything either.
Grogu is granted knighthood for some odd reason (probably for just being cute) though. As random as this moment is, it’s another confirmation that he’ll indeed become the Jedi Mandalorian that Jon Favreau has been actively teasing since The Book of Boba Fett. For now, he’s a knight of the Ancient Order of Independent Regencies on top of being a Mandalorian foundling.
With Helgait sentenced to exile, the problematic droids seemingly restored, and no one having learned anything new, joyful life on Plazir-15 can continue. Guards, droidsmiths, and technicians still have to work though? This society seems far from perfect, and this entire diversion feels like a squandered opportunity. Furthermore, Din regresses to his droid-hating era – which is yet another step back for the character – despite explicitly saying IG-11 was his friend and accepting R5-D4 as a new companion.
In the last 5 minutes of Chapter 22, the script finally circles back to the other “guns for hire”, the ones we should’ve been focusing on. A better, more engrossing version of this same episode would’ve seen the two protagonists and Woves’ Mandalorians teaming up to take down the droids and eventually learning of a terrible truth, but they’ve been just chilling even though they could’ve fixed the leaders’ problem pronto. Bombardier had explained earlier why that wasn’t possible, but it was just a flimsy writing contrivance to get Din and Bo-Katan on the job.
After a small tussle between Bo and Axe, Din explains that he’s willing to give up the Darksaber so she can unite all Mandalorians. We know that doesn’t work, but he makes a good point about the Kryze heir saving him on Mandalore after he was captured and lost the Darksaber. To be fair, that’s a nice payoff to a scene we hadn’t really reflected on.
Chapter 22 ends (once again) with an intense shot of Bo-Katan accepting her fate, and we can’t help but wonder if we could’ve arrived at this destination earlier and in a more efficient way, and that goes for both this episode and the season as a whole.