In the business world, there’s a concept called scope creep. Unlike a lot of corporate jargon, scope creep means more or less what it says: It’s what happens when the scope of a given project slowly expands as it’s being worked on, eventually causing a problem where everyone involved is trying to solve too many problems at once, and the project’s initial goals begin to suffer. It’s a failure of planning — don’t articulate a goal clearly enough and you essentially invite sprawl, a bunch of unsatisfying answers to just as many vague questions, instead of a clear solution for something you need solved.
The Mandalorian has a scope creep problem. This is ironic, given how the series arrived seemingly fully formed: a spare, samurai-Western take on Star Wars that cribbed on Lone Wolf and Cub, following the Mandalorian Din Djarin and his young Yoda-like ward Grogu through the Galaxy’s scrappier side. But in its second season and beyond, The Mandalorian increasingly became a vehicle for clarifying Star Wars lore, ultimately leading to a frustrating third season that put its characters second in favor of untangling the spotty fictional history of Mandalore and its people, as they were presented in The Clone Wars and Rebels.
This, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. Calling a show The Mandalorian isn’t a promise to only be about the same Mandalorian, and in fact it invites questions about other Mandalorians and what became of them. The show doesn’t have to answer those questions, but creator Jon Favreau and Star Wars lore wonk Dave Filoni have decided that it will. That decision makes sense, even if the answers they deliver are a bit odd or divisive.
Considerable effort has been spent in season 3 expounding on the differences between Din Djarin’s cult-like covert of Mandalorians and the less religious sect that Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) hails from, as well as the myth and history surrounding the final days of their once-great homeworld of Mandalore. Very little of this has been mined for drama — the goal here is clarification and consolidation, bringing all the Mandalorians under one roof.
This is already a pretty big task, one that is arguably too much for the limited amount of time The Mandalorian has in its far-too-brief seasons. Things only get worse when that same logic is applied to The Mandalorian’s place in the Star Wars timeline, and what happens when the show’s writers decide — as they have in season 3 episodes like “The Convert” — to use the show as a vehicle to tie together the discordant ideas present in the canon.
The Mandalorian is the only major and ongoing work set in what’s called the New Republic era, the roughly 30-year gap in time between the Rebellion’s victory over the Empire in Return of the Jedi and the rise of the First Order and the events of The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm’s new Star Wars canon has been cagey about this gap in time — a few comics, like The Rise of Kylo Ren, and books, like Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, have been set in this era, but nothing has really explored it with the depth of the Legends books and comics that came in the wake of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire.
This could have been a boon to The Mandalorian, giving it a clean slate to show off a Star Wars that was familiar but different. Instead it chose a lot of the same: desert planets and Boba Fett. Fair enough! In 2019, when the series premiered, the sequel trilogy had not yet come to a close with The Rise of Skywalker, and Mando’s gritty old-school approach was a good contrast to the bombastic sequel trilogy. Now, however, The Mandalorian is effectively a cornerstone of modern Star Wars, and in bringing back the villain Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), The Mandalorian has also been tasked with showing the origins of the First Order, and how this grand New Republic we saw Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewbacca fight for was effectively screwed from the start.
On paper, these are not bad ideas, but The Mandalorian has been a poor vehicle for delivering them. What should have been a nimble ship is now dragging tons of continuity baggage behind it, forced to explain Mandalore, Mandalorians, and the political fortunes of the New Republic across eight measly episodes that don’t even like to tell you what they’re about until 10 minutes have elapsed in the first place. The show’s cast of characters is small and thin, its vectors for storytelling are precious few. Its pleasures are mostly in Grogu slapstick and Wookieepedia updates; it does not allow itself the time to give its few character arcs the weight they deserve, like Bo-Katan’s ascension to leader of Mandalore.
Ultimately, this results in a show that leaves the viewer feeling adrift. What is it about? Who should we root for? What do we want to see next? The Mandalorian is gesturing in a half dozen directions, but its heart isn’t in any of them. If Din and Grogu’s relationship is the heart of the show, it’s become strangely ancillary — especially since the massive decision to have Grogu leave the path of a Jedi behind to be with Din happened in The Book of Boba Fett, an entirely different show.
This is what scope creep looks like: a man in cool armor and his adorable little ward floating beside him, constantly forced to pause their journey through the galaxy because someone keeps making them pull over to use the bathroom and edit the wiki every 30 minutes.