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How can The Mandalorian go forward after that jaw-dropping finale?

The Mandalorian just aired a jaw-dropping season finale. But it felt more like a series finale.

At the end of a ridiculously jam-packed second season, in the excellent final episode “The Rescue,” The Mandalorian still had one last surprise (spoiler alert!): an appearance by Luke Skywalker. Even more wild, though, is the state the show itself is left in, leaving fans with the question of how on Earth it can go forward — and more importantly, now that it has seemingly resolved its primary conflict, can it keep casual viewers on board?

Throughout season 2, The Mandalorian had a clear goal: reunite the child, Grogu, with his own kind, the Jedi. Yet it seemed unlikely the Mandalorian would be successful, at least not yet. For one, this would potentially require sending Grogu away to be trained by Luke but ultimately murdered by Kylo Ren, as Star Wars: The Last Jedi established a grim fate for most of Luke’s students down the line. Baby Yoda is undoubtedly the star of the show and the entire reason The Mandalorian became a pop culture phenomenon. Lucasfilm wouldn’t seriously consider reducing his role in any way, would they?

Yet against all odds, season 2’s finale ends with Grogu going off to be trained by Luke. There are seemingly no complications with this plan, and the show even provides the tear-jerking emotional payoff many assumed would be saved for the very end of the series: the Mandalorian removing his helmet to reveal his face to Grogu and say goodbye.

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So, uh, now what? The Mandalorian has already been renewed for a third season, but did Lucasfilm just pull the biggest swerve in recent TV history by surprise ending it early? Assuming that’s not the case, it seems season 3 can focus on the retaking of Mandalore, with Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) as a lead character. There’s also the post-credits stinger, which adds to the confusion by showing Boba Fett returning to Jabba’s palace as text on screen declares, “THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT. COMING DECEMBER 2021.” Is this meant to indicate a previously-unannounced Boba Fett spinoff series is coming? Or is season 3 itself “The Book of Boba Fett,” and it won’t involve Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) as much?

A fully Mandalore-driven season or a Boba Fett-driven season would each be concerning for the long-term viability of the series. Since its first episode, The Mandalorian succeeded primarily because of the relationship between Grogu and Din, the driving force that keeps each adventure churning. The Star Wars nerds love the Easter eggs and cameos, but remove the bond between the two central characters and you remove the beating heart of the story. Already, there had been some concern that season two was leaning too heavily into fan service, but the reason the show never took it too far was because this heart remained intact. The season’s penultimate episode “The Believer” proved Grogu doesn’t always have to be on screen, but even then, his presence was felt, and viewers were on the edge of their seats because of just how darn invested we were in seeing the kid safe.

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Now that he is safe and has been shuffled off screen with Luke, a third season about retaking Mandalore seems like it would mostly be of interest to the longtime fans who know Bo-Katan from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. The Mandalorian himself doesn’t appear as driven to accomplish that goal, or really any specific goal now that Grogu has been returned. Since it’s not clear that the Mandalorian actually wants to reclaim this apparent wasteland of a planet that Mandalorian viewers have never actually seen, will that idea really hook general audiences?

Then there’s the Boba Fett plot. It made sense to bring Boba back from the dead, but there was a fear among some fans that he would overshadow Din and end up taking over The Mandalorian. If the credits stinger really is meant to tease season 3 and not a separate spinoff (the more common interpretation is the latter), that could literally happen. This would be a big disappointment considering the work this show has put into establishing a brand new character rather than just trotting out an old one.

Other seeds planted for the future of Star Wars TV include Ahsoka Tano facing off against Grand Admiral Thrawn, likely in her own spinoff Ahsoka, but that’s once again mostly intriguing for Rebels fans after a Thrawn-related cliffhanger from that show. Diving further into the threat of the imperial remnant that will eventually lead to the First Order, on the other hand, is something for everyone else to look forward to, but the finale doesn’t exactly spend much time teasing that.

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Is it possible The Mandalorian will simply bring Grogu back immediately at the start of season 3? Maybe. Perhaps there will be a time jump and all of his training will take place off screen, or perhaps there will be some reason he ends up cutting off his training early. But now that Grogu’s been placed in the care of Luke freaking Skywalker, getting him back into the hands of the Mandalorian might be a bit strained. Even if the next step in their journey could be returning Grogu to the planet of Yoda’s species, surely Luke could take care of that, right?

It’s easy to imagine several more years of stories about the Mandalorian’s adventures caring for Grogu — heck, there could have been a whole season just about trying to rescue him from Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) — so offering this resolution after just two brief seasons is an unexpected choice. Certainly, Luacsfilm is taking a big swing with this quasi-series finale, and there’s a risk that after such a satisfying ending, casual viewers will tune out for good. Producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni better have a good plan for ensuring they don’t.