This week’s The Mandalorian, “Chapter 21: The Pirate,” was the best episode of the season ... of a show that does not exist.

“The Pirate”’s first act follows X-wing pilot Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) as he responds to a distress signal from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), after his settlement on Nevarro comes under attack from space pirates. Teva finds the bureaucracy of the New Republic indifferent to his pleas for assistance, so he seeks out the Mandalorian, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), and informs him of Karga’s plight. The Mandalorian’s clan fights off the pirates and then claims land on Nevarro as their new home.

After the conflict is resolved, an additional scene shows Teva further investigating his suspicion that there is a growing underground threat to the New Republic that no one has noticed. Sure enough, he finds a derelict ship that should have transported the evil Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) to trial. Its crew slaughtered and its prisoner escaped, it never arrived at its destination.

THE MANDALORIAN, Season 3
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Again, as episodes of The Mandalorian Season 3 go, this was a solid one. It has an exciting battle for Nevarro on the streets and in the skies above the planet. I’m also a sucker for a good story about a lone hero who believes something bad is on the horizon but, gosh darn it, no one will listen to them. Plus, the epilogue scene, with Carson Teva investigating that Imperial shuttle, was more atmospheric and spooky than anything Star Wars has done lately.

But I just spent an entire paragraph praising the best parts of The Mandalorian and never once mentioned the Mandalorian himself. This week, he was mostly a bystander on his own show. He was certainly less important than Carson Teva and Karga, who drove much of the action. And he was also less essential to the story than Bo-Katan (Katee Sackoff), Mando’s ally who has taken an increasingly central role in plotting the destiny of Din’s Mandalorian clan.

Mando did give one rousing speech to his Mandalorian brethren, but the key dramatic moment in that sequence belonged to another member of the clan, Paz Vizsla, voiced by series creator Jon Favreau. And this week’s final scenes belonged to the Armorer (Emily Swallow), the leader of the Mandalorian clan who appears to have a mysterious master plan for Bo-Katan.

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READ MORE: Why Are Some Fans Struggling With The Mandalorian Season 3

With more than half of Season 3 now complete, The Mandalorian looks like a show that would rather be about anyone but the Mandalorian — which is especially bizarre since the previous Star Wars Disney+ show, The Book of Boba Fett, essentially stopped being about Boba Fett for an episode and a half so it focus on Mando. Now that Din’s back on his own show, he keeps getting nudged out of the spotlight by his large supporting cast.

In hindsight, almost every Season 3 episode so far plays like a backdoor pilot for another potential Star Wars show: Bo-Katan’s quest to reclaim leadership of the Mandalorian people, the first seeds of the First Order growing within the New Republic, the Children of the Watch and their struggle to find a new home, Greef Karga’s attempts to maintain peace and prosperity on Nevarro, and now Carson Teva and his squad of Rangers patrolling the galaxy. At one point, Lucasfilm actually announce a series titled Rangers of the New Republic, but it never came to fruition, apparently because of the firing of its purported star, Gina Carano. Most of this week’s Mandalorian could have been a repurposed script from its unmade pilot.

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Broadening Din Djarin’s world isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the more The Mandalorian’s focus widens, the more passive its hero becomes. He wanted to redeem himself in the living waters of Mandalore; he did that in Episode 2. Din did urge the rest of the Children of the Watch to help Greef Karga this week; in general, though, he seems content to follow the Armorer and hang out with Grogu. His character has no forward momentum, no goal he’s striving for, nothing he’s seeking to earn or do. He’s quickly becoming a Mandalorian, not the Mandalorian; just one of a large group of tough dudes in cool helmets.

As a viewer, it does seem like Favreau has a plan for the wider Star Wars universe; he’s planting a lot of seeds that can be picked up in other shows like the upcoming Ahsoka, and maybe even a Rangers of the New Republic series if that ever gets off the ground. But that’s the future; the present of The Mandalorian is awfully muddled. With just three episodes left in this entire season, it still feels like it’s putting the pieces in place for a story that hasn’t even begun yet.

New episodes of The Mandalorian premiere on Wednesdays on Disney+. Sign up for Disney+ here.

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