Sometimes, The Mandalorian isn’t really a TV show. It’s a tour bus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — one of the pleasures of watching the show is seeing how it drives by deeply esoteric aspects of Star Wars lore (see: the Darksaber) or repurposed bits of less popular stories (hot-rodding a Naboo starfighter). In the season 3 premiere of The Mandalorian, this theme continues, folding in perhaps the only universally beloved aspect of 2019’s divisive The Rise of Skywalker: my man Babu Frik.
For those who need a refresher, Babu Frik was the tiny droid specialist that the heroes of The Rise of Skywalker turn to in order to extract Sith secrets from C-3PO’s memory. He’s the sort of one-off character that Star Wars excels at — 8 inches tall with 20 feet of personality, he explodes onto the screen as a wildly expressive puppet with an unforgettable voice as performed by Shirley Henderson. He even, like Yoda, has a distinctive speech pattern that’s just fun to listen to, a bit of cartoony exuberance in an otherwise serious scene.
Technically, Babu Frik is not in the season 3 premiere of The Mandalorian. What we get is better: a whole gang of droid specialists just like him (all also voiced by Shirley Henderson). They’re called Anzellans, a species of tiny upright aliens that look like a cross between a gremlin (dry) and primate. Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) goes to them in order to see if they can rebuild the bounty hunter droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi) that self-destructed in the show’s first season.
As a recent addition to Star Wars canon, Anzellans don’t have a lot of backstory to them. There’s a perhaps apocryphal account of an early draft of The Rise of Skywalker script that had Babu Frik, or a version of him, give the heroes a weapon that could wipe out a Star Destroyer fleet — because Anzellans’ diminutive size and sharp sight made them uniquely desirable ship mechanics with unique insight into Star Destroyer plans. Eventually, this turned into the droidsmiths that made it to the finished film.
The Mandalorian would only be the Anzellans’ second on-screen appearance, and Star Wars literature has only mentioned them in a handful of books. There’s nothing to suggest that they’re going to be a huge part of this season of TV, but they could be! They’re a hilarious blue-collar caricature, like a kooky Star Wars version of a mechanic with a thick Brooklyn accent telling you no matter how much you argue with him, your R2 unit is never gonna play a violin. Having an archetype that’s so hilariously broad playing against Din Djarin’s steely resolve is just inherently funny, and a reminder that these fantastic Star Wars heroes also share a space with a more normie array of characters, even if they are played by adorable puppets.
In fact, Din Djarin’s quest leads The Mandalorian to all sorts of interesting faces both old and new. In addition to the Anzellans, the premiere shows off a gang of pirates led by the sniveling jerk Vane (Marti Matulis), a wonderful rubber-faced alien, and his boss, the kelp-y captain Gorian Shard. The Mandalorian also has enough history behind it to delve into its own roster of characters — Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) is back to help his friend Mando out, and Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), the former Mandalorian royal who does not follow Din’s creed, has a pointed argument with the hero.
Three seasons in and The Mandalorian finally feels like it has the texture of an old EU story, with just enough sprawl to feel like it could go anywhere but still feel familiar. It doesn’t always pursue this — arguably the weakest part of the premiere is how concerned it is with Mandalorian lore, which is underexplained and overemphasized — but it understands on some level that an essential part of Star Wars is delight, either from meeting a great new character or reuniting with one it introduced us to previously.
Fans of the animated side of Star Wars are familiar with this — The Clone Wars was particularly interested in plumbing the franchise’s adventure-serial heritage in order to build out a rewarding patchwork of characters and locales that seemed haphazard at first but eventually cohered into something meaningful. It’s newer in the live-action realm of Star Wars, but no less satisfying. Sometimes Star Wars is good for thoughtful political thrillers. Other times? It’s a chill party bus, and Babu Frik is driving.