IG-11 played an essential part at the beginning of The Mandalorian, and in season three, his return could represent a turning point for Mando.
In season one, IG-11 was an assassin droid programmed to follow the Bounty Hunters Guild protocol. He took a bounty and sought to kill Grogu. and Mando’s Ugnaught ally Kuiil reprogrammed him into a nurse droid who assisted Mando in his battle against Moff Gideon‘s Imperial forces. This was a big deal. Mando had a burning hatred for droids and didn’t trust them, but after realizing IG-11 wasn’t alive and simply following its orders, he began to trust him.
Mando goes as far as taking off his helmet and showing the droid his face — an act that’s not allowed as a member of the Children of the Watch — to heal his injuries. Their adventure takes them on a barge floating on a lava river that leads to Moff’s stormtroopers at its end and things are looking dire for Mando’s team. IG-11’s main objective is to protect Grogu, so the droid goes into the burning lava and self-destructs to take out their enemies, allowing Mando’s team to pass through and eventually disable Gideon’s TIE fighter and escape the planet.
In The Mandalorian season three, Mando is on a quest to return to Mandalore and bathe in the living waters underneath the mines as a way to redeem himself for having taken off his helmet. The main problem is that Mandalore is believed to be poisonous and the mines have supposedly been destroyed, so fulfilling this mission won’t be easy. As always, Mando has a plan.
Mando first goes to Nevarro and it’s been given a major upgrade since season one and a statue of IG-11 has been erected in honor of the brave droid. Mando asks if Grogu remembers his old friend before meeting with Greef Karga who’s now the High Magistrate. After they win a battle in the streets against space pirates led by Pirate King Gorian Shard, Mando reveals that he needs someone he can trust to help him explore Mandalore and he wants IG-11 to be the one to do it. Karga explains that he’s mostly destroyed, but Mando won’t change his mind and he attempts to bring him back online with his remaining upper body parts.
It works, but the results aren’t what he’s hoping for. IG-11 powers up and attacks Grogu like an infected in The Last of Us because he returns to his factory settings. Karga’s droid pushes a bust of Karga on IG-11’s head and stops him cold before he finishes the job. Now Mando has to rely on the little Anzellans to fix IG-11 and it’ll take some time before that happens.
There’s more to this story than just Mando needing another ally on his quest. His attempts to bring IG-11 back mirror his own quest of redeeming himself in the living waters underneath Mandalore. They both represent a resurrection of sorts and becoming quintessentially good. Mando wants to be a Mandalorian again and he’ll go to great lengths to get it, which falls in line with the creed of his people.
Mando hated droids in the beginning of the series because, during the Clone Wars, battle droids attacked his home planet and killed his parents when he was a child. It’s not surprising that he would grow up to hate droids, but there’s also a narrative that runs parallel with this idea that deserves examination. Mando is very similar to a droid himself. He follows orders, his “programming,” his monotone voice, and his Mandalorian armor give him a droid-like appearance. He’s not even able to take off his helmet, thus denying his own humanity.
Before IG-11 sacrificed himself, Mando tried to convince him not to because they needed him. IG-11 tells him not to be sad, which Mando denies being, but IG-11 analyzed his voice and knew that he was lying. It took a droid’s sacrifice to make him realize how much he actually cared and IG-11 was redeemed in Mando’s eyes. Redemption is a major theme in The Mandalorian season three, and it’s shown that Mando’s come such a long way already.
Mando’s hatred of droids could be seen as a subconscious disapproval of himself, and in turn, his acceptance of IG-11 could be seen as an acceptance of himself. If IG-11 can go from an incredibly dangerous assassin into a sympathetic figure, then so can he.