*****TATOOINE-SIZED SPOILERS FOR “THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT!*****
Like most other Star Wars fans, I looked very forward to Disney’s “Book of Boba Fett” when it debuted over a month ago, but several episodes in, I began to feel a distinct lack of interest. After episode 2, my longtime Star Wars fan wife gave up on it. I kept watching, mainly because it has the Star Wars label on it, but my interest level is definitely waning. Already answering the 39-year old fan question of how Boba survived the Sarlaac pit in its pilot episode, there wasn’t a whole lot more I wanted or needed to know about the original Mandalorian.
After crawling out of the Sarlaac Pit, a vengeful Fett eventually takes over Jabba’s old hood, and sets himself up a Star Wars’ answer to “The Godfather.” We got all of that in the 39 minute pilot. None of the show’s characters are particularly good people, and there’s a distinct lack of heart to any of it–unlike Disney’s first Star Wars live action series, “The Mandalorian”, which reinvented the badass bounty hunter Boba Fett from the movies into a tough, loving newfound single dad named Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), who’s taking care of a Yoda-esque infant named Grogu–whom he was supposed to bring in for a hefty payday. “The Mandalorian” had spectacle, adventure, warmth, humor and, most importantly, a distinct character arc.
Through Pedro Pascal’s body language and Clint Eastwood-esque voice, a vibrant and surprisingly expressive character emerged through all that beskar armor. Unfortunately, “The Book of Boba Fett” focuses on Mando’s less-interesting prototype.
I didn’t intend to review other episodes of “The Book of Boba Fett,” because I didn’t feel the series merited such focus. That is, until this episode…
“The Return of the Mandalorian.”
Written by series cocreator Jon Favreau and beautifully directed by veteran Star Wars TV director (and “Jurassic World” costar) Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of actor/director Ron Howard, who also directed “Solo: A Star Wars Story”), “The Return of The Mandalorian” is precisely that–so much so, in fact, that it’s easy to think of it as another episode of “The Mandalorian” rather than the 5th chapter of “Book of Boba Fett.”
In an episode entirely without lead actor Temuera Morrison, we see Mando, aka Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) in his shiny beskar armor raiding a meat packing plant run by dog-faced Klatooinians. Mando is out to collect a bounty on the plant’s boss, who owes money to some powerful people.
Note: “Klatooinians” are named, of course, as a reference to 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, which saw Patricia Neal speaking a simple three-worded command to an alien robot, Gort; “Gort! Klaatu, Borada, Nikto!” We first saw one of these canine-featured aliens working on Jabba’s sail barge in “Return of the Jedi”, the movie which (seemingly) saw Boba Fett unceremoniously bumped off when he fell into the Sarlaac Pit…only to reemergence in the pilot of “The Book of Boba Fett,” some 38 years later.
Walking through the plastic meat-locker curtains into the manager’s office, Mando faces little opposition from the burly plant workers. He soon finds his quarry, Kaba Baiz (Ardeshir Radpour), and tells the evasive Klatooinian that he can take him in “warm…or cold.” Kaba summons some of his workers to act as his personal body guards. Mando warns the workers that he has no quarrel with them, and would prefer not to fight. They ignore his sage advice, and pile on the lone but heavily armed Mando…
Note: Mando’s vast supply of weapons, some of them automated (like his missile darts) makes him a one-man army. It was genuinely thrilling to see the typically outnumbered Mando in combat again. Even at this early point, this story was already more exciting than anything we’d seen in the previous four episodes of “Book of Boba Fett.”
Pulling out the ancient Mandalorian ‘dark saber’ he won in The Mandalorian, Chapter 16: “The Rescue”, Mando makes quick work of his assailants, as one of them wisely chooses to flee instead. During combat, Mando’s own lack of expertise with his weapon leaves a nasty gash in his left leg. The headstrong Baiz chooses to resist capture by the wounded Mando, and is bisected and decapitated for his trouble.
Taking Baiz’s head with him in a bag, we see a limping Mando catch an elevator with a curious, but smartly non-inquiring alien to the upper floor of a building somewhere on the surface of an immense ‘ring world’ (a science fiction concept dating back to author Larry Niven and many others). The ring world is an immense, literal ring built in orbit around a star, offering untold living space for its inhabitants, who cling to its surface by centrifugal gravity.
Note: I’m glad my wife and I watched this episode digitally projected in high definition onto a large, 7 ft./2 meter screen at home, since the sheer majesty and scale of this Ring World makes it the most dazzling, awe-inspiring artificial environment ever created for the Star Wars universe, and yes, that includes Cloud City and the Death Star.
Arriving at a seedy night club atop one of the ring city’s towers to collect on Baiz’s bounty, Mando is met by reluctance by his contractors, who insist that he stay and negotiate with them instead. Preferring to get on with business in lieu of pleasure, the still-smarting Mando gets his wish–and information he sought on the whereabouts of two other Mandalorians living in hiding on the ring world.
Making his way through the maintenance areas along the outer sections of the ring (the areas facing away from the surface sunlight), Mando uses his helmet’s sensitive visual aids to find the hidden Mandalore symbols along an indistinct entrance.
Note: The grimier, more industrial-looking maintenance areas of the ring world reminded me of similar maintenance areas near the underbelly of Cloud City in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Finding his fellow Mandalorians, who were made refugees following the events of The Mandalorian, Chapter 3: “The Sin”, Mando greets the musclebound Paz Vizla (Tait Fletcher) and the revered Armorer (Emily Swallow). The Armorer acts as weapons-maker and self-appointed guardian of Mandalorian culture. An unsteady Mando approaches her, collapsing on a metal staircase, as she instructs Paz to mend Mando’s wounded leg (yes, he’s walked on that injured leg the entire time…). The Armorer, who’s kept track of Mando’s exploits since they last saw each other, knows that he possesses the dark saber; a revered artifact of Mandalorian history, akin to King Arthur’s sword in “Excalibur.”
She also notices the beskar spear given to him by Ahsoka in The Mandalorian, Chapter 13: “The Jedi”. Mando tells her it can block a lightsaber, and she reminds him it can also be used to pierce a fellow Mandalorian’s beskar armor… making it a grave danger to their kind. He tells her to melt it down and repurpose it into a chain mesh armor for a toddler–a gift he hopes to give to Groku, who is currently training with the Jedi Knights under Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker.
Note: Despite the fact that young Grogu (aka “Baby Yoda”) is never seen in the episode, the green toddler’s presence is felt throughout. It’s clear that Mando misses him with the same intensity of any parent who’s separated from their child. That central connection between Mando and Grogu is what gave The Mandalorian a genuine heartbeat…something sadly missing in the lifeless crime saga of Boba Fett’s previous four episodes.
During his time with the Armorer, she also relates (via flashbacks) the “Night of a Thousand Tears”, when the Empire invaded Mandalore, bringing untold devastation to the planet. During the flashback we see Imperial TIE bombers flying across the night sky, dropping their lethal payloads onto Mandalore’s cities, as Imperial robots scour the surface for survivors.
Note: The “Night of a Thousand Tears” flashback sequence has a strong “Terminator”-vibe to it, as the devastated surface is patrolled by Imperial droids of the same class as K2SO (Alan Tudyk) in 2016’s “Rogue One”. We also see the TIE bombers and Imperial probe droids first seen in “The Empire Strikes Back” as well. Arguably, Mando’s scenes with “the Armorer” are heavy with exposition, but the exposition is not dry or dull; it arrests the audience’s attention with vivid imagery. The scenes of Mando and the Armorer are similar to the classic mythological hero seeking out the wisdom of an oracle.
Addressing Mando’s issues with the dark saber, the Armorer proceeds to give the healed Mando lessons on how to properly wield it. She notes that he fights the saber instead of feeling it–making it seem heavier. When Mando’s training with the weapon ends badly, rival Paz Vizla takes notice. Paz challengingly mentions that perhaps the dark saber belongs to a more worthy guardian, reminding Mando that he’s from the very bloodline that created it. Challenge is offered, and Mando accepts. Before entering combat with this much larger opponent, the two of them remove their rocket packs and other weapons–with Mando wielding only the dark saber and Paz wielding his large dagger. Mando’s lack of expertise with his weapon goes against him, and he soon loses the saber to Paz. However, Mando ultimately wins the duel when he grabs Paz’s dagger, holding it at his throat. The Armorer declares Mando the winner, though he is excommunicated from the order for admitting to removing his helmet. He is allowed to keep the dark saber… for now.
Note: The dark saber’s eerie black-bladed look is a beautiful image…made even more impressive by the fact that it’s largely a practical effect, shot in-camera, save for minor enhancements. see: Star Wars Darksaber In Live-Action, No CGI/screenrant.com
We next see something we’ve rarely, if ever, encounter in the Star Wars movies; a character having to fly commercial. Mando is about to board his passenger starliner when his presence causes a weapons detector to activate. A droid rushes up to him, insisting that the Mandalorian drop all of his weapons into a carry-on case; Mando protests, reiterating that weapons “are part of (his) religion.” Realizing he can’t board without compliance, we see Mando removing his many weapons (including the dark saber), and dumping them into the lockable container. He then takes his access key, warning the droid that he’s aware of everything he put in there.
Note: I’m surprised that in the long history of live-action Star Wars (almost 45 years), we’ve never seen a space-analog of present-day commercial air travel in any of the films. 2002’s “Attack of the Clones” (my least favorite Star Wars film) saw Anakin and Padme pretending to be refugees to get onboard a civilian transport to Naboo, but that wasn’t quite the same thing; neither was Obi Wan Kenobi’s booking passage on the Millennium Falcon in the 1977 original. In a ‘galaxy far, far away,’ where space travel is as routine as cars on Earth, it’s almost reassuring to see passengers en masse undergoing the same minor irritations we experience in conventional air travel today.
On the spaceplane, Mando holds a small cloth handkerchief containing the chain armor for Grogu; even the wrapping resembles the toddler’s head shape (a subtle touch that my wife noticed). As Mando is lost in melancholy, a Rodian child peers over her seat to star at him, as curious kids often do on airplanes.
Soon, the starliner’s passengers reach the desert world of Tatooine, where Mando has a lead on a new spaceship to replace his destroyed Razor Crest (The Mandalorian, Chapter 14: “The Tragedy”). After getting his weapons back, he’s off to Mos Eisley spaceport to see his old friend and ally, Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris).
Note: Love the little moment that reinforces the heart of Mando, as he doesn’t try to scare the Rodian child, or even stop her from staring. Instead, he quietly indulges her curiosity.
At Mos Eisley spaceport’s Docking Bay 35, Peli Motto is having trouble with aggressive live vermin infesting her hangar. Much to the fright of her cowardly pit crew droids, Peli is physically yanked behind a work bench by a particularly strong critter. Mando blasts the creature off of her, and she welcomes him. Getting right to business, Mando asks if she has a replacement Razor Crest for him. She tells him she has a ship for him…but not a Razor Crest. An impatient Mando is about to leave, when she urges him to take a look at the ship she does have for sale.
Note: I realize that Amy Sedaris’ lovable but shady con artist/mechanic Peli Motto is a fan favorite, but I find her a bit annoying, to be honest. The character’s humor is a bit too broad at times. She kind of reminds me of one of those oh-so ‘zany’ characters from the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special”. I half-expect to see her making deals with Art Carney’s Saun Dann or Bea Arthur’s cantina owner…
Pelli pulls the tarpaulin off a smaller-than-expected ship, exposing a beat-to-hell skeleton of what used to be an Old Republic Naboo N-1 starfighter (from “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”). She assures Mando that she has all the parts to put it into working order, and that whatever she needs, she can get from the local Jawas, with whom she has a close relationship; “I dated a Jawa once,” she tells Mando. As we see later on, she expertly speaks the Jawa language whenever the diminutive desert scrap dealer conduct business at her hangar. Reluctant and desperate, Mando almost asks for his prepaid money back until the fast-talking Pelli convinces him that the finished starfighter will be exceptionally fast–something handy for the legally ambiguous Mandalorian. With Mando’s assistance, she and the droids get to work…
Note: One of the Pelli’s droids is a very familiar, red-paneled R5 astromech droid with scorch marks on the top of its head–the marks are in the exact spot where an identical red astromech droid blew its motivator during a Jawa droid deal at the Lars homestead in the original “Star Wars” (1977). I’m assuming this is the exact same droid that Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen purchased until settling on R2-D2 as a substitute for the defective R5 (which, presumably, the Jawas or even Pelli Motto herself later repaired).
The following montage sees Pelli, her droids and Mando working round the clock to get his newly purchased junk-heap of a starfighter into working order. We see Pelli negotiating with the Jawas for spare parts. I have to admit; Motto’s line about ‘dating a Jawa’ make me more curious about Jawa sexuality than I ever wanted or needed to be…
Note: My biggest nit with the episode lie with precisely how a starfighter will service a bounty hunter. As my wife correctly pointed out, where exactly would Mando store his prisoners on an N-1 starfighter, or will all future bounties of his be decapitation-only jobs? And if, somehow, Mando reunites with Grogu in Season 3, where will the little guy sit? Will he have to ride in the now hollow (and sealed) astromech dome to the rear of the cockpit? Not very cozy, let alone safe. I’m curious to see how Mando will alter his lifestyle to accommodate this new “sports car” that’s supposed to replace his roomier Razor Crest.
In what is perhaps a love letter to Star Wars’ creator George Lucas’ youth as a race car junkie and a nice nod to Doug Chiang’s graceful N-1 design, Pelli Motto rolls out the finished starfighter, which rests suspended above the ground using graceful repulsor-lift technology. With the fighter’s orange paint mostly scraped off, the silver, dart-like spacecraft is ready for a trial flight. Mando has a bit of trouble achieving ignition, but soon, the engines roar to life, and the N-1 is raring to go…
Note: To my own sense of aesthetics, the otherwise elegant N-1 design always looked somewhat backwards–with the sleeker, more aerodynamic components at the rear of the craft, while the stubbier wings and big engine intakes are mounted up-front. I don’t care how many times I see it, I keep expecting the damned thing to fly in reverse somehow…
Mando takes the N-1 into the air, whizzing over and through the infamous “Beggar’s Canyon” region (where Luke used to “bullseye womprats” in his T-16). It’s a dizzying, joyful ride through the desert landscapes and skies above Tatooine; a thrilling ode to the freedom of aviation. Feeling a bit more confidence in handling the powerful little spacecraft, Mando decides (unwisely) to take her into space…
Note: I can’t say enough about Bryce Dallas Howard’s graceful direction, imparting a distinct feature film look to this episode that’s been somewhat lacking from the previous four Book of Boba Fett installments. From her slow, almost teasing reveal of the massive ring world to the joyride in the skies above Tatooine, her natural confidence and grace behind the camera reminds me of her father’s best work, as seen in films like “Backdraft” (1991) and “Apollo 13” (1995).
Once in orbit over Tatooine, Mando cruises alongside the departing starliner which brought him to Tatooine; even acknowledging the little Rodian girl–who’s pressed against the window, watching Mando with rapt attention (reminding me of young Lois Lane reacting to the teenaged Clark Kent racing her train in 1978’s “Superman: The Movie”). Mando’s forced to put the brakes on when he’s surrounded by a pair of New Republic X-wing fighters on a routine patrol of the Tatooine system. One of the pilots is Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), who recognizes Mando from their past interactions (Mandalorian, Chapter 10: “The Passenger” and Chapter 12: “The Siege”). As Mando nervously explains that his new ship doesn’t have its transponder beacon installed, it’s clear that he’s not going to talk his way out of this one. Using the untapped power of this new ship, Mando decides to punch it and outrun the pair–which he does, in fact. The two X-wing pilots, realizing Mando’s long gone, decide to turn tail and call it a day.
Note: This is the third time Mando has crossed paths with New Republic ‘traffic cops’, who were a lot less sympathetic in “The Siege.” That he keeps crossing paths with Captain Teva is a nice running gag for the Star Wars TV universe–implying that no matter how big the galaxy appears, Capt. Teva will always be there to make life difficult for Mando.
Mando returns to Docking Bay 35, and is clearly in love with his new ‘sports car’, never mind how impractical it is for his line of work. As he exits the cockpit of the ship, Pelli tells him that someone was at the hangar looking for him…Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), who is still within eavesdropping distance, as she approaches Mando and Pelli. Mando, of course, considers himself in debt to Fennec and Boba Fett for their invaluable aid to his cause last year. Fennec tells Mando that she and Boba are facing a war with rival gangs on Tatooine and she is prepared to pay Mando handsomely for his services. The grateful Mando tells her it’s “on the house,” but first, he needs to make a quick trip to see Grogu…
Note: After a whole episode spent catching up with Mando in what is essentially a very special episode of “The Mandalorian,” it almost felt like a rude interruption to have Fennec show up with her offer from Boba Fett. After catching up with the much-missed Mando, I’d nearly forgotten (perhaps semi-deliberately) that I was watching an episode of “The Book of Boba Fett.”
Summing It Up.
As said earlier, “The Return of the Mandalorian” is a great episode of “The Mandalorian,” one of the best, in fact–but it’s a terrible episode of “The Book of Boba Fett,” because it serves to underscore exactly how redundant Boba Fett himself has become. Pedro Pascal’s mimetic performance in the armor is so much more fluid and interesting than the more rigid Temuera Morrison. Not to mention that he plays a far more noble and likable character. Yes, Mando still does the bounty hunting stuff, and he skirts the edge of morality quite a bit, but he’s still sympathetic because of his loving devotion to the “Baby Yoda” Grogu–who isn’t in the episode, though the presence of the 50-year old toddler is very much felt.
Unfortunately, neither Boba Fett or Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) have anywhere near Mando’s heart or sympathy. This is a fault of the show’s conception, not the actors. Mando was a morally gray character steering towards his own personal redemption through his love and defense of Grogu; Boba Fett is an ex-bounty hunter who wants to be a gangster by taking over his old boss’s digs. Not much of an arc there, let alone a path to redemption…
It’s not a promising sign when the best episode of Boba Fett’s series to date is also the episode where Fett doesn’t have a single second on camera… and I didn’t really miss him, either. This makes me concerned for Disney’s plans for a Bo-Katan Kryze spinoff series, starring Katee Sackhoff, which is in development. While I’m certainly happy for the talented Sackhoff (who was amazing as “Starbuck” in the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica”), I’m not sure if I need or even want this show. To be honest, the episodes of animated Star Wars that focused on Mandalore’s internal Game of Thrones-ish politics were my least favorites. So unless Bo-Katan has a few good tricks up her sleeve, I don’t see much point or demand for this series; they could cover all of it in a future 3 episode-arc of “The Mandalorian.”
As for “The Book of Boba Fett”, much of the promise for a Mandalorian-fronted Star Wars series have largely been fulfilled with Mando, so there’s not many places for Boba Fett to go. Fett’s bounty hunting adventures are over as he settles into the surprisingly lackluster life of a Tatooine crime lord. “The Book of Boba Fett” aspires to be a Star Wars answer to “The Godfather,” but it’s just not there yet. I watch “The Book of Boba Fett” in the hopes that it will improve, but that’s not the best reason to follow a series.
Going forward, I’d be perfectly okay seeing Boba Fett and Fennec Shand making guest or semi-regular appearances on Mando’s show, but the reverse sees Mando almost effortlessly dominating “The Book of Boba Fett.” I’m not sure if Disney knows exactly how those final pages of Boba Fett’s book will read, or if they’re even worth writing.
Where to Watch.
“The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett” are, of course, available for streaming on DisneyPlus, as are most of the Star Wars movies and animated TV series. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 876,000 (and over 5.6 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks (N-95/KN-95 masks are optimal), practice safe-distancing and get vaccinated as soon as possible to minimize infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are available everywhere). There is also the highly contagious Omicron variant to safeguard for as well, so please continue to mask up in public spaces for others’ sake as well as your own.
Take care and mask up. This is the way…