For the second straight week, The Book of Boba Fett was barely about Boba Fett. And for the second straight week, few fans of Star Wars will mind.
In contrast to last week, Fett actually appears this time, as Temuera Morrison lands an unspeaking role in a single scene in the penultimate episode of what is ostensibly his series. Once again, Fett plays second fiddle—OK, maybe more like seventh fiddle—to crossover characters and the overriding business of setting up Star Wars stories to come. “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” directed and cowritten by Lucasfilm animation czar turned live-action impresario Dave Filoni, is a lot like Filoni’s second-season episode of The Mandalorian, in that it advances a new story while doubling as a love letter to devotees of The Clone Wars and Rebels.
But this chapter is more than mere service for fans of Filoni’s former work. It’s a nexus of series and story lines that, like Fett himself, spans three phases of Star Wars, incorporating the prequel-era roots of Ahsoka Tano and live-action rookie Cad Bane, the original-trilogy classicism of Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, and the Mandalorian memories of Cobb Vanth, Din Djarin, and Grogu. Even individually, the wrenching near-reunion of Mando and Grogu, the almost-as-moving rendezvous between Luke and Ahsoka, or the badass debut of Bane would have made for an indelible morsel of Star Wars. Put the three together, and you have a perfect recipe for forgetting Fett—a setback for this series, maybe, but a tour de Force for the franchise.
For its first four weeks, The Book of Boba Fett told what appeared to be a semi-self-contained story about Boba’s survival, metamorphosis, and ascendance on Tatooine. Its subsequent installments morphed into The Mandalorian, masquerading as its own spinoff. To quote some of Skywalker’s words, “This is totally different.” But to echo a couple of Luke’s teachers, this is only different in our minds, at least from a certain point of view. We can quibble with the way the mashup of multiple timelines was delivered this season, and we can continue to wonder whether Fett was equal to the task of carrying a fraction of a show. But we can’t accuse Filoni or Jon Favreau of holding back key plot developments, soft-pedaling poignant encounters, or failing to fulfill fans’ dreams of fantasy character pairings. You may not like it, but this is what peak franchise-building looks like in the era of shared universes on streaming services.
“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” begins with the marshal of Mos Pelgo, Cobb Vanth, interrupting a quartet of Pykes in the middle of a spice exchange. Vanth, seen for the first time since he handed Fett’s armor to Din at the end of The Mandalorian’s second-season premiere, offers the Pykes the option of taking their spice and camtono of credits out of town, but three of the four draw on him and get gunned down. The fourth and most prudent Pyke, like the survivors of Chapter 2’s train robbery, is allowed to live (and leave) to deliver a message: The Pykes aren’t welcome in Cobb’s territory. But Cobb claims the spice chest, kicks it open, and lets its contents mingle with Tatooine’s sand, Dune-style. The spice may be worth more than Mos Pelgo, but the marshal wants no part of the Pykes’ illicit trade.
In the wake of last week’s episode, this introductory scene functions as a clever misdirect. “Return of the Mandalorian” left a lingering question: Would we see Grogu this season, or would our next glimpse of the green guy have to wait until December, when The Mandalorian is slated to return? On the one hand, the next step in Din and Grogu’s story seemed like a major plot point to burn before Season 3 started. On the other hand, dangling the prospect of Grogu only to whisk him away would be cruel—and, inevitably, damaging to The Book of Boba Fett, which would have a hard time following up the possibility with something as satisfying. Opening on Tatooine and bringing back Vanth maintained the fiction that we might be going back to Book of Boba business as usual. As a tweet from the official Book of Boba account teased, though, the bulk of this episode was bound to be the Grogu show, a relief for fans who’d said they would like to see the baby.
After the title card, we follow Din and his single-dad-in-the-midst-of-a-midlife-crisis hot rod to a new planet, as verdant as Tatooine is desiccated. As we learned in the sequel trilogy, Luke isn’t always great about communicating his whereabouts, but he must have told Din where Grogu would be. After Din sets down, he tells Artoo that he’s looking for Luke, and Artoo merrily leads Din into the wilderness, much as Yoda led Luke on Dagobah. And like Yoda, he makes his guest wait—in this case, on a newly constructed bench near the site of a hut being built by ant droids. Although this planet bears some resemblance to Ahch-To, the planet where Luke enters seclusion decades later, it’s probably neither Ahch-To nor Yavin 4, where Luke constructed his academy in the old Expanded Universe. Although the architecture is similar to that of Ahch-To’s Jedi village, this dwelling is new, not ancient, and we see no sign of Ahch-To’s Caretakers or vast oceans. (Plus, Ahch-To wouldn’t have made much of a hideout if it were the site of Luke’s old headquarters.) The location of this bamboo-covered spot—presumably the same as the one previously seen in Rey’s vision of Luke’s academy in The Force Awakens—remains a secret to us.
While Mando waits with a powered-down Artoo—as Episode VII demonstrated, entering sleep mode helps him keep secrets—we see the kid he’s come for: Grogu, who’s in the middle of meditating with Luke. Luke appears to be in the zone, but Grogu, insatiable as ever, is distracted from his Force reverie by a passing frog. (Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.) Instead of congratulating Grogu on using his powers to snag a snack, Luke chides him for losing focus and then shows him what he could accomplish by lifting a dozen or more frogs from the grass—weird Force flex, but OK—a demonstration of skill that impresses Grogu more than raising an inedible X-wing from a swamp. (Hopefully Luke is feeding him something, though. Let Grogu eat!)
Their reverie over, Luke and Grogu walk and talk (or walk and listen, at least). Luke adorably levitates Grogu a few feet at a time so the kid can keep pace with Luke’s longer strides. As they stroll, Luke tells Grogu about Yoda, shares some of his late master’s wisdom (“Size matters not”), and offers to help Grogu remember his origins. The first memory the mind meld dredges up is a traumatic one, as are many of the memories Fett recovers and/or relives in his bacta tank. From Grogu’s perspective, we see three Jedi blasted by clone troopers from the 501st (not including Captain Rex) as they try to protect the youngling. The flashback to the Jedi Temple in the aftermath of Order 66 cuts off before we learn who or what saved Grogu from suffering the same fate. “The galaxy is a dangerous place, Grogu,” Luke says. “I will teach you to protect yourself.” (An insignia on the wall seems to match the crest of disgraced and imprisoned Jedi Barriss Offee, a former friend of Ahsoka’s. Offee could be a candidate to rescue Grogu, though it’s possible that Grogu forgot his past as a consequence of tapping into the dark side to save himself.)
Meanwhile, back at the bamboo bench, Mando is startled from his nap by the appearance of Ahsoka, whom Artoo has summoned to run interference for Luke. “I’m an old friend of the family,” Ahsoka says, bringing warm feelings to the heart of any veteran viewers of The Clone Wars who remember her bond with Skyguy senior.
If we’re nitpicking, we could point out that there’s no pressing reason for Ahsoka to be here; Artoo could have flashed a “Do not disturb” sign or found a time to pull Luke aside. But because she’s spent slightly more quality time with Mando, she’s better positioned to show him tough love. Although Ahsoka declined to train Grogu on the grounds that his attachment to Mando makes him vulnerable to an Anakin-style descent to the dark side, she’s amenable to Luke’s tutelage because both Grogu and Luke opted into the arrangement. She tells Din that the nascent settlement will one day be a great school, and that Grogu will be its first student. Din still wants to see him to make sure he’s safe, and to give him the gift of a foundling’s first beskar. In light of later events, Ahsoka’s declaration that “There is no place more safe in the galaxy than here with Master Luke” seems suspect, but she still questions Mando’s motives: “Are you doing this for Grogu, or are you doing this for yourself?”
Ahsoka suggests that Din is bringing beskar to Grogu not to protect him, but to ensure that he doesn’t forget the face of his father. Din, voice cracking, insists that the beskar is the foundling’s right, which provokes another cutting comment from Ahsoka. “Foundling,” she says. “Perhaps he is a Padawan now.” Mando may be tempted to say “Why not both?,” but even the reconstituted Jedi order, which is in no position to repel potential trainees, doesn’t work that way. In the old Legends timeline, Luke’s new order loosened the old order’s prohibition of marriage, having learned the cost of forbidden, clandestine relationships from Anakin. Unlike his dad, Legends Luke gets to tie the knot. But the new, canonical Luke hasn’t reached the same conclusion, which could be why his new order is also destined to disintegrate.
Din observes, quite logically, that beskar could come in handy whether Grogu is a foundling or a Padawan. (And aren’t both a form of foundling, adopted by different orders?) Ahsoka offers to give Grogu the gift on his behalf, but Din doesn’t give up easily. Gazing at Grogu from afar, he wistfully says, “I came all this way. He’s right there.” But Ahsoka, not without tenderness, says that Grogu already misses Mando, and that seeing him would only exacerbate the baby’s conflict. Mando may have visitation rights, but Ahsoka asserts that the kindest thing he could do for his foundling is to let him move on.
I understand what Ahsoka’s saying: My mom once visited me during a sad stretch at sleepaway camp, but it only made me more homesick when she left. (Leaving was hard for her too; more than 20 years later, she still sometimes asks whether I wish she had taken me home.) Mando’s turmoil may be hidden by his helmet, but his pain is apparent as he hands the Grogu-shaped beskar bundle to Ahsoka, beseeches her to “Make sure he’s protected,” and heads back to his fighter. The problem with this plan is that Grogu doesn’t need to see Mando to know he was there; chilling on Luke’s back in a Yoda-style rucksack, he heartbreakingly stretches his hand out toward Din’s N-1 as the fighter rockets away. What would be more painful: Saying a second goodbye to Din, or knowing he stopped by and didn’t say hi?
After bringing large swaths of the audience to tears—I’m extending a virtual tissue to my editor Mallory Rubin, who may be breaking down again as she reads this—Filoni lightens the mood with an incredibly cute training sequence. At first, Grogu doesn’t have hops, even when Luke hits him with a “Don’t try. Do.” But after Luke gets some high-intensity interval training and tells Grogu he’ll find balance through the Force—cue the swelling Force theme—we see Grogu literally balancing on a log, standing on a stalk while watching Luke go through his lightsaber routine, and then getting some serious air in avoiding the bolts from a training remote, which he eventually destroys.
As Grogu makes the most of his midi-chlorians, Ahsoka and Luke look on, together seemingly not for the first time but definitely for the first time on screen. For fans who have history with Ahsoka, this is a special, much-anticipated interaction, one that Filoni and Favreau boldly deploy now rather than saving it for Ahsoka or The Mandalorian’s third season. (Though their first meeting could be shown elsewhere.) “It’s more like he’s remembering than I’m actually teaching him,” Luke says, suggesting that Grogu is no longer repressing the lessons he learned at the Temple. Ahsoka responds, “Sometimes the student guides the master,” which was often the case with her and Anakin.
Although any fan can follow what’s happening here, the sight of Luke consulting and communing with his dad’s former Padawan is enough to induce multiple toe-curling nerdgasms. If you have some spare time and intend to keep watching the live-action Star Wars made by Filoni and friends, do yourself a favor and dive into his back catalog, even if you’re normally animation-averse. (There are more than 130 episodes of The Clone Wars, which starts slow and doesn’t truly take off until Season 4, so feel free to skip around and hit the highlights. Rebels is much shorter and maintains a more consistent quality.)
As Luke watches Grogu ruin the remote, he says, “Sometimes I wonder if his heart is in it.” Ahsoka, channeling Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, says, “So much like your father.” One would think the way to help Grogu avoid Anakin’s downfall is to do things differently than the old order did, but Luke seems set on repeating the same mistakes: Ahsoka tells him to trust his instincts, and it’s possible that his instincts suck. (More on that in a moment.) This likely isn’t the last time that these two will share a scene; when Luke asks whether he’ll see Ahsoka again, she says, “Perhaps,” though her own spinoff probably won’t premiere until 2023.
Before we return to Tatooine, let’s show a little love to the effects team. Grogu delivered the requisite cuteness, whether he was hungering for frogs or rolling the remote like a soccer ball. But his acrobatics demanded more mobility than a puppet could provide, and whatever CGI assist helped him level up skirted the uncanny nature of parts of Yoda’s duels. Similarly, de-aged Mark Hamill has gotten a glow-up since his scene at the end of The Mandalorian’s second season. Although Luke’s face still isn’t super-expressive, we can chalk up his muted expressions and deliberate head turns partly to maturity and Jedi self-restraint. I was skeptical that the approach of pasting Hamill’s face onto a body double would stand up to increased exposure, but it looked natural enough, possibly because Lucasfilm hired the YouTube deepfake artist who improved upon the finale version.
With about 20 minutes left in the episode, Din returns to Tatooine, where he joins a classic Star Wars-ian ensemble briefing in front of a holographic projection. Boba’s brain trust of Din, Fennec, Krrsantan, the Gamorreans, and the mods (as well as the mayor’s majordomo) surround a silent Boba, who presides impassively and gets a nod in lieu of lines. Mayor Mok Shaiz has fled Tatooine, which tells Fennec that the shit is approaching the fan. The mods’ scouting and Din, Fennec, and Krrsantan’s enforcing is a start—like Din when he goes after Gideon, Boba has assembled a squad—but Fett needs foot soldiers to stand up to the Pykes, which spurs a recruiting trip that takes Din away from Fett again. This time, he’s off to Mos Pelgo, rechristened “Freetown” (as in the Aftermath novels) by Vanth and his fellow survivors of the assault on the krayt dragon, whose skull is shown strapped to the top of a sandcrawler like a kayak on a weekender’s car.
Vanth is hesitant to commit his people to Fett’s fight—the Freetown folks have had enough violence, and their marshal is “more careful” without his old armor—but Din argues that Tatooine is a global society, and that Fett’s fight will be Vanth’s soon enough. (Whether Mando knows it or not, the Pykes’ appearance near Freetown helps make his case.) Vanth says he’ll see what he can do, and he means to summon all men and women of fighting age to town to exhort them to ally with Din and the Daimyo.
Vanth’s speech preparations are put on hold when he spies a sinister apparition on the outskirts of town. Speaking of toe-curling nerdgasms: Is that Cad Bane’s music? Bane’s distinctive duster, wide-brimmed hat, and breathing tubes become clear as he walks through the heat haze like Clint Eastwood’s character—also called “The Stranger”—riding into town in High Plains Drifter.
The closed captions may call Cad “Stranger” too, but his outfit and face are unmistakable to fans of the Filoniverse—and it’s a great relief that he looks every bit as intimidating in the blue flesh as he does in animation. The legendary Bane, voiced here and in The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch by Corey Burton, may be the only bounty hunter in the canon whose coolness and competence compares to old-school Fett’s. Krrsantan’s live-action debut was a treat for fans of the comics, but Bane belongs to a higher class of Star Wars celebrity. Inspired by spaghetti Western antagonists like Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes and Douglas Mortimer, Bane was created by George Lucas, Filoni, and Henry Gilroy for the first season of The Clone Wars and went on to appear a dozen times in that series, in addition to two Bad Batch episodes and a few Darth Maul comics.
Bane’s moniker may come from the same “obvious villain” school as General Grievous, Savage Opress, and countless Sith lords, but his name doesn’t sign any checks that his skills can’t cash. He has fewer scruples than Fett, he’s adept at taking down Jedi, and he has a history with Shand, whom he unsuccessfully duels in the course of hunting Fett’s fellow pure Jango clone Omega in a Bad Batch episode released last year.
Bane and Boba overlap in a prison-break episode during The Clone Wars’s third season, and Bane was later slated to mentor and then tangle with Fett in an arc of The Clone Wars that was never completed. Their final faceoff on Tatooine does exist in unfinished form, and it indicates that Bane may have been due to die by Boba’s hand:
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bane meet his maker here, though it would be a shame to limit his live-action options; he’s been in fights with Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan as well, and he could pop up in Obi-Wan Kenobi even if he doesn’t survive this series. Prior to this appearance, Bane hadn’t shown up any later in the timeline than the early days of the Empire, and in Book of Boba, he’s over 70 years old. (Which may or may not be old for a Duros.) It’s unquestionably bad news for Fett that Bane is on the opposite side of this fight—though given the interests of the Hutts and (potentially) Crimson Dawn in the Pykes’ business, it may prove important that he doesn’t specify which syndicate he’s working for—and at least in the short term, it’s bad news for Vanth too. “I’d be careful where I was sticking my nose if I were you,” says Bane, who has no nose to speak of, and he offers to pay Vanth to keep Freetown out of the fight. Vanth instructs Bane to tell his bosses that Tatooine is closed for business; “This planet’s seen enough violence,” Vanth says, shortly before falling victim to more.
A Western-style standoff ends when Vanth’s twitchy deputy makes a move that forces Vanth to draw—too slow to stop Bane, who blasts both of them. The deputy is dead, while Vanth will almost certainly live to rally support from Freetown and return to the fight. “Tatooine belongs to the syndicate,” Bane announced. “As long as the spice keeps running, everyone will be left alone.” In a subsequent scene, the Pykes hammer home their ownership by leaving an explosive camtono in Garsa Fwip’s establishment. (The bomb detonates right behind her, so it’s tough to see how she could have survived, but if that’s a series wrap on Jennifer Beals, she sure didn’t have a whole lot to do.) There’s no Sanctuary, and no sanctuary, for the syndicate’s enemies on Tatooine. At least Max Rebo seemed to have the day off.
In the episode’s closing scene, we return to the site of the incipient Jedi academy, where Luke gives Grogu a choice. He can have the gift Mando left him—yes, it’s a suit of beskar chainmail, and yes, I want him to wear it more than I want almost anything else in the world—or he can inherit Yoda’s lightsaber. If he chooses the saber, he’ll be the academy’s first student, and Luke will train him to be a “great Jedi,” but he may never see Mando again, given Din’s shorter life span and the time it will take Grogu to mature. If he chooses the chainmail, he’ll be reunited with Din, but he’ll “be giving in to attachment to those that you love and forsaking the way of the Jedi.” (The provenance of Yoda’s saber is somewhat unclear, but this blade is different from the one he used to duel Sidious, which was subsequently destroyed. Luke seems to have grabbed a spare saber from Dagobah.)
Yup we were aware of that. It’s not an error though, it was clear from RotS that he didn’t leave Coruscant with that saber. A 900 year old Jedi has probably had more than a few sabers in his life.— Matt Martin (@missingwords) February 11, 2019
As Filoni likely intended, I’ve never liked Luke less—not when he was a teenager who was whining about picking up power converters, and not when he was a senior citizen who was whining about having to train Rey. In fairness to Luke, he’s still in his 20s, he’s never trained a Padawan and has hardly been trained in formal fashion, and he’s trying to restart the order almost single-handedly. (Literally.) Binary choices are nothing new for Force users on Star Wars hero’s journeys. But in the rigid paths Luke presents to Grogu, we can see the seeds of his new order’s demise (and, perhaps, of his embittered future form). Just as the Armorer excommunicates Mando for removing his helmet—without any allowance for extenuating circumstances—Luke makes Grogu turn his back on a core component of his identity. (Though he’s evidently not as much of a stickler for the part of Padawanning where one builds one’s own blade, possibly because his own starter saber was a hand-me-down.)
Maybe Luke is just testing Grogu. Maybe he’s trying to drive him away because he knows he’s not equipped to train him, or maybe he’ll learn from Grogu’s example. (After all, he agrees to train the still-attached Ben Solo, though he doesn’t do it well.) Whatever his reasons, screw these dogmatic masters, and kriff their false dichotomies. Mando and Grogu would be better off without them. Given that Grogu is nowhere to be seen in the sequel trilogy, that there’s still a third season of The Mandalorian on the way, and that the N-1 comes with a Grogu-sized passenger compartment, I’m guessing Grogu’s not done with Din. Nor should he be: Together, they can try to chart an independent path, as Ahsoka has.
The Book of Boba Fett has plotted an unconventional course too, though it’s not necessarily one I would advocate emulating. It’s not unusual for a series to take detours to set up spinoffs. (See Yellowstone Season 4.) Nor is it odd for crossover characters to make cameos that help establish a spinoff. It’s much more uncommon for a spinoff to be almost entirely taken over by its progenitor. Was The Book of Boba Fett the ideal delivery system for some of the signature moments in the show’s most recent two episodes? Quite possibly not, and depending on how the season ends, I may have more to say on that subject next week. But those moments were welcome, whenever they came.
By the time the finale goes live next Wednesday, it will have been three weeks since the last episode that actually featured the spinoff’s titular character. That chapter provided some overdue development of Fett’s character, but considering all that’s transpired since then, Boba’s flashbactas, rejection of bounty hunting, and pursuit of more enlightened criminal leadership seem like ancient, insignificant subplots. The big finish will be back in the helming hands of coshowrunner Robert Rodriguez, who has thus far been the weakest link in the series’ directorial chain. He’ll have to raise his action game to make good on Fett’s showdown with the Pykes, Bane, and, just maybe, Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn. But the biggest question heading into the season’s last act isn’t whether the combat will be cool or the bad guys will connect to a larger criminal conflict; it’s whether Favreau and Co. can make us care about Boba before his book closes.