Occasionally it is necessary to convene a conversation between Vulture writers to discuss an important and timely issue in culture. This time, Jen Chaney, Roxana Hadadi, and Jackson McHenry sit down together to consider the fifth and sixth episodes of The Book of Boba Fett and whether the series can escape the shadow of The Mandalorian.
So far in Disney+’s The Book of Boba Fett, we’ve seen a lot of sand, a lot of scenes where Boba Fett has meetings in his throne room, and now — with only the finale left to go — a back-season turn that spends more time with the characters of predecessor series The Mandalorian than with Boba himself. A question presents itself: What are we watching here?
The Mandalorian spinoff series initially followed the timeline-jumping adventures of everyone’s favorite guy in Star Wars with cool armor but has labored to differentiate itself from Mando’s story line, so much so that the fifth and sixth episodes, “Return of the Mandalorian” and “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” are basically just episodes of that other space Western. While The Mandalorian hopped between planets and had the advantage of featuring the exceptionally adorable Grogu, The Book of Boba Fett spent much of its early season on the surface of Tatooine, getting into the nitty-gritty of water rights, the history of the Tuskens, and teenage biker gangs. With the turn of the most recent two installments, though, the series and its predecessor have collapsed into one tangled narrative on Tatooine.
There’s no denying that the most compelling stuff in The Book of Boba Fett is recycled from The Mandalorian, which seems like a problem for a show that’s not The Mandalorian. That’s why we’ve gathered three of Vulture’s Boba Heads together to discuss what works and what doesn’t in the show and our larger exhaustion around Star Wars TV series.
Jen Chaney: I started The Book of Boba Fett with an open mind but an admittedly skeptical heart. Even though Boba Fett has appeared in numerous pieces of Star Wars fiction, including the original trilogy, the prequels, The Clone Wars, and (obviously) The Mandalorian, the idea of focusing an entire series on him flew in the face of what made him so interesting: his anonymity. After showing up in the delightfully abysmal Star Wars Holiday Special and then The Empire Strikes Back, he became a focus of fan intrigue because (a) his armor and helmet looked cool and (b) we knew next to nothing about him. His mystique was rooted completely in his air of mystery.
Over the years, as LucasFilm and now Disney have continued to strip-mine every inch of the Star Wars universe for potential spinoff material, that sense of mystery has faded. The Book of Boba Fett needed to make a strong case for its own existence, apart from the misguided notion that more Star Wars is always better. Six episodes in, it hasn’t done that. What it’s done most effectively, given these last two episodes, is illustrate that The Mandalorian is a much better show. Actually, this week’s episode gave us pieces of at least three other potential shows: The Mandalorian, a coming-of-age drama about Luke Skywalker training Grogu (how many times need I say this, just make a show about Grogu!), and a space Western starring Timothy Olyphant. I would watch any of those shows! But I am not supposed to be watching those shows — I am watching The Book of Boba Fett. That the possibility of those other narrative paths seems more exciting than the series that Disney+ has presented (in theory, anyway) only bolsters my feeling that Boba should have been left alone. Am I being too much of a purist?
Jackson McHenry: Unfortunately, I agree, this feels like a show that was a cool pitch in some boardroom — “We have a hit show about a character inspired by Boba Fett. What if we cut to the chase and have a show about Boba himself?” — in search of a more genuine reason to exist. Temuera Morrison does good, imposing work as Boba, and I like his insistence in interviews that he didn’t want the character to talk too much, but it’s tough to spin a show around a character who was most interesting as a mysterious, imposing presence. The more you explain Boba’s backstory, the less I want to know. The show itself seems to have gotten bored with its own premise and shifted over to checking in on Mandalorian characters. Typically, I love to see Baby Yoda in any form, but it’s tiresome to see Boba deal with him alongside a very CGI-faced Luke Skywalker, who, to me, will never emerge from the uncanny valley and has a voice that makes him sound like Pauly Shore voicing Pinocchio.
That issue is compounded by the fact that most of Boba takes place, yet again, on Tatooine, a planet with a desert environment that is iconically Star Wars but we’ve also seen many times over. Boba Fett gestures toward a few new ideas about the planet, namely some sort of past involving plentiful oceans, but otherwise, we’ve been over these Mos cities and moisture farms already. It feels a little like watching your over-the-hill uncle describe his favorite high-school stories over and over. Like Anakin Skywalker, I hate sand!
Roxana Hadadi: Is it too early to admit that I long for the construction of another Death Star so that we can go ahead and blow up Tatooine already? Let’s airlift the banthas out and get this over with!
I think much of my frustration comes from how unbelievably narrow The Book of Boba Fett felt before it turned into The Mandalorian. The Star Wars universe as a whole has been trending toward this kind of overconnectivity for a while, and I think we see the worst effects of that approach in The Book of Boba Fett. Even without the return of legacy characters like Luke and R2-D2 or fresher ones like Mando, Cobb Vanth, and Grogu, The Book of Boba Fett has struggled to make what is essentially bureaucratic infighting through an organized-crime lens particularly thought-provoking. There’s so much backward gazing and didactic explanation that I struggle to see what newness is being added here. I thought we were going to get some freshness with a perspective shift on the Tuskens, who in this series get a more sympathetic framing (calling them “raiders” is mean, actually!) and demonstrate some more cultural nuance as they take in Boba Fett and help heal him. As much as that subplot lifts even more from Frank Herbert’s Dune and also copies some visuals from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, at least it spent time with some new characters! But then the Tuskens all got slaughtered offscreen and the show went back to its glacially paced organized-crime narrative before padding in two episodes of The Mandalorian. We only have the finale to go, and I still can’t figure out what The Book of Boba Fett is. Can it stand alone in any way?
Jen Chaney: Admittedly, The Mandalorian also introduces new characters that are dressed up in the trappings of Star Wars nostalgia, but it hasn’t been as much of an albatross as it is here. Mando is, essentially, a new version of Boba Fett whose backstory feels fresher. Grogu is a cute Baby Yoda who isn’t actually Yoda and has his own personality. Plus, the storytelling in The Mandalorian is more straightforward and not mired in flashbacks that unfold every time Boba takes one of his water naps in the bacta tank.
Additionally, The Mandalorian was able to create a genuine emotional connection between Mando and Grogu that got viewers invested more quickly. Yes, that’s partly because Grogu is adorable. But the idea of Mando caring for him is a subversion of our expectations of what a series about a bounty hunter would be. The bottom line is you care what happens to these people-slash-creatures. And in The Book of Boba Fett, I don’t care what happens, and I also don’t want to learn that Boba is gentler than I imagined because I do not want that from Boba Fett, and I kinda already got a version of that in The Mandalorian.
Jackson McHenry: It is very hard for me to get emotionally invested in “there might be better water policy under Boba Fett as daimyo” as a hook for a season of TV.
I wonder if, also, these shows are caught in a feedback loop of pandering toward an increasingly constrictive idea of what Star Wars should look like as a franchise. Even when Boba Fett tiptoed toward something weirder, and to me, a little more fun, by introducing a colorful biker gang — in a way that felt like it was referencing the George Lucas of American Graffiti — there was a pretty strong negative reaction. (Not that anyone should care, but you can feel those rumblings online like distant seismic activity.) I thought those scenes were a little goofy, but they were at least different from both the half-hearted Boba Fett pitch the season started out as and the return to the Skywalker plot of the second half. I liked the breath of fresh air when Amy Sedaris came back in the Mando episode but felt a sinking feeling as this supposed spinoff curled back into the show from which it spun. Disney has promised a whole suite of interlocking Star Wars shows, which felt like it had potential to open up the whole universe, but if they’re all as close to each other in style and tone and even subject as Boba Fett and The Mandalorian, then this feels like some awfully narrow braiding. Heck, Rosario Dawson showed up as Ahsoka Tano to hang out with Luke and be absolutely uninteresting otherwise, which makes me worried her own show won’t get to stray far from the Grogu path, either.
With one episode left in this season, is there anything this show could do to win you two back?
Roxana Hadadi: Again, I point to my “build the Death Star and blow up Tatooine” solution. But if I must abandon my “burn it down” principles, I do think that the more light-hearted moments have worked best over this season (Boba’s bond with his extremely adorable bantha, every one of Fennec’s eye rolls). The Book of Boba Fett, like The Mandalorian, takes on so much self-serious heaviness from the Western genre that its subversive moments often end up being the most genuinely enjoyable. And while The Mandalorian had a lot of that with Pedro Pascal’s line deliveries, Sedaris’s whole vibe, and Grogu’s enthusiasm for chomping on frogs, The Book of Boba Fett hasn’t exactly figured out that tonal equilibrium yet … unless it’s also leaning on Pascal’s line deliveries, Sedaris’s whole vibe, and Grogu’s enthusiasm for chomping on frogs.
Morrison has a really winning dry delivery, but I don’t see a tangible difference in his performance between the two time periods we’re visiting in The Book of Boba Fett. It’s difficult to track his character progression, especially as the last two episodes have barely featured him or his ministerial woes. I think if the series definitively resolves the war against the Pykes in the finale, then that might make for a more even season in hindsight — or it might suggest that this season could have just been a couple episodes shorter without the Mandalorian components. So, I’m torn: I’m cynical about whether this series will really end with just one season, but I also wonder where a second season could really go. Unlike Mando’s promise to Grogu, I don’t see a “We have to resolve this, no matter how long it takes!” urgency to anything happening in The Book of Boba Fett. Am I wrong?
Jen Chaney: I do not think you are wrong. While I don’t necessarily want to blow up Tatooine, I do think setting so much of this show in the desert was a real “let’s make this show incredibly beige” move that subconsciously affects my perspective on it. I also agree that they need to streamline the plot and resolve the Pykes stuff, which I truly do not care about at all. Something I would really like is to spend more time with Fennec. I would have liked the same thing for cantina owner Garsa Fwip, played by Jennifer Beals, but based on the explosion at her bar, I am guessing that won’t be possible. Not enough has been said about how incredible it is (was?) to see two women in their late 50s given prominent roles in a Star Wars property. I realize this is called The Book of Boba Fett for a reason but, as good as Morrison is, I don’t think a protagonist so stoic and internal can carry a whole show on his own. The rest of the characters need to be fleshed out, to the extent it’s possible to flesh out Fennec, considering she is a robot.
Jackson McHenry: If only they could change the title to The Book of the Other, More Interesting People Around Boba Fett. Let a cipher remain a cipher, and let’s go have fun in everyone else’s interiority for a bit.
Roxana Hadadi: You know, I had really wanted the return of Timothy Olyphant as Cobb Vanth. But after the events of “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” I’m very worried! Let my man live!
Jen Chaney: It just occurred to me what I actually want to see: a spinoff focused on Fennec and Peli Motto as they navigate middle age, life, and work-romance balance. (Peli will obviously continue to date Jawas, maybe Fennec can date Cobb Vanth, assuming he survives.) It would be And Just Like That …, minus the Peloton deaths and Che Diaz, in space! Disney+, I’m not telling you what to do, but the Force is very strong with this pitch.
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