Cyberpunk Diner Crew
The Streets of Mos Espa dedicates a bit more time toward progressing the show’s present day narrative. Something that’s been lacking up until this point. It’s a much needed change from the previous two chapters, at least in principle.
After a dash of exposition, in which 8D8 – a droid voiced by Matt Berry, making him the second cast member of The IT Crowd to play a robot in the Star Wars Universe – dishes out some gossip on the town’s political landscape, we’re introduced to a water monger in need of some assistance. Lortha Peel has ran into a spot of bother, thanks to a group of pesky cyborgs pinching his precious H2o. Peel’s attempts to inspire Fett into taking action by informing him he’s not respected by the people of Mos Espa. These water thieves are allegedly a prime example of the chaos unfolding on the streets since the demise of Fortuna. Peel doesn’t quite get what he wants out this exchange, as our overly generous protagonist decides to offer employment to the gang of fluid pilfers. Cracking down on crime by dishing out jobs to the culprits? Surely a Daily Mail readers’ worse nightmare!
The gang in question are something of an acquired taste. There’s a tonal peculiarity to them that feels unusual within the context of Star Wars. As we watch Fett approach a group of part flesh, part cyborg youths chilling to some bangers, you can’t help but wonder what writer Jon Favreau and director Robert Rodriguez were thinking when they cooked this concept up. The strangeness stems from the fact we’re watching a sci-fi fairy tale set in a time and place far removed from our own, yet these characters feel like a bunch of cyberpunk cosplayers causing trouble outside a local corner shop. Incorporating modern day characteristics into a fairy tale context is the sort of thing we’d expect from a Shrek movie, not a Lucasfilm project, right? The truth is, this sort of thing isn’t actually unusual for Star Wars. In fact, it’s remarkably common.
20th/21st century features worm their way into the mix all the time. It’s happened during every era of the franchise, right from the very start. Remarkably earth-like characteristic have been hurled into the mix since 1977. There’s been stories concerning the taxation of trade routes, earth like empires, intergalactic fascists, democratic political structures, senates, Mayors, bars, musicians, drugs, religion, computer games, and even “your mum” jokes. To criticise cyborg youths who enjoy listening to cosmic drum and base for being too out of place with wider Star Wars aesthetic probably isn’t fair game.
Must everything adhere to a specific aesthetic in this universe? As a general rule, I applaud franchises when they attempt to venture outside of their comfort. Considering the Star Wars franchise often becomes a prisoner to its own iconography, attempts to shake up the status quo and expand the property is something I consider to be a necessity for this 40-year-old franchise. Change can feel a little uncertain and scary, particularly when it comes to franchises we grew up with. We don’t like to see cooky casinos or Blade Runner style cyborgs if they challenge our understanding of a franchise seeped in nostalgic significance. Is chucking in a gang of unacquainted faces with a dissimilar wardrobe really as unscrupulous as our emotions may assume?
I get the impression that Favreau’s implementation of these characters is an attempt to expand the landscape of Tatooine. We’ve been to this planet countless times over the decades, yet we’ve only seen select parts of it. The twin suns, the desolate deserts, the grimy bars. Seeing as it’s an entire planet containing various towns and cities means there’s far more depth to it than the parts we’ve seen thus far. Goodness knows what goes on in the many corners of this world which we haven’t seen yet. Much like our own planet, Tatooine is a rich tapestry of identities, attires, subcultures and generations. It takes all sorts to make a world, after all. If a gang of cyberpunk cosplayers with a love of sick beats and free water just so happens to be a portion of the countless cluster of civilians occupying this planet, then who am I to declare they don’t belong?
All the same, I still remain somewhat conflicted by their inclusion in this show. For all my talk of world-building, expanding the franchise and fighting against nostalgic expectation, I still can’t help but feel these characters don’t quite fit in with the tone or style of this particular show. Is it their mannerisms, 1950’s American Diner style bikes, or cyberpunk-style attire that’s causing the distraction here? Could it be the exceptionally camp chase sequence they partake in during the climactic part of the episode? It was a sequence that felt as though it was plucked from Rodriguez’ barmy Spy Kids franchise, after all. Whereas I think all of these contribute, I think the root cause stems beyond the characters themselves. The problem is, the show hasn’t quite established an identity as of yet. The lack of a present-day story and heavy-footed shifting between time zones means we’re stuck with a series that doesn’t appear to know what it is. If there was more of a defining personality driving all of this, introducing unique tonal shifts such as this one may have worked a lot better. Sure, it would probably have been jarring, but with a more confident and consistent vision, there’s a chance it wouldn’t have stood out so much.
A Death in the Family
Preceding our routine visit to the post-Jedi, pre-Mandalorian portion of the episode, we’re whisked a little further back in time, back to the prequel-era days of Boba’s childhood. We saw this same scene play out during Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s the one in which a young Fett watches on with an expression of helplessness as his father flies off into Kamino skies. I discussed in the last essay that The Book of Boba Fett uses Fett’s orphaned history as a means of framing his relationship with the Tusken clan. His transition from callous hunter to man-with-principles stems from him finding a family dynamic in the most unlikely of places during the lowest period of his adult life. The scene is revisited here as a reminder of this, a means of setting up the next six minutes of screen time.
Fett travels across the Tatooine Badlands to Mos Eisley, paying a visit to the Pykes’ place of business. A handful of stern words seemingly puts the syndicate in their place. Upon returning to camp, Fett his horrified to learn that his Tusken siblings have been slaughtered during his absence. As is often the case in Star Wars, the rhythmic poetry of the universe has struck once again. Similarly to Jango, the very souls who took him in as one of their own have been taken from Boba.
In a shift of circumstances, this six-minute segment is the only time we’ll visit the flashback portion for the duration of this episode. Unlike momentary visits to the present day segments during the preceding chapters, however, this still manages to tell a story that feels much more whole and fitting by comparison. We open with a shot of young Boba chasing helplessly after his ill-fated father, Jango. We immediately jump to an older version of the character who’s speaking up in defence of his new found family. Finally, we look on as Fett returns to find his new home burned to the ground. During this six-minutes, we witness the rise and fall of Fett. It sets up future episodes while simultaneously delivering a self-contained narrative that’s both impactful and heart-breaking.
Even when it limits its runtime to a measly six-minutes, the quality of these flashback segments continues to prove that this is the segment of the show in which creator Jon Favreau holds the most passion. There’s a heart and poetry to this plot that’s been lacking in the present day portions of the series up until this point.
Another interesting point to make about the flashback sequence this time around is the attempt to connect both time periods prior to transitioning. During the confrontation with the cyberpunk diner bikers, a subtle reference is made that links to the events of Fett’s yesteryears. The mention of Mos Eisley is the reference in question; the city where the Pyke syndicate has set up camp. It’s the same city Fett is visiting as his Tusken family are murdered. Granted, it may not be considered a masterclass in segwaying through time, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, in the Future…
I’ve been somewhat cynical when it comes to the present day portions of The Book of Boba Fett. It’s not that it’s lacking potential, I’d argue it’s brimming with the stuff, it’s just we’ve not really had much to chew on at this stage. Aside from some foreshadowing and political world-build, the storyline has been dragging its bottom against the gravelly Tatooine sands. Fortunately for us, The Strees of Mos Espa has decided to dedicate a hefty portion of its runtime to this particular period, finally giving us more of an opportunity to see how Fett’s journey to becoming a top notch crime lord plays out.
There’s a rather spectacular standoff with the Hutt Twin’s kickass Wookiee hitman, Black Krrsantan, not to mention a rather sweet scene in which we learn about the emotional complexities of the Rancor species. In isolation, these scenes are a joy. The Black Krrsantan standoff is particularly delightful. An electrifying standoff in which our controversial cyberpunk crew get to prove their worth as Fett’s new employees. Black Krrsantan even gets to show off just how powerful a character he is, throttling the backsides of everyone who stands in his way. If it wasn’t for that meddling trap door, he’d have gotten away with it too!
The Rancor scene is a pleasing bit of fan service, one that even manages to clarify why the owner of Jabba’s Rancor bawled his eyes out after Luke Skywalker crushed his skull in Return of the Jedi (1983). Admittedly this scene does fall into the habit of explaining away trivial details from the original trilogy, something that’s to be expected when super fans like Favreau are employed to work on Star Wars. Be as that may, it’s a fun little sequence that invites us to rethink our stance on a creature that’s only ever been framed as grotesque beings during previous on-screen iterations.
Dazzling action and charming Rancor sequences aside, if we step back and look at this episode as a whole, it has a few problems. This is especially the case when we consider how it appears to backpedal on a lot of the setup established during the previous episode.
Consider the whole revelation that Mayor Shaiz was a red herring designed to set up the Hutt Twin’s introduction as claimants to the throne of Mos Espa. The Tribes of Tatooine established a conflict between the Hutt’s and Fett. Though this did turn out to be true, it’s a standoff which is resolved in a remarkably short space of time. As soon as Black Krrsantan fails to assassinate the Hutt’s competition, the mollusk siblings conclude that conflict is bad for business, then swan off back to their debauchery-ridden home world. It transpires that the Hutt’s involvement was another red herring of sorts; a distraction from the previous episode’s culprit, Mayor Shaiz.
What we essentially get is an episode that pretty much rewinds the clocks back to the top end of The Tribes of Tatooine. One chapter later, and the Mayor is the prime threat again, whereas the Hutt’s have no part in the wider story. It’s not that there’s a problem with making Mayor Shaiz the villain, it’s just a shame they went through the effort of establishing of the Twins when there was no intention to take them anywhere interesting. The guess is they were put in here to set up a future Star Wars project, much like the appearance of Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2017) was there to lay groundwork for a feature that doesn’t yet exist.
Perhaps the quality of this episode would have improved had they opted to incorporate the Twin’s into Mayor Shaiz’s plans. That way you retain both the double bluff of having Shaiz be the big bad, while also retaining the threat of the Twins. Introducing key players then writing them out is never ideal. It just cheapens their presence. Had we learned that all these liars and potential threats were working from the very people who antagonised Fett during an earlier portion of his life, it would have made all this feel as though it was feeding into a bigger arc. As it stands, a lot of what we’ve seen just feels disconnected from the wider scope of the series.
There is something of merit to mention here, however. We learn that Mayor Shaiz is working for the Pyke syndicate, which is our first suggestion of a link between the past and present narratives. Finally, three chapters in, we’re beginning to see something a bigger picture take place. It’s not entirely clear what that picture is as of yet, but there’s definitely a correlation. Fett’s days bonding with the Tusken tribe aren’t merely unrelated happenstance, it would seem, they are events that will feed into a larger story. For all the rewinding and mind-changing, here is a sign of a defining plot beginning to take shape.
Though The Streets of Mos Espa contains some staggering set pieces, as a whole, it’s a dash messy. .
Whereas the series is beginning to show some signs of progress, such as the gradual attempt to interlink the past and present timelines, we still haven’t been given enough justification for the crime lord storyline. If this show is to succeed, it needs to work on this problem. But seeing as we’ve finally got a story that dedicates a majority of its runtime to fleshing out this particular time period, it’s starting to look as though there isn’t much of a reason behind its existence. Perhaps it would have been better to use the first series of this show to establish the whole Tusken/Pyke storyline, then move on to the post-Mandalorian series two material during its second year.
A handful of tonal inconsistencies are also present, which I think explains the general displeasure a lot of fans held toward this chapter. I’m still not entirely sure whether the inclusion of the cyborg biker gang is a good thing or a bad thing for the franchise. I always try to challenge any discomfort I hold toward a franchise trying something new, which extends to these scenes. I even extend this to the campy chase sequence that takes place during the latter part of this episode. While the stylistic shift may have rattled me, I certainly didn’t hate it. Star Wars is a strange and diverse universe. This isn’t the first time we’ve had something like this pop up in the franchise, and it definitely won’t be the last. I’m all for them trying something new and shaking up expectation, even when such attempts don’t work in my personal favour. Nevertheless, the lack of a central vision means any attempt to divert away from familiar territory feels more jarring than it may have been if the show had a more confident identity to its name.
The Streets of Moss Espa certainly isn’t a terrible episode. There were parts that saddened, excited and enthralled me. There’s plenty of wonderful ideas folded into this episode. Sadly, the faulting direction of the crime boss storyline is bringing the overall quality of both the episode and series down.