Procrastination as an Art
In my previous essay, I mentioned how chapter five’s The Return of the Mandalorian hinted a huge problem underlying The Book of Boba Fett. After weeks of favouring flashback oriented character-building over present day narrative progression, the show refused to square up to the part of the show it had been shying away from. If chapter five made you doubt Favreau’s vision for this sub-spin off, then chapter six will almost certainly confirm it.
Not only is this show spiralling away from its own story by airing bonus episodes of The Mandalorian, it finds itself venturing even further north than that of it’s sister show this time around. We start this episode as another Mandalorian bonus feature, only for circumstances to meander even further field as the runtime progresses. I’m not even sure what this is attempting to be now. Is it The Mandalorian 2.5, a prequel for Ahsoka Tano, or some new Luke Skywalker mini series? This isn’t merely a show lacking a coherent vision, it also appears to be one lacking an attention span.
Plot progression does appear to exist in some form, albeit in the most minute of manners, yet vast portions of this chapter are dedicated to lingering on characters who’ve had very little to do with this show up until this stage. Luke Skywalker chatting with Ahsoka certainly lights up the fan parts of one’s brain, that I certainly cannot deny. But what I also cannot deny, is how staggeringly irrelevant this sort of character exchange is within the context of a show allegedly about an ex bounty hunter taking over the streets of Tatooine.
Why here? Why now? Why not have this scene take place during the upcoming Ahsoka series set to air in the near future? As much as I appreciate they are trying to establish a shared universe where shows feed into other shows, if you have to grind an entire story to a halt so you can initiate irrelevant character moments unrelated to the specifics of the story, something isn’t working.
It’s not that I hate any of this. On the contrary, as was the cast with the previous episode, a lot of this continues to thrill me, regardless of what my critical faculties are telling me. The fact we are seeing Luke’s story between episode VI and VII play out on screen still thrills the socks off of me. Plus to see his father’s former Padawan interacting with him sends certainly packs a punch. This is entertaining stuff, that I will not deny. It’s just that it also feels like stuff which exists for the sake of existing. Perhaps as the years progress, scenes like this will play into a larger narrative that makes the experience more rewarding when returning to episodes like this. Right now, this certainly isn’t the case.
A lot of this feels much like the earlier days of Marvel Studios’ attempt to build a larger universe. It feels awfully reminiscent to that of Iron Man 2 (2010) or Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), in which the story tried to shoehorn future plot lines into the mix. Such attempts made it difficult to decipher during initial viewings what was relevant to the films’ actual plots, and what was setup for non-existent projects. This is the case here, in which the Luke, Grogu, Ahsoka and Din exchanges are seemingly setting the stage for stories and television projects that have yet to enter production. Perhaps comparing this to Marvel’s infancy years is the best way to view this kind of an episode. Seeing as a wider, interconnected model on this kind of scale is new to Favreau, he’s still figuring out how to make this model work effectively. Adopting the Marvel model is all good and well, but if you’ve not had the same level of experience that Kevin Feige has accumulated over the years, you’re going to slip up from time-to-time. Considering the post-Empire Disney Plus Star Wars shows have only recently started venturing beyond that of The Mandalorian, we could give Favreau the benefit of the doubt. The attempts to world-build may well be clunky and awkward, but he’s still figuring this all out. Plus it’s ruddy entertaining regardless, so perhaps moaning isn’t quite a good look when it comes to talking about something I’m visibly enjoying.
Nevertheless, I cannot deny the strangeness of this episode. As fun as it may be, the end result is an experience that leaves me as conflicted and confused as I was during the last episode. Sure, it’s good fun, except it’s inclusion here seems to prove that there’s a fundamental problem with this show. Six chapters in and The Book of Boba Fett remains unable to justify its own existence. It spent the first four weeks pretending to have meaning by whisking us back into the past, acting as if it was laying down groundwork for a grand endgame that never came to pass. By week five, the show threw it’s hands up in the air and said “ahhh, ya got me!” before dazzling us with some Star Wars expanded universe bedazzle.
Is this a bad thing? Should I be bothered that we were sold a semi-false promise during the post credit sequence of The Mandalorian’s 14th chapter? From a storytelling perspective, it certainly is frustrating, however to suggest that a failure to deliver on its promise came as a surprise would be something of a lie. A spin-off that sprang seemingly from nowhere at the back end of The Mandalorian’s most eventful episode was not something I expected to be brimming with potential. Fett was a great edition to The Mandalorian’s second series (and hopefully beyond), yet the idea of him running a crime syndicate never felt as though it was an idea that would venture anywhere particularly interesting. It felt like one of those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” afterthoughts that writers get when brainstorming. Whereas these sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios occasionally takes a story down brilliant new avenues (see Better Call Saul [2015 to present] for an example of this), more often than not they run themselves into a dead end.
I believe such an unsurprised stance is why I didn’t find this episode to be as distracting as I’d have found it to be if I’d been expecting something more impressive from this series. Perhaps it isn’t be fair to accuse The Book of Boba Fett of running out of steam, particularly when it didn’t really have any steam in its tank to begin with. It’s a show that’s been much more interested in telling us stories beyond the pitch it made back in 2020, something it seems to be doing with enough entertainment to prevent it from becoming unwatchable. The flashbacks, Din Djarin, and now Luke/Ahsoka/Grogu are all remarkable forms of procrastination. It’s the equivalent of a kid distracting himself from his English homework by writing a sonnet.
Dave Filoni writes his socks off in this episode, seamlessly stitching together the prequel and original eras of Star Wars in a manner Lucas could only ever dream of achieving. This is remarkable stuff, that’s for certain. Even watching droids construct what looks to be Luke’s ill-fate temple whilst Din waits for Grogu is an exercise in garnering excitement. If you’re able to look past the fact that From the Desert Comes a Stranger is the product of a show that’s completely given up on itself in favour of just giving us some really cool Star Wars stuff for 47-minutes, then you’re gonna have a blast with this.
A Recurring Hope
Luke Skywalker’s return at the tail end of The Mandalorian’s second series was one of the most surprising forms of deus ex machina to grace our television screens in recent memory. Never mind that our heroes were surrounded by near-indestructible dark troopers, don’t worry that an x-wing piloted by a mighty Jedi swooped in at the last second to save their butts, and forget about how convenient it was that he didn’t need to compromise his morals by mutilating any storm troopers in the process of rescuing Din’s buddies. The fact we were getting a glory-days Luke, swishing his lightsaber and echoing the acts of his late father, were enough to bedazzle us into a state of awe.
Reconstructing a young Luke was a huge deal for fans, especially when a sizeable chunk of them didn’t enjoy the bruised, battered incarnation of the character they got back in 2017′ The Last Jedi. The character’s glory days were reanimated, allowing both the lovers and the haters of Rian Johnson’s Luke to sing praise in unison. Here was everyone’s favourite Jedi, kicking butt in his prime.
I’m a little unsure on whether or not Luke’s continued presence in the future of Star Wars is a good idea. On the one hand, there’s a lot a years in which this character transforms into the strange, damaged and fascinating elderly man we see 30-years down the line. There’s a bit of me that would adore to see that version character come to fruition, provided it’s done with an intelligence and creativity. On the flip side, there’s also apart of me certain that this character has ran out of mileage. This part of me thinks Luke should be placed aside so we can focus on new stories in the Star Wars universe. A one off cameo in which a CGI Hamill slices up droids in a hallway is a fine bit of fan service. The thing is, those sorts of tricks have a tendency to get old fast.
When it comes to the should they/shouldn’t they argument of bringing back Luke, it would appear Lucasfilm aren’t quite sure which side they fall on yet either. Thus far, Luke’s presence has been to linger on the side lines without becoming fully integral to the actual plot. He’s an attraction, wheeled out so we can all gawk in awe. The deepfake wizardry and AI Hamill voice is mighty impressive, if somewhat distracting, and it continues to remain a trick that Favreau’s team have managed to pull it off without it feeling like a disastrous error.
As fabulous as this all may be, constructing a youthful Luke with digital wizardry isn’t a long term solution, particularly if they do wish to have him become more front and centre during future Disney Plus project. The main reason for this is it’s too distracting. The AI vocals don’t emote enough, and the need to regularly cut away when he speaks takes us right out of the scene. It worked well at the end of The Mandalorian series two, perhaps because it was such a shock, but the more you plonk that digital Jedi on screen, the more it starts to feel like the use of Leia in Rise of Skywalker (2019). No matter how brilliant Disney may be when it comes to resurrecting or de-aging characters, they continue to behave like NPCs from a video game every time they appear onscreen. If Favreau wants Skywalker Jr. to become a regular who we follow and care for in this interconnect family of TV shows, a recasting is perhaps necessary to make this work a little more efficiently.
Whether or not there’s a plan to recast Luke later on down the line is yet unclear. The fact he’s back again here implies there’s hints at trying to incorporate him into this era of Lucasfilm projects. Nevertheless his continued lack of participation in the primary story does suggest he might just be here to serve as an exciting bit of filler for the fans. His main purpose here, after all, is to do some backflips, chat a bit about Yoda and offer Grogu the choice between getting a Lazer sword or a custom made t-shirt from his old man. For such an expensive and undoubtedly time consuming cameo, he sure doesn’t get to do all that much.
Seeing Luke remains an exciting treat, especially a version of the character so close to the original trilogy. Problem is, the more we see him, the more it makes us start to wonder what the point in his appearances may be for. Beyond the whole “it’s Luke Skywalker!” buzz, I’m still puzzled as to whether there’s a prominent reason for his inclusion. Even if it’s to potentially write Grogu back into The Mandalorian (more on that in the following essay), it still doesn’t make his inclusion feel meaningful.
I do hope there’s an interesting and valid reason as to why he’s getting featured on multiple occasions now, even if those reasons don’t directly relate to a Luke Skywalker spinoff series. At the moment, however, I’m getting a sneaking suspicion that Lucasfilm might just be wheeling him in as a ratings booster. Hopefully I’m proven to be a cynical fool when it comes to such speculation of course, yet only time will tell.
That Cad be Bane!
Once again, writer Dave Filoni continues his well crafted stint at stitching the original and prequel eras of the franchise together. This week, we get Cad Bane roaming the streets of Tatooine! Often employees by the villains of the Star Wars universe, Bane is considered to be one of the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy. He’s featured in The Clones Wars (2008- 2020) as well as it’s sequel spinoff series, The Bad Batch (2021-present). From the Desert Comes a Stranger is the character’s first venture into the live action realm of the franchise, and considering he’s had an entire episode title named after his brief cameo this week, it’s safe to say this is considered something of a huge deal for fans.
Bane’s entry into this episode is terrific. A short yet terrifying appearance, in which he looms into shot, bubbles up the tension, then slays a considerably major player from The Mandalorian roster before snaking off into the burning desert. Utilising the conventions of a traditional western standoff helps to assist in serving up an ominous introduction to this character. It feels both fitting for a franchise heavily inspires by the Westerns that dominated mid-20th century pop culture, in addition to capturing the characters quick-yet-deadly nature.
It’s a terrific introduction, not to mention one heck of a fine way to inject a bit of fizz into the Pyke syndicate plotline that’s as flat as a puddle of cola for the most part. Fine, so they needed to borrow a major player from Filoni’s rogues gallery to give it a kick in the never regions, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of its inclusion.
What does frustrate me, however, is the fact this revelation has come at the back end of the penultimate episode. Why, when they’ve just spent two weeks procrastinating, have they suddenly decided to shake up the show as it’s about the end? How come there was no attempt to introduce Bane’s involvement at the end of episode four, then spend the last two weeks establishing him as a clear and present danger? His confrontation with Cobb Vanth was terrifying and glorious in equal measure. They should have done this two weeks ago and dedicated their time integrating him into the Pyke storyline.
Wasting time, then bringing in both a genuine as well as interesting threat right before it’s time to begin shutting up shop feels as poorly thought out as it does unnecessary. Once again, The Book of Boba Fett has managed to be spectacularly exciting while simultaneously shooting itself in the foot.
The Book of Boba Fett is quickly turning into the most fascinating and bewildering pieces of television I’ve had the fortune of witnessing in recent times. It’s a heavy-handed mess with an identity crises imploding at its core. It’s also ludicrously beguiling in a way that makes it impossible for me to hate. I should be moaning about how structurally absurd and narratively redundant it is. Instead, I’m giggling with glee at the countless set pieces and cameos it’s chucking into the mix. Much like last week, From the Desert Comes a Stranger is another exercise in storytelling with a lapsed attention span. It’s a thrilling adventure that feels as though it belongs to another show entirely.
This is a show that has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. It’s couldn’t be any less interested in the premise it established when killing off Bib Fortuna even if it tried. This is not the show it sold itself as being. Yet even when it’s distracting itself with Luke Skywalker cameos and Din Djarin joyrides, it somehow manages to be more interesting than it was being when it did try to stick to its guns.
The bad news is, The Book of Boba Fett has given up being The Book of Boba Fett. The good news is, it’s having so much fun being whatever on earth else it wants to be, that it doesn’t come across all that bad.