One of the best episodes of The Mandalorian aired this week, which was strange because it also happened to be episode five of The Book of Boba Fett. Din Djarin is always welcome, but Chapter 5 is the clearest example yet that The Book of Boba Fett has no idea what show it wants to be.
Is it a Western? Often. Is it a Breaking Bad or The Sopranos-style show about gangsters and mobsters? In many ways. Is it Dune, exploring the rich lore of Tatooine and its natives, plus a hero finding his true identity in the universe? For a minute, and then that’s over, the promise of Boba becoming the Muad’Dib of the Tuskens scuttled for a simple revenge plot.
The series never lingers on any of these tableaus, not because it’s shifting through genres as Star Wars often does, but because it’s not certain of what story it’s telling. The only one that feels essential so far — Din Djarin’s — isn’t the story this series is necessarily about. No one is complaining about more Din Djarin, but his episode-long showcase is evidence this series is spinning its tires at the same time it’s trying to figure out which direction to go.
The show is a structural mess. The interpolation between flashbacks and the present day is unbalanced, to say the least, and only more so if they’re finished as the series now suggests. But the flashbacks are maybe the most interesting part of the show, especially in Chapter 2. That episode gave fans something they never could have expected, with Boba Fett becoming part of a Tusken tribe and discovering a sense of personal identity he’s never had as a clone of Jango Fett.
It’s a fascinating story with enormous dramatic potential. Boba Fett’s journey toward becoming a crime lord isn’t about greed or ambition, but something potentially noble. Then the series discards the Tuskens in Chapter 3 with an unceremonious scene completely unweighted within its own episode, and we learn Boba is just done being a servant for other people’s interests. Why even bother with the Tuskens, then? The show feels like it doesn’t know the answer, at least not yet.
Through Chapter 4, the imbalance between the flashbacks and the present day suggests the series cares far more about Boba’s five years in the desert than it does about his ruling of Jabba’s former empire. But then at the end of that episode, it seems that the flashbacks are over because their narrative instrument, the bacta tank, is no longer necessary. Boba is completely healed, as Fennec Shand says, and so now the present is the focus. Except it isn’t. At least the present of Boba Fett.
Chapter 5 abandons the plot threads of the show so dramatically that Boba Fett doesn’t even appear. There is no mention of him until the end, and this episode is for all intents and purposes Chapter 17 of The Mandalorian, very different in tone, look, and feel from the four episodes that preceded it.
The episode picks back up the story of Din Djarin and gives fans mountains of story. The past, present, and future of the Mandalorians are all addressed in this episode, as are the circumstances regarding Grogu. His future, in which he will almost certainly become the ruler of Mandalore and inheritor of the Darksaber, starts to take shape here.
That’s the only plan at work in the series. Ideas and characters emerge haphazardly, as if the writer just stumbled upon them in the course of writing, rather than appear in any kind of narrative organization that maximizes their value. The series so far feels like a first draft. Nothing about the present-day storyline suggests there is enough material there to carry the story for six or seven episodes, and the same is true (it seems) of the flashbacks.
What The Book Of Boba Fett feels like more than anything is a placeholder. For whatever reason, The Mandalorian couldn’t get its third season in late 2021 and into early 2022, so this series is doing double duty. It’s also adding more to the foundation of the eventual ‘crossover event’ teased by Lucasfilm for its upcoming streaming series. No one objects to the multi-year architectonic planning of the MCU, but each individual installment serves its own narrative purpose first and foremost.
Fans should expect the retaking of Mandalore to be the link between this series and future ones as much as they should expect Crimson Dawn to emerge as the big bad. Darth Maul’s ties to the Shadow Collective link him and Crimson Dawn — and most importantly his successor, Qi’ra — to Mandalore, providing an overarching villain who leverages decades of Star Wars narrative. No doubt The Book Of Boba Fett will end with these links drawing together, but the show feels like it’s biding time.
This episode is also symptomatic of a larger problem within recent Star Wars. At times it feels like a series which is not that interested in its own story. Some of this can be chalked up to accounting for the many strands of lore within the greater Star Wars universe, and some of it is clearly a lack of narrative investment in the story at hand.
Chapter 5 feels very much like the eleventh episode of The Bad Batch. “Devil’s Deal” virtually abandons the squad for a focus on Hera Syndulla in her youth on Ryloth. Clone Force 99 only comes into the story in the following episode and are mostly bystanders in what is ostensibly their own narrative. There is nothing inherently wrong with telling this part of Hera’s story, but why is it more interesting than the squad’s? Why is she the focus and not the characters the show is still trying to develop?
This narrative strategy emerged during Clone Wars, but that was an anthology series, and narrative shifts of focus were expected. Star Wars: Rebels was not an anthology by nature, but that series leaned heavily on cameos and guest appearances to build out the lore of its time period. The best example is Ahsoka Tano, whose story becomes the focus for the time she’s on the show. Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi also get their own narrative resolution in a series that has nothing to do with them.
Some of this even crept into the second season of The Mandalorian, where the show began to feel like an intersection for the ongoing stories of Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano, and the Mandalorians. Din Djarin is much more linked to all of them though, through Grogu, than it feels Boba Fett is linked to anything at all at this point… beyond explaining how his story fits in with Din Djarin’s and Fennec Shand’s.
The Book of Boba Fett feels focused on everything except what it should be, and the focus should be on why Boba Fett is back at all. Despite the fantastic performance by Temuera Morrison — “Like a Bantha” might be excuse enough for the entire series — and the impressive production quality, the series has yet to justify bringing the character back from the Sarlacc Pit.
Star Wars felt like it created a new Mandalorian hero with Din Djarin, only to immediately pull Boba Fett from the maw of the Sarlacc. Boba Fett can have a fascinating place in the story — the flashbacks promise a story no one could have anticipated and one well worth telling — but he seems to simply be a content delivery system for other aspects of Star Wars lore.
The show doesn’t feel essential. The Book of Boba Fett so far feels like Disney Plus needed additional content, and like The Bad Batch, there was a workable premise to build around. But just as Clone Force 99 doesn’t necessarily feel like it warrants an entire series, so far neither does Boba Fett. Star Wars has always been essential viewing. Right now, it isn’t.