SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments in Season 1, Episode 6 of Lucasfilm’s “The Book of Boba Fett,” currently streaming on Disney Plus.
The penultimate episode of the first season of “The Book of Boba Fett” has everything: The return of Grogu! And Luke Skywalker! And Ahsoka Tano! And Cobb Vanth! And Yoda’s lightsaber! And Order 66! And the Krayt dragon skull! And Cad Bane! CAD BANE!
What this episode did not have, however, was Boba Fett speaking words out of his mouth. Temuera Morrison’s bounty-hunter-turned-crime-boss did at least appear in “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” unlike last week’s episode, which focused entirely on Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian. But all Fett did was stand silently while his deputy, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), set the stage for next week’s season finale showdown with the Pyke syndicate. In the last two episodes, the title character of “The Book of Boba Fett” has been on screen in his own show for just over a minute.
On one level, grousing about the lack of Boba Fett feels greedy in the face of what has otherwise been outrageously fun television. “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” especially gives “Star Wars” fans so much of what they’ve yearned to see ever since Lucasfilm announced it was making live-action “Star Wars” TV series for Disney Plus.
First and foremost are the training sequences with Grogu and Luke Skywalker — performed by Mark Hamill with uncanny digital de-aging that greatly improves the work in the Season 2 finale of “The Mandalorian.” Watching Luke carry Grogu on his back, calmly teaching him the ways of the Force, is a bewitching reversal of Luke’s sweaty and fraught experiences training with Yoda in 1980’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” (One subtle detail: Luke’s decision to build his Jedi school on a sun dappled, bamboo-festooned idyll, the exact opposite of Yoda’s squelchy home on the swamp planet of Dagobah.)
What makes these sequences so magical, however, is how director Dave Filoni and his co-writer Jon Favreau weave in homages for every generation of “Star Wars” fan. It’s how we get Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) — who was Anakin Skywalker’s padawan in the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated series, which aired largely from 2008 to 2013 — standing next to Anakin’s son, gently comparing Luke and Grogu’s relationship to the one she had with Anakin. Then there’s Grogu’s memories of Order 66, the devastating betrayal of the Jedi as depicted in 2005’s “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” and Luke’s presentation of Yoda’s lightsaber, which was first brandished in 2002’s “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” And let’s not forget Mando’s new Naboo speeder from 1999’s “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”
None of this would work, however, if we weren’t also totally invested in Mando and Grogu’s relationship, which Filoni and Favreau deepen and complicate to great effect in this episode. Luke’s decision to force Grogu to choose between Yoda’s lightsaber and Mando’s gift of beskar chainmail armor captures so much, so well: The historic tension between the Mandalorians and the Jedi, the complex bond between Mando and Grogu, and the question facing “Star Wars” fans and filmmakers alike: Do we cling to the familiar or forge ahead into something new?
Filoni and Favreau certainly seem to be wrestling with that last question a great deal in “The Book of Boba Fett.” They’ve built a show around the original “Star Wars” fan favorite — a character who first captured fans’ hearts over 40 years ago as an action figure, before his paltry screen time in “The Empire Strikes Back” and 1983’s “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” made him into one of the most beloved “Star Wars” characters ever. Resurrecting Fett in Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” was a success largely because the show and Morrison’s performance leaned into the hints of danger and ruthlessness that always felt part of the Boba Fett mystique.
On his own show, however, Boba Fett has grown weirdly passive, less a taciturn man of action than a past-his-prime warrior struggling to acclimate to his new desk job. It’s almost as if Boba Fett is so deeply tied to “Star Wars” history that Filoni and Favreau can’t quite figure out how to push the character beyond it. It’s how we get Fett stuck trundling around Tatooine (the most well-trod “Star Wars” planet) and presiding inside Jabba’s eerily empty palace. It’s so familiar that it’s all but dramatically inert, and makes the truly big swings — like the Mods zipping through Mos Espa on day-glo speeder bikes — feel more out of place than they might have on a more daring show.
With just one more episode left in the season, whatever dramatic momentum Fett had going for him has been passed along instead to side characters like Mando and Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). By rights, Cobb’s crackling stand off with “The Clone Wars” fan favorite Cad Bane (voiced by Corey Burton and performed by Dorian Kingi) should have been with Boba Fett: legendary bounty hunter to legendary bounty hunter. That may still be on the horizon for the finale. But it feels like “The Book of Boba Fett” has already moved on from the man meant to be at its center.