The most recent episode of “The Mandalorian” showed up on Disney+ more than a year ago. And while we’ve had some “Star Wars” material on the streaming service in the time since (“Star Wars: Visions,” the anthology anime series was particularly delightful), it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen a taciturn man in a mask kick otherworldly ass. Thankfully, that drought is over and “The Book of Boba Fett,” a spin off of “The Mandalorian” that was introduced in a post-credits sequence at the end of season two finale, is here.
Instead of a new character, “The Book of Boba Fett” stars an icon of the “Star Wars” galaxy, who, until “The Mandalorian,” was thought long dead. But what mysteries does the premiere episode of “The Book of Boba Fett” reveal and what are still hanging in the salty Tatooine air? Let’s dig into “The Book of Boba Fett” Episode 1, titled “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
Bacta the Future
The episode starts out with moody shots of Jabba’s palace, abandoned and empty. Finally we reach a room with a bacta tank, the kind of tank that helped repair Luke following his run-in with a Wampa in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) is floating inside; he’s attached to a mask that is feeding him oxygen but the fluid is clearly working – most of his scars are gone and he looks, if not exactly well, then certainly better than he did on the last season of “The Mandalorian.”
As Boba is being treated, he starts having a dream. Images flash by – the cloning facility on rainy planet of Kamino, him cradling his father’s helmet on Geonosis (both scenes from the George Lucas-directed “Star Wars” prequels), and then, the events immediately following his supposed death in “Return of the Jedi.” Boba is in the gooey innards of the Sarlacc, presumably at the beginning of the thousand years it takes for the beast to digest somebody. (The timing of all of this is a little fuzzy.) He shimmies over to a fallen Stormtrooper and uses the Stormtrooper’s suit for oxygen. He then starts climbing into and then out of the Sarlacc. When he bursts out of the sand, he’s covered in goo, Jabba’s sand barge is in ruins, and it looks like the Sarlacc could be dead. (If so, let’s pour one out for that tooth maw.)
Jabba collapses in the sand, and Jawas come and steal his armor and helmet. (This was referred to in “The Mandalorian.” Cobb Vanth, the sheriff played by Timothy Olyphant, talks about securing the armor from Jawas. We even see a flashback that could have taken place right after these events.) He’s also woken up by Tusken Raiders, who tie him up and pull him behind a Bantha. He’s brought to a Tusken Raider village. Little kids beat him up and he’s left tied to a post with a Greedo-type character (his race is a Rodian), being watched over by a guard dog.
He knocks out the dog and escapes into the desert, where he’s confronted by a group of Tusken Raiders. He’s beaten. Badly.
We’re back in Jabba’s palace. Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) tells him, “Wake up boss.” She tells him that folks are going to be visiting him to pay tribute. As they walk out of his chamber he tells her that “the dreams are back.” Also: there’s a very cool montage where helper robots (they sort of look like the pit stop robots from “The Phantom Menace”) put his armor on for him. It’s worth noting that the episode has unexpected visual complexity considering that the cinematographer is David Klein, Kevin Smith’s longtime collaborator. Klein shot an episode of “The Mandalorian” and many episodes of “Homeland” and “True Blood,” but the choice is still somewhat surprising and comes on the heels of the groundbreaking work of Greig Fraser and Baz Idoine on the first season of that series.
Anyway, Boba and Fennec hold court as various alien races come and visit them. This sequence has several highlights: the banter between Boba and Fennec, Boba saying that they need a protocol droid (like C-3PO!) in order to understand these creatures, the somewhat unhelpful robot voiced by “What We Do in the Shadows” standout Matt Berry. And, more than anything else, the appearance from “Veep” alum David Pasquesi, who stars as an emissary of the Mos Espa mayor. He asks Boba for some money and Jabba refuses. The emissary says that the mayor (who has yet to be seen) will be sending more people shortly. It’s his combination of oily politician and threatening goon that makes Pasquesi’s performance so wonderful and it seems like yet another obstacle for Fett’s rule over Jabba’s domain.
Still: it’s repeatedly reinforced that Boba Fett, instead of being a straight-up villain, is kinder and more compassionate than we’ve seen him before (This is a narrative established in some of the animated material). He even lets the Gamorrean guards who worked for Jabba and then Bib Fortuna to stick around. Those pig-faced brutes are some of the most unforgettable designs in “Star Wars” history. It’s good to have them back. Oink.
A Quick Trip Into Town
Boba and Fennec head into Mos Espa. Instead of being paraded around like Jabba or Bib Fortuna they are actually walking, flanked by the Gamorrean guards but still way more down-to-earth than the previous rulers of Jabba’s palace.
They head into a cantina/casino, which is full of “Star Wars” Easter eggs. It looks like Figrin D’an (of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, who played the Mos Eisley Cantina in the original “Star Wars”) is performing, alongside Max Rebo, who played Jabba’s palace in “Return of the Jedi.” (He’s the blue, elephant-type guy.) What’s more, a robot that looks a lot like Rex, the rookie pilot from the original version of Star Tours, is in this cantina/casino. Just as the Rex from Star Tours is now a DJ in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the “Star Wars”-themed land at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, this robot is dealing poker (or maybe Sabacc).
It’s at this cantina/casino that they meet Madame Garson (Jennifer Beals). It’s a quick interaction but sets up a relationship that will undoubtedly pay off as the season rolls along. Beals is clearly having a blast. It’ll be fun to see where she resurfaces.
When they leave the cantina/casino, they’re almost immediately flanked by mysterious figures in red that we can reasonably identify as ninjas. They set up these shields that box Fennec and Boba in; even the Gamorrean guards can’t do much to defend them. A chase gives way across the rooftops of Mos Espa. Boba is injured (or winded) and instructs Fennec to bring them in alive. She then turns to the Gamorrean guards and tells them that he needs to get back to the bacta pod. Fennec finally corners two of the ninjas. She pushes one off a roof before capturing the other. Boba didn’t say how many she needed to bring back alive.
The Gamorrean guards get Boba into the bacta pod. He closes his eyes as the pod fills with liquid. And soon enough, he’s back once again in the harsh desert where the Tusken Raiders discovered him.
Boba Fett is back in the Tusken Raider village, tied to the post. Soon he’s marching across the desert with the Greedo lookalike, flanked by a young Tusken Raider and the very ugly guard dog. They come across a small hut that looks like Uncle Owen’s place from the original “Star Wars.” There are some marauders on speeder bikes (like the kind in “Return of the Jedi” and seen more recently in “The Mandalorian”); they spray paint (or whatever the “Star Wars”-y equivalent of spray paint is) a symbol on the side of the building and it looks like the inhabitants are injured or dead.
The caravan moves on, with the Tusken Raider instructing Boba Fett and the Greedo-type guy to dig for water. The Greedo guy uncovers more water (in these strange pods) than Boba, who grouses about how Boba and faux Greedo could have gotten away if the fake Greedo hadn’t “sounded the alarm.” Finally, the Greedo-type uncovers something else under the sand – it’s the arm of some creature submerged underneath. The creature has several arms and rises up, looking like an updated version of a pair of stop-motion wonders by the great Ray Harryhausen – Ymir from “20 Million Miles to Earth” and the Kraken from “Clash of the Titans.” (It would have been cool if the wizards from Industrial Light & Magic could have added some herky-jerky effect on top of this new creature to give it the feeling of stop-motion animation.) Of course, Boba Fett being Boba Fett, he quickly dispatches the creature, climbing on top of its back and strangling it with the chains that are binding Boba.
They return to camp with the monster’s severed head. The little kid Tusken Raider is clearly telling the others that he was responsible for killing the beast. Boba Fett is unchained. The Tusken Raider leader saunters up to Boba Fett; he clearly knows that the kid is exaggerating. He extends a drink to Boba Fett in camaraderie. The end.
The first episode of “The Book of Boba Fett” is gripping and wholly entertaining, with inventively staged action (courtesy of director Robert Rodriguez) and a story (courtesy of writer Jon Favreau) that walks the fine line of giving you some much-needed backstory as well as providing enough building blocks for the main narrative to get you hooked. In some ways, it’s more fun than “The Mandalorian.” Time will tell if it stays that way.