“Return of the Mandalorian” was at the same time the best and the worst episode of The Book of Boba Fett.
The best because it was amazing. The return of many beloved characters, immense depth of lore, amazing teaser of what is to come. The worst because it had nothing to do with Boba Fett whatsoever, and did not belong to The Book of Boba Fett franchise at all.
Who Has The Right To The Darksaber?
Let us start with the good things. The episode started with one of the Mando’s bounty hunts, in what is already now evoking nostalgia. Amazing design of the ring world of Glavis – this is what we are talking about when we say Star Wars needs more than just the same one old setting (ideally a desert planet, recycled for the twentieth time). Din’s reunion with the Tribe – the Armorer and Paz Vizsla survived! An amazing info-dump on the Great Purge and an actual first look on the Night of a Thousand Tears when Mandalore was devastated.
We hear the Armorer’s version of the events and her perspective, which is slightly different from how we might have perceived things from watching The Clone Wars and Rebels. To the Armorer, Satine Kryze but also Bo-Katan are nearly villains, or failures at best. This scene reminds us that Din’s tribe are radicals, as once again evidenced by their stress on not removing their helmets. I have said this before but it was a great move to introduce the protagonist’s people and then reveal them to be zealous extremists.
The Darksaber’s inheritance is put into doubt, which is a valid question. Who was wrong to pass it on? Was Bo-Katan wrong to accept it – twice? Is it the fault of first Ahsoka and then Sabine to let Bo-Katan have it if they should actually be the ones wielding it? And what of Maul – or perhaps the one who defeated him in the end? The tangle is too complex to even start unraveling here.
Nostalgia Wherever You Look
The episode also made sure to show what Din thinks about his separation from Grogu. It is clear as day that his attachment is strong. He can’t even see a Rodian child without thinking of his own child, and in a cute scene, he has a present forged for Grogu.
Finally, we have Din’s return to Tatooine, which is still a rich scene heavy on cameos and nostalgic references. Peli Motto and the New Republic pilot Carson Teva are here. Peli has a BD droid just like the one in Jedi: Fallen Order. A reconstructed Naboo starfighter is a homage to The Phantom Menace, as is its test flight, copying Anakin’s race 1:1 most of the time.
It is all intentional, all tailored to touch the audience’s feelings almost to the point of being ridiculous. But it is well done. This may be the best episode of… The Mandalorian.
But it is the worst episode of The Book of Boba Fett.
We Interrupt This Program…
Because it is not The Book of Boba Fett episode at all. It is an episode of The Mandalorian Season 3. Imagine someone who has not watched The Mandalorian, for example some very old-school fan who was not interested in “this new stuff” but was interested in watching The Book of Boba Fett. That person would be absolutely clueless about this episode. Aside from Fennec’s appearance in the last two minutes, there was nothing that would link it to the rest of the series whatsoever. And the titular character, Boba Fett, did not appear at all.
Similarly, imagine someone who was, say, interested only in “Baby Yoda” and did not watch The Book of Boba Fett. They could miss on this episode, even though thankfully these days they probably would be alerted to its existence somehow. But it still means a potential problem.
Is Star Wars Becoming The Marvel Universe?
The chief obstacle of this intertwining approach is that you are losing the option to watch just one show. Think of the Marvel universe. There are many movies that do not make much sense unless you have watched everything that came before. Films feature cameos that make hardcore fans swoon but leave casual audience clueless. You are forced to watch everything, otherwise you lose 90% of the value.
Star Wars seems to have somewhat started going in that direction. This raises the danger of “gating” of sorts: that the upcoming parts of the franchise might become something only for fans who are already familiar with the universe. So far, you have been able to just watch the original trilogy and then you could pick The Mandalorian, The Clone Wars, or anything else from the universe that you felt like and you knew what was going on.
That was why there has not been an “Ahsoka” movie, for example, because nobody who has not watched The Clone Wars knew who Ahsoka was. The Mandalorian did an amazing job of introducing her to larger segment of the audience. I assumed that if Ahsoka series came now, one would be fine with – at most – having watched that episode of The Mandalorian and be good to go.
But what if what just happened in “Return of the Mandalorian” will continue? What if, in order to watch Ahsoka, you will have to have watched The Mandalorian because it had Ahsoka and Grogu, but also The Book of Boba Fett because it contains something that moved the plot further?
Don’t Let This Happen Again
It is one thing to have a character make a cameo in one episode – say, Ahsoka in The Mandalorian or Black Krrsantan in The Book of Boba Fett. You don’t need to know who they are, the audience that is not familiar with them will at most miss on some details, but they will understand what the characters are doing here and now and at the end of the episode they will leave and that’s it.
But if, just like in “Return of the Mandalorian”, there is a sequence advancing that visiting character’s plot, completely outside of their “home series”, then something is wrong. If five years from now your casually-interested friend wants to watch an upcoming film about “Baby Yoda”, you wouldn’t want to tell them to first watch the fifth episode of The Book of Boba Fett, third episode of the Ahsoka series, and the fourth scene in the second episode of the Obi-Wan series.
I enjoyed “Return of the Mandalorian” immensely. But at the same time I must say: hopefully this was an one-time occasion that won’t be repeated. Ever.