SPOILER WARNING: This post discusses major plot developments in Season 1, Episode 5 of “The Book of Boba Fett,” currently streaming on Disney Plus.
Throughout the first season of “The Book of Boba Fett,” it always felt like a matter of time before Pedro Pascal’s Mando from “The Mandalorian” sauntered back into the story. “Boba Fett” is, of course, a spin-off of “The Mandalorian.” Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) have fought alongside Mando. “Boba Fett” was even famously announced in a post-credits teaser at the end of the “Mandalorian” Season 2 finale.
Still, it’s surprising that Mando didn’t so much join “The Book of Boba Fett” as take over the show entirely, at least for one episode. Boba Fett is nowhere to be seen and Fennec only shows up in the final minutes.
Instead, the aptly titled “Return of the Mandalorian” is effectively an epilogue for Season 2 — or, really, a prologue for Season 3 — of “The Mandalorian,” catching us up with Mando’s exploits after he parted ways with Grogu. Mando re-joins the remnants of the Mandalorian covert from the planet Nevarro, the Children of the Watch, only to be cast out from it upon his confession that he has removed his helmet in the presence of others. Then Mando travels to Tatooine, where he reunites not with Boba Fett, but with Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), who delivers Mando a new ship to replace the Razor Crest that was destroyed in Season 2.
If anything, “Return of the Mandalorian” — crisply written by creator and executive producer Jon Favreau and sharply directed by “Star Wars” regular Bryce Dallas Howard — reinforces the pervasive feeling that “The Book of Boba Fett” is less an epic tome and more like a dusty, spare interlude within a much, much larger saga. After four, often lackadaisical episodes focusing entirely on Boba Fett’s exploits on Tatooine, this week’s episode broadens the scope of the show well beyond its title character’s ambitions. Yes, Fennec recruits Mando to help with Boba Fett’s power struggle with the Pyke Syndicate, but this episode makes plain just how small that struggle feels within the grand story at play here.
One example: Mando finds the Armorer within the recesses of a gargantuan ringed city spinning in open space. Structures like this have been a science-fiction mainstay for decades, but nothing like it has ever shown up within the “Star Wars” franchise — unlike Tatooine, the desert setting for “The Book of Boba Fett” that is almost too familiar to “Star Wars” fans.
Here are three more ways this episode sets its sights beyond “The Book of Boba Fett.”
The Mythology of the Darksaber Grows Deeper
Within the first four minutes of the episode, Mando unsheathes the Darksaber, the iconic blade he won from Moff Gideon in the Season 2 finale. But instead of wielding it with the consummate skill we’re used to, Mando struggles so much with the Darksaber that he wounds himself with it, slicing off a sizable sliver of his upper thigh. Later, he tells the Armorer (Emily Swallow) that the Darksaber grows heavier with every blow. Her explanation: He’s fighting the blade instead of his opponent, because his mind is too scattered — which is to say, Mando misses Grogu something fierce.
The Armorer also confirms the underlying myth behind the blade revealed by Moff Gideon in Season 2: Whomever wins it in combat can claim to rule the planet of Mandalore. The Armorer further complicates the story, however: The Darksaber was forged over 1,000 years ago, and if someone “undeserving” wields it without having won it first, it will become a “curse” and Mandalore “will be laid to waste.”
As “Star Wars” experts know, that’s pretty much what happened. After Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) was given the Darksaber instead of winning it, then using it to claim rule over Mandalore — events that unfolded in the animated series “Star Wars Rebels” — the Empire then carpet bombed the whole planet, killing millions, in the Great Purge.
None of this matters a whit to Boba Fett or his beef with the Pykes, but all of it — Mando’s mastery of the Darksaber, the history of Mandalore, Bo-Katan’s ambitions — matter a great deal to the ongoing saga of “The Mandalorian.”
Mando Gets a Sweet — and Much Smaller — New Ride
One of the most fascinating developments of the past six years has been the rehabilitation of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy within the larger fandom. Derided and reviled when they first premiered (to enormous, unequivocal box office success, by the way), the prequels have arguably become as meaningful — and narratively vital — to the “Star Wars” canon as the original trilogy.
All of this is to say that it was thrilling when Peli Motto unveiled the new ship she’d scored for Mando: A Naboo N-1 Starfighter dating all the way back to 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” This new ship is effectively the opposite of Mando’s old one — lean and nimble and scorchingly fast. Those traits will almost certainly come in handy when Mando helps Boba Fett with the Pykes, but, once again, it sets up Mando for a far different kind of adventure in Season 3 of his own show. For one, with no room other than the cockpit, he’s going to need to find a lot more lodging wherever he travels. And he can forget about storing bounties.
Mando Also Gets a New Purpose — Actually, Two
After Mando confesses to the Armorer that he has removed his helmet, her response is immediate and blunt: “Then you are a Mandalorian no more.” The only way he can restore his standing, she says, is to go to “the living waters beneath the mines of Mandalore” — which, as we’ve just seen, is little more than a nuclear wasteland following the Great Purge.
Still, between the Darksaber mythology and this devastating setback, it appears that Mando’s path is set for Mandalore — a place Boba Fett has no interest in or affection for, and one I doubt we’ll see this season of “The Book of Boba Fett.”
The jury is out on whether Mando’s other great purpose will show up in the final two episodes of “Boba Fett”: a reunion with Grogu. Mando all but says he’s going to see his wee former companion at the end of the episode and Peli Motto knew what she was doing when she chucked the droid slot in the N-1 Starfighter for a portal just big enough to fit Grogu.
Still, it makes very little narrative sense for Mando to take Grogu back from his Jedi training so soon after they parted ways, let alone bring Grogu to Tatooine for a battle with a bunch of disreputable gangsters. Doing so would totally undermine the emotional power of Season 2 of “The Mandalorian.” My prediction: We’ll see Mando reunite with Grogu — and give Grogu the present wrapped to look exactly like him! — followed by Mando’s sad realization that he has to keep his distance for Grogu’s training to work.
“The Book of Boba Fett” has struggled to find the same lasting emotional resonance that “The Mandalorian” established so swiftly with Grogu. But Boba Fett does have unfinished business with the Jedi who has pledged to train Grogu, a man who certainly knows his way around Tatooine. Maybe, just maybe, “The Book of Boba Fett” is saving its biggest revelation for last: the return of Luke Skywalker.