A review of this week’s The Book of Boba Fett: The Gathering Storm, coming up just as soon as I contact the rat catcher…
“The Gathering Storm” is the midpoint of this seven-episode season. Perhaps appropriately, it’s an installment cleaved right down the middle: the first half wrapping up the flashbacks to what Boba was up to in between Return of the Jedi and The Mandalorian, the second half setting up Boba and Fennec’s pending war with the Pyke syndicate.
But where Boba emerges from the bacta tank fully healed midway through the episode, the various flaws of this season haven’t quite been corrected yet — in either timeline.
The episode’s opening half is as purely fun as Book of Boba Fett has been to date. It more or less follows the Mission of the Week structure that’s served Mandalorian so well, with Boba saving Fennec’s life after her duel with Mando ended poorly for her, followed by the two of them breaking into Jabba’s palace to steal back Boba’s Slave 1 ship. As was the case with the train heist a few weeks ago, this show seems to be at its best when it’s task- and action-oriented. There were various entertaining bits of business throughout the heist, from the chef droid making like a knockoff General Grievous by twirling six meat cleavers at once to the adorable rat catcher droid realizing the trouble it was in with Boba. And both the heist and the failed attempt to find Boba’s armor in the Sarlacc’s stomach were splendid showcases for the physical flair and screen presence of Ming-Na Wen, who’d been largely wasted on this show in previous chapters.
But it’s hard to let go of the feeling that the Nikta’s massacre(*) of the Tusken camp last week was a wasted opportunity. Boba’s time with the Tuskens didn’t feel new to pop culture — again, Dances with Wolves and many other Westerns beat them to the basic idea — but it felt new to Star Wars. And it was doing wonders for both the Tuskens and Boba himself, who was a much more commanding lead character when out in the desert with them than when he’s been trying to run Jabba’s empire. Spending two episodes building up that relationship and then wiping out the whole tribe off-camera raises the question of why the show bothered with that story at all. Boba tells Fennec that his time with the Tuskens made him strong and convinced him that “you can only get so far without a tribe.” But that basically turns the tribe into Manic Pixie Dream Sand People, while also still not doing a good job of explaining why Boba wants the hassle of running Jabba’s empire. He claims that he’s sick of taking orders from others, and that he believes he’s smarter than his many bosses, but his actions never really convey either. Before the Tuskens got fridged, I briefly wondered if Boba had taken the throne in order to help out his adopted family, which would have made more sense than any of what’s happened since.
(*) Boba and Fennec’s conversation about it implies that the Nikta’s didn’t do it alone. With the Pykes set up (for the moment) as this season’s big bad, it seems likely that they either helped the Niktas or simply framed them for the crime, rightly hoping that Boba would then eliminate their other problem.
Because our hero’s motivation remains so muddled, and because Temuera Morrison is a much more comfortable actor with the physical stuff than when Boba is giving speeches about his grand plans, the season’s main story isn’t working. Even with the Tuskens gone, it felt encouraging to see the episode spent so much uninterrupted time in the flashbacks as Boba saved Fennec and began settling all family business. (Slave 1 flying over the Sarlacc pit and then getting into trouble when the beast woke up felt like a particularly inspired suspense/action sequence.) And then it felt disappointing when he woke up — and especially when Fennec said he was now fully healed, which implies we’re done with the split timelines altogether.
There are moments sprinkled throughout the present-day scenes, like Garsa Fwip trying and failing to talk Black Krrsantan out of dismembering one of her customers. (More Jennifer Beals, please?) And the idea of Boba and Fennec assembling a whole team of killers to go to war with the Pykes is promising, though some of that owes to Boba himself being fairly disappointing thus far.
It’s an oddity, this show. The Mandalorian had such a clear sense of its identity, structure, and tone from the start, whereas this one is trying lots of different ambitious, mismatched ideas, and only some of them are working. We’ll just have to hope that the probable end of the time-splitting allows the creative team to get better with the present day material.
Some other thoughts:
* There technically is one piece of Boba backstory still left to be addressed: how he learned that Cobb Vanth had purchased his armor — and, for that matter, why he and Fennec did not instantly kill him and take back the suit. Holding out hope for a Timothy Olyphant appearance before season’s end.
* Also, the timeline raises questions. Mandalorian Season One takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Was Boba somehow alive inside the Sarlacc’s stomach for years? Living with the Tuskens for years? Wandering the desert alone for years? No answer seems to quite fit with what we’ve seen this season, where Boba only appeared to be a part of the Tusken tribe for a few months at most.
* Did Bib Fortuna just never replace all the guards that Boba and Fennec killed on this mission? The show glosses over how they eventually conquered the palace and assumed the throne. For that matter, Boba didn’t seem to have any beef with Bib (say that five times fast) in Return of the Jedi, yet here he feels betrayed by the guy?
* Finally, that’s acclaimed bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner (of Suicidal Tendencies, among other groups) as the modifier who helps save Fennec’s life.