A review of The Book of Boba Fett season finale, “In the Name of Honor,” coming up just as soon as the Quacta calls the Stiffling slimy…
What a strange season of television this turned out to be. Back in 2020, there was a palpable sense that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were using The Mandalorian Season Two to seed various spinoffs. But other than one episode focusing on Cara Dune (ironically setting up a spinoff that’s since been abandoned due to the behavior of its would-be star), Mando was still unquestionably the main character of each installment, and of the season as a whole. No matter how many old and new faces were brought in to tease adventures elsewhere in the Outer Rim, it was ultimately a show about Din Djarin and his adorable little buddy.
The Book of Boba Fett is the first of these spinoffs to arrive. It’s not surprising that Favreau and Filoni would use it in part to set up concepts for the rest of the expanding Star Wars TV universe. What is surprising, however, is how easily Boba was made to feel like an afterthought on his own series, and how poorly executed most of the material for him has been. Leaving aside the mid-credits scene establishing the survival of Cobb Vanth — and, thus, the possibility of a Cobb spinoff whenever Timothy Olyphant is next available — the season doesn’t even end on Boba and Fennec, but on Mando taking Grogu for a joyride in their shiny new sportscar. This wasn’t quite a Mandalorian season, because our man in the beskar didn’t turn up until the last three episodes, but nor was it really much about the title character. It was just a hodgepodge of various Star Wars concepts and characters, some of them well-executed, many of them not.
We don’t need to relitigate the mistakes of the six previous episodes, since “In the Name of Honor” offers plenty of stumbles of its own. It’s an episode filled with lots of spectacle, but most of it rings hollow because of how poorly it was set up as the season attempted to serve a half-dozen different masters (some of them Jedis) at once.
Like a lot of Mandalorian episodes, the set-up here is pretty simple and archetypal: a “defend the fort while badly outnumbered” scenario from countless Westerns, most famously Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. This is such a basic, easy formula to do well that Hawks alone remade Rio Bravo twice, and countless other films and TV shows have ripped it off over the years. “In the Name of Honor” is much less successful with it, in part because the episode, like the season as a whole, keeps blowing easy layups.
Everyone and his brother knew that at some point in the finale, for instance, Boba was going to ride in on his new pet Rancor and save the day. And the VFX team certainly had fun with that sequence, which at one point played like a reverse Pacific Rim where we were meant to root for the kaiju instead of the giant mechs, and later turned into a sand-colored King Kong homage as the beast climbed a tower to swat at all comers. But the season put in the barest minimum of setup into the idea. While we were off following Mando for two episodes, we could have been watching Boba struggle to master riding the thing, with Danny Trejo offering advice. That way, it feels like a real triumph when the beast roars into view with Boba astride it, rather than provoking a shrug-worthy reminder that the Hutts gave him a large pet a million episodes ago.
Much is also made, meanwhile, of Boba and Cad Bane’s shared history, but it’s history that doesn’t really exist. They work together briefly in an episode of Clone Wars, and Filoni had big plans for Cad to mentor Boba in a later season, but he never actually told that story. Even if you’re assuming that the majority of your audience has also watched all the animated series, you’re trying to trade emotionally on something they didn’t see, other than perhaps in some half-finished animation that’s floated around the internet for years(*). Boba killing Cad with his gaderffii is meant to be a cathartic conclusion to his relationship with the Tuskens — winning with one of their weapons rather than his father’s armor — but Cad had nothing to do with the tribe’s murder. Instead, Fennec Shand is left to assassinate the Pyke Syndicate’s leader, Mok Shaiz, and all the mob bosses who betrayed her partner.
(*) The closest analogue to this may be, of all things, The Office, where creator Greg Daniels decided that the deleted scenes were canon, and that information from them — say, that the Creed Bratton who worked at Dunder Mifflin was the same Creed Bratton who played guitar for The Grass Roots — didn’t need to be repeated later on. And at least those scenes were officially available to watch on NBC’s website and on DVD!
It’s just lots of very basic, easy storytelling fundamentals missing throughout the season, and thus from the finale. How do you do this many episodes set on Tatooine, many of them featuring flashbacks to the period before Boba reclaimed his armor, bring in Olyphant as a guest star, and somehow never once have Boba and Cobb meet? Or even give us a flashback of Boba discovering that some charming lawman has acquired his beloved suit? The fact that Cobb is healing in one of the bacta tanks suggests the two could still cross paths. But in one of the finale’s last scenes, Boba recognizes that he and Fennec are not cut out to be beloved civic leaders, and appear to be headed elsewhere, while leaving the Mods and Black Krrsantan to run things in Mos Espa. If there is a Book of Boba Fett Season Two — and if that one isn’t also hijacked by characters from other shows — it seems likely we will be following Boba and Fennec elsewhere in the galaxy as they get back to doing what they do best. When you devote lots of time to seeing our hero try to reclaim what he lost when Han Solo knocked him into the Sarlacc pit, you have to at some point put him in a room with the dude who wound up wearing Boba’s signature fashions.
Which brings us back to another big picture problem, summed up neatly by Cad Bane expressing puzzlement at Boba’s angle here. The season never did a good job of explaining why Boba would want this job, nor how he transformed from an utterly ruthless mercenary to a largely benevolent figure. Some of that exists within the Tusken passages, where Boba finds value in having friends and helping them. But the season raced through that subplot much too quickly for the character arc to fully take shape. It’s not inherently bad storytelling to have your main character attempt a task for which they prove unsuited, but that plot has to be told with much more care and nuance to not feel like a waste of time.
Devoting nearly 30 percent of the season to Mando, Grogu, Luke, Ahsoka, etc., no doubt made it more difficult to let the Tusken story play out at the length it needed, or to better establish the Mods and Black Krrsantan as actual characters rather than convenient sidekicks. Everything was so rushed that poor Ming-Na Wen kept being handed these uplayable expository monologues reminding us of who everyone is, what they’re doing, and why, because the show didn’t put in the time to make this all clear in less clunky ways. (Even poor Matt Berry got stuck with one of these a few episodes back! Why hire Matt Berry to do a voice and not give him anything interesting, let alone funny, to play?)
Unsurprisingly, the parts of the finale that work best are the parts involving the two characters who have already been well-established, and whom Favreau and company have a clearer take on. The pew-pew-pew of it all has its nostalgic charms, even if the show has staged better action elsewhere in the season (the Bryce Dallas Howard-directed “Return of the Mandalorian” especially). But the most thrilling moments to these eyes came from the reunion of Mando and Grogu. Mando is startled to see his surrogate son (and wearing the shirt Mando had the Armorer make for him!). Grogu, meanwhile, is giddy to leap into his father figure’s arms, and once again steps in to save Din using the power of the Force — first by helping to dismantle one of the Scorpanek droids, then by calming down the Rancor before it could eat Mando. Just lots of lovely little moments between the duo, up to and including Grogu’s glee at getting Mando to make the starfighter go very very fast.
And even in the action stuff, Team Mandalorian upstages Team Boba. At first, it seems as if the show has very smartly arranged for Mando and Grogu to defeat the first Scorpanek so that Boba will get the climactic victories over the other droid, plus Cad Bane. But after Cad has been dispatched, we cut right back to Mando and Grogu having to deal with the angry Rancor. The season’s final splashy victory belongs not to the ostensible main character of the show we are watching, but to the two Very Special Guest Stars in whom we were more invested all along.
Episodes on shows like these are shot far in advance of their release, and also require an enormous amount of pre-production work. So you can’t look at the sudden shift in perspective as a case of Favreau and company realizing that the audience didn’t like this new take on Boba, nor even on them realizing internally as they crafted the episodes that this was a bad direction. This almost certainly had to have been the plan all along. And, if so, it was an ill-conceived plan. It’s possible that no amount of additional emphasis on Boba would have made this story better — that once Favreau decided to make a Din Djarin show rather than just starting out with the further adventures of Boba Fett, there was no point to bringing back the genuine article. But this approach all but guaranteed that the new series wouldn’t work, and that it would very baldly feel like a way to clean up the continuity for upcoming Mando adventures without having to devote an entire Mandalorian season to that stuff. All of these IP-driven franchises can fall victim to devoting too much time to setting up additional stories rather than focusing on the one being told right now. But rarely has the focus on the future, and the carelessness with the present, been as obvious and self-defeating as it’s been here.
Given the bland take on the character here, I don’t especially need to see more Book of Boba Fett. But if another season is produced, hopefully it won’t have to make quite as much room for all our friends from other shows.
Some other thoughts:
* Amy Sedaris continues to be a delight, and the show continues to use Peli as the voice of the fans. A few weeks ago, she just came out and enthusiastically cried, “Hey look, everyone! It’s Mando!” And here she is displeased to learn Grogu’s name and insists that she won’t be using it, thus speaking for all of us who still think of the kid first and foremost as Baby Yoda. (Remember that both Mandalorian seasons were written before any of it had aired, so this is really the first chance the creative team has had to write something where they’re aware of any audience response.) And if we see her again in a later season of either show, I assume she’ll have stories to tell about hooking up with Mok Shaiz’s majordomo.
* Finally, the series was stuck with the Gamorean character design from Return of the Jedi, but my goodness do all the prosthetics force the actors to move slowly. Probably for the best that the two loyal guards got pushed off a cliff early so we didn’t have to watch more lifeless action sequences featuring them. RIP, you big clumsy pig-men.