I guess I am doing episode by episode reviews of The Book of Boba Fett now, so here is my take on episode 5, “The Return of the Mandalorian”. Reviews of previous episodes may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
Pretty much every reviewer agrees that “The Return of the Mandalorian” is the best episode of The Book of Boba Fett so far. There’s only one problem. It’s not really an episode of The Book of Boba Fett, but an episode of The Mandalorian which happens to have been inserted into The Book of Boba Fett. Boba himself doesn’t even appear, though Fennec does, briefly.
Instead, the episode follows around Din Djarin after the end of season 2 of The Mandalorian. Now that Baby Grogu is at Jedi Academy, Din Djarin is no longer on the run and has gone back to the only job he knows, bounty-hunting.
We first see Din Djarin walking into a meat processing plant to arrest its owner. Meat processing plants in the Star Wars universe look a lot like they do in owners, only that staff and owner are Klaatoonians. So far, we’ve had Klaatu and Nikto, so where are the Baradas?
Din wanders into the slimy owner’s office to arrest him. The owner at first denies that he is the person Din seeks and when Din shows him his holographic Wanted poster, he insists that the portrait doesn’t even look like him. Din, however, is not fooled and gives the Klatoonian his “I can bring you in warm or cold” line. The Klatoonian opts for cold and a fight breaks out. Luckily, Din Djarin still has the darksabre, which he took from Moff Gideon at the end of season 2 of The Mandalorian. And while the darksabre may make him king of the Mandalorians, it’s also really handy to slice and dice the muscle of a slimy Klatoonian meat processing plant owner. And so Din cuts several Klatoonians in half, including the meat processing plant owner. Alas, he’s no Jedi and hasn’t had lightsabre lessons, so he also manages to slice his own thigh with the darksabre.
We next see Din Djarin limping out of the office of the meat processing plant owner, what is clearly a severed head wrapped up in a towel in his hand (the darksabre is also really handy for cutting off heads, so Din doesn’t have to cart around the whole bounty), only to find himself faced with the meat processing plant workers, all brandishing meat cleavers and knives. Din is tired, wounded and really not in the mood for any more fighting, so he tells the workers, “Your boss is dead and he has a lot of New Republic credits in there that I have no right to, so help yourself.” The workers decide that loyalty to a dead boss does not pay and help themselves to the money, while Din leaves unmolested.
There is a cut and we now see the place all this is happening and it turns out to be a Ringworld, a bonafide Ringworld. And yes, reader, I squeed. I’m not the only one either. Andrew Liptak describes the same experience in this Polygon article.
Din Djarin limps across this Ringworld, lugging a severed head in a bag, much to the disgust of a female alien who has to share an elevator with him. He struts into some kind of bar/casino. Once again, we see some extras in brightly coloured punk outfits, so apparently a neon punk youth subculture arose in the Star Wars universe after the fall of the Empire. Given the Star Wars universe’s preference for earth tones (for rebels and various planetary populations) as well as black, white and grey (for the Empire), it makes sense that young people wanting to express their rebellion in fashion would go for bright colours, no matter how much some Star Wars purists may hate it.
Din Djarin, however, doesn’t have any time for fashion arguments. He limps right into a separate dining room and dumps the severed head of his bounty onto his employer’s dinner table, recalling a scene in Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1991 novel Barrayar, where Cordelia Vorkosigsan dumps the head of Count Vordarian onto the council table. Din Djarin’s employer is a lot more pleased about having a severed head dumped onto his dinner table than the assorted Barrayaran nobles and promptly invites Din to sit down for dinner (bad idea, since Din only eats in private) and also offers him more jobs. Din Djarin, however, only wants his payment, the exact location where one can descend into the Ringworld’s catacombs to find the hideout of the Mandalorian clan of the Mythosaur crest.
So we follow Din Djarin as he descends into the vertigo inducing catacombs, which are basically on the outside of the Ringworld, seemingly suspended over open space, where he finds none other than the female Mandalorian armourer (Emily Swallow), last seen in season 1 of The Mandalorian, for him. The Armourer has obviously survived her last stand against the Stormtroopers, but then she is a badarse, though her underground clan of Mandalorians has been much decimated and is basically reduced to three members: Din, the Armourer and a portly Mandalorian named Paz Vizsla (played by showrunner Jon Favreau, so Happy Hogan finally got the closest thing to an Iron Man suit), who doesn’t like Din very much.
However, the Armourer is in charge and orders Paz to patch up Din’s leg. Then she takes a look at the goodies Din brought back from his quest, namely the darksabre and the beskar lance he got from Ahsoka Tano. The Armourer does not approve of the lance, since it can pierce beskar armour and be used to kill Mandalorians, though she does approve of the darksabre. The lance, however, must be melted down and turned into armour.
Din Djarin insists that the beskar lance be forged into a piece of armour for a foundling. And not just any foundling either but Grogu. The Armourer points out that Grogu is with the Jedi and no longer a foundling, but Din Djarin is adamant. The Armourer also points out that Jedi are forbidden to have any attachments, whereupon Din Djarin exclaims, “But that is the opposite of our creed. We believe in togetherness and solidarity.”
This is another instance where a Star Wars character points out in universe that much of the Jedi creed is actually crap and actively harmful. Forbidding all attachments is what drove Anakin to the Dark Side in the end. But while Star Wars characters occasionally point out that Jedi beliefs are shit, none of them truly act on it. I thought Rey and Kylo Ren might overcome the light side/dark side dichotomy, when they decide to work together against Snoke in The Last Jedi, but we all know how that ended.
We don’t see what exactly the Armourer makes for Grogu, though chain links suggest a mail shirt. But it hit me that “making the first armour for my foundling” is the Mandalorian equivalent of knitting baby shoes. Once the Armourer is done, she wraps up the mini armour in a red and white knotted handkerchief that has the approximate shape of Grogu’s head. Din stares at at wistfully. He very much misses the child that’s now his.
The Armourer also delivers a neat infodump about the darksabre and its history. And unlike the interminable flashbacks that have characterised this series so far, the capsule history of Mandalore does not bring the plot to a screeching halt. First of all, the Armourer reminds us that the Mandalorians and their culture have survived for thousands of years, while the Empire lasted less than thirty years, a fact that is easy to forget, considering that Star Wars is so very focussed on the Empire.
That darksabre was forged by a Mandalorian Jedi named Tarre Vizsla (ancestor of Paz). “I have met Jedi”, Din Djarin helpfully points out like a kid would say “I’ve met Santa Claus and he’s real.” The person who wields the darksabre is leader of Mandalore – however, it must be won in battle. If gifted rather than won in battle, the darksabre will bring bad luck to the Mandalorians.
The Armourer also knows about Bo-Katan Kryze and unsurprisingly does not approve of her. For Bo-Katan inherited the darksabre rather than win it in battle and this is not “the way”. In fact, the Armourer blames Bo-Katan for the destruction of Mandalore at the hands of the Empire – which is illustrated in an impressive flashback sequence of mushroom clouds over Mandalore and K-2SO droids stalking through the ruins in a scene that is reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica (whose effects were famously created by John Dykstra of Star Wars fame), Terminator and The Day After.
Indeed, it’s interesting that The Book of Boba Fett not only draws on works which came out shortly before Star Wars, e.g. outlaw biker movies, the Billy Jack movies, American Graffiti, Lawrence of Arabia, Dune and Italian westerns, but also on works that came out concurrently with or shortly after the original Star Wars trilogy and which often were in conversation with it such as cyberpunk, Quadrophenia, the Vorkosigan novels, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator, The Day After, the Conan films of the 1980s. Because nowadays, it’s easy to forget that Star Wars grew out of the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s and was in conversation both with the SFF and the larger movie and TV sphere of its time.
Meanwhile, the Armourer and her sect, including a young Din Djarin, only survived the destruction of Mandalore, because they had retreated/been exiled to a moon. Of course, as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out, the Armourer isn’t exactly an unbiassed source, since we know that she and her people are Mandalorian fundamentalists and the Star Wars equivalent to an evangelical fire and brimstone preacher who believes that Dungeons & Dragons, LGBTQ people and the covid vaccine are all the work of the devil, so we should take everything she says with a generous grain of salt.
Since Din Djarin did win the darksabre in battle, the Armourer has no issues with him keeping it and even proceeds to give him some fighting lessons, darksabre against beskar hammer. Din is having trouble with the darksabre, since it becomes heavier the more he wields it, which is a lightsabre trait I at least have never heard about. The Armourer tells Din to stop fighting the darksabre. So do lightsabres respond to their wielders in some way?
Now it is a longstanding theory of mine, developed in my teens, that lightsabres can only be used by Jedi and other Force-sensitive people. The initial idea was that lasers are light and light doesn’t just randomly stop in space, so whatever the lightsabre blades are, they’re not lasers. So my teen self came up with the theory that lightsabre blades are focussed Force energy. The Empire Strikes Back blasts that theory to bits when Han briefly uses Luke’s lightsabre to cut open a dead Tauntaun. So if Han, who’s not a Jedi, can ignite a lightsabre, no matter how briefly, that’s it for the theory.
However, “not a Jedi” doesn’t mean “not Force-sensitive” and there are several indications that Han might indeed be Force-sensitive, but was never found by the Jedi due to being a street kid born towards the end of the Republic. After all, fast reflexes are a harbinger of Force-sensitivity and Han has extremely fast reflexes. The fact that Luke is able to perceive Han and Leia being tortured several planets away also suggests that both of them might have been inadvertedly reaching out. Never mind that Han becomes a Force ghost of sorts in the sequel trilogy.
As for other people who are not Jedi wielding lightsabres, Finn does a remarkably good job keeping Kylo Ren at bay before Rey wakes up in The Force Awakens. And Finn is revealed as Force-sensitive in The Rise of Skywalker. I’m not sure about Moff Gideon and Bo-Katan, but then both of them lose the darksabre. As for Din, there are hints that he might be Force-sensitive, too, but more on that later.
It is very obvious that the Armourer could kick Din’s arse and take the darksabre, if she wanted to – she did take out an entire squadron of Stormtroopers, after all – but chooses not to. And yes, the Armourer is awesome, even if she is a religious fanatic.
Paz Vizsla, on the other hand, very much wants the darksabre. After all, his ancestor forged it, so he thinks he has a right to it – even though that’s very much not how things work on Mandalore, as the Armourer explains. Nonetheless, Paz challenges Din to a duel, Din accepts and the Armourer agrees to it. Of course, a duel to the death between two members of your sect is a bad idea, if there are only three Mandalorians left – three that the Armourer approves of, since we know of at least four others. However, this is the way and so Din and Paz fight it out in one of those fights on a narrow and railing-less walkway that Star Wars loves so much.
Initially, things don’t go so well for Din, because he’s wounded, weakened and has trouble with the darksabre, whereas Paz Vizsla is fresh and fueled by anger. However, the tide turns when Paz gloats – with a vibroknife at Din’s throat – that he will exterminate Din’s entire clan. And since Din and Grogu are a Clan of Two, that means Paz has just woken Papa Bear and Din beats and disarms him, though he doesn’t kill Paz.
The Armourer seems pleased with the outcome of the duel, but then she asks Din if he has ever taken off his helmet. Din, of course, can’t say “no”, cause he did take off his helmet, even though it was perfectly justified each time, because it was to receive medical treatment that would save Din’s own life, to infiltrate an Imperial fortress to save Grogu’s life and while saying good-bye to Grogu, the person he loves most in the world. However, the Armourer is a fanatic who knows no exceptions and so she tells Din that he isn’t a Mandalorian any longer. There is a way to redeem himself, but that requires bathing in the pools in the salt mines under Mandalore, mines which – as Din points out – no longer exist.
I really hope that Din will eventually realise that both the Mandalorian and the Jedi way have their share of issues and that he and Grogu will find their own way. However, Star Wars has disappointed me in that regard before, cause whenever it seems as if characters are beginning to question some of the more idiotic rules of their respective groups, the story never follows through, see The Last Jedi.
A crestfallen Din Djarin leaves the Mythosaur Clan and boards a passenger liner, which leads to a hilarious scene where a security droid forces Din to relinquish his many weapons, because “I am a Mandalorian. Weapons are my religion” does not override transport security regulations. The passenger liner is delightfully grubby – the Star Wars universe equivalent to a Greyhound bus or a Baltic Sea ferry rather than a luxury cruise ship. Din has a brief interaction with a Rodian child – and it’s fascinating how Din suddenly notices other children, now he’s a father himself. However, he’s a father separated from his kid, so it only plunges him even further into depression. io9‘s James Whitbrook points out how utterly alone Din Djarin is in these scenes . His clan has disowned him, Grogu is with the Jedi and Din has no one. Kudos also once again to Pedro Pascal who manages to convey Din’s with no facial expressions and only fairly limited dialogue, using body language alone.
The passenger liner is headed to Mos Eisley on Tatooine. Din is here to see Peli Motto, who has sent him a message that she has a replacement for the late lamented Razorcrest, blasted to bits by the remnants of the Empire back in season 2 of The Mandalorian. However, Peli’s proposed replacement for the Razorcrest is not a Clone Wars drop ship like the old Razorcrest, but a battered Naboo Starfighter. Din initially calls it a pile of junk and wants nothing to do with it, but Peli persuades Din to give the Starfighter a chance, once they’ve fixed it up.
So Peli and Din do just that, they repair the Naboo Starfighter, while alternately technobabbling or bantering. Peli thoughtfully even turns the astromech droid port into a child seat for Grogu. These scenes take up about half of the episode and yet watching Din Djarin, Peli Motto or her droids patch up an spaceship is glorious fun and never boring. This is one moment where the tendency of The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian to cast comedians in Star Wars roles comes in handy, because Amy Sedaris is hilarious as Peli Motto and I’m pretty sure most of her dialogue was improvised. Cause I really can’t imagine a Star Wars scriptwriter writing a line like “I dated a Jawa once. They’re fuzzy.” AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski is full of praise for Amy Sedaris, as is Tor.com‘s Emmett Asher-Perrin who also points out that they would watch a whole show of Peli Motto cracking jokes while repairing starships. So would I.
However, Peli is not just dating Jawas, she’s also handing them shopping lists for hard to find components. “I don’t ask, they don’t tell”, she tells Din. Din has a request of his own: a component called a cryogenic density combustion booster, which – as Germain Lussier points out at io9 – will look mightily familiar to eagle-eyed Star Wars fans since it’s one of the pieces of trash that Han, Luke and Leia use to try to stop the walls of the Death Star trash compactor. However, the Jawas did not get the component from the Death Star trash compactor, but stole it from a Pyke spice train, which gives Peli the chance to remind us that The Book of Boba Fett does actually have overarching plot, namely the impending turf war between Boba Fett and the Pykes.
But before we can get back to that plot, Din takes the Naboo Starfighter – now all shiny and silvery instead bright yellow, since Din prefers is metal shiny and natural – for a test flight. And so we watch Din swooshing around Mos Eisley and darting through Beggar’s Canyon – where Anakin Skywalker used to go podracing and Luke Skywalker used to shoot at whomp rats. Earlier Star Wars films have made it clear that the reason that Anakin and Luke could fly way too fast through Beggar’s Canyon without going splat is because they are Force-sensitive and have extremely fast reflexes. Din also flies way too fast through Beggar’s Canyon without going splat, suggesting that he, too, might be Force-sensitive.
Din also takes the Naboo Starfighter into orbit, puts on a show for the Rodian kid aboard the passenger liner and promptly runs into a New Republic patrol consisting of our old friend Captain Teva and a new recruit. The patrol harrasses Din about his licence, a missing transponder, unauthorised modifications, etc… Furthermore, Captain Teva recognises Din’s voice and has some questions about the various incidents involving Imperial remnants that Din was involved with. Din responds by flipping a switch – another callback to the hot rods of American Graffiti, which was not only directed by George Lucas, but starred Ron Howard, father of Bryce Dallas Howard, who directed this episode and did a stellar job – and just streaks away, leaving behind two baffled New Republic traffic cops.
Given how the New Republic has been portrayed in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, namely as a bunch of incompetents who’s rather harrass random Mandalorians over traffic violations than root out the various Imperial remnants or deal with the fact that crime is running rampant in their territory, it’s no surprise that the New Republic will eventually fail. Because frankly, they are incompetent.
When Din returns the Starfighter to Peli Motto’s – and of course he is going to keep it – he finds Fennec waiting for him, wanting to hire him. However, once Din finds out that Fennec doesn’t want to hire him for a bounty hunting job, but as muscle for Boba Fett, Din tells her that’s on the house, as a thanks for Fennec and Boba helping him against Moff Gideon. However, he first needs to visit a little friend. And we all know what that means, don’t we? Din Djarin is going to visit Grogu and quite possibly pick him up from Jedi Aacademy for good.
Most of us suspected that we would get to see Din Djarin this episode as the muscle Fennec wanted to hire. However, I don’t think anybody expected that we’d get what is basically an episode of The Mandalorian shoehorned into The Book of Boba Fett. Nor did anybody expect that the best episode of The Book of Boba Fett would be the one that’s basically an episode of a completely different series.
If anything, “The Return of the Mandalorian” highlights how much better The Mandalorian is than The Book of Boba Fett. This episode didn’t even have a lot of plot, but the fight scenes, fltght scenes, the banter, the Ringworld setting are all so much better than anything The Book of Boba Fett has given us so far. Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw writes:
Above all, Din Djarin is a more compelling protagonist. He’s defined by consistent emotional goals: Loyalty to his Mandalorian creed, and love for his foundling child Grogu (currently offscreen at Jedi school with Luke Skywalker). His code of ethics also makes more sense than Boba Fett’s directionless new role as a crime boss.
She’s absolutely right, because after two seasons of The Mandalorian, we know who Din Djarin is. We know his devotion to the Mandalorian way, his love for Grogu, his loneliness and his vulnerability. We also know that Din is not in fact the best at what he does. He’s clumsy, cuts himself with his own darksabre and almost gets his arse handed to him by blurggs and a mudhorn. It’s the fact that Din Djarin is very human underneath that shiny armour that makes him such a likeable character.
Meanwhile, we still have no real idea who Boba Fett is. In the original trilogy, he was basically a henchman in a cool looking suit of armour. The prequels showed us his childhood and the tragic (for Boba) loss of his father. The Mandalorian gave us a different, more honourable Boba, who makes himself de-facto ruler of Tatooine. The Book of Boba Fett should have picked up there and told us more about who Boba is and what his motivation is, but it stumbled badly.
Personally, I wonder whether the reason that The Mandalorian is so much better than The Book of Boba Fett is because The Mandalorian is the story that Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni et al really want to tell, whereas The Book of Boba Fett is the story Disney wants them to tell.
Still, let’s hope that the last two episodes of The Book of Boba Fett will maintain the quality of this one, while actually featuring the title character again.