I am doing episode by episode reviews of The Book of Boba Fett, so here is my take on the penultimate episode, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger”. Reviews of previous episodes may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
At this point, I wonder why this show is called The Book of Boba Fett, since the nominal lead character is barely in it and the show would rather be season 3 of The Mandalorian with a side order of Jedi Academy. Nonetheless, this was a pretty good episode. And indeed, it’s striking that the best episodes so far have been those which barely feature Boba Fett.
“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” opens – no, not with Boba Fett or Din Djarin – but with another familiar character who once wore a suite of Mandalorian armour, namely Cobb Vanth, self-appointed marshal of Mos Pelgo (now Freetown), whom Din and Grogu (and we) met in the premiere episode of season 2 of The Mandalorian. Cobb may have relinquished Boba Fett’s old armour to Din Djarin, but he’s still marshal and still the quickest draw
in the West on Tatooine.
Cobb Vance happens upon a spice deal of the Pyke Syndicate on what he considers his territory. He gives the Pykes the choice to depart and he’ll chalk it up to them getting lost and won’t arrest them. The Pykes, however, decide to shoot it out, so Cobb – who is the quickest draw on Tatooine, after all – shoots them except for the one who surrenders. Cobb lets him depart with the money and a message for the Pyke Syndicate to keep the hell out of his territory. He confiscates the spice – as a fine – only to empty the box and let its precious contents blow away into the dune sea. This is the first time we’ve ever seen what spice looks like and it turns out that it looks a lot like sand. Fun fact: Whenever spice was mentioned in the original trilogy, I assumed it was genuine spices, having just learned about the spice trade and how valuable spices were in school. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that this spice was a drug and a Dune references.
Meanwhile, Din Djarin’s shiny Naboo Starfighter is approaching a forest planet that has no name, at least none I can find. This planet is the site of Luke’s new Jedi Academy and Din is here to visit Grogu. Unfortunately, he didn’t call ahead – or if he did, his calls were ignored – so he is only met by R2-D2, who takes him to a place where ant-like droids are building a Jedi temple stone by stone in one of those moments of beautiful weirdness that Star Wars specialises in. Din demands to be taken to see Grogu or at least Luke Skywalker, but R2-D2 just shuts down and the ant droids don’t talk, though they do build a bamboo bench for Din.
The Jedi Academy planet is beautiful with its bamboo forests and lakes, visually reminiscent of the Akira Kurosawa movies we know were one of the inspirations for Star Wars. It also provides a nice visual contrast to Tatooine with its endless sun-bleached deserts.
When someone finally does show up, it’s not Luke but Ahsoka Tano, last seen in season 2 of The Mandalorian. This is a moment, where I did a double-take, because first of all, I was stunned that Luke and Ahsoka know each other. Ahsoka even tells Din that she’s an old friend of the Skywalker family, which as Anakin’s former padawan she absolutely is. Though – as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out – I would have liked to see Luke’s reaction to this other bit of important information that Obi-Wan and Yoda withheld from him. Also, why is Ahsoka at the Jedi Academy anyway, if she told Din Djarin that she wanted nothing to do with the Jedi anymore? Did Luke seek her out? And how, if he had no idea she existed? Did she seek Luke out? What exactly is their relationship? Cause I doubt I’m the only one who sensed a bit of sexual tension there.
If there are answers to those questions, we’ll get them in the planned Ahsoka Tano show, but not here. And so Ahsoka is just here to talk to anxious Dad Din Djarin, since Luke and R2 can’t be bothered. Folks, if you’re going to run a Jedi school, you’ll have to deal with parent visits eventually.
Ahsoka tells Din that she can take him to Grogu, but that she’s not sure it will be good for Grogu, since Grogu already misses Din a lot and seeing him might make things worse. However, she’s willing to deliver Din’s gift – which turns out to be a tiny mail shirt. She also tells Din that there is no safer place for Grogu in the universe than with Luke at the Jedi Academy (yeah well, we all know how that will go) and invites him to watch the training from a distance.
And so Din and we watch as a quite impressive CGI Luke (and he looks much more realistic here than in The Mandalorian season 2 finale) train Grogu. I did enjoy the training sequences, if only because it’s obvious that Luke has no idea what he’s doing and there are no paedogogics classes or books about how to train Jedi either. So Luke does what worked for him, when Obi Wan and Yoda trained him. And so we see Luke meditating with Grogu (who still thinks the best use of the Force is to snatch random frogs to eat), lifting things, carrying around Grogu in a backpack, doing some jumping and balancing exercises and using the training droid ball to train Grogu’s reflexes. Luke also quite openly tells Ahsoka that he doesn’t really think he’s teaching Grogu anything new, but that Grogu is remembering the training he received.
Luke also tries to figure out just where Grogu came from and point blank asks him about Yoda. When it becomes clear that Grogu doesn’t really remember or want to remember anything about his life pre-Mandalorian, Luke accesses his memories and gets the destruction of the Jedi Temple and the execution of Order 66 from Grogu’s POV as a baby in a crib, who watches three Jedi defenders cut down in front of him. How did Grogu get out of the Jedi Temple and away from the massacre? That’s still a mystery.
Din finally takes off, now he’s convinced himself that Grogu is fine and safe. We see a wistful Grogu looking after the ship and you just know that he knows who’s on board. After all, the little fellow probably sensed Din’s presence.
Ahsoka and Luke discuss what to do about Grogu and his attachment to Din Djarin. Ahsoka tells Luke to trust his instincts and so he takes Grogu to the now miraculously completed temple and gives him a choice. He can take the shiny beskar mail shirt, go back to Din Djarin and become a Mandalorian or he can take Yoda’s old lightsabre and become a Jedi. But, so Luke says, he can’t choose both. Luke also cautions Grogu that his lifespan is a lot longer than that of humans and that if he stays, he might never see Din again.
It’s a good thing that Luke gives Grogu a choice, since that’s more than what most other Jedi were given. However, the big questions remains, “Why can’t Grogu be both a Mandalorian and a Jedi?” There would even be a precedent, the Mandalorian Jedi Tarre Vizla, who forged the darksabre. And why can’t Grogu combine the best of both worlds: the Mandalorians’ focus on community, clan and caring for others and the Jedi’s Forcer mastery and desire to protect the whole galaxy? On Twitter, I saw a delightful piece of fan art depicting an adult Grogu in beskar armour, wielding a lightsabre and telling a padawan that no, attachments and emotions are not bad at all, because “this way this is”. This is pretty much how I imagine adult Grogu, the way forward for both Mandalorians and Jedi, who are after all two fanatical cults whose prime objective is to turn children into soldiers. The Mandalorians at least go sure that the children are orphans first.
When we first met Ahsoka in season 2 of The Mandalorian, she seemed to be sceptical about about the various Jedi teachings regarding attachment and the Jedi philosophy in general, but here she spends most of her screentime warning against the dangers of attachment, as AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski puts it. Also, it’s depressing that both Ahsoka and Luke seem to have swallowed the Jedi taboo against attachments hook, line and sinker, even though Ahsoka saw how the clash between Jedi ideology and reality destroyed first Anakin and then the whole order, while Luke never really got the “All attachments are bad” messaging from Obi Wan and Yoda in the first place, since that only came in full force with the prequels. And while both Obi Wan and Yoda warn Luke against going off to Bespin to rescue his friends, it’s not because they think friendship is a bad thing, but because they think Luke is not ready. So why do Ahsoka, who turned her back on the Jedi, and Luke, who never even got that particular bit of messaging, suddenly buy into the whole “attachments are bad” stuff?
Especially since both Ahsoka and Luke have plenty of emotions and attachments themselves (but then hypocrisy is the Jedi way). Why is Ahsoka even there, if not because of her attachment to Anakin and through him to his kids? As for Luke, he has plenty of attachments to Leia and Han and Chewie and of course C-3PO and R2-D2. In fact, Luke is so attached to R2 that he keeps the badly battered droid around, even though he lives in a universe that views droids more like vaccuum cleaners than like friends.
I realised as a teenager that the Jedi’s “emotions are bad and the path to the dark side” and the related “attachments are bad and the path to the dark side” ideology was wrong and something to be overcome. The prequels seemed to reinforce that, since the Jedi cause their own downfall by taking way to long to realise what’s up with Anakin. It always seemed to me as if George Lucas knew that the Jedi way didn’t work and showed this quite plainly in the Star Wars movies he made. However, the audience latched on to the Jedi and completely missed the fact that Star Wars actually criticises them.
That said, pretty much every commentary about this episode said – apart from “Why exactly is this show called The Book of Boba Fett, when he’s barely in it?” – “Why does Grogu have to choose? Why can’t he be both?” And indeed, it seems to me as if more and more Star Wars fans are grasping the fact that the Jedi way is not an ideal and was never intended to be. It was a mistake. The big questions now is: Why don’t the characters realise this? Why must Luke and Ahsoka make the same mistakes with the same disastrous results that the old Jedi order made? Indeed, io9‘s James Whitbrook asks the same questions, while The Daily Dot‘s Gavia Baker-Whitelaw calls the way this episode handles Luke Skywalker outright character assassination.
The Book of Boba Fett is not the only piece of recent pop culture that deals with the question if attachments are good or bad and if you need to leave your attachments behind to become a hero. Masters of the Universe: Revelation deals with a similar issue. The second half of the season begins with a flashback showing the Sorceress leaving her partner and newborn daughter, because she believes that she has to relinquish all attachments in order to become the Sorceress. And when things go disastrously wrong, Skeletor gets hold of the power sword and the Sorceress gets herself stabbed to death, she believes that the reason is that she was not strong enough to let go of her daughter and Duncan.
Her daughter Teela, on the other hand, realises that her attachments to her friends and family do not make her weak, but they make her stronger. She accepts the powers and responsibilities of the Sorceress, but refuses to leave her friends behind. The show makes it very clear that Teela made the right choice, whereas the Sorceress made the wrong choice, denying not only herself happiness, but also denying Teela the chance to get to know her mother and Duncan the chance at a happy relationship. Masters of the Universe: Revelation also reinforces that message by making it clear that Adam keeping the fact that he is He-Man from his parents and Teela did not protect them, as was Adam’s intention, but actually made everything worse.
So if Masters of the Universe: Revelation, a cartoon based on a toy line which only came into being because Mattel saw Hasbro having a huge success with the Star Wars toys and wanted a piece of that, can reject the toxic message that attachments are harmful, why can’t Star Wars?
Back to the plot (yes, there still is one): After his visit to Jedi Academy, Din Djarin returns to Tatooine to meet with Boba Fett and his very limited army. We at least see Boba, but we don’t hear him speak, which makes me wonder whether Temuera Morrison fell ill while filming The Book of Boba Fett and had to sit out two episodes. Instead, Fennec does the talking and points out that the Mod kids are good as spies (Sophie Thatcher, the actress who plays the leader of the Mod kids, was in the science fiction film Prospect with Pedro Pascal a.k.a. Din Dharin himself four years ago) and that Black Krrsatan and Din Djarin make for impressive muscle. But the Pykes still have them outnumbered and the other crime families won’t help. What they need are foot soldiers.
Din says that he might know where to find foot soldiers and heads to Mos Pelgo a.k.a. Freetown to see Cobb Vanth. Cobb is happy enough to see Din, but not to eager to involve himself and the rest of Freetown in something he doesn’t consider his fight. Din points out that it will become their fight eventually, because the Pykes won’t give up, until they are controlling all of Tatooine. Cobb promises Din that he will see what he can do and calls for a town meeting.
But before that meeting can take place, the titular stranger comes from the desert. Only that it’s not a stranger at all, but a character named Cad Bane, who previously appeared in the Clone Wars and Bad Batch cartoon series and looks like a grey alien dressed up as an Old West gunslinger. Cad Bane first offers Cobb Vanth twice of what Boba is paying, if he sits out the fight. But Cobb isn’t sitting out anything and so an Old West style shoot-out in a dusty street ensues. And while Cobb may be the fastest draw
in the West on Tatooine, Cad Bane is faster. He wounds Cobb and kills Cobb’s deputy, a character who couldn’t be any more marked for death, if he worse a red shirt, as Nick Wanserski points out.
And just so everybody knows that the Pykes mean business, they also plant a bomb in Garza Fwip’s bar/casion/brothel.
This is the penultimate episode of The Book of Boba Fett and the show still has no idea what exactly it’s trying to be. Is it “Boba Fett learns the value of teamwork during his sojourn in the desert”? Is it “Tatooine comes together to kick out the criminals who want to take over the planet”? Is it season 3 of The Mandalorian? Is it the Jedi Academy show? Any of these storylines might have made for compelling television, but jumbled altogether, the result is just a mess.
Also, is it me or are the Pykes rather underwhelming as antagonists? I mean, they’re basically evil fish people. That’s all. And as evil fish people go, they’re not nearly as interesting as the Lovecraftian Deep Ones or Mer-Man’s people from Masters of the Universe. Also, a desert planet is about the worst environment in the universe for evil fish people.
Will Grogu return to Din Djarin? Will Tatooine kick the arse of the Pykes? Will Boba Fett actually get to say a few lines in his own show? I guess we’ll find out next week.