This discussion and review contains some spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett episode 5, “Return of the Mandalorian.”
“Hey look, everyone, it’s Mando!” Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) declares about halfway through “Return of the Mandalorian,” in what could easily have been the episode’s tagline. “Return of the Mandalorian” often feels more like a stealth episode of The Mandalorian than the fifth episode of The Book of Boba Fett. This is both a blessing and a curse.
There is a lot to like in “Return of the Mandalorian.” Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that this is the best episode of The Book of Boba Fett to this point, despite not actually featuring Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) himself. The episode’s biggest connection to the show around it comes with an appearance from Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) in its closing moments. Instead, “Return of the Mandalorian” is steeped in the continuity and the lore of The Mandalorian.
This is initially refreshing. The opening scenes are impressive, following Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) as he collects what appears to be a routine bounty. The sequence is notable for delivering on a number of elements that have been sorely lacking from The Book of Boba Fett so far. Most obviously, it is nice for a show about the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter to feature some bounty hunting, even if it has to outsource that to a character from another streaming series.
More to the point, that introductory sequence is genuinely thrilling. The abattoir setting is suitably distinct from anything that The Book of Boba Fett has offered so far, presenting a new corner of the Star Wars universe. When Djarin’s mark declines to surrender to the bounty hunter, there is a short but brutal action scene that demonstrates that these shows can offer thrills while working within the confines of Disney+’s family-friendly (so far) aesthetic. Djarin bisects and then decapitates his mark.
It’s a sequence that sorely illustrates what has been lacking from The Book of Boba Fett to this point. This is a show that is seemingly about the dark underworld of the Star Wars franchise, built around a character who has spent decades plying his trade in that underworld. However, the first 10 minutes of “Return of the Mandalorian” establish Djarin as a more threatening figure than the first four episodes of The Book of Boba Fett have done with the title character.
The early section of “Return of the Mandalorian” is set on a ringworld, a circular band in space that surrounds a sun. It is visually impressive. It is the first time that live-action Star Wars has depicted something like this. It makes the universe seem bigger and more interesting, underscoring that the franchise is a vast world limited only by the imaginations of its writers. This ringworld is perhaps the most visually interesting idea that The Book of Boba Fett has presented to this point.
One of the big issues with The Book of Boba Fett has been the decision to set the bulk of the miniseries on Tatooine. A core appeal of Star Wars is the opportunity to explore new worlds and present new sights. One of the driving narrative forces in the very first Star Wars film was the fact that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) didn’t want to be stuck on Tatooine for his entire life. The franchise had spent enough time on Tatooine before The Book of Boba Fett.
That said, even as “Return of the Mandalorian” suggests that the best parts of The Book of Boba Fett might be the elements that don’t belong in The Book of Boba Fett, the episode quickly hits some stumbling blocks of its own. Most obviously, “Return of the Mandalorian” doesn’t feel like a chapter in the ongoing story of The Book of Boba Fett. Instead, it feels like an interstitial episode of The Mandalorian, designed to smooth the wait between the second and third seasons.
“Return of the Mandalorian” doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility that its audience hasn’t watched – and might not be invested in – The Mandalorian. It also doesn’t seem to mind that some of the audience for The Mandalorian isn’t watching The Book of Boba Fett. The episode is packed with continuity and references to The Mandalorian, notably featuring returning characters like the Armorer (Emily Swallow), Paz Vizsla (Jon Favreau), and even Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee).
As with a lot of The Book of Boba Fett, there is a sense of sloppy structuring to all of this. The show’s storytelling fundamentals remain frustratingly weak. The first half of the episode stops dead for an extended exposition dump about the history of Mandalore, including flashbacks to “the night of a thousand tears.” It’s again visually impressive and makes sense within the lore of The Mandalorian, but it has nothing to do with the stakes and drama driving The Book of Boba Fett.
The same is true of an extended sequence (and Mandalorian-esque montage) depicting the construction of Djarin’s new starfighter. In some ways, this issimilar to how “The Gathering Storm” devoted a significant stretch of its runtime to Boba Fett remembering where he parked his ship. That said, at least the question of Boba Fett’s ship was tangentially relevant to The Book of Boba Fett. The Mandalorian picking up a sweet new ride feels completely disconnected.
There is, to be fair, an argument to be made for using these streaming shows as a means of cross-promotion. Crossovers have been a fixture of the television landscape for decades: Mad About You meets Friends, The X-Files meets The Simpsons, Superman meets I Love Lucy. The traditional goal of these crossovers has been to get fans of one property to sample another, to make an argument for why a viewer might want to try something a little bit different.
“Return of the Mandalorian” isn’t especially interested in making an argument for The Mandalorian. It assumes that the audience has already bought in and is already emotionally invested in that series. “Return of the Mandalorian” feels more consequential for The Mandalorian than for the actual show for which it was produced. It’s a pretty solid episode of The Mandalorian, but it doesn’t work as an episode of The Book of Boba Fett.
It gives Djarin a new ship to replace the Razorcrest. It establishes that Djarin wants to reunite with Grogu after parting ways with him at the end of “The Rescue.” It deals with the fallout of his decision to remove his mask in “The Believer.” It exiles Djarin from his tribe, with the bounty hunter labeled an “apostate” who must bathe in “the living waters beneath the mines of Mandalore” if he ever wants to return. All this feels like it belongs in the third season premiere of The Mandalorian.
Still, there is something vaguely interesting happening underneath the hood. The second season of The Mandalorian was very invested in folding The Clone Wars into live-action continuity, featuring guest appearances from established animated characters like Bo Katan (Katee Sackhoff) or Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson). This was often crude and cynical, with the season feeling like a collection of stealth pilots for the next few years of Disney+, but it was interesting.
With The Book of Boba Fett, showrunner Jon Favreau is doing something similar with the prequels. In early episodes, Fett is haunted by flashes of his childhood on Kamino from Attack of the Clones. “The Streets of Mos Espa” generated minor controversy for introducing the “mods,” teenage cyborgs riding what can only be described as brightly colored retro space scooters. They were obviously a shoutout to George Lucas’ earlier work but also evoke the aesthetic of the prequels.
“Return of the Mandalorian” continues this trend. Djarin replaces the Razorcrest with a modified Naboo starfighter from The Phantom Menace, a ship that fits comfortably with the aesthetic of the “mods.” His joyride across Tatooine evokes nothing so much as the pod race sequence from The Phantom Menace, including his own trip through “Beggar’s Canyon.” It is an interesting aesthetic shift for the franchise, which has recently been leaning heavily into nostalgia for the original trilogy.
Of course, The Book of Boba Fett is saturated in nostalgia for the original trilogy, making it harder to integrate elements rooted in the aesthetic of the prequels. Tatooine is a dusty and dirty world, exemplifying the “used future” texture of the original trilogy. As such, the introduction of more colorful aspects like the “mods” and the Naboo starfighter seem somewhat incongruous. It feels like the show is trying to have the best of both worlds, rather than making any actual aesthetic choice.
Then again, that might be the core problem with “Return of the Mandalorian,” which is caught between the two live-action Disney+ Star Wars streaming shows. “Return of the Mandalorian” might just be the best episode of The Book of Boba Fett so far, but is it really an episode of The Book of Boba Fett?