This discussion and review contains massive spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett episode 6, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” including in its images. Do not scroll down if you don’t want spoilers.
Like “Return of the Mandalorian” before it, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” is more “40-odd minutes of Star Wars stuff” than it is an episode of The Book of Boba Fett. Still, it is instructive to compare the way that “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” treats its various returning characters.
Interestingly for an episode that marks the return of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), the most compelling reappearing character is Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). Vanth previously appeared in “The Marshal,” the first episode of the second season of The Mandalorian and also the episode that marked the return of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) to the Star Wars universe. However, in an episode with so much lore, it’s striking that Vanth stands out.
It helps that “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” understands that this isn’t Vanth’s show. Vanth is a guest star. He can have his own arc and characterization, but his role in this narrative exists in the orbit of the more significant players. The opening scene finds Vanth engaged in a stand-off with the Pyke Syndicate, establishing their reach on Tatooine. He next appears when Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) travels into the desert to ask an old ally for a favor. Vanth is then attacked to send a message to Fett.
This description of Vanth’s role in the episode might make the character seem like a prop, a pawn moved around the board with little agency or dynamism. That might be a fair criticism in a more character-driven show, but Vanth doesn’t seem any less developed than any of the other major cast members in “From the Desert Comes a Stranger.” It helps that he is played by Timothy Olyphant, one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining cowboy actors and a compelling screen presence.
Vanth is used so effectively in “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” that it seems possible that the show might kill him off during his showdown with Cad Bane (Corey Burton). This is the penultimate episode of the season; it is important to establish stakes. Vanth is a familiar face and Olyphant is a great actor, so killing off Vanth would help create audience investment. Without Boba Fett’s armor, Vanth is a less marketable action figure, so perhaps he is more expendable than other characters.
However, as with “The Streets of Mos Espa,” there’s a curious lack of stakes to The Book of Boba Fett. Bane shoots Vanth in the shoulder, but the scene makes it clear that the wound is not fatal. Instead, Bane brutally and repeatedly shoots Vanth’s deputy dead, killing a minor character who lacks Vanth’s popularity and Olyphant’s star power. The climax then tries to escalate the stakes when the Pykes bomb the bar owned by Garsa Fwip (Jennifer Beals), but it all feels curiously passive.
Then again, this is how stakes work in The Book of Boba Fett. The show will eagerly kill off entire tribes or bars full of anonymous characters in the hopes of provoking an audience reaction, but it hesitates to kill off any individual character who might be marketable outside of the show itself. It is deeply frustrating and adds to the sense that The Book of Boba Fett is a show about watching its creators play with action figures while afraid of scuffing the paint work.
This is obvious in how the episode treats Luke Skywalker. Vanth was an actual character who was being used in service of the story being told and who was played by an actual performer. In contrast, Luke really does feel more like a prop. He is, in a very literal way, a living special effect more than an actual character. There is something depressingly mundane in how “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” treats Luke, while also allowing him to completely suck the air out of the episode around him.
Luke last appeared in “The Rescue,” the second season finale of The Mandalorian. It was a gratuitous cameo, with Luke effectively arriving at the climax of the story to push the show’s protagonists to the margins of their own narrative. In hindsight, it perhaps prefigures the logic driving The Book of Boba Fett. Still, as cynical and calculated as that appearance was, it did at least treat Luke’s appearance as an event. It was something special. It was a big deal. Luke was a big deal.
In contrast, there is nothing special about Luke’s appearance in “From the Desert Comes a Stranger.” Much like “Return of the Mandalorian” could be reduced to a story about Din Djarin buying a cool new car, most of “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” is focused on Luke building a cool new hut. There’s no real drama here. There’s no excitement. There’s no sense that “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” has any purpose for Luke Skywalker, beyond reminding the audience of Luke Skywalker.
This nostalgia permeates “From the Desert Comes a Stranger.” At one point, Luke shares a memory with Grogu, “I want to tell you about someone you remind me of a great deal.” “Yoda’s Theme” helpfully swells in the background, to stir the audience’s memory. “Do you remember back home?” Luke asks Grogu. “Would you like to remember? Let me help you remember.” He may as well be talking directly to the audience at home. It’s about evoking a half-forgotten memory.
“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” makes sure to have Luke do stuff, at least in a literal way. Luke is presented as a strong heroic figure, casually levitating frogs and dancing through the jungle. Although “From a Desert Comes a Stranger” is much less visually engaging than Dave Filoni’s work on “The Jedi,” the episode’s best – and perhaps most revealing – shot is of Luke playing with his lightsaber, the green glow reflected in Grogu’s glassy black eyes as the alien’s face contorts in pure awe.
This is how “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” sees Luke. He’s an object to be appreciated with wonder and reverence. This is certainly true from a technical standpoint. The version of Luke who appears in “From a Desert Comes a Stranger” is an impressive special effect. However, he’s not really a character. While the episode works hard to make sure that Luke is always in motion, the narrative itself seems almost afraid to actually do anything more than gaze at him in silent appreciation.
After all, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” brings together Luke and Ahsoka. These are two characters who are meeting for the first time on screen and who share a fairly profound attachment to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Luke was the child who was hidden from Anakin and who never really knew his father. Ahsoka was the young padawan who was trained and taught by Anakin. The two are mirrors of one another.
Seeing the two of them interact should be interesting, perhaps even contrasting Luke’s idealized vision of his absent father to Ahsoka’s more nuanced understanding of the flesh-and-blood person. Instead, this shared link between the two characters is reduced to a single line of dialogue, with Ahsoka noting that Luke is “so much like (his) father” before she presumably hops in her ship and flies off to launch her own Star Wars spin-off.
In this way, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” completes a process that really began with Solo: A Star Wars Story. It turns Star Wars into something mundane and generic. Even the appearance of the franchise’s original protagonist is no longer an event, but instead business as usual. There’s a creeping sense that The Book of Boba Fett isn’t really a story, but instead a television series-shaped holding repository for Star Wars content.
There is some small irony here. Even though Boba Fett only appears in a single scene, which is still more than he appeared in the episode immediately prior, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” offers the most nuanced take on the bounty hunter of this self-titled series to date. Confronting Vanth, and trying to convince the Marshal to stand down, Cad Bane warns the law man, “Boba Fett is a cold-blooded killer who worked with the Empire.”
There is something compelling in that summary of Boba Fett, suggesting the shadows that haunt a character desperately seeking redemption. Unfortunately, a throwaway line from a guest character hints at a far more interesting show than The Book of Boba Fett has turned out to be.