“From The Desert Comes A Stranger” manages the impressive feat of making me really anxious to get back to the confusingly paced battle for Tatooine’s underworld supremacy. For the second week in a row, the central protagonist of the show we’re watching doesn’t say a single word and what had been a fun and lively break last week has become a distracting extended interlude. There were some highlights, for sure. The return of Cobb Vance (Timothy Olyphant) is good and at least contributes toward next week’s final conflict. As for other aspects of the show; as much as I like the idea of Grogu receiving their Jedi training, I can’t help but think this is not the best place for it.
To be upfront, I’m one of the killjoys who wasn’t excited for Luke Skywalker’s deus ex machina arrival at the climax of the Mandalorian season 2 finale. My fan self was already sufficiently serviced by making a show about a cool-looking armor guy who goes around and has cool-armor-guy adventures in the Star Wars universe. In a show that already owed its entire conception, aesthetic, and execution on well-established Star Wars formula, it seemed a small thing to just let him have his own adventures in his own little corner of the galaxy. Bringing in the stiff-mouthed simulacrum of our long-ago childhood closed with utter finality the already narrowing space for untrod ground in our Star Wars stories. And as much as I will always love seeing someone absolutely wreck evil robots with a lightsaber, I would have been just as fine without.
Digitally de-aged Luke Skywalker is a story device that has to be used judiciously. In repose, the CGI is fairly impressive. It’s when Luke speaks that the illusion really slips and floods the uncanny valley. The show made good use of long shots and angled shots to minimize the amount of necessary head-on frontal shots, but clever positioning can only hide so much. And even when the limitations of CGI were mitigated against, the Luke scenes weren’t helped by Mark Hamill’s stilted line reading. It’s strange that the actor would come across so stiff, given his exceptional voice acting career. I don’t know if there had to be some digital tweaking to erase some of the gravel from his voice, but whatever the reason, it contributed to the artificiality of the whole segment. In a purely structural sense, Grogu’s training scenes were a clever inversion of Luke’s from Empire Strikes Back. Luke even kept the backpack he carried Yoda in. But here, Luke was the master and carried young Grogu around in order to demonstrate what mastery of the force can provide. Luke probes Grogu’s memories and we learn that he was already in the care of the Jedi when Order 66 was executed. How he was saved when all his protectors were slain is still a mystery. Luke sees that Grogu misses Din a great deal, and in a major break from the tenets of the previous Jedi order, is willing to give the child the choice between remaining or going.
It’s funny as well that we should get one of the episode’s many new and returning cameos from Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who spends most of her screen time warning against the dangers of attachment. For all of the Jedi philosophizing the show indulges in, none of that seems to exist beyond textural window dressing. It’s certainly nothing either Filoni or Favreau have internalized. She’s the one to meet Din on the grounds where Luke’s doomed training temple is being built, and questions him on whether he wants to see Grogu for the child’s benefit, or his own. It doesn’t seem as though this question of attachment is necessarily relevant to either of these characters, since neither are Jedi, but given that she chose to leave the order even after being pardoned, perhaps she embodies the principle of knowing when it’s right to walk away better than most.
Pity the poor deputy of Freetown. There’s no more surefire way to telegraph you’re already dead than be introduced as a less famous, less unbelievably handsome hot-headed companion to a returning character. We already had the fantastic opening scene of Vance taking down the Pykes who had the poor sense to make, as far as I can tell, a completely unnecessary spice exchange between themselves in the wrong field of moisture vaporators. And there are few things more cinematically gratifying than a character proving their moral uprightness by doing something dramatic like kicking over the chest of drugs and letting the indifferent winds of Tatooine take it. While Olyphant is hardly straining against type by playing a space version of all his other frontier cop characters, his charm and absolute killer delivery of a well-placed bon mot remains a boon to the Star Wars universe. Djarin seeks Vance out in order to commission the folks of Freetown to help Fett against the Pykes. Vance and the citizens remain skeptical of getting involved, and it would have to take something personal to convince them.
This leads to the episode’s final big reveal, the live action introduction of Cad Bane. I only watched a smattering of The Clone Wars cartoon, so I don’t have an investment in the character, but I assume folks are excited to see him here. The character looked reasonably good live-action, but I think it’s fair to say some designs definitely work better animated. Bane once again lives up to his name and kills the deputy. Vance is wounded, but not likely so bad that he won’t return for the final episode to bring his own brand of space frontier justice to the syndicate.
What an odd penultimate episode of The Book Of Everyone But Boba Fett. It’s a whole other kind of sloppy storytelling than the earlier episode’s shaggy-dog approach to just cut away from the main cast entirely. If every Disney+ show was presented under some catch-all banner like “Star Wars Adventure Presents” (or something less stupid than that) it would be more understandable that stories would circle back on each other in an anthology format. I claim to be tired of the tightly interwoven approach to Star Wars that doesn’t allow space for any new stories.
And yet I’m still looking forward to the Obi-Wan Kenobi series (we are all allowed our little hypocrisies). Ewan MacGregor was one of the few actors aggressively charismatic enough to survive the rigidity of the prequels, and it’s exciting to spend more time with a cool character under more lively direction. But is The Book Of Boba Fett setting the precedent for all Star Wars shows going forward? Will half of any given series run time be dedicated to burnishing the stories of only tangentially related characters? It’s obviously premature to worry about that now, but would be an obnoxious habit to fall into. I still prefer stories that stand on their own and don’t want every title going forward to act as an advertisement or teaser for something else. Oh well. At least next week we may finally get that Rancor murder spree we were promised.
- I’m not a monster. It was very good seeing lil’ Grogu again.
- I like how Luke’s incentive to Grogu to learn the Force is he can use it to lift many frogs. It lacks the oomph of levitating an X-Wing, but know your audience, I guess.
- Given the Grogu training segments thematic focus on attachment, and similarity to Luke’s, it’s a wonder Luke never had Grogu enter a cave to spar with a phantom Din Djarin, only to reveal his own face under the helmet.
- Love the ant droids building the temple.
- “Haven’t seen you since you gave up your armor. How have you been?” “More careful. Where’s the little guy?”
- Hitting up a town of settlers as muscle still seems like a dubious proposition when you’ve got cantinas full of scumbags you could hire for space nickels.
- The Pykes blew up Garsa Fwip’s place. And Garsa Fwip as well. Those jerks.