This article contains spoilers for What If… Season One, Episode Two
In another universe, Chadwick Boseman got to enjoy the awards he earned. To be sure, praise was heaped upon the actor for his breakout role as James Brown in Get On Up and for playing the titular superhero in the culture-defining Black Panther. But major nominations did not come in until after Boseman’s shocking death at age 43 in 2020. Boseman’s final two live-action performances, as an inspiring leader of a Vietnam platoon in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, and as an electric jazz musician in the film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, earned nominations and victories for an Academy Award, a British Film Academy Award, and other top prizes.
That trend continues with Boseman earning a Primetime Emmy Award for his final performance in his signature role. Boseman played Wakandan prince T’Challa one last time in a vocal capacity during the second episode of the Marvel Disney+ series What If…?. In “What If… T’Challa Was Star-Lord,” viewers glimpse an alternate reality in which Yondu and his Ravagers capture not Peter Quill, as seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but T’Challa. Eventually taking the name Star-Lord, T’Challa leads a group of Ravagers that includes familiar faces like Nebula, Kraglin, Kree warrior Korath the Pursuer, and even a reformed Thanos.
Although limited to just his voice, Boseman’s talents are on full-display. The episode retains the goofy humor that one would expect from a Guardians of the Galaxy story, complete with cameos by Howard the Duck and the Collector (and Korath actor Djimon Hounsou getting to display his comedic chops). But where Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord is a sarcastic and insecure bumbler, Boseman brings kindness and confidence to the character. The same empathy that drove T’Challa to listen to defeated enemies Zemo (from Captain America: Civil War) and Killmonger, instead of finishing them off, comes through as Star-Lord leads the Ravagers on a cosmic adventure against Thanos’ former henchmen, the Black Order.
Boseman’s Emmy win only underscores the importance of his legacy. With the long-awaited sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever finally hitting theaters on November 11, fans are once again reminded of Boseman’s considerable talent. T’Challa’s face appears painted on a wall in one shot in the trailer, but his presence is felt throughout, both in the sorrow drenching singer Tems’ voice in her cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” and the shots of supporting characters from the pervious movie. A remarkably selfless actor, Boseman drew attention to co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, helping to make Nakia, Shuri, and M’Baku just as beloved as T’Challa himself.
At this point, we don’t know who will become the new Black Panther, as director Ryan Coogler and MCU head Kevin Feige have chosen not to recast T’Challa. While it has been a lot of fun speculating about who will take on the mantle, the plot underscores a point that we all learned a little too late: Chadwick Boseman was an irreplaceable talent. This latest Emmy win, although deserved, only serves to remind us.