This STAR WARS: THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT review contains spoilers.
The Book of Boba Fett Episode 2
How long will The Book of Boba Fett keep up the flashbacks? Probably a while, judging by the slow progression of the plot in both stories this week.
“The Tribes of Tatooine,” which was directed by Steph Green and written by Jon Favreau, has a double meaning. There’s the bureaucracy and assassins Boba and Fennec face in Mos Espa as the new big crime lords in town, and then there are the Tusken Raiders who helped Boba survive in the desert in the days after the sarlacc pit. The former in this episode serve mostly as striking but classic visuals who point Boba in the direction of the next scene. He learns that there are new contenders for the throne: the Hutt twins who conveniently arrive in town years after Jabba died. When their posturing leaves them at a stalemate, it’s back to the past. The Tuskens train Boba to fight with their signature gaffi stick, and, in turn, he helps them jump a train full of spice the Pyke Syndicate is driving straight through Tusken land.
It’s fun to see the alien prosthetics and designs on display, catch some Star Wars deep cuts, and watch Boba stand up for the Tuskens’ ownership over their own land. However, overall the inconsistent characterization for Fett and the lackluster if ambitious action scenes mean this show still doesn’t have the heart of the best Star Wars stories.
Despite strong acting from a charismatic Temuera Morrison, Boba Fett’s evolution from ruthless bounty hunter to benevolent crime lord feels unlike the character at times. At the very least, the cracks are definitely showing in his new role. Either his plan to rule with respect isn’t really working, or the script in the present day scenes just isn’t doing enough work. To Fett’s credit, it’s hard to start a new job. And I’m not sure a more cold-hearted Fett would have improved the story, despite that being his original reputation. It might have beefed up the action scenes, which would help set the show apart. But would it make his choices matter more? As is, we seem to be settling in for the longer haul in terms of the consequences of Fett’s relatively pacifist turn.
Refreshingly, the episode takes a more nuanced approach in its portrayal of the Tuskens. Boba argues that as a sovereign people, the Tuskens should get a toll for the passage of expensive cargo through their land — and the spice runners seem to agree once blasters are pointed at their heads. Now that the Tuskens know Boba better and he’s proved himself, he also goes through a rite of passage.
Of course, the spirit quest concept is nothing new. It’s in Black Panther“` and a ton of portrayals of Native American life, whether those portrayals are more or less informed by real practices. But both the visuals and the information they present are very cool. The Tuskens note that not every group operates the same, differentiating this hunter-gatherer group and the ones who captured and tortured Shmi Skywalker in Attack of the Clones. It also suggests a past where Tatooine had oceans and trees, making at least a gesture at ecological history in a planet that is often portrayed as the eternal ur-desert. Boba carries a branch from the tree in his vision back to the Tuskens, who teach him to craft a gaffi stick weapon from it in a detailed and satisfying step-by-step montage. The vision also takes a turn into the Prequels with a very cool sequence linking Boba’s trauma in the sarlacc pit with his life as a child, watching his father leave on a stormy night on Kamino.
Last week, the Tuskens seemed to have regressed. Where in Din Djarin’s negotiations in The Mandalorian they operated like a sovereign nation, The Book of Boba Fett premiere treated them as more alien and inept. For most of this episode, too, they operate as accessories to Fett’s skills. By the end, however, the major questions that flesh out their culture have been answered. Now we know how they live, what their traditions are, who they believe themselves to be. Yes, it’s the classic Western story of an outsider getting to know Native Americans. But at least it’s more of a complete picture than a sketch now. (And Temuera Morrison isn’t a white American in the “outsider who becomes a savior” role.)
The other major Western influence is, of course, the train robbery. The Mandalorian has so effectively turned Tatooine into “the Western planet” that it’s now difficult to remember it was originally more African influenced or representative of the modern American ennui, based on George Lucas’ childhood and the Tunisian architecture in and around which it was filmed. But in the Disney era, it’s really no surprise we get a train heist on the desert planet. The train scenes make for great visuals in this episode, the zeerust chrome zipping through the Dune Sea without tracks. The train doesn’t really symbolize anything — not longing for the horizon or a better life, not any particular technological or economic development. Or at least, not until Boba figures out it’s carrying spice.
The train robbery also reinforces last week’s impression that the action scenes are just fine, with classic jumps and falls not served particularly well by the camera cutting away or zooming out for contextual wide shots. The same is true for a thoroughly okay fight scene at Tosche Station, with theatrical swings and Boba hitting a guy in the privates. (Fett incidentally rescues Camie and Fixer, Luke Skywalker’s old friends from a deleted scene in A New Hope.) It’s also odd that the train takedown is very similar to the sandcrawler chase in The Mandalorian‘s second episode, with Din Djarin’s charming scrabble for victory now replaced by the roles of the inexperienced Tuskens.
Speaking of inexperience, the scene in which Fett teaches the Tuskens to ride speeder bikes was also reminiscent of The Mandalorian‘s riding scene, albeit without as much charm. The awkward silences aren’t particularly funny, nor the competence that is the end result particularly moving since the script doesn’t detail the Tuskens as individuals.
The humor in the beginning of the episode works a bit better, with Fennec deadpanning that the ninja assassins from last week are “Overpriced. You’re paying for the name.” I also liked that Fennec’s desire to rule by fear is taken quite literally here. Just the prospect of being eaten by the rancor from Return of the Jedi makes the assassin talk, even though Fennec (and the audience) know the beast is dead. There’s also a funny conversation between Boba and a desk clerk who has to check the mayor’s schedule.
However, the flashback structure means each episode feels more like two separate vignettes than a whole. Presumably, the Tuskens will appear to help Boba Fett at another critical moment, or his gaffi skills come in handy. But the abrupt endings keep leaving me with a weird feeling, like this is still a story looking for either a theme or a plot. Fennec in particular still feels like a job description more than a character. The setting is certainly pretty, though.