A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Tragedy,” coming up just as soon as we travel with the windows down…
There’s a famous line from the end of the classic John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where a newspaper editor responds to hearing the honest account of a Wild West myth by declaring, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” What people really want, he’s arguing, is a good story more than the truth, and he aims to keep giving the people what they want.
For more than 40 years, Star Wars and the fandom have been printing the legend when it comes to Boba Fett. Based solely on what he does in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Boba should at best be a minor figure, ranking slightly above Greedo or Lobot in importance, but below Grand Moff Tarkin or Bail Organa. Yes, he tracks Han Solo and friends to Cloud City; but otherwise, he does nothing, and seems to die in humiliating fashion when Han accidentally knocks him into the Sarlacc pit early in Jedi. But his armor looks incredibly cool, and he was introduced under unusual circumstances — first appearing in the one part of the Star Wars Holiday Special that people didn’t hate, then with an action figure fans could only order by mail. So a mystique built up around the guy out of proportion to what he did or said in the movies, to the point where otherwise reasonable people like my Rolling Stone colleagues would do something insane like ranking him third overall on a list of the 50 best Star Wars characters ever. George Lucas seemed to understand that he never really used Boba to his full effect in the original films, which led to the introduction of Temuera Morrison as Boba’s father Jango in the prequels.
Still, when this season’s Mandalorian premiere gave us Timothy Olyphant wearing that classic armor, it was hard not to notice how much more exciting the idea of Boba Fett became. Here he was, played by a charismatic actor who got to talk a lot and kick ass to a degree Boba simply wasn’t allowed to in his earlier appearances. The premiere ended with a glimpse of a bald, robed figure played by Morrison, and while some speculated that this was one of the many Republic troopers cloned from Jango (Captain Rex, perhaps?), the simplest answer was that it was Boba himself, who had survived the Sarlacc just as well as his armor did.
“The Tragedy” confirms this, as well as the fact that he was the mysterious figure approaching Fennec Shand’s body at the end of Season One’s “The Gunslinger.” When Mando and Baby Yoda Grogu arrive at the Seeing Stone on the planet of Tython, Mando is startled to see a ship has followed them — a ship with the familiar silhouette of Boba Fett’s Slave I from Empire (a vessel nearly as cool as the armor itself). While the kid is inside an impregnable Force field, Mando goes to confront his pursuers, and discovers that Fennec survived his attack with the help of Boba Fett (and some new mechanical guts). But the swift arrival of Moff Gideon’s troops postpones any further talk, and soon the trio are working together against this much larger force.
Like the recent Cara Dune episode, “The Tragedy” goes out of its way to sideline Mando to let his co-stars shine. While he’s repeatedly knocked out by the field surrounding his young charge, it’s mostly left to Boba and Fennec to take on the stormtroopers. Working mostly with a metal staff, Boba is much more than his opponents can handle, and he eventually finds a moment to breathe when he’s conveniently close to Mando’s ship, allowing him to find his armor, suit up, and save the day. And he is just incredible, as if Jon Favreau (who wrote the episode, which Robert Rodriguez nimbly directed) were determined to finally let the reality of Boba Fett live up to the version that has existed in his imagination since he was a kid. Boba’s so fearsome that the troopers try to escape in their two shuttles, at which point he pulls off the amazing feat of using his jet-pack missile for a bank shot that knocks one of them into the other(*).
(*) That Boba didn’t actually hit the ship he was aiming at is a wink to another iconic Western: the scene in The Magnificent Seven where James Coburn’s Britt is congratulated for making the greatest shot his colleague had ever seen by taking out a fleeing rider using only his pistol. “The worst,” Britt grumbles. “I was aiming at the horse!”
The episode then somehow turns into a Star Wars/MCU crossover for a moment, as Moff Gideon sends four “Dark Troopers” in Iron Man-style armor down to the Seeing Stone to abduct the kid before Mando and Fennec can get back to him. Boba is able to convince Mando that his father was a Mandalorian foundling who earned that armor, and with the Razor Crest destroyed — the cowboy-movie equivalent of the hero’s trusted horse being shot in the third act — the three mercenaries have to team up to rescue Grogu. (And to recruit some other familiar faces, like Bill Burr’s wisecracking sniper Mayfeld from last season’s prison break episode.)
All in all, it’s a thrilling episode, and a lovely but rare instance of fact and legend finally merging into the same thing.
Some other thoughts:
* The opening scenes continues trying to make “Grogu” happen by reminding us and Mando that the kid responds more strongly to hearing his name than not. More notable in the scene is an unexpected sound from beneath Mando’s helmet: joyful laughter. Being around this adorable tyke has softened him in ways he did not expect, and when he starts preparing Grogu for the idea of them separating, it’s clear he has to convince himself as much as he does his young charge.
* While captive aboard Moff Gideon’s ship, the kid demonstrates not only that he has become much more potent with the Force than he was before meeting Ahsoka Tano, but that he’s even more ruthless with it. It was startling in an episode last season when he started to Force-choke Cara because he mistakenly thought she was trying to hurt Mando, but here he’s casually brutal in the way he dispatches both of his guards before nap time hits.
* Also, Moff Gideon’s line about his prisoner not being ready to yield something like the Dark Saber yet has me assuming, or at least hoping, that we will eventually get the Mandalorian equivalent of the real Yoda busting out his lightsaber in Attack of the Clones.
* Mando loses not only his ship, but his entire weapons cache save for what he had on him, plus the Beskar staff that Ahsoka gave him last week. His first encounter with Boba and Fennec makes a point of temporarily separating Mando from his jet pack, and while we don’t see him collect it later, presumably it also survived the attack. (Since Mando doesn’t wear the thing all the time, in hindsight Favreau went out of his way to let us know the jet pack would be OK by contriving an excuse for Mando to have to fly himself and the kid up the mountain in the first place.)
* Finally, the Seeing Stone is a nice low-fi bit of set decoration, with the rock itself surrounded by a group of stone obelisks, Stonehenge-style.
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