What an astonishing difference a week makes. The first episode of The Book of Boba Fett felt dull, narratively redundant, and visually underwhelming. The second, written by Jon Favreau and directed by Steph Green, not only picks up the pace but improves on the series premiere in pretty much every respect. It is also stronger than any other Star Wars Disney+ episode to date; this is suddenly a series I can get behind.
After surviving an assassination attempt, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-na Wen) seek answers from Mos Espa’s elusive mayor. In flashbacks, Fett earns the respect of the Tusken tribe who have taken him in.
The main plot to “The Tribes of Tatooine” continues Fett’s operation to replace Jabba the Hutt as Mos Espa’s ruling crime lord. It feels less awkward this time around, with some honest development and a few more characters added to the mix. The city mayor Mok Shaiz is an impressively realised alien creation; an Ithorian for the hardcore readers, and a ‘hammerhead’ for general Star Wars viewers. The fan service arcs up considerably after that, with the arrival of two of Jabba’s cousins threatening to kill Fett if he does not give up his leadership aspirations. They are accompanied by a Wookiee bounty hunter; it is a great moment of continuity references done right. To the general viewer, it is simply a cool-looking hairy alien. To dedicated enthusiasts it is the live-action debut of Black Krrsantan, a popular character from Marvel’s Darth Vader monthly comic book. This sort of balance is the key to this sort of franchise storytelling, keeping the audience entertained while subtly adding references only the fans recognise.
It is in the flashbacks that the episode truly excels. A desert train runs through the Dune Sea on a regular schedule, with hired guards killing off territorial Tusken Raiders as they go. It is Fett who takes the initiative to source equipment for the Tuskens to fight back, and to train them in using offworld technology. This all climaxes in a stunning moving action sequence, as Fett leads a violent takeover of the train. The difference in quality between the action here and the action in last week’s premiere is palpable.
More than that: this time around the flashbacks are about something. The Mandalorian already did a handsome job of expanding the depth of the Tusken Raiders, and this episode allows them to blossom from thinly veiled racist caricatures in the original Star Wars into a well-considered indigenous culture. It is not difficult to spot the relevance of Fett – an actor played by a Maori actor – pushing for native title and land rights in a science fiction series. It is this aspect of the episode that makes it work so brilliantly. I cannot recall the last time a series improved so much in the space of a single episode.