The following post contains SPOILERS for Episode 5 of The Book of Boba Fett.

The best episode of The Book of Boba Fett does not feature Boba Fett.

This week’s installment of the latest Star Wars series is titled “Return of the Mandalorian.” After teasing an appearance in last week’s final moments, Mando shows up this week in the very first scene. In short order, he learns to wield the Darksaber, forges his beskar spear into a present for his pal Grogu, joins the Armorer’s Mandalorian clan, gets kicked out of the Armorer’s Mandalorian clan, and builds a replacement for the Razor Crest. Mando didn’t so much return on The Book of Boba Fett as he took over the show entirely.

In fact, no one from Boba Fett’s cast of characters even appears onscreen in “Return of the Mandalorian” until the episode’s final seconds, when Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand shows up to ask for Mando’s help in resolving the burgeoning underground war on Tatooine. He agrees to help, but only after he pays a visit to Grogu.

From start to finish, it was an entertaining hour of television. If it had been the season premiere of The Mandalorian, I’d be pretty satisfied. But since this was Episode 5 of The Book of Boba Fett, I was mostly just mystified. In fact, if you told me “Return of the Mandalorian” had originally been written as the next Mandalorian episode, then got repurposed as part of The Book of Boba Fett to fill out its season after someone somewhere realized they were going to be one episode short of what they’d promised Disney, I would absolutely believe you. And despite how generally enjoyable this week’s Boba Fett was, it further exposed the structural issues with this show. From the beginning, The Book of Boba Fett felt like a collection of discarded subplots, deleted scenes, and callbacks in search of a larger purpose. This week seemed to suggest that purpose was filling seven hours on Disney+ until The Mandalorian was ready to return.

The Book of Boba Fett
Lucasfilm
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To be sure, Boba Fett has felt shaky from the start. The character, a legendary villain from Star Wars movies, was behaving totally differently than he had in the past, and it wasn’t particularly clear why. It took four episodes full of lengthy flashbacks to explain how Boba Fett went from ruthless bounty hunter to would-be crime lord with a heart of gold. Along the way, there were strange digressions and story tangents that seemed to go nowhere — like the pair of awkward CGI Hutts who tried to take over Boba’s territory in one episode and then decided in the next that they had had enough and were leaving Tattooine for good.

Last week’s episode finally resolved the mysteries around Boba’s hidden motivations, and in doing seemingly brought The Book of Boba Fett’s frustrating flashback structure to a close. That made me curious to see how the show would forge ahead without its defining back-and-forth conceit. What would Boba do now that he was fully healed and didn’t need to take 30-minute naps in his bacta tank in every episode? The answer, it turns out, was to ignore him and that question completely, at least for one week, and instead return to the far more consistent and far more compelling character of the Mandalorian.

I was discussing The Book of Boba Fett recently with a colleague and friend who likes the series much more than I do. In response to my complaints about Boba himself and his inconsistent, ineffectual behavior, he argued that people who wish Boba Fett acted more like the Mandalorian — i.e. stoic, deadly, cool — should remember that The Mandalorian already exists. If Boba Fett turned into another Mando, viewers would complain that The Book of Boba Fett was just The Mandalorian with a different title. Even if you find Boba Fett’s complete change of heart baffling, at least it made him different.

I had to concede that was a pretty good argument — at least until this week, when The Book of Boba Fett literally became The Mandalorian with a different title

The Mandalorian
Lucasfilm
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Give the folks at Lucasfilm credit for this much: They found a way to ensure that every Mandalorian viewer who decided to skip Boba Fett (or bailed after the first couple lackluster episodes) would have to watch the show after all. Because Mando’s part in “Return of the Mandalorian” wasn’t a glorified cameo, or even an important supporting role in Boba Fett’s quest to conquer the Tatooine underworld. This material set the table for everything that will presumably happen next season on The Mandalorian. Viewers who show up for Season 3 without having seen this week’s Boba Fett are going to wonder where Mando’s beskar spear went, or where he found his cool new starfighter. It seems inevitable that this will be the most-watched episode of The Book of Boba Fett all season.

But if that’s true, it’s hard to imagine a more damning compliment about this series. If you can eliminate your title character completely and people don’t miss him, and perhaps even show up in larger numbers than when he’s around, maybe your title character isn’t all that interesting to begin with.

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