When The Book of Boba Fett premiered four weeks ago, it seemed that the show’s biggest challenge would be distinguishing itself from The Mandalorian, a series starring a badass armored bounty hunter who is essentially Boba Fett in all but name. The weeks that followed proved that The Book of Boba Fett could indeed be its own show, albeit a far less fun or interesting one, saddled with a single drab, desert setting and no character dynamics to speak of. For me, The Book of Boba Fett has accomplished little more than making me miss The Mandalorian. So how fortunate that the latest installment of The Book of Boba Fett is just an episode of The Mandalorian hidden inside its spin-off. “Chapter 5: Return of the Mandalorian” contains no Boba Fett whatsoever, instead catching us up on what Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) has been up to. Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot cooler than what we’ve been watching.
We pick up with Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, collecting the head of an underworld figure who hasn’t been paying his debts. As he calmly threatens his target, the star quality that separates Pedro Pascal from Temuera Morrison is immediately apparent, even underneath an opaque helmet. This is not a guy who visits the mayor and goes home empty-handed. (There are zero mayor visits in this episode, thank the maker.) As always, Djarin is cool but not infallible. At the moment, he’s struggling to adjust to fighting with the Darksaber, an ancient Mandalorian weapon that he acquired in the Mandalorian season-two finale. (In case you’re unaware of its cultural significance, there’s a sizable helping of expository dialogue recapping its legacy as established on The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.) Djarin makes the kind of mistake you’d imagine an untrained Jedi might make with their lightsaber: he lets the sword lean against his leg and scorches his own skin. It happens so quickly that it’s not immediately clear this is an unforced error, but the fight is otherwise legible and serves as a fun reintroduction to the character. That said, if by some chance you’re watching The Book of Boba Fett but are unfamiliar with The Mandalorian, this scene and the entire episode that follows are going to be very confusing.
After his job is finished, we see that the fight has taken place aboard a dazzling space station that resembles a Dyson ring or a Halo from the video game series of the same name. Skyscrapers and domiciles are built on the interior surface of the ring, which catches light from a nearby sun. It’s this type of cool sci-fi image that The Book of Boba Fett has been sorely lacking. Star Wars is a flexible setting and an entire series set on a single planet doesn’t have to be a bore, but one expects to see a neat spaceship every now and again and this scratches that itch. This setup is also a reminder of how much The Mandalorian benefits from traveling to a different planet in almost every episode. Din Djarin isn’t a substantially more interesting character than Boba Fett, but it’s less of a drag on the show because he’s constantly traveling to new places and interacting with new characters who have their own unique problems that need solving. The guest stars can have shorter, more pronounced character arcs while Djarin himself evolves in tiny increments.
One might reasonably assume that the opening segment of Chapter 5 would serve as a quick refresher on Djarin before quickly connecting back to the action of The Book of Boba Fett, but instead the rest of the episode is occupied tending to business that really ought to be handled on The Mandalorian. Djarin is reunited with the other two surviving members of his tribe, the Armorer (Emily Swallow) and Paz Vizsla (voiced by an uncredited Jon Favreau), neither of whom have been seen since the first season of The Mandalorian. We finally learn more about the Great Purge of Mandalore, during which the Empire annihilated most of their kind, and see a haunting glimpse of a holocaust that’s evocative of Terminator 2. Some more Mandalorian mythology and dogma is explained, the sort of details that will likely be relevant when that series returns for Season 3 but have no bearing on the show we’re watching right now. Djarin has the Armorer recast his beskar spear into what appears to be an itty bitty chainmail tunic for his estranged companion Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda), but after Djarin confesses that he has removed his helmet in a violation of his sect’s strict laws, he is summarily banished from his tribe. The lack of emotional emphasis here shows that Djarin and The Mandalorian are not immune to the weaknesses of The Book of Boba Fett.
True to form for this series, the second half of the episode is its own distinct story that barely relates to the first. After his excommunication, Djarin books a flight to Tatooine to visit Mandalorian recurring character Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris). Motto has been working on a new ship to replace Djarin’s Razor Crest, destroyed by Moff Gideon’s troops last season. Rather than another gunship, Motto is refurbishing an N-1 starfighter, a fan-favorite model that’s appeared very rarely since its introduction in The Phantom Menace. (It’s a pretty ship, but he’s a bounty hunter — doesn’t he need something with room for his captives? And where’s he going to sleep?) Completing the rebuild takes up ten minutes, during which nearly all of the dialogue is space gearhead jargon. It’s a bit much, but Sedaris invests a Sesame Street level of silliness into her performance that gives the technobabble life, and the work pays off in a delightful test flight sequence through Tatooine’s famous Beggar’s Canyon.
When he returns, Djarin is greeted by Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), who offers to hire him as muscle for Boba Fett’s coming war with the Pyke Syndicate as teased at the end of last week’s episode. Djarin, remembering the favor Shand and Fett did for him on his own show, offers to join them for free, but says that he’ll need to “pay a visit to a little friend” first. Will The Book of Boba Fett’s detour into Mandalorian territory extend further into another side quest to fetch Grogu? Is that really something that ought to happen on someone else’s show? How much more of this season’s remaining two episodes will be about subplots totally unconnected to the previous four? “Return of the Mandalorian” is a refreshing change of pace, but it only reinforces that The Book of Boba Fett is an ill-considered experiment with no direction of its own.