Hey, Look, Everyone…It’s Bryce Dallas Howard

Through its first four episodes, Lucasfilm’s latest Star Wars streaming series, The Book of Boba Fett, hadn’t generated the same volume of discussion around the proverbial water cooler as had its predecessor on Disney Plus, The Mandalorian. While The Book of Boba Fett hasn’t really been divisive among fans and has been treated kindly by critics, it simply seemed to lack the same “pop” as Mando.

Surely some of that is the result of the reality of the show not matching fan expectations: fans wanted Boba Fett kicking ass like he did when he first appeared in The Mandalorian but, instead, have seen a story unfold much more along the lines of The Godfather: Part II, in which flashbacks a bring us up to speed on how Fett rose to his current station. And so, through its first four episodes, much of the buzz had been generated by the live-action debut of Black Krrsantan, Danny Trejo’s Rancor keeper and the hope of something greater just around the corner. And today, in Chapter 5, “The Return of The Mandalorian”, the hope that fans had been clinging to arrived.

The episode waited roughly 20 seconds before introducing Din Djarin to the story and, from there, the character never relinquished the spotlight. As fans have rightly pointed out, this episode was in every way, shape and form, an episode of The Mandalorian that happened to be part of The Book of Boba Fett. It’s not until the end that Fett is even named and the events of this episode have nothing to do with the events of the first four episodes of the series. Outside of the setting and a brief reference to the Pyke Syndicate, Chapter 5 doesn’t even share the same narrative tapestry as the rest of the series.

What it is, however, is a great reminder that The Book of Boba Fett is part of much larger narrative that’s been developing for nearly 15 years, since Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau started to plant the seeds of it over the course of several season of The Clone Wars. Filoni and Favreau seem to have a deep and true understanding of the Galaxy Far, Far Away that George Lucas dreamt up and created. They have a passion and knowledge for the stories and characters that have built Star Wars into the entertainment empire it has become and have rightfully been lauded for their work with the direction they’ve begun to steer the live-action Star Wars series. Following today’s episode, it’s clear that fans need to start sending some of that praise in the direction of director Bryce Dallas Howard.

Chapter 5 stands apart from the rest of the chapters of The Book of Boba Fett. Sure it’s not telling a story about Fett, though it’s obvious Djarin is going to play a big role in the remainder of the series (the creators were kind enough to throw some metahumor at us “Hey, look, everyone. It’s Mando”, as if we had forgotten about him), but it’s also the best episode of the series so far despite a decent chunk of time in it being spent watching Djarin and Peli Motto rattle off a bunch of crazy names for parts of the Naboo starfighter they are rebuilding. Howard shares that same deep understanding of Star Wars that fans love to use to adulate Filoni and Favreau and she shares it because, just like them, she’s a lifelong fan of the franchise.

Howard’s father, Ron Howard, worked on the 1988 film Willow, written by Lucas, and Bryce has talked in the past about how Lucas both mentored her father through his directing career and gave her advice ahead of her directorial debut on The Mandalorian in the first season’s fourth episode. Howard was even present at a dinner in which her father and Lucas met with Akria Kurosawa, the legendary Japanese director whose 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress, served as inspiration for Lucas to create Star Wars and whose influence is still felt even as creators other than Lucas are now taking the reigns of the franchise. Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian, “The Jedi”, directed by Filoni, was the most overt homage to Kurosawa, but it is very clear that Howard values Kurosawa’s influence on the franchise, too. Her first episode of The Mandalorian, “Sanctuary”, was very much in the Kurosawa mold.

What “The Return of the Mandalorian” made very clear was that while Filoni and Favreau may be creating the live-action world unfolding on Disney Plus and are the ones driving the shared narrative that certainly seems like it’s headed for a big battle to reclaim Mandalore, they are incredibly comfortable letting Howard take the wheel and be in charge as they lay the groundwork. Chapter 11 of The Mandalorian, “The Heiress”, also directed by Howard, introduced key characters, storylines and artifacts into live-action that will play major roles in the resolution of this shared narrative. In “The Return of the Mandalorian”, Howard’s voice was again the one Filoni and Favreau chose to tell not only the past of Mandalore (with a little Terminator influence thrown in for good measure), but also set up some key points for the future, such as how Djarin can redeem himself in his religion. For an episode that spent a lot of time repairing a beat up ship, it sure seems like it was a can’t miss to understand things moving forward.

And so with Chapter 5 of The Book of Boba Fett, “The Return of The Mandalorian”, the hope fans were waiting for did arrive…and her name is Bryce Dallas Howard.

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