Of the many planets that make up the Star Wars galaxy, there is arguably none more iconic than Tatooine. For those who first sat down to watch George Lucas' science fiction epic in 1977, this desert planet was their first step into a larger world and for the great many of us that came after, Tatooine has remained a core part of the Star Wars saga. It's been home to iconic characters like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as boasting locales such as the Mos Eisley Cantina and the setting for the famous Binary Sunset sequence, the Lars Homestead, where Luke looks away to the horizon and it's twin suns, yearning to depart his mundane surroundings and be a part of something greater.
Despite it's less-than-desirable framing in that scene, Tatooine has continued to recur in the franchise, mainly because of it's ties to the Skywalker family as well as being a base of operations for the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt and his weird, yet wonderful, assortment of alien criminals (I'm looking at you, Max Rebo!). Yet, with Jabba and his gang all but wiped out since Return of the Jedi and the Skywalkers having long since left the planet behind, there seemed little reason to re-visit Tatooine other than simply catering to nostalgia, which is probably why it's appearances in recent years have yielded diminishing returns; the most egregious example being the closing moments of The Rise of Skywalker, in which Rey visits the now-desolate Lars Homestead and buries Luke and Leia's lightsabers there, despite neither of the Skywalker Twins having really demonstrated any kind of affinity for the planet.
In fact, I was all set to write an article expressing the opinion that Star Wars as a franchise and we as a fandom, could stand to benefit by moving on from Tatooine. That was at least, until the Season 2 premiere of The Mandalorian, The Marshal, began streaming on Disney+. The episode has been hailed as an excellent start to the season, with plenty of praise for Jon Favreau's direction, Timothy Olyphant's turn as the titular marshal of Mos Pelgo, Cobb Vanth, and the litany of fun easter eggs peppered throughout, most notably a cliffhanger ending years in the making. But for me, one of the most impressive elements of this episode is how it adds a new layer of depth to Tatooine, taking the various scraps of lore we've accumulated about the planet and it's inhabitants throughout the movies and adjacent spin-offs; and weaving them together in a genuinely satisfying story that proves there is a lot of untapped potential left to explore here.
An obvious place to start would be with how the episode treats the Tusken Raiders, creatures that had previously been seen only as vicious monsters incapable of being reasoned with. This trope was subverted however in Chapter Five of The Mandalorian, The Gunslinger, in which Din Djarin peacefully communicates with a group of Tuskens using sign language, suggesting that perhaps there was more to The Sand People than previously thought. When Mando's main objective in The Marshal eventually involves having to hunt down a Krayt Dragon, he seeks the help of the Tusken Raiders since, having survive there for thousands of years, they know the desert environment better than anyone. As a result, the Tuskens play a much larger role in the episode, during which we get more of an insight into their harsh way of life, as well as all of the trappings we've come to expect, including the Massif guard dogs from Attack of the Clones.
More substantively, we're given a motivation for why the Sand People continually raid the many settlements dotted throughout Tatooine. As the natives of the planet, they feel that the water the settlers extract from the ground with their moisture vaporators belongs to them. It's something we learn in passing, as Mando attempts to negotiate a truce between Cobb and the Tuskens, but it's enough to add a moral dimension to these previously amoral beings, which in turn casts earlier events in the movies, like the Tuskens firing on the Podracers in The Phantom Menace or Anakin Skywalker's vengeful slaughter of a Tusken Camp for the death of his mother in Attack of the Clones, in a rather different light.
Through the mining town of Mos Pelgo, we also get to see how the average person lives on Tatooine for a change; whereas Mos Eisley was more of a hub for bounty hunters and smugglers looking for work under the radar, and the time spent in Mos Espa in The Phantom Menace was focused almost exclusively on Anakin's experience as a slave. Mos Pelgo meanwhile is made up entirely of people working to carve out a living in the sands, which gives the small town a sense of community that's refreshing. What's most impressive is that the episode accomplishes this without us really getting to know any of the residents of Mos Pelgo, save for perhaps the Weequay bartender.
Instead this is achieved through the time we spend with Cobb Vanth, a character who had previously appeared in author Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy of novels. Cobb's story is recounted in flashbacks, showing how, after acquiring Boba Fett's armour from some Jawas, he liberated Mos Pelgo from a mining firm that took over the town immediately following the destruction of the second Death Star and the Empire's withdrawal from Tatooine.
One of The Mandalorian's recurring strengths has been it's exploration of the power vacuum created by the Empire's downfall and it's used to great effect here with Cobb. He was one of the vulnerable people directly affected by this new period of lawlessness, which makes his resolve to stand up to those oppressive forces instantly compelling, elevating him beyond being a simple obstacle for Din to eliminate in order to reclaim Boba's armour. The fact that the armour itself looks ill-fitting on him doesn't really matter in the end. He put it to use for a noble reason and gave the residents of Mos Pelgo someone to look up to. That earns him Mando's respect as well as ours.
All of these elements come together during the big face-off against the Krayt Dragon, a beast which holds legendary status among Star Wars fans thanks to a brief appearance by it's skeleton in A New Hope; so finally getting to see it in live action is pretty cool in of itself, though ultimately, you can watch The Marshal without needing to know the reference. The Krayt Dragon's purpose in the episode, besides providing a rollicking great action sequence (complete with an epic aspect ratio shift), is ironically to unify. A threat that forces the Mos Pelgo villagers and the Tusken Raiders to put their past grievances aside and work together, with each earning new found respect for the other in the process.
Aside from making the events of the episode a pivotal moment in the history of Tatooine, the battle against the Krayt Dragon exemplifies the Star Wars tradition of remixing elements of classic mythical tales with it's own signature style. Here in The Marshal we have the most universally recognised story conceits of both the medieval fantasy and the western, namely tensions between cowboys and natives and a quest to slay a dragon, blended together with a decidedly Star Wars flavour that turns what easily could've been another shallow nostalgia trip into an exhilarating adventure fable.
As you can probably tell, I love this episode, not just because I'm a Star Wars fan and I enjoyed the fan service, but because this episode genuinely turned me around on a planet I'd all but dismissed. What once felt tired and hollow now feels alive and thriving with a culture all its own, which opens up a world of possibilities for future Star Wars projects, particularly the forthcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series. Will Obi-Wan be caught in the middle of a feud between moisture farmers and the Sand People? Could that be part of the reason Owen Lars distrusts him so much? Suffice to say, it's exciting to go back to Tatooine now. To quote Mr. Vanth, "I guess every once in a while, both suns shine on a womp rat's tail."