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The old saying goes that you can’t keep a good man down. In the case of Episode 2 of Marvel’s What If…, that statement holds true for many reasons. Titled, “What If… T’Challa Became Star-Lord”, the latest episode of Marvel Studio’s new animated series gives us the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Hearing his voice in the now iconic accent he developed for the Wakandan Prince made me a bit teary-eyed that we’re not going to hear it again. But as this episode shows, the example provided by the character of T’Challa will far outlive the actor who made him such a wonderful character.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched the episode.
For this episode, the Watcher explains that instead of handling the abduction of Peter Quill personally, Yondu sent Taserface and Kraglin to Earth to retrieve the son of Ego, the Living Planet. But because Taserface and Kraglin aren’t the smartest members of the Ravager crew, they abduct the wrong kid, in this case T’Challa from Wakanda. The main reason being the pair of Ravagers looked for something extraterrestrial on Earth, which led them to Wakanda (due to the presence of the vibranium meteorite in the soil). Rather than being freaked out about being abducted by aliens, the Wakandan Prince sees it as a grand adventure and a chance to explore beyond the boundaries of his kingdom.
Cut to 20 years later and T’Challa has become the badass Star-Lord that Peter Quill wished to be seen as in the original Guardians of the Galaxy films. In just two decades, T’Challa has managed to turn the Ravagers into a force for good, space-bound Robin Hoods, if you will. His reason for obtaining the Power Stone is to use it to replenish a dying star and save an entire planet’s worth of people. In the most surprising moment of the episode, it’s revealed that T’Challa actually managed to convince Thanos of all people to abandon his quest for universal genocide simply by making a reasoned argument. That bears repeating: T’Challa convinced Thanos, the Mad Titan, to become a Ravager and join his crew to become a good guy.
I don’t know what else needs to be said except I almost fell out of my chair watching that part of the episode.
This speaks to how well the writing team for the episode got the character of T’Challa. Taken out of Wakanda as a young boy, he still grew into an exceptional man, one driven by empathy and kindness. And while it is a deeply cynical world that we live in, a person who embodies those characteristics is bound to have a positive effect on the people around them. The evidence is seeing characters like Yondu, Thanos, Nebula, Kraglin, and Taserface all acting like far better people than we originally know them as, all due to T’Challa’s influence on them. I can’t think of a better send-off for the character than this, as well as a testament to who Chadwick Boseman was in real life.
The episode plays out much like a heist film, except this time the target is Taneleer Tivan, the Collector, who stepped into the void Thanos left by joining the Ravagers. He even managed to recruit the Black Order that formerly served Thanos. Getting to see more of Tivan is a treat, especially since the animators were able to take the physical eccentricities Benicio Del Toro brought to the role in live-action and use them here. As is often the case in heist films, the job doesn’t go as planned, and there are betrayals and twists throughout.
A rather heartwarming ending greets us at the end as T’Challa returns to Earth with his found family to reunite with his blood family. T’Chaka lives (which means the events of Civil War did not occur in this timeline) and he never gave up hope of finding his lost son. The reunion is joyful, as is the scene of the gala afterward with the Ravagers mingling with Wakandan royalty.
The stinger at the end is quite intriguing. Since he was not picked up by the Ravagers as a child, Peter Quill grew up in Missouri, eventually working at the Dairy Queen not far from where Ego planted a seed of himself during his visits to the planet. Working the night shift, we find Peter cleaning up, listening to his Walk-Man (glad to see some things never change). But this is not the same man we know, primarily because he never grew up to find the Guardians, his surrogate family. But Ego finds him, potentially placing the universe in great jeopardy. But that is a story for another time.
So far, Marvel Studios is two-for-two on What If episodes. I’m digging this series quite a bit and can’t wait to see what the next episode reveals.