Black Panther, Star-Lord, and the Great Chadwick Boseman

Like nearly all viewers tuning in to this week’s episode of Disney’s animated reimagining What If…?, I was excited, anxious, and sad about seeing and hearing Chadwick Boseman on screen in his last project. The second episode, directed by Bryan Andrews and written by Matthew Chauncey, was a bittersweet exploration of a possible reality where T’Challa takes the role of Star-Lord instead of its original figure Peter Quill. While heartwarming and hilarious, the episode felt like a rush through a journey that could have potentially been explored further but was unfortunately cut short.

Star-Lord isn’t as interesting as the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy but there is a charm in his foolish and overly confident ways that absolutely speak to his human side. When What If…? pumped Peggy Carter full of super-soldier serum, the kick-ass montage of the new Nazi busting first Avenger showed off the series’ potential. Episode two capitalizes on this, with a reimagining that not only tugs on the heart-strings of T’Challa fans but also highlights the possibilities a series like What If…? brushes up against.

CREDIT: MARVEL/DISNEY+

Early in the episode, T’Chaka talks to his young son about his curiosity and desire to explore the world beyond Wakanda but warns him of the perils of man that await him. In typical T’Challa fashion, he is unfazed by the warning, and after playing with a spear outside, finds himself beyond the borders of his homeland’s forcefield. The Ravagers, who were initially sent to retrieve the celestial Ego’s son, Peter Quill, instead kidnap T’Challa. There was a hilarious line about the way “all humans look alike” when Yondu Udonta asked his subordinate space pirates if young T’Challa looked anything like Peter.

CREDIT: MARVEL/DISNEY+

My main gripes kick in around this scene, where young T’Challa has no qualms leaving his homeland, but at the same time it does highlight the Black boy wonderment at the heart of his journey. Yondu is an odd yet nurturing father figure, just like he was with Peter, and when he calls T’Challa his boy, it sets up an interesting juxtaposition with the SOS (or Save our Son in this instance) older T’Challa discovers when escaping The Collector later on in the episode. There’s also something to be said about the way in which his story is told through the lens of Peter Quill’s, because in this instance it is about the abduction of a Black child in Africa, albeit at the hands of extraterrestrials and a few humans.

CREDIT: MARVEL/DISNEY+

Regardless of which Black Panther run you’ve read, T’Challa is nearly always looking for a way to serve and help protect a person or community under siege. After joining the Ravagers, he becomes the Robin Hood of space, stealing from the rich to help planets facing catastrophe, alongside the guidance of Yondu, and the look suits him well.

Wakanda’s origin story is inextricably captured in the cosmos, so it’s only natural that we see the marriage of Afrofuturism and space exploration manifest in the latest episode of What If…? While the quick pace of episode two left much to be desired, the overall narrative was a loving sendoff voiced by Boseman. Seeing him return to his parents, to his homeland, and to the throne room of his birthright in an animated series meant to ponder other possibilities just felt right.

CREDIT: MARVEL/DISNEY+

Even though its pacing and general ambition could use some work, What If…?‘s latest episode should be cherished for all the reasons, Chadwick Boseman especially. We’re shown a different, yet still wholly genocidal side of Thanos, a totally refreshing rendition of Nebula, and an ending sequence that leaves open a door to Peter Quill’s new life with his father. We’re all Korath in this episode, and even after, incessantly captivated by the heroics of a man we could only wish to meet, and for many, won’t stop wishing.