Whether as Star-Lord or Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman is King in ‘What If…?’

The second episode confirms everything we love about Star-Lord, Black Panther, and the man beneath both costumes.
What If Episode Chadwick Boseman

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry explores What If…? Episode 2 and how Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy make a perfect match. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

Good help is hard to find. Shaking bad help is even more difficult.

In What If…? Episode 2, the choice that splits the main Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline from the new Disney+ divergent reality is made by Yondu (Michael Rooker). Rather than fetching Peter Quill for Ego himself, as was revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, he sends his Ravager lackeys. They look for the nearest foreign energy source on Earth, locate Wakanda’s massive Vibranium mound, and kidnap a young T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman).

The boy from 1988 scoffs at his royal protection. T’Challa loves his father, but he wants to know what’s going on outside the Golden City’s hologram borders. The world calls for him, and the universe answers.

As Yondu did before, he accepts T’Challa into his fold. Once upon a time, he was tempted to deliver on Ego’s demands, but upon seeing the Celestial’s murderous appetites, he ditches the paycheck in preference for fatherhood. As much as What…If? Episode 2 reveals how T’Challa’s presence in space would radically alter history, it also reaffirms Yondu’s desperate desire to be a dad. Whether a young Peter Quill or a young T’Challa, Yondu was always going to educate that child in the ways of galactic piracy.

However, where Peter Quill leaned into Yondu’s scoundrel tendencies, T’Challa’s righteous heart infects his new stepfather’s wobbly morality. At first glance, the What If…? Ravagers have made the universe a much safer community. T’Challa’s Star-Lord is more Robin Hood than Ned Kelly. On Morag, he nabs the orb not for profit but for societal gain, and he makes a friend in the process.

T’Challa is the Superior Star-Lord

Peter Quill’s Star-Lord is a nobody, but T’Challa’s Star-Lord is a famous criminal philanthropist. When Korath (Djimon Hounsou) spots T’Challa’s mug, he goes full gaga fanboy. They scuffle for a bit, but when the dust settles, Korath is suddenly a Ravager, the new guy on the team.

And Korath is not the only wretched soul converted by T’Challa’s good heart. Thanos (Josh Brolin), the formerly Mad Titan, has joined as well. What? Why? How? Easy. All it took was a little conversation with T’Challa, and Thanos was convinced that his genocidal Gauntlet plan was foolish. Although, the idea still tickles his fancy, and he can’t help but bring it up during whatever trivial conversation.

Then again, not every corner of the galaxy is better off with T’Challa in it. Earth seems to have suffered some treacherous blows without T’Challa’s Black Panther guardian. Never mind the lies Yondu told about Wakanda to keep T’Challa by his side. The Collector has enhanced his collection with Thor’s Mjolnir, the Gauntlet, and Korg’s severed arm amongst many other Avengers-significant items. While T’Challa robbed from the rich to give to the poor, the trinket-obsessed ganger boosted his worth.

Impressive, but not enough. All The Collector manages to accomplish is gain T’Challa’s attention. And the combined effort of Star-Lord, Yondu, Nebula (Karen Gillan), Thanos, Howard the Duck (Seth Green), and the rest of the Ravagers drops The Collector in his place, exposing him as nothing more than a bottomfeeder.

Chadwick Boseman’s Star-Lord Triggers Mixed Emotions

What If…? Episode 2 climaxes with Ego visiting a lowly adult Peter Quill, slaving away at a Dairy Queen. Could the annihilation craving daddy achieve his diabolical wants without the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect him? We don’t know. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) tells us that’s a story for another day, or possibly another episode. We’ll have to wait on that.

The Black Panther film is an absolute bright spot amongst the MCU filmography. Watching T’Challa as Star-Lord is a curious proposition. First, as Chadwick Boseman’s final performance as T’Challa, it’s an extremely emotional experience. Even isolated as a voice, Boseman commands our attention and brings joy and glee to the character that’s normally far more burdened as a Wakandan ruler and a grieving son.

Second, we love T’Challa as Black Panther. It’s fun to see him as Star-Lord, but this is not where we would prefer him to be. Yes, our love is validated through the galaxy’s betterment. Of course, T’Challa’s presence amongst the stars would make it a more habitable place for everyone else. Where he goes, sentient life improves.

Peter Quill’s charm is that he’s a goof. Where he steps, he blunders, but he also somehow survives and saves the day. Peter is a stand-in for our sorry humanity. We find hope in him through failure, and in failing again, and failing better.

T’Challa is Superman

T’Challa is everything we wish we could be but know we cannot achieve. He’s Superman, a beacon to aspire toward. Someday, if we keep failing better, we may be able to join him in the sun. It’s a fantasy but a necessary one.

What If…? Episode 2 asserts our affection for both characters. It’s bittersweet. This is not how we wanted our final adventure with Chadwick Boseman to go, and it’s not the Star-Lord we would choose to take over the franchise. But that’s not what’s happening either. This is a love letter, a send-off.

No matter what choices were taken, T’Challa operating in the universe is a good thing. He improves everything around him. What If…? Episode 2 concludes, and we’re struck by the mighty big shoes Chadwick Boseman has left others to fill. Who can replace T’Challa in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? The answer is self-explanatory, “No one.”

There is someone who can reach for that Superman place in the sun. Shuri? A resurrected Killmonger? Sure. The who is not important. T’Challa’s belief in humanity — or better yet — his belief in life, is critical. The fight he declares on others’ behalf is what defines him as a hero. Star-Lord, Black Panther, those are just costumes. His righteous nature is his superpower. Adopt that, and someone else can make the universe a better place in his stead.

What If…? Episode 2 is now streaming on Disney+.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)