Warning: SPOILERS for Marvel’s What If…? episode 2, “What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?”
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) became Star-Lord in Marvel’s What If…? episode 2 and the stark differences between the Wakandan hero and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as Star-Lord are fascinating. In “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord”, it’s T’Challa, not Quill, who is abducted as a child by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers. But the Wakandan prince ended up changing the Ravagers and the galaxy for the better as Star-Lord, and T’Challa’s achievements are far different from what Peter Quill accomplished as Star-Lord.
What If…? episode 2 delivered on the alt-universe concept better than episode 1, which primarily rehashed Captain America: The First Avenger with Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in place of Captain America Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton). “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord” contained many familiar elements and a few rebooted scenes from Guardians of the Galaxy but it was a more elaborate exploration of how much changed just by substituting the noble and princely T’Challa for the opportunistic Peter Quill. The countless changes are surprising and profound, from the Ravagers becoming a band of heroes to Thanos (Josh Brolin) never becoming the would-be despot who murdered half of all life in the universe with the Infinity Gauntlet.
It’s impossible to miss how different T’Challa is as Star-Lord compared to the mainline Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Star-Lord, Peter Quill. What If…? episode 2 created an intriguingly different and incredibly inviting variant MCU with T’Challa’s Star-Lord at the center of cosmic events, and the numerous differences between the two versions of Star-Lord are truly fascinating.
Unlike Peter Quill, who is half-Celestial thanks to his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), T’Challa doesn’t have any superpowers. This fact was confirmed by the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) when he apprehended Star-Lord. T’Challa also doesn’t have the powers of the Black Panther granted by the Heart-shaped Herb since he never became King of Wakanda. However, what T’Challa may lack in physical might, he makes up for in courage, agility, formidable fighting prowess, and he’s an excellent tactician.
T’Challa also carries the equipment and weaponry that Peter Quill’s Star-Lord owned in Guardians of the Galaxy. T’Challa relies on his helmet to breathe in space and non-Earth-like environments and his boot jets to get him out of trouble. Star-Lord also wields quad-blasters and his trusty plasma sphere, and he initially needed his translator implant to talk to Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and win him over as a friend. T’Challa fights very similarly to Peter Quill as Star-Lord, especially when Quill still wasn’t aware he was part-Celestial.
Hilariously, one of the biggest differences between T’Challa and Peter Quill is that the Wakandan’s version of Star-Lord is famous throughout the galaxy. Korath’s reaction to meeting “the Star-Lord” was what Quill was expecting in Guardians of the Galaxy but didn’t get. In fact, Peter is almost never received with the warmth and high regard T’Challa gets as Star-Lord. Everywhere T’Challa goes, he’s welcomed and honored. Drax (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), who is a bartender in T’Challa’s What If…? timeline, is overjoyed to meet Star-Lord, the man who needed only six days to save his wife, daughter, and his home planet from a Kree invasion.
“Star-Lord” is also a title held in high regard (that T’Challa plays down) in What If…? whereas in the main MCU, Peter Quill apparently made up the name in a failed attempt to give himself cool space-cred. As Star-Lord, Quill fancied himself as an infamous intergalactic outlaw but he was known either as a bumbler who owed debts or as someone who can’t be trusted. Compared to T’Challa’s Star-Lord, his fame was virtually non-existent. In T’Challa’s What If…? universe, his Star-Lord is famed as a Robin Hood-like figure who “robs from the rich and gives to the poor.” In contrast, rarely is anyone happy to meet Peter Quill’s version of Star-Lord as they are to be in the presence of the famous T’Challa, who has done so many good deeds throughout the galaxy and is respected for his heroism and altruism.
Unlike Peter Quill, T’Challa is purely heroic, not a reluctant hero who’s out for himself first. T’Challa is constantly thinking of how to help others and to do as much good for the people of the galaxy as he can. T’Challa’s adventures as Star-Lord are missions to secure artifacts and technology that can feed the hungry, cure disease, save planets from invasion, and fight injustice on a universal scale. To be fair to Peter Quill, his Star-Lord was also capable of noble deeds but he also led the Guardians of the Galaxy to be a profit-driven enterprise that helps others for pay.
Peter Quill’s Star-Lord arc was about bettering himself and forging a family with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but he was a product of being orphaned at a young age and abducted by the Ravagers. T’Challa is a different breed altogether since he was raised as royalty and loved by his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani). T’Challa also has an explorer’s heart and an insatiable curiosity to see the universe. A huge difference between Peter and T’Challa is that when the Wakandan sees injustice, he has to act to correct it and help those in need. Indeed, T’Challa freed the people imprisoned by the Collector and made sure Taneleer Tivan suffered an ironic punishment, plus he helped secure the Embers of Genesis to feed the galaxy.
After he was taken into outer space, T’Challa did want to return home to Wakanda but Yondu lied to him that it was destroyed by the wars between men. Still, this is different from Peter Quill, who apparently never had the desire to return to Earth until Wong (Benedict Wong) brought him back after he was resurrected in Avengers: Endgame. Of course, we know that in the main MCU timeline, T’Challa became King of Wakanda and his life course couldn’t be more different to Peter Quill’s, who ended up working at a Dairy Queen in the What If…? universe where he wasn’t taken by the Ravagers.
The profound differences between how T’Challa’s What If…? timeline turned out compared to how the mainline MCU progressed with Peter Quill as Star-Lord are shocking. Unlike Quill, T’Challa had an almost magically positive effect on everyone he met. T’Challa’s goodness influence softened Yondu’s heart much faster than Quill ever did, and this had a domino effect of completely changing the Ravagers from a feared band of cut-throat pirates to a ragtag group of do-gooders happy to follow T’Challa’s lead and help the helpless (and score a little profit along the way).
Incredibly, T’Challa apparently singlehandedly prevented the tragedies of the Infinity Saga by literally talking Thanos out of his plans to murder half of all life in the universe. Instead, T’Challa’s “strong argument” in their debate convinced Thanos to abandon his evil genocidal scheme and, shockingly, to follow T’Challa as his leader, although the Mad Titan still likes to argue the “merits” of his plan to anyone who will listen. By changing Thanos, T’Challa also positively impacted Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) life since her adoptive father didn’t cruelly warp her into a murderous cyborg.
While Peter Quill and the results of his life as Star-Lord can’t be singlehandedly blamed for the terrible things that occurred in the MCU’s Sacred Timeline – Quill did form the Guardians of the Galaxy and helped save the universe, after all – it’s impossible to argue how much better the galaxy turned out with T’Challa as Star-Lord in What If…?.
Marvel’s What If…? streams Wednesdays on Disney+.