‘The Book of Boba Fett’ is part mafia drama, part Spaghetti Western, part Lawrence of Arabia, and all Star Wars.
There are few characters in the Star Wars universe that have captured the collective imagination of fans as universally as the bounty hunter Boba Fett, and definitely none with as little live action screen time. Between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Fett netted a shockingly slim two minutes on screen and only five lines of dialogue, but that didn’t keep an entire generation from thinking he was perhaps the coolest guy in the entire franchise.
So, to many fans, Fett’s unceremonious “death” in Return of the Jedi felt less like a slap in the face than a kick in the marbles. How could this badass bounty hunter we all obsessed about come to such an anticlimactic end? I mean, we barely even know the guy, there was surely more to his story than this! Did our favorite antihero actually meet his doom with a cringy burp gag? Really?
Turns out, he didn’t. To paraphrase the most mocked line of lazy dialogue in The Rise of Skywalker, “Somehow…Boba Fett returned.” Dave Filoni, Jon Favreau and Robert Rodriguez, hot off the success of The Mandalorian, clearly saw the writing on the wall and knew they had to give Fett the story we all wanted and have waited patiently for all these decades. The story our Boba truly deserved. Finally, it’s here, in The Book of Boba Fett, the first three episodes of which are currently streaming on Disney Plus.
We first got a glimpse of Boba, adeptly embodied by New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison, in the second season of The Mandalorian, so this portrayal of the character isn’t entirely new. It was a true joy in that series to watch a cloaked Fett absolutely destroy stormtroopers with a gaffi stick, then to witness him reunited with his iconic suit of armor, and to again have him use said armor to absolutely destroy more stormtroopers. This was the Boba Fett we wanted, the one taking up space in our fanboy noggins for the last thirty years. It was glorious.
Bacta, the Future
This series picks up directly where The Mandalorian left us in its tantalizing Season Two post-credits teaser, with Boba taking Jabba the Hutt’s now vacant throne as mob lord of Tatooine, and assassin Fennec Shand at his side as a literal partner in crime. The daimyo is dead, long live the daimyo. Problem is, running a planet-wide criminal enterprise is hard, which Boba comes to learn almost immediately. For all his warts, Jabba seemed to be pretty good at racketeering, which makes sense; it’s the family business, after all.
Episode one picks up in Jabba’s not almost entirely vacant palace, as we slowly zoom in on Boba not in his armor, but immersed in a tank of bacta healing liquid. Watching his eyes twitch and his expression grimace, we know what’s coming: flashbacks! Fett’s tank time sends us back to the very moment our guy fell into the maw of the mighty sarlacc, and we finally learn how he escapes a slow and painful death by digestion. The scene is glorious, literally a fan’s dream come true, to the point where Patton Oswalt called it almost note for note in his now famous “Star Wars filibuster” from Parks and Recreation.
From here, things don’t go so hot for Boba. Heavily wounded and completely spent from his escape, a band of jawas add insult to injury by gleefully stripping his armor and leaving him for dead beneath the scorching twin suns, a scene that makes me feel slightly less terrible about The Mandalorian vaporizing a few of those greedy little bastards with his phase-pulse rifle. Luckily, some Tusken raiders discover his nearly lifeless body, and decide he’d make a nice slave, so they chain him up and drag him off to their camp. And thus, Fett’s path to redemption begins.
The narrative plays out in bifurcated fashion henceforth, with one storyline showing us Boba’s period between the sarlacc escape and our first encounter with him in The Mandalorian, and another going forward in time as he attempts to rule the underworld of Tatooine. I’m not always a fan of nonlinear narratives, which can often come off as disjointed and confusing, like the first season of The Witcher or the recent remake of The Stand. Here, however, the device seems to work out pretty well. By using the bacta tank framing device, we know exactly what point of the story we’re in, eliminating a fair bit of time travel-induced disorientation. It’s also an interesting way to explore different facets of the same character in two distinct plot arcs: one of redemption, the other of reclamation.
A Tale of Two Bobas
The more compelling of these paired narratives is definitely the redemption arc. To see this feared and cunning warrior stripped bare of his tools and his freedom is a stark contrast to that stoic, cool machismo that attracted many of us to the character in the first place. It’s also a great metaphor: In order to define the man, we needed to see beyond that armor, to see him at his core, and this story choice is a great way to do that. As Boba slowly begins to recover his health, he finds that since escape is a non-starter in the harsh Tatooine desert, his only option for survival is to prove his worth to the nomadic tribesmen to whom he’s enslaved. When he bests a giant four-armed, serpentine beast right out of the Ray Harryhausen playbook, the Tuskens begin to take him seriously.
From here, the tale falls squarely into the Lawrence of Arabia trope. Fett continues to ingratiate himself to the raiders, and they in turn begin training them in their ways of life and combat. When Boba learns that the Tuskens are having some trouble with a hover-train crossing their turf and indiscriminately shooting up their camp, he feels a need to help them with the problem. Of course, this requires stealing a few speeders from a menacing alien biker gang, in a fun scene that not only nods to Terminator 2, but also gives us a deep cut cameo from characters named Camie and Fixer, whose rolls sadly wound up on the cutting room floor of A New Hope.
With speeders literally in tow, Boba sets out to modernize the Tuskens’ tactics by teaching them to ride the hover bikes, dishing up some good-natured driving school humor in the process. Following that, there’s an old-fashioned train heist, in what’s definitely the biggest and most exciting action sequence of the series so far. Watching Boba’s Tusken sensei–a dark-cloaked tribal warrior with a red scarf embodied brilliantly by stuntwoman Joanna Bennett–rip through the train baddies in a single long take is a true joy.
Mission accomplished and enemies defeated, we learn that the train belongs to some spice-smuggling members of the Pike criminal syndicate, and Boba’s reaction gives us our first glimpse of who this reborn Fett guy is and who he aims to become. He lets the Pykes off with a warning, showing us a merciful side of the man that does well to balance his more aggressive tendencies.
And how do the Tuskens reward Boba for his service to the tribe? By sending him on a vision quest, of course! I won’t reveal the mechanism behind this, because it’s too good a jump scare to spoil for the uninitiated, but the space peyote experience was a fun a trope to incorporate here, reminding us of familiar scenes in everything from The Doors to Black Panther, Young Guns, The Simpsons, and of course Dune . When Fett comes down from his trip, he’s rewarded with a Forged In Fire episode of “make your own gaffi stick,” some cool new threads, and a tribal hakka.
Watching Boba Fett become a full-fledged member of the tribe is a gratifying and well-filmed payoff here. But the whole arc does something even more important. It humanizes the Tuskens, whose prior characterization as violent, ruthless, uncivilized desert nomads rubbed more than a few people the wrong way over the years. Here, we learn that they have a rich culture and strong familial bonds, which deepens the Star Wars universe and gives The Book of Boba Fett a distinct sense of empathy. It also reminds us that aliens aren’t expendable just because they might look or sound weird; even Tusken raiders have feelings, man.
Woke up this morning, got myself a rancor
On the flipside of this narrative is the more contemporaneous one, which describes Boba Fett’s struggles as a fledgeling crime lord. Between the two, this one feels significantly less compelling, even though it has a lot of fun moments. Our new Tatooine daimyo is almost immediately beset not only with ninja assassins, but also a corrupt Ithorian mayor named Mok Shaize, which, when said very fast, sounds like “Mayor McCheese,” and I’m convinced there’s no way that’s just blind coincidence.
Boba also has to contend with the mayor’s unctuous majordomo (a delightful Dave Pasquesi), a comely upscale Twi’lek club owner played by a still-gorgeous Jennifer Beals, a pair of Huttese twins and their pet gladiator Wookie, and of course local merchants, including one played by the inimitable Stephen Root, who feel he’s not up for the gig. Clearly, nobody said being the Space Godfather would be easy. Fett, now spiritually reborn from his near death experience in the sarlacc and his time with the Tuskens, vows to rule out of respect instead of fear. Which of course makes things even more difficult for him, but at least it helps us keep rooting for the guy.
As the political machinations in Mos Espa play out, the show gives us a treasure trove of fan service, so much so I was beginning to worry, at some point during the third episode, if my body would be permanently stuck in the “pointing Rick Dalton” meme pose. Among thousands of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them callbacks and easter eggs, we have our first live action glimpse of that wookie, Black Krrsantan, a fan favorite from the comics, not to mention a pair of delightfully gross Hutt twins, musician and totally not a blue elephant Max Rebo, a pair of loyal Gamorreans who Boba hires as muscle, and the piece de resistance: Danny Trejo with a goddamn rancor. For someone whose inner fanboy stretches back to a childhood forty years ago, this is all just wonderful stuff. That said, the series doesn’t always hit the mark.
Perhaps the biggest bone of contention amongst the show’s followers is the introduction of a band of cybernetic space toughs on hover Vespas who look like the bastard stepchildren of Griff Tannen’s crew in Back to the Future 2, the Power Rangers, and the mods from Quadrophenia. Those Kitchen Aid-colored air scoots quickly drew much mocking from a certain brand of dyed-in-the-wampa-wool Star Wars geeks, and not without reason. They’re admittedly silly-looking and a bit out of place in the more dingy environs of Mos Espa.
Between that and a lackluster low-speed chase scene, the third episode is the clearly weakest of the bunch so far, but there’s so much to love in this series, I think we can cut the writers and producers a little slack. Amidst all the joyful memberberries dropped for the fanbase, at least they’re trying to do something new, and that’s not always destined to be successful. On the whole, the batting average here is impressive when it comes to balancing new characters and themes within the established universe.
Despite some easily overlooked flaws, The Book of Boba Fett is a real treat, no matter where on the Star Wars fan spectrum you might find yourself. Sure, it’s not as good as The Mandalorian, and it was never going to be. But as a spinoff of that now-beloved series, it’s almost as fun to watch, and that’s saying a lot.
The visuals, using the same technology as its sister show, are just as impressively immersive, the casting and acting are aces, and all the costumes and sets make us feel right back at home on Tatooine without missing a beat. And after only three episodes, there are plenty of unanswered questions to keep us on the hook as the series progresses: Why, exactly, does Boba want to be a crime lord? Will we get more Black Krrsantan? How will the eventual mob war with the Pike syndicate play out? Will we actually get to see Boba Fett ride a freaking rancor?
And, perhaps the most important question of all: What is Temuera Morrison, Ming-Na Wen, and Jennifer Beals putting in their coffee? At ages 61, 58, and 58, respectively, they make a 62 year-old Alec Guinness as Obi-wan look like Methuselah in A New Hope. Say what you will about the series, it definitely helps middle-aged Star Wars nerds like this writer feel less bad about getting long in the tooth.
Anyone know where I can find a decent used bacta tank on the cheap?