Book of Boba Fett: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Book of Boba Fett has wrapped. While we eagerly await Obi-Wan Kenobi premiering in May we wanted to reflect on what the most recent series in the Star Wars franchise got right and what it got wrong.
There are plenty of spoilers ahead so proceed at your own risk.
More than just a pretty face.
The face that launched a thousand toys. That’s all Boba Fett was originally; a one dimensional, albeit extremely cool looking, villain. The old Expanded Universe (since renamed Legends) had done fun things with the Fettster in the past. By and large they kept him as he was on screen, taciturn and deadly. The Dark Horse comics like Twin Engines of Destruction and When the Fat Lady Swings that centered on Fett are some of my favorite Star Wars comics of all time. But, they don’t break any new ground.
To show Fett as a man who is changed by the experiences in his life was a bold move. One that ultimately pays off – though perhaps not as much as we’d like. After escaping the Sarlacc Boba Fett is captured by Tusken Raiders, who eventually induct him into their tribe. World weary -er- galaxy weary Fett becomes enamored and ultimately reformed by the simple and honorable lives of the Tuskens. This “Noble Savage” approach is an old trope that is often clumsily done to the point of being offensive. But it is handled here with deft and purpose. Showing the strengths and weaknesses of the tribe, placing them in context of the world, giving meaning to their rituals and actions, and providing a more nuanced background add to not just Boba’s journey but to the Star Wars canon. Reframing the Tuskens as the indigenous people of the planet is a clever and poignant change.
In the series we see Fett move from a ruthless bounty hunter to a man with ambition. Not simply to become a more successful ruler than those who came before him (namely Jabba the Hutt) but to wield that power with honor and respect. Critics of the show have argued that this weakness Fetts character or is simply nonsensical – why didn’t he just leave, why join the Tuskans? The first argument there is subjective. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. There’s nothing to argue there. The second, however, is rooted deeply in the character’s past.
After the events of Attack of the Clone and The Clone Wars, Boba loses his father and is manipulated or betrayed by the adults who take him in. As a child he wants a family, but instead finds a life of violence and crime. For Boba, finding a real community would be appealing. After what we see in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, that community being one that accepts him as a capable warrior who is an equal – not a commissioned employee – fits the character like a beskar helmet. It is not only a logical development for the character, it is a surprising one. Which is what we really want in a story, to be surprised, entertained, and engaged.
The level of fan service in this series is incredible. Luke Skywalker building a temple and training Jedi. Boba Fett crawling out of the Sarlacc pit. Fett riding a rancor. Speeder bike gangs. And so much more. It is simply amazing.
Star Wars gets a lot of crap for fan service. And some of that is justified. But as a fan I say – kiss my astromech droid you scruffy looking nerf herders.
Do these moments take away from the narrative? Yeah, sometimes. But you know what, this is the kind of stuff that I dreamt of as a child. I’ve held onto these images for 30 years, to have them realized on screen is significant to me. These are my childhood fantasies made manifest. I get that this may not be meaningful to every viewer but, to some of us, it is truly emotional viewing.
An actual sequel/Expanding the mythology
World building is something that the Star Wars shows have done beautifully since The Clone Wars. Dave Filoni knows Star Wars better than anyone short of Lucas himself. And Jon Favreau is no schlub either. Together they have evolved the story from its natural place and delivered a true sequel to everything that came before.
One thing that Disney has done really well is to integrate the shows, books, and movies. Instead of treating them as lesser mediums they are molded into the core story. Cade Bane, Black Krrsantan, Ahsoka Tano, Bo Katan, and Saw Gerrera aren’t just characters for the kids cartoons and comic books. Their stories continue into the larger live action narrative. The book of Boba Fett continues this by blending the elements and narrative threads of The Mandalorian, Return of the Jedi, and The Clone Wars while telling a new story. It even adheres to future events from the sequel trilogy as well. It doesn’t ignore or defy continuity nor does it suffer for it.
I don’t wish to drag up any arguments concerning the sequel trilogy; those are best buried in the sands along with Luke’s lightsaber. But I will say the quality and attention to the mythology and overall narrative displayed in The Book of Boba Fett lessens my opinion of the sequel trilogy a bit. This show proves it could have been done better and should have been done better. But there are still 30 years worth of story between this and The Force Awakens, and The Book of Boba Fett is poised to make the best of it.
Ming Na Wen (I could write a whole article dedicated to her….and maybe I will), Amy Sedaris, Temuera Morrison, Matt Berry, Pedro Pascal, Timothy Oliphant, Stephen Root, and Danny Trejo? Are you freaking kidding me? I don’t care what movie or show this is – I am watching it. That is a solid cast.
The Mods. Dear god, The Mods and their power ranger bikes. One the one hand this is probably one of the most George Lucas-y things we’ve seen since the franchise moved to Disney. This is firmly in the American Graffiti/1950’s greaser culture that informed a lot of Lucas’s art. And I truly and deeply love that touch. But -oof- their dialogue isn’t great and the bikes are just cheesy as hell. Which is a shame because this is the first time anyone has really started to push Star Wars into a sense of a future.
The sequel trilogy takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi and what’s changed? Hologram technology isn’t blue and staticky and they found a way to track through hyperspace. That’s about it. No wonder Luke went to suck alien teats in the middle of nowhere. I’d be discouraged with society too if we progressed that slowly.
But to establish a concept of a youth culture is awesome, and long overdue. To do one that is modifying their bodies with droid parts, not only fits neatly with the technology established – it’s also realistic and interesting. Even if it was poorly done at times. If The Book of Boba Fett gets a second season hopefully the Mods will get a slight polishing. There is a great concept here that hasn’t had the kinks worked out yet.
Pacing and Resolution
The Book of Boba Fett tackles one of the more interesting unexplored areas of the Star Wars universe. But it does it at a snail’s pace. Some of that is understandable as the Tusken Raiders stuff is vital and engaging and needs the space to breathe. As a result, the first episode merely teases some great crime/political intrigue. But nearly halfway through the season it’s still just a tease.
At some points the show seems to spin its wheels, other times it drops exposition instead of action. More frustrating still is the random episode of The Mandalorian dropped in the middle of the series. This means that there are emotional beats and structural elements of a story that either missing or poorly fleshed out. Nothing so egregious as to make it unwatchable, but it feels as wobbly as the titular character’s first excursion out into the Dune Sea.
The Power Vacuum
One thing that Star Wars has had on its to do list for just about forever, is to deal with the underworld. The original trilogy hinted at a vast criminal underground, crime lords, bounty hunters, etc. Lucas carried this hint into the prequels and cartoons. But they were never fully realized. Things like the Boba Fett led video game Star Wars: 1313 and the show Star Wars: Underworld, were meant to explore this cosmic La Cosa Nostra but were canceled before they could be realized.
The Book of Boba Fett set itself up as one of the shows to finally take on this material…only to not really do so. We see more of the Hutts and more of the Pykes than we’ve ever seen. But it still feels elusive…disappointingly so. There were a lot of elements that are discussed but never really explored. It’s hard to watch the show and say that there weren’t some missed opportunities here.
“Boba Fett? Boba Fett? Where?”
For a show called The Book of Boba Fett the guy doesn’t do a great deal. Some of this is undoubtedly because Temuera Morrison, who plays Fett, is 61 years old. Running around and kicking ass is going to be difficult. And they do a good job of covering that in-story with him sustaining injuries from the Sarlacc pit. But there are plenty of places that Boba could have been imposing or at least important to the story. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the show’s finale.
We could spend a long time dissecting the story and looking at places where the titular character was underused (or even unused.) But, there are two important conflicts that Fett is uniquely qualified to deal with but doesn’t which highlight the issue the show has.
The first is the run away rancor. The show explicitly states how the Rancor imprints the first person it sees. Thus it treats Fett like a father figure. When the Rancor goes on a rampage destroying the town Fett is supposed to be ruling, he should have been the one to stop it. Not only did he bring the damn thing in the first place, he is supposed to be in charge of this city. What better way to show the people of Mos Espa how powerful and just he is by taming a Rancor in front of them. The audience needed it too. We needed to see him take command of his own show.
The second, and more important, incident really digs into the problem. After Boba Fett wins the battle against the Pikes, Fennec Shand executes their leader and the heads of the three Tatooine crime families who betrayed Fett. Now, it is understandable that if you have a master assassin on your crew you’d use them. But anyone who watches gangster movies knows there is a time for the boss to show his strength. And at no point has Boba Fett really demonstrated his power or leadership. If there was ever a moment to do so in the show – it was this one. He needed to be there to look his enemies in the eyes and tell them that he had won. Even if he didn’t kill the bosses himself, he needed to be present on screen. As a friend of mine pointed out – this should have been a Godfather-like moment. Seeing the Mods, Shand, and Krrsantan taking out the heads of the opposition while Fett sat on the throne would have at least given the impression of power. And the call back to a gangster motif like that would have helped with the overall tone and feeling of the show.
The Fan Service
“Wait, didn’t you say that was what was good about the show?”
First of all – shut up. Second of all – yes I did. The issue here isn’t “should we have seen Luke training Grogu?” and all that. The issue is “should that have been here in the Book of Boba Fett?” The answer is- No. Not unless Luke had gone to Tatooine to help and for him and Fett to come to terms with what happened all those years ago. Which would have been amazing. But without that we didn’t need Grogu or Luke in this story. Nor did we need an episode of the Mandalorian in the middle of this. None of it was bad but it should have been part of The Mandalorian season 3.
And I am sure it’s all going somewhere. It is becoming clear that Ahsoka, Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett will likely be intrinsically linked shows that reveal a greater narrative. But they still need to be their own thing too. There was more than enough story to tell here and the meat of it got cut down in order to show us Mando and Baby Yoda. Hopefully, one day we will get some behind the scenes information about the decision making process here. Until then this choice seems a bit baffling.
The Book of Boba Fett ends up being a bit of an odd duck. Individual scenes and episodes are all good, bordering on great. Yet the show never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Die hard star wars fans will love the attention to detail (like the wookie Black Krrsantan having issues with trandoshans) or long standing plot threads (Boba vs Bane) while casual viewers will be entertained but not enthralled. It is a very good show that is possibly saved by its short run. There is obviously still potentially more story to tell and more room for improvement. Whether this becomes its own thing or remains a one off limited series, I am glad it exists in the Star Wars cannon.
You can stream all seven episodes of The Book of Boba Fett now on Disney+