Disney+ didn’t even give us a single week off, but followed up on Hawkeye with The Book of Boba Fett, a new series focussed on one of the most popular and most mysterious characters of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Though The Book of Boba Fett is a direct spin-off of The Mandalorian rather than of the original trilogy, which had Boba Fett show up very much alive (after all, he was presumed dead after falling into the Sarlaac Pit in Return of the Jedi) in the episode “The Tragedy” and fights Din Djarin for his armour, before the two team up against the Empire, which has kidnapped Baby Grogu. When we last saw Boba Fett and his new ally ex-Imperial assassin Fennec Shand, they had just killed Jabba the Hutt’s former major domo and successor Bib Fortuna and taken over Jabba’s palace and position as the biggest crime lord on Tatooine.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
“Stranger in a Strange Land”, the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett continues where both The Mandalorian and Return of the Jedi left off. Because the scenes of Boba Fett establishing himself as the premiere crime lord on Tatooine are interspersed with flashbacks of Boba Fett’s past, including his escape from the Sarlaac’s digestive tract.
The flashbacks are presented as dreams Boba is experiences while sleeping in a bacta tank, which Boba apparently needs to do regularly to treat his substantial wounds and scars. And so we see a brief clips of Kamino, the planet where Boba was cloned and created, and a clip from Attack of the Clones, where Young Boba (Daniel Logan) picks up his father’s helmet after Jango was beheaded by Mace Windu on Geonosis. Of course, the death of his father would be an extremely traumatic memory for Boba and therefore likely to come up in dreams.
The flashback/memory/whatever it is then jumps forward in time to Boba coming to inside the Sarlaac’s digestive tract. The Sarlaac’s digestive juices have attacked his armour, but beskar is hardy stuff and so Boba is protected for now. He spots a Stormtrooper who hasn’t been so lucky and is clearly dead, his armour half dissolved by Sarlaac acid.
Of course, the other big question is: Where did that Stormtrooper come from, since there wasn’t a single Stormtrooper aboard Jabba’s barge? Maybe the Sarlaac ate the Stormtrooper at some other time. But again, the question is: How? Because the Sarlaac appears to be largely stationary in the Tatooine desert and therefore has to wait for victims to pass by? So did the Sarlaac chance to consume a passing Stormtrooper on some routine mission, e.g. looking for two missing droids? It’s a mystery that will likely never be solved.
However, this episode does solve one long-standing Star Wars mystery, namely: How the hell did Boba manage to escape from the Sarlaac’s stomach? The answer to that mystery is fairly straight forward. Boba taps into the energy and/or air supply of the doomed Stormtrooper, fires his wrist gauntlet weapon and blasts his way out. Boba then claws himself out of the sand at some distance from the Sarlaac pit. His body has also changed from the leaner frame of Jeremy Bulloch to the somewhat bulkier form of Temuera Morrison. Whether the Sarlaac survived Boba Fett rupturing its digestive tract is unknown.
However, Boba isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. He’s badly injured, not to mention stuck in the middle of the Tatooine desert without any water, so he promptly collapses. To make matters worse, Boba is found by a passing Jawa Sandcrawler. The Jawas, being their usual jerky selves, steal Boba’s armour (where Cobb Vanth will eventually acquire it, as chronicled in The Mandalorian episode “The Marshal”) and just leave him lying there in the desert in his undies. Yes, Mandalorians wear wear long undergarments – long white undergarments in Boba’s case – under their armour. And no, I had not expected Boba Fett to wear what is essentially grandfather underwear.
Things get even worse for Boba Fett, when he is found and captured by a group of Sandpeople who tie him up and take him with them for reasons that never became quite clear. I can sort of understand what the Sandpeople wanted with Anakin’s Mom, though the implications are quite unpleasant and go places that Star Wars doesn’t normally go. But what on Tatooine do they want with Boba Fett and the unnamed Rodian (that’s Greedo’s species, though this one is orange) who is Boba’s fellow prisoner for a while? Neither Boba nor the Rodian seem suited to either sexual exploitation nor as food. And while Boba and the Rodian are briefly used as slave labour to dig up water-filled bulbs, this doesn’t seem like a good reason to keep them prisoner either, especially since they have to be repeatedly shown what to do, whereas the Sandpeople already know. And while the Rodian is meek and resigned to his fate, Boba is obviousl going to make trouble.
Boba Fett doesn’t ask himself any of these questions, but he definitely makes trouble. When he is tied to a random post for the night, guarded by a dragon-dog hybrid, he frees himself and knocks out the dragon-dog. Boba offers to free the Rodian as well, but the Rodian – who’s clearly suffering from the Star Wars universe equivalent of Stockholm syndrome – raises the alarm and Boba is recaptured and beaten up.
Some time later, a Sandperson kid takes Boba and the Rodian, who are chained together chain gang style, into the desert. They watch as a moisture farm is robbed by bandits on speeder bikes. Then the Sand Kid forces Boba and the Rodian to dig up those water-filled bulbs. Boba bites into one to drink, which pisses off the Sand Kid. Boba isn’t particularly impressed by the Sand Kid and their mini gaffi stick, but he’s still chained up for now.
Things take a turn for the worse, when the Rodian unearthes something that’s definitely no water-filled bulb, but a lot bigger and looks rather reptilian. The idiotic Rodian continues to dig and wakes up a multi-armed centaur-like creature that looks Ray Harryhausen‘s take on a green martian from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom stories. Both Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion work and the Barsoom stories were influences on the original Star Wars trilogy, so it makes only sense that they show up here.
The monster looks great and is another example of the fascinating megafauna that inhabits the Star Wars universe, where every cave is inhabited by a monster, in general and Tatooine in particular. But cool as those creatures are, they don’t make a lot of evolutionary sense. What do Sarlaccs, Krayth dragons and multi-armed centaur things eat, when there are no convenient humans, Rodians or Sand People around? Especially since the Sand People are clearly native to Tatooine and would have learned to avoid the monsters.
The monster gobbles up the idiotic Rodian and the Sand Kid with their little gaffi stick can’t do anything against a monster. The dragon-guarddog creature tries to attack the monster, but the monster is too big. Meanwhile, Boba Fett is still chained to the Rodian and is hoisted into the air, while the monster gobbles up the Rodian. However, Boba Fett takes inspiration from Leia in Return of the Jedi and manages to strangle the monster with his chains.
The flashback ends with the Sand Kid returning to the Sandpeople camp, triumphantly brandishing the head of the monster and most likely telling everybody that they killed it. Boba Fett returns as well, sans chains. The Sandpeople leader, who clearly knows that the kid is full of shit, offers Boba one of the water-filled bulbs.
I’m not a huge fan of extensive flashbacks and I fear we will be seeing more of those in future episodes. For starters, as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out, dreams don’t really work that way. A dream does not offer a coherent, detailed and realistic memory in the correct sequence. Random images would be far more likely.
Besides, I’m also not sure why we need the lengthy flashback at all. I’m not even sure if we needed to see how Boba Fett escaped from the Sarlacc, since most of us probably have imagined a version of that story that’s infinitely cooler than what we see on screen. And we certainly didn’t need to see him getting robbed by Jawas and enslaved by Sandpeople, because those scenes add nothing to the story except maybe explain how Boba came to wield a gaffi stick with such skill. But again, I don’t think we really need an explanation why a skilled and trained fighter like Boba Fett can handle a random weapon.
Personally, I suspect that the purpose of the flashback scenes may be to humble Boba Fett and send him through hell and turn him into a more likeable character. Because Boba Fett is not particularly likeable in the original trilogy. He’s a thoroughly unpleasant person, henchman to all sorts of terrible people and will work for anyone, if the price is right. He’s not all that impressive either – after all, Han Solo manages to set off his jet pack and send him flying into the Sarlacc pit, while half-blind. In fact, it’s a mystery why this particular character so captured the imagination of Star Wars fans, when there are plenty of equally cool and fascinating side characters in the original trilogy.
For all its faults, the prequel trilogy actually did a decent job of humanising Boba Fett. We see him as a kid, see where he comes from and see him losing his father who – though far from a moral paragon himself – was nonetheless trying to do the best for his kid. In essence, Boba Fett is someone who saw his father killed as a kid by the people the galaxy thinks are the good guys. He’s a survivor who does what he needs to to get by. And considering a Jedi killed his father, it’s obvious that he won’t be particularly friendly inclined towards the Jedi or the Rebellion.
Both AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski and io9 reviewer James Whitbrook point out that in order for Boba Fett to become the hero of his own show – rather than a supporting character to Din Djarin or a henchman in the original trilogy – the character had to change to make him more likeable and turn him into an actual character, because the Boba Fett we meet in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is a cool suit of armour rather than a character. Though I’m still not sure if lengthy flashbacks that tell us things we don’t really need to know are the way to go.
The present day storyline is somewhat more compelling, if brief. Boba Fett has taken over Jabba’s position as premier crime lord on Tatooine. He does plan to do better than Jabba – “I shall rule with respect rather than fear”, he tells Fennec at one point – but he still needs to cement his position.
When he’s not sleeping in his bacta tank, Boba is receiving emissaries and tributes from people indebted to Jabba, including a Trandoshan (that’s the reptilian species of Bossk, the bounty hunter) who comes bearing a Wookie pelt. Things are not so easy for Boba and Fennec, because for starters, they’re massively understaffed, Jabba’s and Bib Fortuna’s staff having either fled or been killed in the takeover. 8D8, the torture droid from Return of the Jedi, has been promoted to protocol droid, since Boba and Fennec don’t have a proper one. 8D8 is now voiced by comedian Matt Berry, continuing The Mandalorian‘s practice of having comedians as guest stars.
Boba Fett also aquires two shirtless Gamorean guards who used to work for Jabba and then Bib Fortuna and were captured after Boba’s takeover. Boba asks the guards if they will serve him as faithfully as they served Boba and Bib Fortuna. The guards drop to their knees and so Boba now has two guards, much to the dislike of Fennec, who doesn’t trust them. Unfortunately, he can’t persuade them to put on shirts, even though the Gamoreans are not exactly Conan.
Things get dicey, when the mayor of Mos Espa (apparently “Mos” means “town” in whatever language they speak on Tatooine) not only sends his swarmy Twi’lek major domo (played by comedian David Pasquesi) in his stead, but also refuses to pay tribute to Boba Fett. Instead, the mayor expects Boba Fett to pay tribute to him. This confuses Boba Fett to no end – “I’m the crime lord. They’re supposed to pay me”, he tells Fennec. But when Fennec asks if she can kill the swarmy Twi’lek now, Boba stops her.
The relationship between Fennec, whose first impulse when faced with something she dislikes is to kill it, and Boba, who wants to do better than Jabba and not kill people unless he really has to, is the best thing about this episode and I really wish we had gotten more Boba and Fennec scenes and less “Boba and the Sandpeople” scenes. I also love the fact that both Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are played by actors of colour who are no longer young (Temuera Morrison is 61, Ming-Na Wen is 58) and this raises no eyebrows. Because honestly, I can’t imagine a high profile TV series starring a 61-year-old man of colour and a 58-year-old woman of colour would have been made even a decade ago.
The Twi’lek leaves – after Fennec has made it very clear that he should count himself lucky to get away with his life – but not without the vaguely threatening promise that Boba and Fennec can expect another delegation soon, one that won’t be as friendly.
This other delegation arrives, when Boba and Fennec visit Mos Espa to collect tributes from the local businesses in person. The fact that Boba prefers to walk rather than being carried around in a litter like Jabba (who to be fair couldn’t walk) or Bib Fortuna raises some eyebrows. Boba and Fennec visit what appears to be a brothel run by a Twi’lek named Garsa Fwip, who is played by Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame. I wonder if we will see her dance eventually – she is a Twi’lek, after all, and Twi’leks are often dancers. I guess the Twi’leks are the Orions of Star Wars, a whole species that seems to consist only of criminals and sex workers. Though come to think of it, there was a female Twi’lek Jedi in the prequel trilogy.
Garsa Fwip is quite friendly, flirts with Boba and has some of her staffers take away Boba’s and Fennec’s helmets to have them cleaned and serviced and filled with coins – the tribute. The brothel scene also offers a welcome cameo from Max Rebo, formerly a member of Jabba’s personal band, and a member of the Cantina Band , who have by now switched from cheery jazz to a mariachi inspired tune. This is certainly fitting, especially considering that this episode was directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Upon leaving Garsa Fwip’s establishment, Boba and Fennec are ambushed by ninjas armed with energy shields and shocksticks. The fight choreography is quite clumsy, particularly by Star Wars standards, which made me wonder whether covid restrictions didn’t mess up the filming. In the end, Boba, Fennec and the Gamoreans manage to fight off the ninjas (there are ninjas in the Star Wars universe?). Boba shoots one down from a building, while Fennec goes after two who are in the process of escaping, which leads to an impressive chase across the rooftops of Mos Espa. Boba also tells Fennec to bring at least one back alive for questioning. Then Boba is returned to his bacta tank by the Gamoreans, to recuperate from his injuries and experience more flashback dreams.
“Stranger in a Strange Land” certainly makes for an entertaining half hour of television, though it also feels quite slight. Not a lot happens, but then not a lot happened in the early episodes of The Mandalorian either. Nonetheless, I found The Mandalorian more compelling, probably because they introduced Baby Grogu at the end of the first episode and he kept everybody watching.
The Book of Boba Fett has no Baby Grogu equivalent. And while the relationship between Boba and Fennec is fun to watch, we don’t get a lot of their interactions either, because of the lengthy flashbacks. So far, the show also doesn’t seem to be quite sure which story it wants to tell: Is it “How Boba escaped from the Sarlacc and learned to use a gaffi stick” or “Boba Fett, Crime Lord of Tatooine”.
The great strength of the Marvel movies and TV shows is that they manage to tell a lot of different stories in different genres and employ very different aesthetics – all under the great Marvel umbrella. Star Wars has a huge universe to draw upon – bigger than Marvel’s – and could theoretically do the same, tell a lot of different stories in different genres with different aesthetics, all set in the Star Wars universe. Yet for some reason, Star Wars doesn’t take a leaf from Marvel’s book and instead keeps doing what worked once. Hence, the overreliance on the story of the Skywalker family or a sequel trilogy was too much of a rehash of the original trilogy.
Part of the reason why The Mandalorian felt like such a breath of fresh air was that it did something different. It told a different story that has very little connection to the story of the Skywalker family initially, it had different aesthetics with its very clear Italian western inspiration and was yet still recognisably Star Wars.
The Book of Boba Fett, meanwhile, seems intent to repeat what worked with The Mandalorian. And so we get another essentially noble Mandalorian with a childhood trauma. We get yet more Italian western inspired scenes with a bit of early 1980s sword and sorcery aesthetic thrown in. It’s all entertaining enough, but while The Mandalorian was something special and different, The Book of Boba Fett is just solid Star Wars entertainment so far.
I will continue watching, though I’m not sure if I will do episode by episode reviews, because these take a lot of time.