The Book of Boba Fett finds itself a “Stranger in a Strange Land”

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 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.

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17 Responses to The Book of Boba Fett finds itself a “Stranger in a Strange Land”

  1. Juan Sanmiguel says:

    Some thoughts.

    Hutts can move unassisted. I think you can see Jabba moving around in his box during the the pod race in The Phantom Menace. There is a Hutt on the run from his fellow Hutts in the Clone Wars Animated series.

    The animated series showed more Twi’lek. In Rebels, Hera Syndulla was starship pilot and leader in Rebels. In the Bad Batch, we see her as a teen and see her planet subjugated by the Empire.

    Boba Fett did have some more appearances in the Clone Wars. I think he was working against the republic since Windu killed his father. It was a while ago. I clearly remember a storyline where Kenobi was surgical altered and sent to a prison to infiltrate a gang which Boba was a part off.

    • Cora says:

      It’s been a while since I saw The Phantom Menace, but I assumed that Jabba and the female Hutt were moving on float platforms.

      Nice to know that there are other Twi’lek who are neither criminals nor sex workers.

      And it would make sense for Boba Fett to be opposed to the Republic and rebellion, considering what happened to his father. And yes, Jango made his bed with the bad guys and courted his fate, but young Boba was likely not aware of that.

  2. Steve Wright says:

    I have to admit, I’ve never seen the appeal of Boba Fett, and I find I’m actually resenting the way this show assumes the viewer’s on his side. So he’s planning to be a nicer crime lord than Jabba the Hutt? – Not exactly a high bar to clear, is it?

    Right now, I am rooting for the mayor of Mos Espa, because if local government officials stand up and refuse to pay protection money to the gangster, that is fine by me. (Yes, yes, I know, we will discover later that the mayor of Mos Espa is venal and corrupt and eats kittens for breakfast, because people in the Star Wars setting can’t have nice things.)

    Perhaps the interminable sub-Edgar Rice Burroughs flashbacks will establish our man as a more sympathetic figure over time. As far as I’m concerned, though, he’s got a long way to go.

    • Cora says:

      I always viewed Boba Fett as a cool looking villain who – as far as I’m concerned – could have stayed inside the belly of the Sarlacc. And in fact, I suspect that The Mandalorian was an attempt to tell a story about a Mandalorian without Boba Fett’s baggage who has the chance to be a good guy without viewers constantly being reminded that he used to stand next to Darth Vader and froze Han Solo in carbonite.

      I would actually love to see a version of The Book of Boba Fett where the mayor of Mos Espa heroically stands up against the crime lord who demands protection money. It would even fit well with the western vibes of the Mandalorian shows, since small town sheriff/mayor stands up against bandit leader is such a common western theme. Alas, it’s 99% guaranteed that the mayor of Mos Espa will turn out to be a worse villain than Boba Fett.

      Regarding the flashbacks, they obviously want to turn Boba Fett into a more sympathetic figure. I just wish they wouldn’t quite so long to do it.

  3. Peer says:

    There seems to be the misconception that we have to know every little bit of backstory shown. I don’t like it, It was enough for me to hear Bobas (“big boobs” in mandarin btw) backstory in the Mandalorian. Star Wars strength is the universe and the many cultures, so it would be way more interesting to focus on the part we haven’t seen.
    I suspect the sand people capture survivors t see if they are tough enough to be assimilated by the tribe. I don’t need to see it though.

    Btw: underground about 75% of the fauna are predators that live of the -usually much smaller- 25% herbivores and off each other. So it’s not completely unreasonable to have those cool creatures (esp. if you consider crocodiles can survive months without food)

    • Cora says:

      I don’t think we needed to see Boba’s backstory either. In The Mandalorian, we leaned that he somehow escaped from the Sarlacc, lost his armour to a bunch of Jawas and learned how to fight with a gaffi stick, likely from some Sandpeople. There’s no need to spell it out.

      I didn’t know the Mandarin thing, but I always found Boba Fett a silly name for a character who is supposedly such a badarse. Boba is pretty close to the English “boobies” and “Fett” literally means “fat” in German and is also very close to the English term. So the galaxy’s greast bounty hunter is a guy named “Big, fat breasts” in multiple languages? I suspect whoever came up with that name (George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan?) either wanted to sneak a mildly rude joke into the film (I strongly suspect that Fisto from Masters of the Universe only exists, so the writers can sneak fisting jokes into a kids’ cartoon) or they weren’t considering the implications. At any rate, I’m pretty sure they were surprised by the immense popularity of the character.

      It makes sense that the Sandpeople capture random people to integrate them into the tribe, if they’re tough enough, which also fits in with the “Sandpeople as Native Americans” analogue. And besides, we don’t know what they look like under those bandages and if they’re all the same species.

      I suspect a sarlacc can survive for a long time without fresh food, considering they’re not very mobile and also have an extremely long digestion period. Though the sheer amount of mega-fauna in the Star Wars universe is still pushing plausibility. Sarlaccs, krayth dragons and the multi-armed centaur thing may be able to survive on Tatooine on Sandpeople, Banthas (who seem to be native to Tatooine) and Jawas as well as on each other. And I faintly recall someone mentioned in The Mandalorian that krayth dragons eat sarlaccs. But how exactly does the asteroid space slug in The Empire Strikes Back survive, since there likely aren’t space chases going on in its naturalm habitat every week. It might snack on asteroid miners, but again those first need to come there.

      • Peer says:

        I agree, every megfauna in/on an asteroid has to be brought there from someone and somehow survived.

        • Cora says:

          The space slug probably hitched a ride on a ship, but it’s still a miracle that it survived on an asteroid in a region that doesn’t normally see a lot of traffic.

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  5. Lurkertype says:

    I think it’s krayt dragons.

    I never got the big deal about Boba either. So he had flying armor, he was still just a hired hand whining at Vader (and considering how much the Skywalker men whine, that’s saying something!), who died like a little bitch by an accident caused by a guy who had almost no vision and only about half his marbles at the time. Which I was 110% good with.

    I can kinda believe how he got out, but not how he got more stout. Needing a bacta tank every night is sensible though.

    OTOH as you said, it’s great to see older PoC leading a show. Although I think Fennec should have done better against the Parkour Brothers.

    Max and the band are playing the exact same song! It’s just scored differently. I got a laugh out of that, it must be the most popular song on Tatooine.

    The making-of episode was interesting though. George Lucas is STILL not over the Holiday Special.

    • Cora says:

      Boba Fett’s greatest feat: Outwhining the Skywalker men.

      They should have minimised the flashbacks or done some digital de-aging magic on Temuera Morrison, because based on Boba’s age during Attack of the Clones he would have been about 40, when he fell into the Sarlacc. Even given the scarring, Temuera Morrison is obviously 20 years older than that.

      I have to admit I’m mainly here to see Fennec kick butt, though I actually like Temuera Morrison.

      Yes, come to think of it, it was the mariachi remix of the original song. It’s either the “Lili Marleen” or “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” of Tatooine or Max Rebo is in the habit of rearranging his old hits all the time. He is a George Lucas character, after all.

      I admit I have never seen the Holiday Special, unless I saw it as a kid in the US (timing would be just about right). I also don’t have a great desire to see it, since it is mainly remembered as an infamous disaster.

      • Lurkertype says:

        If you can find just the Boba Fett cartoon from the special, that’s not too bad. Other than the very limited animation; not many cels, no shading, it wasn’t high quality even for then. But that’s why guys liked Boba Fett back in the day.

        • Cora says:

          Many years ago, I saw a screenshot of that Boba Fett cartoon in a back issue of Starlog magazine (which I sometimes got at a Dutch used bookstore) and was quite puzzled, because I had no idea where that image might have been from. At the time, we only knew of the Droids and Ewoks cartoons and neither of those featured
          Boba Fett.

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  7. Fiona Moore says:

    Having read Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson over Christmas (the real life story of one of the founders of the Hudsons’ Bay Company, who was captured by the Iroquois, adopted into one of their tribes, and later wrote a detailed account of his life with them), my mind went straight to the 17th century Iroquois, who would, apparently, capture prisoners and either torture them or adopt them depending on the circumstances. If they’re basing The Book of Boba Fett on Westerns, they might be channelling that.

    • Cora says:

      This also came up in Outlander (which is remarkably well researched for a time travel TV/book series about a WWII nurse stumbling through the time portal and falling in love with an 18th century Scottish highlander), where some of the latter seasons are set in America.

      It would certainly make sense for The Book of Boba Fett to refer back to this history, if they’re riffing on westerns, though at this point I have no idea what they’re doing or if they have any plan at all.

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