The Book of Boba Fett takes to “The Streets of Mos Espa”

I’m still not convinced that The Book of Boba Fett is truly worth doing episode by episode reviews, but here is my much delayed take on episode 3, “The Streets of Mos Espa”. Reviews of previous episodes may be found here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

This latest episode of The Book of Boba Fett opens in the present day – hurray – with Boba Fett seated on his throne, while ex-torture droid 8D8 delivers a lecture about the criminal empire of the late Jabba the Hutt. After Jabba’s demise, Bib Fortuna could not hold all of Jabba’s business in Mos Espa and therefore had to rely on other gangs to keep the peace. As a result, Mos Espa has been divided into three quarters (“Mos Espa est omnis divisa in partes tres”) controlled by different gangs and the Mayor Mok Shaiz (whom we met last episode) is making deals with all of them. Though both Boba and Fennec agree that the Mayor isn’t the true power here and didn’t send the assassins. Someone else did, likely the Hutt twins whom we met last episode as well.

This little infodump is interrupted by the arrival of a petitioner, played by veteran character actor Stephen Root who has been in literally everything. The petitioner introduces himself as a watermonger and obsequiously informs Boba Fett that no one is respecting him. For it turns out that someone has been stealing the watermonger’s water.

Boba Fett’s incredulousness that someone is making money selling water and that people would steal it is linked to Boba growing up on water-logged Camino, but it still doesn’t make any sense. As a bounty hunter, Boba has travelled all over the galaxy and knows that different planets are different. Plus, he has spent several years on Tatooine at this point, working for Jabba, living with the Sand People, trying to take over the place. Unless Boba Fett is a complete idiot – and he’s not – he should have realised by now how precious water is on Tatooine. In fact, he could probably make more money by importing water from Camino or the “Bremerhaven in space” planet from season 2 of The Mandalorian to Tatooine than by being a crime lord.

Boba knows that the watermonger is baiting him, but nonetheless he, Fennec and the two Gamoreans (who still don’t get names) head to Mos Espa to sort out the situation with the water thieves. They quickly locate the water thieves, too, since they’re enjoying the ill-gotten gains of their criminal activities in the middle of the street. And the water thieves turn out to be cyberpunk mod kids on tricked out floating Vespas. Yes, really.

Star Wars has always borrowed from all sorts of genre and non-genre films, novels, TV-shows, subcultures. The Disney+ Star Wars shows drive this “everything and the kitchen sink, too” approach to the max. The cyber-modifications of the street kids are clearly a nod to Cyberpunk, a subgenre from which Star Wars borrowed surprisingly little (maybe the neon-drenched streets and clubs of Coruscant in the early scenes of Attack of the Clones), probably because Cyberpunk always positioned itself as a countermovement to Star Wars and its imitators (as well as to 1970s feminist SFF). Still, Cyberpunk is just another movement of the past now and therefore ripe for borrowing.

However, the more surprising influence here is that that of the Mod subculture of the 1960s, as Nick Wanserski accurately notes in his review at the AV-Club. The body modifications and the punk outfit of the female gangleader may be borrowed from Cyberpunk, but the tricked out Vespas and the parkas and outfits worn by the male gang members are pure Mod. Indeed, my initial reaction was “Oh, it’s Star Wars does Quadrophenia.”

At Vice: Motherboard, Gita Jackson reports that quite a few fans dislike the street kids on their Vespas, though reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin likes their style and swagger, even though they wonder how a gang of unemployed and clearly poor kids can afford such swanky rides and fashions. Probably the same way they were able to afford the water, by stealing.

Gita Jackson points out that George Lucas was part of the California car racing culture in the 1960s and that this comes through in many of his films, from THX 1138 via American Graffiti, which very much is a film about California car culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to Star Wars and beyond. Space mods on floating Vespas is absolutely the sort of thing Lucas would come up with. Quadrophenia actually came out two years after Star Wars, though the album it was based upon dates from 1973. But even if Lucas has not seen Quadrophenia, he very likely was aware of the Mod subculture. As an influence, it’s not at all unlikely.

Boba Fett confronts the street kids about stealing water, whereupon the kids reply that the watermonger is charging extortionate prices. “This is the workers’ quarter,” Boba says, sounding like every grumpy suit wearing adult ever, “Why are you not working?” The street kids reply that there are no jobs to be had, so Boba hires them on the spot. The watermonger is of course outraged, but Boba pays him off and also warns him to charge fair prices for his water.

So Boba Fett’s criminal empire now consists of himself, a former Imperial assassin, two Gamoreans, an ex-torture droid and four cyber-mod street kids on space Vespas. It’s not wonder no one takes him seriously.

Boba, Fennec and the new recruits return to Jabba’s castle, where Boba goes to sleep in his bacta tank and we get – groan – another flashback. At least this one is mercifully short.

We see Boba, now apparently a fully fledged member of the Tusken tribe that found him, getting on a bantha and riding off to Mos Eisley (nice cameo by Peli Motto from The Mandalorian and her pit droids in the background) to collect payment from the Pyke Syndicate (the masked fish people seen last episode as well as in Solo) for allowing their drug train to cross the Tusken territory. The Pyke leader is quite willing to pay protection money – it’s part of the business – but he’s not willing to pay twice. And he is already paying the Nikto biker gang that harrassed Fixer and Cami last episode for right of way in the same territory. “Settle it among yourself,” the Pyke leader says.

When Boba returns to the Tusken camp, he sees smoke on the horizon. Turns out the Nikto biker gang has decided to settle the matter first by killing all the Sand People. Now I predicted that the Sand People would probably all die horribly, though I hadn’t epxected it to happen so soon. Though maybe this will mean fewer flashbacks.

I already said last week that Boba Fett seems to be doing a Billy Jack movie in the flashbacks and this episode made the parallels even clearer with the Tusken tribe standing in for the town of Big Rock in The Born Losers and the Freedom School in Billy Jack. The Nikto gang literally are the titular biker gang from The Born Losers or the terrible townspeople from Billy Jack. The flashback scenes even borrow the earnest if problematic white saviour aspect of the Billy Jack movies, where Billy Jack is supposedly half-indigenous, but played by white actor/director Tom Laughlin, who made those movies out of an earnest desire to draw attention to the injustices facing Native Americans. Meanwhile, The Book of Boba Fett sidesteps the white saviour issue, since Boba is played by a Maori actor. Plus, it has not borrowed the weird rape obsession from the Billy Jack movies, which can only be a good thing.

Once again, the Billy Jack movies are unexpected but not unlikely influences to show up in Star Wars. Because strange – and they are very strange indeed – as they are, the Billy Jack movies were huge counterculture hits in the early 1970s and George Lucas was definitely aware of them and very likely at least saw them. And besides, you just know that Lucas liked biker movies. He may even have known Tom Laughlin, since both were indie directors doing their own thing and telling the stories that mattered to them in early 1970s Hollywood.

As everybody who has seen the Billy Jack films or indeed any film ever expected, Boba lights a funeral pyre for the bodies and then sets off to wreak righteous vengeance on the Nikto biker gang. At this point, the flashback is rudely interrupted by the Wookie bounty hunter Black Krrsatan, who clearly dislikes interminable flashbacks as much as the rest of us and just rips Boba out of his bacta tank to slap him around. As an assasination attempt, this one is none too impressive, because while Boba may have been a match for a Wookie while in armour, he clearly is no match for Black Krrsatan while in underpants.

Boba gets his bacon saved by the cyber-mod kids and the Gamoreans who try to save him from Black Krrsatan, so Boba did get his money’s worth for hiring them. That said, as Nick Wanserski points out, the fight scene looks clumsy and stagy. And indeed, none of the action scenes in The Book of Boba Fett have looked particularly impressive. Which is odd, because Disney clearly has the money to do impressive action scenes and we know that Robert Rodriguez (who directed this and at least one other episode) and writer/showrunner Jon Favreau know how to do action.

Black Krrsatan is holding his own until Fennec opens the trap door to the Rancor pit, which would have been more impressive if we hadn’t seen someone dropped into the Rancor pit only last episode. Still, the Rancor pit has a new inhabitant now.

Shortly after Black Krrsatan’s attack, who shows up at Boba’s doorstep but the Hutt twins introduced last episode? They arrive on their giant litter carried by approximately twenty people, which makes me wonder just how they got there in the first place. Were they just carried through the desert? And why don’t they use some kind of motorised transport? The litter may make sense in a city like Mos Espa, but not in the open desert.

The Hutt twins explain that they are very sorry for siccing Black Krrsatan on Boba and that they no longer want his territory, since someone else has laid claim to hit, which would mean war. “And war…” the female Twin says, “…is bad for business.” So the Hutt twins decide that Tatooine is a worthless rock and depart. They don’t want Black Krrsatan back either, since Wookie bounty hunters who can’t even manage to kill a guy in his underwear clearly aren’t in great demand. Boba lets Black Krrsatan go with some friendly advice from bounty hunter to bounty hunter to be more discerning in his choice of employer. That’s really rich, coming from Boba Fett who worked for Jabba the Hutt and the Empire among others and whose Dad Jango worked for Darth Sidious. I actually expected Boba to offer Black Krrsatan a job – as he did with the Gamoreans and the cyber-mod kids – but Boba just lets him go.

Furthermore, the Hutt twins bring a “Sorry we tried to kill you. Nothing personal” gift. Because the empty Rancor pit is a sad state of affairs, so the Hutt twins have brought along a Rancor and his trainer, played by none other than Danny Trejo (director Robert Rodriguez real life cousin), as a housewarming gift, as io9 reviewer James Whitbrook puts it.

Boba is clearly pleased, since he always wanted a Rancor. The Rancor is placed in the pit, while Boba has a chat with the Rancor keeper, who informs him that Rancors are very complex creatures, bond with their owners and keeper and are only aggressive, when they are trained to be. This would be pretty ridiculous – this giant people-eating monster is a very emotionally complex creature – if not for the scene in Return of the Jedi where Jabba’s Rancor keeper cries bitterly over the body of the creature after Luke kills it.

Boba’s new Rancor is just a baby and wears blinders, because – so Danny Trejo explains – Rancors imprint on the first person they see. So Rancors are basically baby ducklings? Danny Trejo also explains that the witches of Dathomir have trained Rancors as riding animals, which thrills Boba, because he clearly wants to ride on a Rancor (and will before the series is through). So Boba Fett’s criminal empire has grown to encompass himself, an Imperial ex-assassin, an ex-torture droid, two Gamoreans, four cyber-mod kids on tricked out Vespas, a baby Rancor and Danny Trejo.

The Hutt twins said that someone else has laid claim to Jabba’s old territory, someone who clearly bothers them more than Boba Fett. So Boba quickly deduces that his rival must be Mok Shaiz, the mayor of Mos Espa. So Boba and his entourage (sans Danny Trejo and the Rancor) go to town once again to see the mayor. The mayor is supposedly very busy, but when Boba and Fennec break into his office, they find the office empty. Mok Shaiz has vanished and his annyoing Twi’lek major domo is just about to escape in a landspeeder that looks like a vintage Cadillac. The cyber-mod kids set off in pursuit, which leads to an amusing chase through the streets of Mos Espa, complete with everybody running over market stalls. In Hollywood, street chases only take place on market days and participants get points by hitting each and ever stall.

In the end, the Twi’lek’s landspeeder buried in fruit (Emmet Asher-Perrin points out that these fruits are called meiloorun). Being a coward, the Twi’lek blurts out that the mayor is working for the Pyke Syndicate and the Pykes are coming to Tatooine.

Shortly thereafter, one of the cyber-mod kids is lurking at the spaceport, where a large group of masked Pyke troopers emerge from the belly of a starship. So the Hutt twins and Mok Shaiz were only red herrings and the Pykes are the real big bad, both in the flahback (cause you can bet the Pykes sicced the Nikto bikers on the Tuskens) and in the present day, setting up the conflict for the remaining episodes. Which is fair, I guess, except that I don’t find the Pykes particularly impressive. Not that Mok Shaiz is impressive either and the Hutt Twins are weird rather than impressive.

Three episodes in, The Book of Boba Fett still seems to have no idea what it wants to be. Does it want to be a Billy Jack movie in the Star Wars universe? Does it want to be a gritty crime drama about a turf war, a kind of Breaking Bad or Peaky Blinders in the Star Wars universe? Does it want to be King Conan, only starring Boba Fett? Any one of those would have been interesting choices, but the show mashes all of them together, resulting in an unholy mess.

Also, as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out at The Daily Dot, The Book of Boba Fett also comes up against restrictions imposed by Disney+’s insistence on being “family-friendly”, whatever that means. Therefore, even though Boba Fett lously declares that he wants to be a crime boss, he doesn’t really act like one. Instead, he’s more of a grumpy Dad who adopts random strays and wants to rid Tatooine from Hutts, Pykes and corrupt mayors. Which is fine, it’s just not what anybody expected of a Boba Fett show. The desire to be family-friendly also probably explains why all the assassins, whether it’s the Order of the Night Wind or Black Krrsatan, are so bad at their jobs.

The elements for a fun Star Wars show are all there: A fan favourite lead, a talented cast, great visuals, cool creatures, a hodge-podge of genre influences. But unlike The Mandalorian, which shared many of the same ingredients, The Book of Boba Fett doesn’t really come together so far.

Since this review has been delayed, the next episode has already been made available, so maybe the story will finally come together.

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7 Responses to The Book of Boba Fett takes to “The Streets of Mos Espa”

  1. peer says:

    After this one I thought: I get it now: Boba Fett ist just an idiot. Thats an exaggeration of course, but so far I dont find him very impressive, neither with fighting (it gets worse next episode) and certainly not with planing, because he is just constantly reacting and doesnt seem to know what exactly he expects his rule to be.
    The next epsidoe at least makes him slightly better at planing.
    Between the episodes I watched “Underneath the helmet – the making of Boba Fett”, where they repeatedly said that Fett is “an enigma” and “the less you know about him the better”. If only tehe executives had listened…

    • Cora says:

      “Boba Fett” is an idiot actually matches how he was portrayed in the original trilogy, because he was never all that competent. After all, Han Solo knocked him into the Sarlacc pit while half-blind. He was competent enough to see through Han’s “hide in the space junk” trick, but that’s probably a common smuggler trick in the Star Wars universe.

      And yes, making a whole series about a character who works best when he is an enigma wasn’t a good idea.

  2. Pingback: The Book of Boba Fett Faces “The Gathering Storm” | Cora Buhlert

  3. Fiona Moore says:

    I’d assumed that Boba Fett’s apparent incredulousness at people stealing water was sarcasm (“really? People steal that stuff? Maybe it’s because you’re charging a fortune for something that falls naturally out of the sky, ya thief…”) but perhaps I was giving the writers too much credit.

    • Cora says:

      Sarcasm would make sense, though the line doesn’t really come across as sarcastic, so you may be giving the writers too much credit. Also, Tatooine apparently doesn’t have a lot of natural rain (since it’s mostly desert), hence the moisture farmers. Though I bet the watermonger cheats the moisture farmers, too.

  4. Fiona Moore says:

    True, and, rain or no rain, also it’s clearly possible to live on Tatooine without buying water, as Boba Fett knows from his time with the Sand People.

    • Cora says:

      Apparently, only the Tuskens know the secret of the black melon. No moisture farmer has ever found one, when digging into the ground.

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