I’m still not convinced that The Book of Boba Fett is truly worth doing episode by episode reviews, but here is my take on episode 2, “The Tribes of Tatooine”. Reviews of previous episodes (well, just one so far) may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
The second episode of The Book of Boba Fett begins in the present day, which seems like a good sign. Fennec Shand is returning to Jabba’s former castle, one of the would-be assassins she captured in tow. The assassin belongs to an outfit called the Order of the Night Wind, who are basically space ninjas. They are also overpriced for the services they offer, at least according to Fennec who should know.
Members of the Order of the Night Wind also never talk, not even when they have a Gamorean scimitar at their throat. “I fear no man,” the assassin declares. “Well, maybe you fear…” Fennec begins and I thought she would say “a woman”, but instead she says “the Rancor” and promptly dumps the assassin into the Rancor pit, which so terrifies the poor guy that he blurts out that the mayor of Mos Espa (whose major domo we met last episode) hired him.
However, as everybody who has seen Return of the Jedi knows, Luke Skywalker killed the Rancor by dropping the gate of its own pit on it. And since Jabba quickly followed the Rancor into whatever afterlife the Hutts believe in, he never had the chance to procure a replacement. So the Rancor pit is empty and only a womp rat is sitting where the Rancor once lived, nibbling on what may well be Rancor remains.
However, Boba and Fennec got the info they needed, so they head to Mos Espa again, assassin in tow and accompanied by the two Gamoreans who stil neither talk nor get names and who still seem to think they are modelling for a Frank Frazetta Conan cover, only that they are the wrong species. They head directly for the town hall and demand to see the mayor. The receptionist tries to hold them off by asking for an appointment, but Boba Fett does not make appointments. He just waltzes straight into the mayor’s sanctum, pushing his annoying Twi’lek major domo out of the way in the process.
Now we finally meet the mayor of Mos Espa and he is… just a random Ithorian by the name of Mok Shaiz. I have to admit this revelation was rather anti-climactic, but I had expected something or rather someone more significant than a random Ithorian we’ve never seen before. Even if this random Ithorian is voiced by Robert Rodriguez.
Unsurprisingly, Mok Shaiz denies any knowledge of the Night Wind Assassin and is indeed shocked, oh so shocked that members of the Order of the Night Wind are operating without a license in Mos Espa. He also thanks Boba Fett for bringing in the unlicensed assassin and hands him some bounty money (which Fennec promptly pockets). Boba Fett reminds Mok Shaiz that he’s no longer a bounty hunter but a crime lord, but does accept the money as a downpayment for the tribute the mayor failed to deliver. Boba Fett also reminds Mok Shaiz that he’s only mayor at his pleasure and that he can remove Mok and replace him with someone more compliant at any time. I really wish someone would introduce the people of the Star Wars Universe to the basic idea of democracy and that it means, no, you can’t just remove a democratically elected official, because you don’t like him.
Mok Shaiz, however, isn’t stupid and points out that he knows that Boba has the upper hand, so why would he sent assassins after him? He also reminds Boba Fett that Boba isn’t the only person with a claim to the position of the prime crime lord of Tatooine, so maybe one of his rivals sent the Night Wind assassins. Finally, the mayor points Boba Fett at Garsa Fwip, the Twi’lek woman who runs The Sanctuary, a bar/casino/brothel in Mos Espa.
So Boba and Fennec head over to Garsa’s Sanctuary. As in their first meeting, Garsa is extremely polite and subservient, though you can tell she has her own agenda. In my review of the first episode, I noted that one of the things I like about The Book of Boba Fett is that the show stars two middle-aged actors of colour in the sort of action roles that actors above 50 rarely play, unless they are white dudes. I think we can add Jennifer Beals as Garsa Fwip to the tally, since Jennifer Beals is 58 by now and – which I for one didn’t know, in spite of loving Flashdance back in the day – mixed race. I’m the first to admit that The Book of Boba Fett could be better, but one reason to praise the show is that it features three actors of colour over fifty in starring roles and is not an immigrant drama a la The Joy Luck Club (which actually starred Ming-Na Wen among many others).
Boba tells Garsa to cut out the crap. She’s clearly nervous about something and Boba wants to know what. Garsa finally spills the beans that there really is another challenger or rather two to Boba Fett’s position as supreme crime lord of Tatooine. Those challengers are “the Twins”, Jabba’s unnamed cousins. Boba Fett is surprised, since as far as he knows, the Twins are the hedonistic type and have never shown the slightest interest in the family business.
No sooner has Garsa mentioned the Twins, that they pair themselves arrive, literally accompanied a drumroll. Boba, Fennec and the Gamoreans head back outside, just in time for an enormous litter, born by at least twenty uniformed servants to appear in the street. Seated on that litter are Jabba’s cousins – a male and a female Hutt – who are entwined in a way that I guess didn’t give only me certain Jamie and Cersei Lannister vibes.
AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski is not happy that the main antagonists in the present day storyline turn out to be a) a random Ithorian and b) two previously unseen and unknown cousins of Jabba. He writes:
Again, this shows a stunning lack of storytelling ambition. It’s the second Death Star in semi-ambulatory slug form. But the visuals of two Hutt siblings entwined on a palanquin together, one hiding demurely behind a too-small fan and the other mopping his brow with a rodent like an overheated southern senator is really fun to watch. A show cannot run on two such disparate tracks forever: Clever production design can only sustain a drab story for a finite amount of time, but so far that’s at least two episodes.
I’m inclined to agree with Nick Wanserski here. Two episodes in, The Book of Boba Fett offers cool visuals and the trademark sheer beautiful weirdness of the Star Wars universe in spades, but unlike The Mandalorian, it doesn’t really have a story to tell. I read somewhere (though I can’t find the link right now) that The Book of Boba Fett was something of an afterthought, a show Disney announced, even though none of the people involved knew about it at the time. And the result certainly feels rushed, almost as if Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and their team never really managed to decide what story they want to tell here.
Boba’s confrontation with the Hutt Twins devolves into the usual grandstanding banter. The Twins lay claim to Jabba’s operations and territory, Boba tells them they’re too late and that he was here first, the Twins bring in a really cool looking Wookie bounty hunter named Black Krrsantan. Boba fails to be impressed and the Twins leave, not without warning Boba to “sleep lightly”.
“Sleep” was clearly the watchword here, because Boba retreats to his bacta tank once more and gives us another interminable flashback. And in this case, the flashback really is interminable, because while the present day scenes take 14 minutes of a 53 minute episode, the flashback takes up the remaining 36 minutes (approx. 3 minutes are recaps, credits, etc….) all the way to the end of the episode.
This week’s flashback is mildly more interesting than last week’s, but only mildly so. After killing the multi-armed monster and saving the Sand Kid, Boba Fett has been adopted into the Sand People tribe and is being taught how to fight with a gaffi stick. Now this scene is completely superfluous. We’ve seen Boba Fett fight with a gaffi stick in The Mandalorian and we know that Mandalorians are weapon fetishists and specialists. We were never shown how Din Djarin learned to fight with a beskar lance, so why do we need to know why Boba Fett knows how to use a gaffi stick? It’s not rocket science (and note that we never learn how or why Boba Fett and Din Djarin learned how to use their jetpacks), it’s a curved stick.
There is an IMO regrettable tendency in modern day SFF fiction to focus on training sequences and characters learning new skills. See the popularity of magic school and fantasy school YA books in general, see the popularity of boot camp scene in military SFF and military fiction in general or see subgenres like progression or cultivation fantasy. But while this stuff may be popular, I am now of an age where I’d rather see the characters using skills they already have than learning them. I also really, really don’t need to know how every single character gained their skills. After all, it’s kind of obvious that a lot of training would have been involved.
The flashback plot picks up somewhat, when Boba’s latest training session is interrupted by the arrival of an armoured train (there are trains on Tatooine?). The Sand People seem bothered by the train, grab weapons and duck behind the dunes. And just in time, too, because the armoured train comes with armoured guards who fire on the Sand People, even though the Sand People – this lot, at any rate, since we learn that there are more aggressive groups – have done nothing to provoke the attack. The train guards kill a bantha and several Sand People, which infuriates Boba Fett, because these are his friends now and besides, the attack was unprovoked.
Boba Fett sees the bandits on their speeder bikes we saw harrassing some moisture farmers last episode pass by in the distance and tells the Sand People leader that he can stop the train. He follows the bandits and heads to Tosche Station, the very place where Luke Skywalker wanted to pick up some power converters way back in A New Hope. We never see Tosche Station in the finished film, but Luke does go there in the novelisation by Alan Dean Foster (with whom Disney has come to an agreement after not paying him royalties, but many other writers are still not being paid) and there are also some deleted scenes set at Tosche Station, which you can watch here. I ultimately understand why the Tosche Station scenes were cut, since the Tatooine scenes of A New Hope drag on for a long time anyway (though considering how much more time Star Wars will spent on bloody Tatooine, I think they should have restored them for the Special Editions). Though with the Tosche Station scenes missing, Biggs Darklighter suddenly shows up out of nowhere on Yavin instead of being established as Luke’s best friend on Tatooine, which also robs his death of the impact it should have had. Rewatching the deleted scenes now, I realised how very slashy the relationship between Biggs and Luke comes across. There’s also some interesting dialogue there about the Empire nationalising businesses and farms. So the Empire was communist in this early incarnation?
The deleted Tosche Station scenes also include two other acquaintances of Luke and Biggs, a young couple named Fixer and Camie. They only have a few lines of dialogue and basically treat Luke like crap and call him Wormie. Camie was actually played by actress and photographer Koo Stark, who is best remembered these days for having a relationship with Prince Andrew in the early 1980s. When Boba Fett comes to Tosche Station several years alter, as it is being harrassed by what is in essence a biker gang, who’s still there but Fixer and Camie, played by actors who are deadringers for their deleted 1977 counterparts. As io9 reviewer James Whitbrook points out, the presence of Fixer and Camie at Tosche Station several years after they met Luke on that fateful day just before his uncle purchased R2-D2 and C-3PO, raises several questions as in why are these two still here and what have they been doing all of these years? I guess the answer is that unlike Luke and Biggs, Fixer and Camie never left Tatooine and maybe don’t want to leave either. As for why they’re at Tosche Station, I guess they’re probably there every night, because it’s the only place they can do.
The speeder bike gang roughs up Fixer a bit, before Boba Fett arrives, beats up the entire gang and steals their speeder bikes. At this point, The Book of Boba Fett briefly becomes a biker film. This is not as surprising as it seems. After all, Star Wars has always borrowed tropes and ideas from other film genres like some kind of cinematic magpie. And considering that biker films were hugely popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s – Easy Rider is the one that’s still remembered, but there were many others, several of them better than Easy Rider – it’s actually surprising that Star Wars never borrowed from them before, especially given George Lucas’ well-documented love of any kind of motorised racing.
However, The Book of Boba Fett not only becomes a biker film at this point, it actually becomes a Billy Jack film with Boba Fett standing in for Billy Jack, counterculture hero and defender of Native Americans and independent hippie school, who actually made his debut in the 1967 biker film The Born Losers (which not only predates Easy Rider, but is also IMO much better) before striking out on his own in Billy Jack, the unlikely highest grossing US movie of 1971, which spawned several sequels in turn. Again, this is not as odd as it sounds, because while the Billy Jack movies are very much works of their time, they were huge hits and popular among young people. George Lucas certainly saw them and probably even knew some of those involved.
If The Book of Boba Fett had decided to be Billy Jack in space, that might have been pretty interesting. However, the show still has no real idea what it wants to be and so Boba returns with the stolen bikes to the Sand People and we get – yes, another interminable training sequence, as Boba teaches the Sand People how to ride the speeder bikes and they plan their attack on the train. Boba Fett: Driving Instructor was definitely not on my bingo card.
When the train comes past again, Boba and the Sand People execute their train heist, which leads to an action sequence, which is genuinely thrilling, but also very familiar, because we’ve seen this sort of scene in countless westerns (a genre Star Wars borrowed very liberally from before). Though I did love the train’s multi-limbed droid engineer, because that droid was so delightfully strange, an example of the beautiful weirdness of the Star Wars universe. AV-Club reviewer Nick Wanserski clearly agrees with me.
Initially, the Sand People seemed to be bedouin analogues with Boba Fett their Lawrence of Arabia (which influenced Dune and thereby indirectly Star Wars), but since The Book of Boba Fett is a US show, the Sand People morph into Native American analogues here, executing a train heist on their
horses – pardon, speeder bikes. Emmett Asher-Perrin complains about the muddled analogies in their review at Tor.com as well as about the problematic white saviour vibes that Boba Fett is giving off here, which are mitigated by the fact that Temuera Morrison is not white but Maori and therefore indigenous himself.
Personally, I think they should have stuck with Lawrence of Arabia, especially since you could easily insert a train into any Lawrence of Arabia inspired narrative since the historical T.E. Lawrence and his Arab allies attacked the so-called Berlin-Baghdad Railway, which was built by the German Empire to expand their influence in the Middle East and cement their relationship with the Ottoman Empire. The British were no fans of this plan for obvious reasons and so the trainline became a target in WWI. A great-grand-uncle of mine was an engineer working on the Berlin-Baghdad railway. He was killed in WWI and is buried somewhere in what is now Iraq. Learning his story from my great-uncle as a young girl left me with a dislike of Peter O’Toole, which is completely irrational, because O’Toole certainly did not kill this relative who died some sixty years before I was born (and some fifteen before O’Toole was born) and it’s highly unlikely that T.E. Lawrence did, at least not personally. Nonetheless, in my young mind this bit of family lore morphed into “Lawrence of Arabia killed my great-grand-uncle”.
The train heist is a success, though not without casualties on both sides (and no, I don’t blame Boba Fett and the Sand People for what happened to my great-grand-uncle). The Sand People ransack the train and its cargo and we learn that the train transports smuggled spice (another Dune reference, though one that’s not without precendent in the Star Wars univers) for a crime syndicate. Boba Fett tells the surviving guards that the trains is trespassing on the ancestral lands of the Sand People and that if they want to continue using this track, they must pay a toll. You can clearly see the glee on Temuera Morrison’s face, as he delivers those lines, telling a bunch of colonisers to fuck off.
The colonisers do fuck off for now and the Sand People are happy about their victory. Boba Fett is given a gift in the form of a lizard that crawls into nose and triggers some kind of psychic vision quest. Boba wanders out into the desert, experiences some flashbacks of his childhood and his time inside the Sarlacc (yes, there are flashbacks within flashbacks in this episode!). He finds a tree in the desert and gets caught by the trees branches, until he breaks free. It all seems to be a dream, but the next morning Boba returns, bearing a tree branch.
The Sand People clearly expected this development. They dress Boba Fett up in Sand People robes, which make him look even more like T.E. Lawrence, and then they fashion the branch into Boba’s very own gaffi stick. The episode ends with Boba and the Sand People dancing around a camp fire.
After two episodes, I have to agree with Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw who asks “What’s the point of The Book of Boba Fett?” Because at this point, it’s not clear what story Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are even trying to tell here. Is it the story of Boba Fett’s rise to lord of Tatooine? Or is it the story of his sojourn among the Sand People? Both stories could have been compelling – though personally, I prefer the storyline of Boba’s rise to lord of Tatooine, because that one has Fennec Shand and I adore Fennec. However, Favreau and Filoni can’t settle on either of these two storylines and try to tell both of them, which leads to an ultimately unsatisfying mess.
One of the things I liked about The Mandalorian is that it didn’t constantly refer back to Star Wars, but instead went back to the things that influenced Star Wars. The Book of Boba Fett tries to do the same, so we get a bunch of influences from the era just before Star Wars burst onto the screen, whether it’s The Godfather and mafia movies, westerns, Lawrence of Arabia (and Dune), biker movies, Billy Jack or sword and sorcery. However, the disparate elements never quite manage to gel.
In the Star Wars movies, the Sand People or Tusken Raiders have never been portrayed as anything other than fairly low level antagonists. Season 2 of The Mandalorian tried to improve upon this by presenting a more humanised version of the Sand People and portraying them as characters with their own motivations and issues, namely that the various colonisers are encroaching upon their land and treating them like savages. The Book of Boba Fett tries to continue this positive trend of humanising the Sand People and even makes our hero join their tribe. However, once again the result doesn’t quite work. For even though two thirds of this episode and roughly half of the first episode are given over to Boba’s adventures among the Sand People, none of the Sand People we see even get a name and the actors playing them are not prominently mentioned in the end credits. In many ways, the Sand People feel like furniture and tools to facilitate the growth of Boba Fett rather than characters of their own. Making the Sand People very blatant analogues for indigenous people makes this even more problematic. Besides, I strongly suspect they’ll all die and that’s what brings Boba Fett out of the desert. And talking of underdeveloped characters, the two Gamoreans don’t even get names either.
The Book of Boba Fett is very well made (but then Disney has more money than God) and entertaining enough to watch, but while The Mandalorian was something special, this is just routine Star Wars entertainment, fun enough but with nothing deeper to say. Which is a pity, because there are some good elements there, they just never come together.