Nostalgia's limits

The Book of Boba Fett was a nice bit of worldbuilding, but that's about it

Nostalgia's limits
Image: Lucasfilm / Graphic: Nate Herzog

There's an interesting moment in the behind-the-scenes Disney Gallery series for The Mandalorian's second season, in which director Robert Rodriguez spoke about his love of Boba Fett. "I was nine years old when Star Wars first came out," he explained to the camera. "Saw it again and again all its re-releases, and I was already a huge Boba Fett fan before Empire Strikes Back even came out. So Boba was a star before the film ever premiered and had us kids just so excited to see the movie."

From there, he went on to explain how he approached bringing the character back into the franchise for The Mandalorian after his apparent death in the beginning of Return of the Jedi: he dressed his kids up in some Halloween costumes, pulled out some of his action figures, and set about filming the scene in his backyard. "I ended up turning a three-page battle scene into a nine-minute battle scene," Rodriguez explained, "because I was just that excited to be bringing Boba back... I wanted him to live up to his name that we would whisper since we were kids."

The approach worked: Boba's return in that episode plays out like a pent-up burst of energy that's finally been released. As the Empire moves in to try and capture Grogu, Boba cuts down stormtrooper after stormtrooper, and showed off on screen the character's brutality and violence that we all assumed he was capable of. It was a high point of the series.

With The Book of Boba Fett, the character has finally been given his chance to shine: to build on that moment and the legacy that the character's build up over the years. Did it deliver?

In a word, no.

While Boba gets the name on the marquee, The Book of Boba Fett is a series that really doesn't do anything with the character or advance him in any meaningful way. It's a series that's packed with world building, easter eggs and cool moments, but without anything that gives us any idea who Boba Fett is, let alone tell a consequential or meaningful story.

A Brief History of Star Wars’ Mandalorian Warriors
The Mandalorians have had a long and vivid history within the Star Wars universe, and their popularity will only rise from here

Boba Fett is one of those characters that's been popular since even before the start. Introduced prior to the release of The Empire Strikes Back in a California parade and the Star Wars Holiday Special, Fett earned a cult following from the moment he stepped into frame aboard the Executor.

His appeal can easily be boiled down to a single factor: he's an enigmatic badass. He's a masked character with just four lines of dialogue and six and a half minutes of screen-time in the original films. Inspired by Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name, he's a classical antihero who has no qualms when it comes to violence or morally-questionable actions. With that blank slate, fans could imagine that he was capable of literally anything, and that imagination powered any number of stories from the kids who grew up watching him.

Boba's entrance into The Mandalorian was a memorable one that absolutely delivered our fanboy dreams for the character. In just over a minute, Boba does exactly what we imagined he'd do: utterly destroy the squad of stormtroopers and do so with just a couple of words: "I was aiming for the other one."

There's a problem then, when you try and place your Man with No Name into a role that he's utterly unsuited for. I mentioned this in my recap of the show's second episode, but something that really bothered me early on was how the series was positioning Boba: someone who was working to take over Tatooine's criminal underworld.

The seeds of this story were set up in the stinger scene at the end of The Mandalorian's second season when he murders Bib Fortuna in Jabba's palace and takes the throne. From all appearances, the series would be about him taking over Jabba's network, now the king of the underworld where he'd go onto to keep up with the morally-ambiguous activities in that pocket of the galaxy.

There's a wealth of potential there: Boba rising up through the ranks to take over Jabba's operations would serve as a great way for Lucasfilm to show off one of its main pillars of its flagship franchise, something that it's delved into plenty of times over the years in The Clone Wars or Solo: A Star Wars Story. It's an area that The Mandalorian has done quite a bit with already, and there's endless ground to take the characters.

Ultimately, the series rarely capitalizes on this potential, because it never quite figures out why Boba wants to take over.

Years ago, I bounced a short story off of a friend of mine, who had some kind words for it, but left me with some writing advice that's stuck with me: I needed to give the characters more agency, rather than have them bounce from action to action because that's what the plot called for.

The Book of Boba Fett makes that same mistake: because we never get a good handle on why Boba's gunning for the top role, the series has him bounce around from situation to situation, rather than guiding the action through the choices that he makes. That explanation was absolutely essential, because the series takes Boba into territory that we've never seen him in before, and which runs counter to what we've imagined he'd be.

By contrast, Din Djarin in The Mandalorian is a character that operates with nothing but purpose: his motivations are almost always entirely clear, whether he's after a bounty or protecting Grogu. We never really doubt his intentions, and as a result, we get a series with a character that's driving the action.  

With The Book of Boba Fett, the idea that Boba is willing to point his life in a different direction comes out of almost nowhere. There's hints sprinkled through the series: at one point, Boba explains that he's worked for too many people who've nearly gotten him killed because of their bad decisions, and his time with the Tuskens seems to have pointed him to another path. His time in the Sarlacc's guts seem to be part of it as well.

But the problem here is that these motivations are almost completely unsupported and never really articulated through his actions. We never really understand what Boba is referring to when he brings up his frustrations with being a bounty hunter. When he later refuses to up and leave Mos Espa in the hands of the Pykes, we don't understand why he's become attached to the city: the only times that we've seen him there are points when he's visiting a cantina with an attractive owner, and roaming around the streets to recruit the mod gang. In the show's final moments, when he's walking along the streets of his ruined city, we don't understand why he's content and why anyone actually knows who he is to praise and reward him.

At the heart of the problems here is that Boba is effectively sidelined from his own story for much of the series, because the show seems more interested in serving as connective tissue for the various eras of the franchise's timeline. I saw someone point out that there's an easter egg from other parts of the franchise roughly every thirty seconds in the entire series. Some of that's innocuous, background stuff, but other times, it's key plot points, like the introduction of the Pyke Syndicate or Cad Bane as a key antagonist. As I texted a friend midway through the series, The Book of Boba Fett is really just a big of Jon Favreau / Dave Filoni world building rather than an actual story.

That's unfortunate. As much as I like to see those cool nods to other parts of the franchise, it's a problem when it gets in the way of the story.

The transformation of the Tuskens
The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian added depth to the Tusken Raiders, but complications remain

But more tellingly, Boba's lack of focus extrapolates out into the structure of the series itself. While it was cool to catch up on the adventures of Din Djarin and Grogu, that particular detour takes up nearly a third of the entire series, and doesn't add anything meaningful to the Boba's story, other than to eventually bring Din and Grogu into the finale (neither of which were really essential for the plot). That's time that would have been well spent following Boba through the dredges of Mos Espa, getting to not only know the city, but to watch him form a connection with it.

All of this tied together led to a series that never delivers a cohesive or interesting story: we don't really learn anything interesting about Boba, other than that he's not really cut out to serve as a crime lord. So much of the story depends on us believing that somehow, Boba has had a change of heart because of his life and experiences with the Sarlacc and the Tuskens, but we never see how that plays out in any meaningful way. Not having that supporting character work ultimately means that the final result is a rickety bridge, ready to fall apart at the slightest nudge. The only meaningful story that really happens takes place in the first three episodes, when Boba's taken in by the Tuskens, a storyline that's ultimately never followed up on.

The scenery is nice: there's lots that does work here for fans of the franchise. And presumably, future Star War productions will build on what happened here, but this isn't really what I want to see the Star Wars franchise become: an endless series of set pieces that exist only to fill in corners of the world or promise better adventures down the road.

Directors like Favreau and Rodriguez have long proclaimed their love for the franchise and how influential it was for them as kids. I can certainly relate, but I there was something that Rogue One director Gareth Edwards said during the film's Celebration Reel that has stuck with me: "if you're too respectful of it, that you daren't do anything new or different, take a risk, then what are you bringing to the table?" In a lot of ways, the story feels very much like the type of thing you'd get from a couple of kids getting full run of the toy box, but with better production value. A remix of the various characters and lore that we've seen before. Rodriguez taking out his toys and costumes to play Star Wars is good for that pivotal Mandalorian scene, but not for a compelling character story.

I see the story as a bit of a swing and a miss for the franchise as a whole. I don't think it's a terrible entry in the larger story—I generally enjoyed watching it, and the action was quite a bit of fun—but I worry that it's a story that exists only for the purpose of filling up Disney+'s catalog for new subscribers, rather than a story that exists because the storytellers need to tell it. I think that's worrisome, because Star Wars is loaded with interesting characters who'd undoubtably benefit from having their own 7-part series. But if this is a model for the type of treatment that they'd receive, it's a future for the franchise that will ultimately disappoint with diminishing returns.  

There are parts of The Book of Boba Fett that feels very much like they were trying to do something different and risky, but which ultimately didn't put in the work that was required to support or rationalize those decisions, and never takes the step to take the characters and world forward. Rather, it just ends up feeling like a placeholder, one that exists only to ensure that you remain a loyal subscriber to Disney+ while you wait for the next story to drop.