Written by “The Mandalorian” veterans Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”, “The Chef”) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn,”), the first episode of “The Book of Boba Fett” is now available for streaming on Disney+. Clocking in at a brisk 39 minutes, “Stranger in a Strange Land” (in a possible nod to Robert Heinlein) manages to work in some critical pieces of the character’s missing history as well as establish a new narrative in the present.
The character’s potential has been brewing within the Star Wars universe since 1978, when he was introduced in a cartoon segment of the otherwise execrable “Star Wars Holiday Special.” In that segment, Fett was a mysterious bounty hunter who formed a shady, uneasy alliance with Luke Skywalker. In 1980, the character made his much first (much ballyhooed) live-action appearance in “The Empire Strikes Back”, where he was physically acted by the late Jeremy Bulloch and voiced by Jason Wingreen (“All in the Family”). His appearance, while important to the story, was little more than a cameo. Things went from bad to worse when Fett was unceremoniously bumped off during the needlessly complicated rescue of Han Solo in the first act of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi”. After years of hype, buildup and fan adoration, the character returned as the cloned child (Daniel Logan) of his bounty hunter father, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), in 2002’s lackluster prequel “Attack of the Clones.”
The adult Fett (Morrison) made a triumphant return to live-action in The Mandalorian’s 2nd season episode “The Tragedy”, which reintroduced and reestablished the undead Fett as a kick-ass bounty hunter once again. Now, after 43 years of hype and promise, we are finally getting to read the ‘book’ of Boba Fett…
“Stranger in a Strange Land.”
The beginning of the episode establishes that our lead character, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) needs regular bacta treatments in a rejuvenating liquid-filled tube, due to injuries he sustained many years earlier (much as Darth Vader required such treatment in 2016’s “Rogue One”). The bacta healing sessions are a slow, ongoing process, which also allow for occasional flashbacks into this previously enigmatic character’s backstory.
Note: I also like seeing an action series’ lead character with a chronic condition; oddly reassuring to those of us in the real world who are also forced to exist with such limitations.
In this particular flashback, we finally see just how Boba escaped what appeared to be certain death in the gullet of the Sarlaac Pit creature in “Return of the Jedi.” Boba fell into the pit, after a near-blind Han Solo accidentally ignited Boba’s rocket pack, which sent him bouncing off into the creature’s gullet. Inside, he was immediately shrouded in the creature’s enzyme-filled saliva, which tried to break him down as food. We also see the body of an unfortunate Imperial stormtrooper inside as well (no doubt one of the sandtroopers looking for the two droids in “A New Hope”). Using the dead trooper’s oxygen canister, Fett sets ablaze the soft tissue within its Sarlaac’s extensive ‘mouth’ and eventually escapes. We see Boba crawling outside of the creature, half-dead from exhaustion and with burns sustained during his escape. After collapsing in the desert, we see a sandcrawler full of opportunistic Jawa scrap dealers, who strip the nearly unconscious bounty hunter’s armor off of him while he lays helpless in the sand dunes.
Note: There is a moment when the barely-conscious Fett attempts to stop the Jawas from stealing his armor, but is knocked out by the butt of one of their stun weapons. This will probably be the only time in Star Wars lore when a Jawa can boast of kicking Boba Fett’s ass…
We later see Boba, stripped of his armor, laying in the harsh winds of Tatooine, discovered by a group of ‘sand people,’ aka Tusken Raiders. The heavily wrapped Tuskens take the half-dead bounty hunter as their own bounty, chaining him to the back of their elephantine ‘banthas’ as they make their way back to their camp. Chained outside to a post with his hands tied, Boba discovers another prisoner at the Tusken camp; a bug-eyed, snout-faced Rodian (Dawn Dininger). Boba signals an escape plan to the Rodian, hoping to cut his ropes and overpower the junior ‘dewback’ lizard creature guarding them. Unfortunately the Rodian foils his plan by squealing to the Tuskens. Boba scowls angrily at his cowardly fellow prisoner…
Note: The Rodians, who range in skin tones from green to brown, were first established in 1977 with the character of “Greedo,” Jabba the Hutt’s enforcer who attempted to bring Han Solo before his master and collect a reward–or just kill him and take Han’s money for himself. Either way, Greedo’s plan ended with poor Greedo dead-as-fried-chicken in a Mos Eisley cantina. That scene later begat the “Han shot first” controversy, which came as a result of a significant change made to Greedo’s death in the 1997 Star Wars Episode IV: “A New Hope” Special Edition.
Boba’s bacta treatment is prematurely interrupted by Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), his right hand enforcer and aide, who’s cybernetically-enhanced body allows her an incredible range of combat actions, making her a most formidable opponent. Fennec tells Boba that he has to awaken and greet his public; the local community leaders of the city of Mos Espa, who’ve come to pay tribute to their new crime boss. “Lord Boba” is still getting used to his new throne, as well as the tributes offered by fearful locals. One by one, community leaders from the Tatooine city of Mos Espa offer whatever they can to show respect for the new leader of the late Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire (see: the coda of The Mandalorian, Chapter 16: “The Rescue”). Unable to understand some of the local languages, Fett grumbles to Fennec about needing “a good protocol droid”.
Note: The scenes of locals nervously offering tribute to their new crime boss are taken right out of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” saga, as local community leaders and shopkeepers pay tribute to their mafia don for ‘protection’ against rival gangs or even the police. In fact, the scenes of Boba Fett still getting used to his new position (from which he promises to rule by respect, not fear), reminded me very much of Robert DeNiro’s younger Vito Corleone taking over as ruling crime boss of 1920s New York City in “The Godfather Part II.”
One of the final visitors in the procession is Mos Espa’s mayor’s majordomo (David Pasquesi), a Twi’lek who passive-aggressively offers ‘apologies’ for the mayor’s absence, while subtly requesting tribute of his own. Fett is confused; Fennec clears it up for him–the majordomo is demanding his own tribute to the city’s corrupt mayor. Fett sternly tells the shady emissary that he will spare his life, which he could’ve easily taken. That will be his ‘tribute’ to the mayor. Upon leaving, the insulted majordomo hints at other such ‘visits’ from the mayor’s representatives… a clear threat.
Two piglike Gamorrean guards, former employees of Jabba, are also brought before Boba, who, to Fennec’s dismay, spares their lives in exchange for their loyalty. The two green, warthog-faced enforcers immediately bow before Boba and pledge their devotion, but Fennec doesn’t trust them.
Note: Actor David Pasquesi, as the Mayor’s majordomo, delivers a tone of underlying menace amid his ass-kissing flattery. His majordomo is clearly threatening Boba, but does so in a way that would make killing him outright seem too brutal, somehow. It’s a brief, but well-modulated performance.
Making their way into town to meet his constituency, Boba eschews the pomp and circumstance that the late Jabba demanded–preferring to walk into the city instead of being carried. Boba wants to establish his new leadership style to the locals by setting a less formal, more earthy example. With Fennec and his new Gamorrean henchmen at his side, they waltz into a nearby cantina called “The Sanctuary” to meet the locals…
Unlike the famous Mos Eisley cantina seen in “A New Hope,” the Mos Espa establishment is run a bit differently, as service droids mingle freely among humans. At the bar, we see various humans and aliens lounging about, while Jabba the Hutt’s former house musicians (the “Max Rebo” band) play a looser, more jazzy mix of John Williams’ original “Cantina Band” tune heard in the original 1977 movie. There’s a feeling of post-Jabba liberation in the air.
Note: There are reportedly a few high-profile cameos in this sequence, but the only ones I could make out were director Rodriguez and prolific Star Wars TV writer/producer Dave Filoni, whose contributions to Star Wars lore have made the newer generation of TV shows arguably stronger than the cinematic prequel and sequel trilogies.
Boba and Fennec then meet with the Twi’lek club owner Garsa Fwip (Jennifer Beals), who offers to ‘service’ the helmets of both visitors. After some pleasantries are exchanged, the helmets are returned filled with coins, as a sign of respect to the new crime boss, as well as appreciation for his seemingly less-threatening style of leadership.
Note: I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to see Jennifer Beals as Garsa Fwip. Beals was a major presence during the 1980s, following her explosive breakout role in 1983’s “Flashdance”, a movie that catapulted her to stardom. More recently, she’s costarred in prominent TV shows, including a role in Showtime’s “The L Word.” I’m assuming the unfortunately-named “Fwip” will be a significant player in the episodes ahead.
Boba and Fennec take their helmets filled with coinage, and leave. Exiting the Sanctuary, Fennec raises understandable concerns with Boba’s intention to rule “by respect, not fear,” insisting that in uncertain times fear works best. Their philosophical discussion is cut short by an ambush from several uniformed attackers, presumably from the mayor’s office, who use electric-prodding staff weapons and force shields in their attack…
Note: The cattle prod-like weapons of the attackers are similar to what we see stormtroopers and First Order guards use in the Disney Star Wars movies. It’s interesting that Boba Fett has long been feared as a formidable character within the Star Wars mythology, yet when given the opportunity for leadership (albeit of a criminal empire) he commands with a softer touch–preferring diplomacy and respect over force and terror.
After injuring Boba with their prod weapons, the attackers’ ranks begin to thin a bit, with several of them killed (thanks to an assist from his Gamorrean bodyguards) and the others retreat. The weakened Boba, unable to give chase, instructs Fennec (with her bionically-enhanced physique) to go after them, sparing their lives for interrogation. Fennec pursues them across the rooftops of Mos Espa. In a stunning martial arts display, Fennec corners and eventually disarms the attackers; killing one of them, but capturing another.
Note: The rooftop battle between Fennec and the Mos Espa attackers fleetingly reminded me of the elegant rooftop battle seen in 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” albeit nowhere near as elaborate, given this episode’s scant running time of 39 minutes. Given Ming-Na Wen’s background in martial arts and other action movies, it’s nice to see her strut her stuff.
The injured Boba is immediately taken for rejuvenation therapy in his healing bacta tank. With the breathing apparatus secured to his face, he is soon immersed in its soothing liquids. Before long, we return to the flashbacks of his time with the Tusken Raiders, with whom he remained a prisoner following his earlier escape attempt. Boba and the Rodian are taken to some dunes near a moisture farmer’s vandalized home, where the owner is being dragged out by some unruly locals. With their rivals gone, the Tusken child overseer instructs the captive Rodian and Boba (via hand gestures) to dig for small pods of water, lying deep in the sand, which keeps them cool from the heat of Tatooine’s twin suns. Boba steals a pod for himself, but the young Tusken tries to wrench it back. Their power struggle is cut short by the unexpected unearthing of a giant four-armed reptilian creature resting in the cool sands…
Note: The creature unearthed in the dunes was clearly inspired by the ‘Ymir’ from stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen’s “20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957); the movie features a blob of alien jelly from Venus that grows into a giant reptilian beast which terrorizes 1950s Rome. The Ymir’s head design also became the head of ‘the Kraken’ in Harryhausen’s “Clash of the Titans” (1981). The creature seen in “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a dead ringer for Harryhausen’s creations, save for its four arms, which reminded me of the four-armed Martian ‘Tharks’ from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic book series of John Carter of Mars, the first book of which was adapted into the unfairly maligned feature film “John Carter” (2012). Burroughs’ John Carter books were direct inspirations for many of the sequences in the Star Wars saga, including the Geonosis arena battles seen in “Attack of the Clones” (lifted directly from the 1912 John Carter novel, “Princess of Mars”). The creatures in the “Attack…” arena sequence were also influenced by the giant stop-motion crabs seen in Harryhausen’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” (1961).
The giant upright reptile is too great a match for the terrified Rodian or the Tusken child. This is where Boba’s “very particular set of skills” (read that in Liam Neeson’s voice) come into play. When the monster threatens the Tusken, Boba seizes an opportunity to earn his brutal captors’ trust by attacking the beast head-on. Using the very chains with which he’s shackled, Boba flings them over the monster’s throat and chokes the life out of it. As it falls limply to the ground, its head is hacked off. The young Tusken carries the severed head back to camp in triumph, and the adult Tuskens grunt in celebration, waving their large ‘gaffee sticks’ over their heads in a victory the Tusken kid didn’t earn.
Note: The Tusken Raiders in “Stranger…” wear darker robes, along with more jewelry and ornamentation than those Tuskens seen in “A New Hope,” or the prequels. It’s likely they’re from a different tribe.
The final scene sees the Tusken tribal leader, clearly not buying the boy’s tall tale, walking over to the exhausted, dehydrated Boba and grudgingly handing over a water pod to him in gratitude…
Summing It Up.
Seeking to further undo the injustices done to the character of Boba Fett in previous Star Wars canon, “The Book of Boba Fett” is off to a promising start. Though arguably not quite as gripping as the opening segment of “The Mandalorian”, “Stranger in a Strange Land” scratches some of the itches we’ve had with the character since his apparent undignified demise in “Return of the Jedi” over 38 years ago. “The Mandalorian” reestablished the character’s triumphant return as a badass; now it’s time to get to know what makes him tick. Having the character rely on regular ‘bacta’ tank treatments gives us opportunities for flashbacks while he’s indisposed, while also establishing (however indirectly) a Star Wars series’ lead character with a chronic health condition–this is a bold step for a franchise where the heroes are usually shown to be in peak physical condition. Just hoping the bacta tank sessions don’t always signify a flashback, because I could see that quickly devolving into a storytelling crutch.
Given his somewhat limited appearances in the Star Wars prequels and “The Mandalorian,” Temuera Morrison makes a surprisingly strong series’ lead in this Star Wars universe answer to “The Godfather.” The scenes of him trying to establish his newly acquired credibility within the ranks of the Mos Espa city hierarchy are very similar to young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) trying to establish credibility in “The Godfather,” Part 2. Vito Corleone, like Boba Fett, also tried earning loyalty through respect instead of violence; but with violence always available to wield as a last resort. Ming-Na Wen’s partly-cybernetic “Fennec Shand” makes a very credible ‘right arm’ as Fett’s enforcer and aide (as we saw in “The Mandalorian”). Maybe it’s just my middle-aged perspective, but I also enjoy seeing a sci-fi action series headlined by a pair of over-fifty actors (who also happen to be of Māori and Malaysian descent). That ‘far, far away’ galaxy of action-adventure shouldn’t belong exclusively to younger folks. This quietly opens doors, and I’m always up for more of that.
The strong, if too-brief first episode of “The Book of Boba Fett” promises some intriguing chapters ahead, as one of the most maddeningly under-developed characters in all of Star Wars finally gets their long overdue tribute.
Where To Watch.
“The Book of Boba Fett” is available to stream exclusively on Disney+, as are most other Star Wars movies and TV series, including “The Mandalorian”, which can be safely enjoyed at home. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 810,000 (and well over 5.3 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are also available everywhere). There is also the highly contagious Omicron variant to safeguard for as well, so please continue to mask up in public spaces for others’ sake as well as your own (N-95/KN-95 masks are optimal).
May the Force be with us all.