*****SPOILERS FOR “THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT!!*****
Like many Star Wars fans, I was looking forward to DisneyPlus’ premiere of “The Book of Boba Fett” on December 29th of last year, and while “Stranger in a Strange Land” was a decent opening chapter for the series, it didn’t exactly ignite my rocket pack. At the very least, we saw Boba canonically escaping his pathetic redshirt ‘death’ in the Sarlaac Pit (“Return of the Jedi”), thus explaining his presence in the post-Original Trilogy Star Wars universe. The next few episodes saw Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and his ally Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) depose Bib Fortuna from the head of Jabba’s old crime syndicate, and set themselves up as the new crime lords in the desert city of Mos Espa on Tatooine.
All of this was much more interesting on paper than it was in execution. The characters of this admittedly short-run series (7 chapters, ranging from 39 to 61 minutes) never quite came alive, and as a result, this otherwise well-appointed show feels dramatically inert. This failure to launch was particularly disappointing coming off the heels of critical-darling “The Mandalorian”, which was already everything Star Wars fans could’ve hoped for in a live-action Star Wars series set in the post-Original Trilogy universe.
Note: “The Mandalorian” was already a fine example of a prototypical Boba Fett series. In it, we saw a ruthless bounty-hunting Mandalorian, who’s later redeemed by his adoption of (and love for) the young foundling “Grogu”; a member of the same enigmatic species as the popular Star Wars character, Yoda.
Only a few episodes in, fan grumblings began. “The Book of Boba Fett” simply wasn’t firing on all thrusters. With by-the-numbers underworld shenanigans played with unsympathetic characters, there was no emotional ‘hook’ with which to grab audiences. Just a stoic, wooden-faced Boba and his equally stoic righthand, Fennec, going through the motions of getting their crime syndicate launched. In time-jumping “bacta tank” flashbacks (where Boba continually rejuvenates, following injuries incurred during his Sarlaac escape), we see a more interesting story of an escaped Boba befriending a tribe of Tusken Raiders (aka ‘sandpeople’), eventually earning their trust and respect. While interesting, these flashbacks weren’t enough, and more ‘muscle’ was brought in.
The 5th chapter, “Return of The Mandalorian” was essentially a third season premiere of “The Mandalorian” unsubtly woven into Boba Fett’s tapestry. At nearly an hour long, Boba Fett was nowhere to be found for the entire episode–only a cameo by Fennec at the very end reminded us that we weren’t watching “The Mandalorian.” The chapter that followed, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” featured the returns of R2-D2, Ahsoka Tano, animated Star Wars hired gun Cad Bane and Luke Skywalker (!) Boba Fett is in one scene, and he doesn’t even have any lines. Once again, the series did just fine without its titular character, but it begs the question–what exactly is “The Book of Boba Fett,” and just whose book is it, anyway?
The Boba Bunch.
In addition to costar Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand, there are a few other key allies of Boba Fett.
From Boba Fett’s bacta tank flashbacks, we see that his first allies upon his escape from the Sarlaac Pit were a local Dune Sea tribe of Tusken Raiders (the hostile desert nomads first seen in 1977’s “Star Wars”). Spending time as their prisoner, he eventually wins their trust by saving one of their young from a savage desert predator. In time, he also teaches his newfound nomadic friends how to ride stolen speeder bikes in order to defend themselves from trains of tourists who use the Tuskens for target practice. Made an honorary member of the clan, Boba leaves them briefly to retrieve his spaceship, Slave-1, which is still parked in Jabba’s palace hangar. With newfound ally Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) at his side, he retrieves the ship, only to learn that his tribesmen have been slaughtered, with planted evidence left to suggest the work of a local speeder-bike gang. Boba uses the weapons of the formidable Slave-1 to obliterate the rogue bikers later on. Only later does Boba learn the Tuskens were killed off by the Pyke Syndicate spice traders, in order to let Boba assassinate the speeder-bikers for them.
Note: Boba’s time among the Tusken Raiders in the bacta tank flashbacks are some of the better moments of the season’s first half, while the present-day story of Boba setting up his new crime syndicate is not nearly as involving.
In Chapter 3: “The Streets of Mos Espa,” Boba is approached by a local business leader (Stephen Root) regarding young, unemployed speeder-bike punks (including actors Sophie Thatcher and Jordan Bolger) who’re terrorizing the town and not paying for his (overpriced) water. In an episode that tries to establish Boba Fett as the go-to man for the city’s problems (much like Robert De Niro’s young Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II”), Fett and Fennec shrewdly assess the situation. Turns out the water dealer was price-gouging, and Boba mandates new lower prices. Boba also gives jobs to the local biker punks as hired muscle for his new gang.
The newly hired kids’ skills are soon put to use in that same episode after a deadly Wookiee assassin named Black Krrsantan (Carey Jones) is hired by the Pyke Syndicate spice traders to murder new crime-lord Boba by dragging him wet and vulnerable from his healing bacta tank. As the Wookiee proceeds to beat the tar out of Boba, the biker kids prove able allies, as does Fennec, and ultimately, the Wookiee assassin is stopped. Recognizing that such a powerful Wookiee might prove useful, Boba offers the disgraced would-be assassin a job in his organization–Krrsantan accepts. In one episode, “The Book of Boba Fett” finds its core characters.
Note: Sophie Thatcher’s mechanical-armed “Drash” and Jordan Bolger’s bionically-monocled “Skad” are the only two of the speeder bike kids who register at all as characters, and just barely as that. More successful is the bodily performance of Carey Jones as the imposing Wookiee assassin, Black Krrsantan; Jones gives the deadly Wookiee a body language that immediately differentiates him from the more benevolent Chewbacca (first played in the Original Trilogy and partly in “The Force Awakens” by the late Peter Mayhew, 1944-2019).
If “Book of Boba Fett” returns for a second book next year, I’d guess that fan favorite Marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), who first appeared in The Mandalorian Chapter 9: “The Marshal”, will return as well. A visiting Mando meets with the marshal of the newly renamed “Freetown” (formerly Mos Pelgo), figuring he’d recruit some of the Freetown locals in Boba’s fight against the Pyke Syndicate spice traders, who seek to take over the entire planet. Cobb owes Mando a favor, since the Mandalorian successfully led the effort to destroy a deadly Krayt dragon that was threatening to destroy the town.
At first, the locals of Freetown, including Cobb, want nothing to do with Mando and Boba’s gangland war. However, the Pyke Syndicate sends blue-skinned, red-eyed gunslinger Cad Bane to take care of the reluctant Cobb personally. Bane swiftly shoots Cobb (whose fate is left hanging) and proceeds to kill his deputy and several others. The message is sent loud and clear–the Pyke Syndicate will be the new power on Tatooine, and nothing will stop them. Seeing their beloved marshal and his deputy gunned down, the locals of Freetown have a change of heart…
Note: There is a post-credits coda after Chapter 7: “In the Name of Honor”, which shows Cobb Vanth recovering from his blaster wound in Boba’s bacta tank, with the same bionics-rebuilder (the one who remade Fennec into a “mod”/modified being), standing by to augment Cobb as well.
The Bad and the Ugly.
Despite the many exotic characters in its cast, “The Book of Boba Fett” seems to reinforce a somewhat xenophobic view regarding aliens. As my wife pointed out, nearly all of the bad guys in the series are non-humanoids. The only ally of Boba Fett who isn’t human is the former Wookiee assassin sent to kill him, and, of course, the slaughtered Tusken Raiders, who brutalized Boba before making him a member of their tribe. However, we don’t really know what Tuskens look like under their wrappings…they might appear humanoid as well.
The first villains we meet are the slug-like Hutt Twins sent to take over the vacancy in Jabba’s former crime empire, following Boba’s assassination of placeholder crime boss, Bib Fortuna. In Chapter 2: “The Assassin,” we see the massively obese, decadent Hutt Twins, carried by some strong, but deeply unfortunate servants on a large bowing litter. Boba stands up to the two, and makes clear that the role of Mos Espa crime boss has been filled. The Hutt Twins exchange a few parting threats before leaving … paving the way for the Big Bad of the series; the spice-trading Pyke Syndicate, which is seeking to make Tatooine a base of operations to the Outer Rim of the galaxy.
Note: Kudos on the nicely rendered CGI of the Hutt Twins, even if the characters proved little more than a distraction before the arrival of the Pyke Syndicate. The series’ visual effects are feature-film quality, and the Hutts have genuine heft to them.
Enter the Big Bads of the series; the Pyke Syndicate, led by their nameless leader, voiced by talented actor Phil LaMarr (“Pulp Fiction,” “Free Enterprise”), who quickly turns Mos Espa’s hammer-headed Ithorian Mayor (Phil Rosengrant) into little more than a powerless figurehead. While most of the fish-faced Pyke Syndicate forces on Tatooine wear full protective body armor, the leader, who sits comfortably with the mayor indoors, eschews such protection–ultimately leaving him a nice vulnerable target for Fennec Shand to take care of in the season finale (“In the Name of Honor”). Following the hard-earned victory against the Pyke Syndicate troops and droids in the streets of Mos Espa, Fennec swiftly and stealthily hangs the collaborating Ithorian mayor, before stabbing the Pyke leader in cold blood.
Less villain and more bureaucratic buffoon is the mayor’s comically duplicitous Majordomo (David Pasquesi) a character who was seen in the very first episode. After being abandoned by his fleeing boss, the Majordomo is captured by Fennec and Fett, and he now acts as their liaison to negotiate between Fett and the Pyke Syndicate. In a scene lifted right out of “The Godfather,” the loquacious Majordomo (the series’ answer to C3PO) is forced to nervously read Boba Fett’s ‘terms of surrender’ to the Pyke reresentatives–which instead orders the Pykes to leave, or there bodies will be used as fertilizer. The Majordomo character is pure comic relief, and actor David Pasquesi is never allowed to play him outside of those parameters, making him little more than a one-note character.
The villain which has generated the most buzz to date is Cad Bane (voiced by Corey Burton); a fan favorite from animated Star Wars (“The Clone Wars,” “Rebels”), who was rendered in live-action for the first time in Chapter 6: “From the Desert Comes a Stranger” (Bane being the titular stranger). With his cool blue skin, pupil-less red eyes, sharpened teeth, cheek-implanted breathing tubes, and topped off with a (literal) black hat, Cad Bane is perhaps the most striking villain seen in the Star Wars universe since Darth Maul in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. Corey Burton, returning from the animated series, voices the now older Bane as a gravely-voiced well of remorseless resolve. Bane is the perfect fusion of sci-fi & western villainy.
Guest Star Wars.
Some very familiar faces returned from all corners of the Star Wars universe to shore up this sagging series in its inaugural season.
Mos Eisley Docking Bay 35 yardmaster Peli Motto, as played by comedian Amy Sedaris, also returned to “The Book of Boba Fett,” most memorably in Chapter 5: “The Return of The Mandalorian,” where she prepares a rebuilt Naboo-1 starfighter for her favorite client, Mando. She also returns in Chapter 7: “In the Name of Honor,” where she reunites Mando with the returning Grogu. I realize that Amy Sedaris’ lovable but shady con artist/mechanic Peli Motto is a fan favorite, but I find her a bit annoying, to be honest. The character’s humor is a bit too broad at times. She reminds me of one of those oh-so zany characters from the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special.” I half-expect to see her making deals with Art Carney’s Saun Dann or Bea Arthur’s cantina owner. Being based on Tatooine (Motto’s never been off-world), it makes sense for Peli to turn up in Boba Fett’s backyard, but I’d be okay with seeing less of the character going forward.
The most surprising return in “The Book of Boba Fett” is Jedi Master Luke Skywalker himself–once again brought to life by a fusion of Mark Hamill’s digitally de-aged face and voice deepfaked onto the bodily performance of actor Max Lloyd Jones. In Chapter 6: “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” we see Mando going off to visit Grogu at the informal Jedi Academy (still under construction), and deliver his gift of a Beskar-chain mail vest to the toddler. Mando is met with resistance by R2-D2 and a visiting Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), whom Mando met previously in The Mandalorian, Chapter 13: “The Jedi”.
Note: Unlike the decidedly mixed results we saw in The Mandalorian, Chapter 16: “The Rescue”, the process of bringing Luke Skywalker back to his post-“Return of the Jedi” look has since been refined to appear indistinguishable from a regular live-action performance. Even outdoors in broad daylight, Luke Skywalker looked and sounded so perfectly natural that I was easily able to forget that I was watching a fusion of multiple techniques to bring this character back into his thirty-something prime.
Ahsoka is concerned that Grogu’s deep attachment to Mando will only hinder the young Jedi trainee’s progress, as his teacher Luke is having a difficult time motivating the traumatized child to summon his force abilities. Grogu clearly understands what Luke wishes of him, but he lacks the will. Seeing Mando’s ship depart during his training, Grogu reaches out to the N-1 starfighter–almost as if force-willing it to return. Luke is given Mando’s chain mail gift by Ahsoka later on. Realizing Grogu’s heart is just not in his training, Luke offers his would-be pupil a choice; take up the late Master Yoda’s lightsaber and continue his Jedi disciplines, or accept the gift and return to his adoptive father, Mando…
Note: Other than share a few scenes with Luke and Mando, Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka Tano doesn’t have a lot to do in Chapter 6, yet Dawson imbues her with such gravitas that she feels important, nevertheless. To those who are disappointed with Ahsoka’s somewhat brief appearance in the episode? Don’t worry. Dawson’s Ahsoka Tano is supposed to be returning for her own series soon as well. Rumor has it that Hayden Christensen will also reprise his role of Anakin Skywalker, her former Master and Luke’s father; both in her series, and the upcoming “Kenobi” miniseries.
For Grogu, the choice is made–he accepts Mando’s gift and returns in Luke’s X-wing fighter (under R2-D2’s piloting) to Docking Bay 35 at Mos Eisley on Tatooine to reunite with Peli Motto, who later reunites him with his ‘dad’ Mando during the heated turf war in the streets of Mos Espa between Boba’s band and the Pyke Syndicate (Chapter 7: “In the Name of Honor”). Grogu proves invaluable yet again when he uses the force to help disable one of the “Scorpenek” annihilator droids, and to help pacify a rampaging Rancor that Boba rode in on to save the city.
Once again, Grogu saves the day.
Note: By its unique markings, the X-wing seen in Chapter 7 is supposed to be the original X-wing fighter that Luke flew to destroy the Death Star, crash-land at Dagobah, and onward to Cloud City to confront Darth Vader. It’s also the same X-wing we later see submerged in “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, and used by Rey to confront Palpatine in “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” However, that particular X-wing was abandoned by Luke on Cloud City after he lost his hand in battle with Darth Vader, forcing him to be rescued by Leia and Lando aboard the Millennium Falcon. How did Luke get that X-wing back after Cloud City fell under Imperial occupation? We see he has the ship back in “Return of the Jedi”, but I’ve always wondered exactly how he was able to retrieve it. I’m sure there are at least 37 books and graphic novels with that very answer…
Given the reunion of Mando with Grogu, we just knew the force-wielding toddler was going to save the day somehow, but rather than simply kill or disable the enemy troops (as we saw him do aboard Moff Gideon’s ship in “The Tragedy”), the green tyke chooses to relax the enraged Rancor instead–a more Jedi-appropriate use of his powers. So, with Grogu waiting in the wings as the finale’s ringer, it was up to Mando, Boba, Fennec, the bikers and the folks of nearby Freetown to save the day.
In the final installment, director Robert Rodriguez stages a whiz-bang mindless action movie of a finale that feels more like Michael Bay than Star Wars. Yes, the action is competently crafted, but it goes on and on and on, for what feels like three hours. We see wave after wave of Pyke Syndicate troops, Pyke insurgents, Freetown reinforcements, “Annihilator droids,” and finally a rampaging Rancor beast that Mando loses control of, after his duel with Cad Bane. The street battle is a stuffed-crust pizza wrapped around a triple decker hamburger served with bottomless fries and a pitcher of beer– too much. Sensory overload, but little resonance.
Like Lord of the Rings’ “Return of the King,” there are maybe four or five climaxes within this 61 minute story, and even watching it at home on a 7 ft. screen in Bose sound, I was yawning. My Star Wars-loving wife was bored, too. Action in itself isn’t exciting; it’s action that puts characters we care about in jeopardy that’s exciting. I don’t feel even remotely invested in any of Boba Fett’s core characters yet. In fact, I had to look up the names of the speed-biker characters for this column. Yes, I’m invested with Mando and Grogu, of course, but since both characters are coming back for a third season of “Mandalorian,” there was never any danger of killing them off.
Note: Director Robert Rodriguez is a capable conductor of action, but he also tends to be repetitive sometimes. The exhausting Mos Espa siege sequence feels like no one was home in the editing suite during postproduction of “In the Name of Honor,” resulting in a tiresome parade of CGI fireworks that goes on far too long. Even the most sugar-amped kid might feel a bit drowsy by the end of it.
Near the end, Boba Fett ‘kills’ Cad Bane, but as my wife pointed out, Bane’s chest monitor was still beeping, so clearly he’s coming back. The post-credits coda of “In the Name of Honor” also shows gunned-down Marshall Cobb Vanth using Boba’s bacta tank to recover from his seemingly fatal shootout with Cad Bane in “From the Desert Comes a Stranger.” This means that no essential characters died in the big finale of “The Book of Boba Fett”–even guest characters like Cobb and Bane are still hanging in there. I understand this is intended to be a family series, but even a good family series should know when to kill off the pet dog for some necessary drama. Good drama requires not just conflict, but also high stakes, especially in the streaming age, where core characters are sometimes killed off without warning.
Note: Chapter 7’s post-credits coda scene with Cobb Vanth in Boba’s bacta tank also suggests that he is about to be bionically-augmented too; like Fennec and the bikers, so… okay, so we’re getting another bionic character. I guess three or four of them weren’t enough?
So if the series doesn’t engage in high-stakes action, how about adding a bit of fire to the characters? We see Boba and Fennec enjoying a crime boss/lieutenant relationship, but is that all they are to each other? Two badasses who are loyal to each other for… reasons? Boba saved a dying Fennec in the desert (The Mandalorian, Chapter 14: “The Tragedy”) but why exactly? I mean, let’s get real; Ming-Na Wen is a very attractive lady, so is it possible that Boba might be attracted to her? As they are now, they’re just a pair of perfectly platonic, but dull characters. Maybe a spark of romance might be just the ticket to get the audience invested in them as people, and not just business partners. I’m not saying male/female characters can’t be platonic (I have many women friends), but in this case, there’s nothing holding them back from a relationship, so why not? It might also be refreshing to see a pair of over-50 actors engaging in a romantic relationship. Romance is not just for youngsters, after all…
Note: In Chapter 4, “The Gathering Storm,” we see Boba taking Fennec’s near-lifeless body to the Mos Espa ‘body shop’ to get repaired. She was essentially taken against her will and made into a cyborg without her consent–yet she seems surprisingly chill with the idea. Personally, I’d have liked to have Fennec show more of the natural resentment which should’ve arisen from having her body violated, mutilated and surgically altered without her consent.
The final scene (pre-coda) of Chapter 7 sees Mando and adopted foundling Grogu reunited and rocketing off to the stars together in Mando’s customized N-1 starfighter. Grogu is seated in an enclosed astromech-droid dome, tapping insistently at the dome window for daddy to go faster. Daddy Mando obliges. It’s a warm, adorably relatable scene between father and son which exemplifies what is sorely missing from the core characters of “The Book of Boba Fett”–a heart.
With seven episodes in its first season, and at least three of them relying on heavy support from Mando, Grogu, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, Ahsoka Tano and the villainous Cad Bane, it’s clear that this series needs a lot of crutches. Its core of characters, who come together as a unit only at the near end of the final chapter, aren’t compelling enough to stand on their own (with the possible exception of Sophie Thatcher’s “Drash”). They’re a group of ciphers–unreadable enigmas, lacking in personality or anything else beyond costumes, cybernetic implants, etc. As the ‘star’ of the show, Temuera Morrison has unfortunately demonstrated that Boba Fett can be MIA for his own series and not be terribly missed. Boba Fett only proves that perhaps he is still just an ancillary character, even in his own series. So where does that leave “The Book of Boba Fett”? To be honest, I’d be okay with Chapter 7 being the final chapter of this particular book. The former badass bounty hunter has gone legit–he’s now mayor of a Tatooine city. The End.
With that out of the way, this series does prove that there might be a healthy market for a new Star Wars anthology series–a freeform show focusing on different corners of the Star Wars universe every week. One week could see Master Luke’s early days at his newfound Jedi Academy. Another could be a comical episode involving the Jawas. Maybe we could see Donald Glover’s lovable Lando Calrissian winning the keys to Cloud City. There are infinite possibilities. Star Wars has many intriguing avenues for potential side-stories, but not every one of them has to become a full series. Just an hour or two here and there could be enough to tell some of those tales, as we see with the forthcoming “Kenobi” already being planned as a ‘limited series’ event (what we used to call a miniseries back in the day).
Note: Even a short story spent with guest star Danny Trejo‘s Rancor trainer (Chapter 3: “The Streets of Mos Espa”) could make for an interesting standalone segment.
At the end of the day, “The Book of Boba Fett” is a handsomely produced (though sometimes flatly directed) series, with high production value and a lot of talent to spare. With a great title theme by Ludwig Göransson (arguably more original than his Rocky-like theme for “The Mandalorian”), movie-quality visual effects and gorgeous production art adorning the end title credits, a second season of “Book of Boba Fett” will really need to shore up its stable of characters to become as special as “The Mandalorian.”
If they don’t retool this show into a freeform Star Wars anthology, then Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and Robert Rodriguez need to give viewers compelling reasons to invest our emotions in this group of characters they’ve presented to us–a reason beyond Star WarsTM brand-name recognition.
DisneyPlus’ gamble with “The Mandalorian” hit a jackpot with audiences, but “The Book of Boba Fett” has made it clear that luck has its limits.
Where To Watch/Be Safe.
“The Book of Boba Fett” and “The Mandalorian” are, of course, available for streaming on DisneyPlus, as are most of the Star Wars movies and animated TV series. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 915,000 (and over 5.7 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks (N-95/KN-95 masks are optimal), practice safe-distancing and get vaccinated as soon as possible to minimize infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are available everywhere).
Take care and mask up. This is the way…