This discussion and review contains some spoilers for Episode 1 of Boba Fett’s book, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, on Disney +.
It is to the honor of Boba Fett’s book that the show understands that it needs to do more than just reintroduce the character of Boba Fett (Temura Morrison) – it needs to reinvent him.
Pre-sold as an articulated figurine and first at a county fair, Boba Fett was a prominent figure even before appearing in The Empire Strikes Back. However, the character’s later appearances in Return of the Jedi and Attack of the Clones made it clear that the bounty hunter’s popularity among fans was inversely proportional to his on-screen abilities. Boba Fett looked cool but was totally useless, one joke an insider noticed was “typical of the black sense of humor (of George Lucas).”
Fett has enjoyed a rich and varied life in various Star wars spin off. There have been comic books and books written about the bounty hunter, many rewriting the character’s disappearance in Return of the Jedi. Still, adapting the character to star in his own Disney + series was always going to be a challenge. This is especially true given that much of its iconography was already linked to The Mandalorian, to the point that previous observers have speculated it might secretly be a Boba Fett show.
Although the first season of The Mandalorian was relatively light on the cross-promotion of the franchise, the second season leaned heavily on the Star wars cannon. He’s brought in characters like Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in live action. He also resurrected the character of Boba Fett, with an appearance by Morrison closing the season premiere. Fett is the first of these characters to see a live-action spin-off hit the air.
Appropriately, Boba Fett’s book begins with a series of interlocking rebirths for the bounty hunter. The current story begins and ends with Fett floating in a bacta tank, a medical device designed to aid recovery; it was used by both Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in previous films. As Fett recovers, he dreams. He is brought back to another rebirth, as he makes his way out of the Sarlacc at the end of Return of the Jedi, gushing out of the sand.
While “Stranger in a Strange Land” incorporates shots from earlier films like Attack of the Clones, this emergence from the sand in the desert looks like a new beginning for the bounty hunter. The ruins of Jabba’s pleasure craft are scorched in the sand. Exhausted from the ordeal of forcing his way out of Sarlacc’s belly and into the world, Fett collapses. He is attacked by Jawas who strip his iconic armor and jetpack. Fett is no longer the man he once was.
To be fair, the characterization of Fett in movies like Return of the Jedi and Attack of the Clones was quite thin. As such, nothing “Stranger in a Strange Land” does with the character feels like a rewrite; so little is known who Boba Fett is under the armor that he’s pretty much a blank slate. Writer Jon Favreau is crafty enough to take advantage of this void and thus reconfigures Boba Fett as the kind of protagonist who can direct a family-friendly Disney + streaming show.
As featured, Boba Fett was a villain. The promotional material for his original figure promised children a “new villainous villain in Star wars Galaxy.” Fett was employed by the notorious and monstrous gangster Jabba the Hutt, attending court where slave dancers were regularly fed on Jabba’s resentment. Fett didn’t seem particularly conflicted about it, eagerly hunting down Han Solo (Harrison Ford) for Jabba. At best, Fett seemed pragmatic and detached.
Much of the publicity surrounding the show suggested that Boba Fett’s book could have a clearer advantage than some recent ones Star wars media. Morrison boasted that Fett was “Hard and raw. “ Her co-star Ming-Na Wen argued that the show “Has a rawness to it. “ It is interesting to imagine a version of Star wars about the kind of person it would take to survive in the “miserable hive of scum and wickedness” that is the galaxy’s underworld, like a Star wars riff on breaking Bad Where The Godfather.
Of course, it’s possible that crime stories like these feature sympathetic protagonists who aren’t explicitly heroic. In breaking BadWalter White (Bryan Cranston) is a terrible, flawed human being, but much of the show’s tension comes from audiences wanting to root for him. In the Godfather films, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) gradually poisons everything around him and drives out everything he loves, but he remains convincing.
For better or for worse, or maybe just inevitably, Boba Fett’s book is not that show. Boba Fett is not an anti-hero. “Stranger in a Strange Land” almost immediately repositioned Fett as an openly selfless and heroic figure. When Fett is captured by the Tusken Raiders, he immediately begins planning to escape. However, he also offers to help another captive. “Do you want me to cut your ties? He asks, a selfless gesture that backfires when this captive immediately sounds the alarm.
It would appear that Fett’s experiences with the Tusken Raiders did not temper the character’s humanism or compassion. It’s clear from the start that Fett won’t use the same methods as Jabba to control the underworld of Tatooine. As Fennec Shand (Wen) urges him to accept the savage brutality with which the locals do business, Fett insists, “Jabba reigned in fear. I intend to govern with respect. There is a strong sense of nobility in Fett, even as he seeks to control a large criminal enterprise.
At the start of the episode, droid 8D8 (Matt Berry) reports that troops have captured two guards loyal to Fett’s predecessor, Bib Fortuna (Matthew Wood). 8D8 suggests torturing and executing the two guards as a show of force. “I don’t torture,” Fett insists. Instead, he spares the lives of the two soldiers and allows them to swear loyalty to him. Naturally, this beneficence is rewarded when these same two soldiers heroically save Fett in an ambush attempt at the climax.
There is a potentially interesting idea simmering below the surface of Boba Fett’s book, the one that connects the flashback sequences to the current plot of “Stranger in a Strange Land”. In Fett’s dealings with the Tusken Raiders and in his handling of his cartel, the episode tackles the question of what it means to be a civilized person in an uncivilized world, and whether it is possible for a decent person to s ‘thrive in an environment that rewards savagery and brutality.
Like with The Mandalorian, Favreau clearly brings his appreciation and affection for New Hollywood and science fiction pulp to Boba Fett’s book. Boba’s time flashback story with Tuskens matches Favreau’s recurring fascination with the Tuskens in The Mandalorian, and it looks like a play with the kind of ‘boyish’ hero adventures accepted by native tribes – the kind of stories deconstructed by Dune.
Likewise, the show’s obvious debt to The Godfather feels of one piece with Favreau’s constant invocation of other classic New Hollywood movies like Jaws and Wizard during the second season of The Mandalorian. Like a lot of really tall people Star wars, Favreau’s work on the franchise works best when he’s ready to look beyond Star wars himself for inspiration. It will be interesting to see how Favreau develops these influences in the weeks to come.
There are many compelling ways that this story can develop, and it certainly represents a fresh start for an icon (if underdeveloped) Star wars personage. Boba Fett’s book wisely opened by treating his protagonist like a blank page.