Lost on Tatooine: The Book of Boba Fett (2021)

Imagine a series, a spin-off, whose protagonist is a character that originated in a film more than 40 years ago. He is a fan favourite because he has a certain mystique and, let’s face it, he looks cool. Imagine that series stripping this protagonist of his mystique (and, for much of the running time, his iconic outfit) by taking away pretty much every characteristic they had. And now imagine the series dumping its protagonist halfway through in favour of another character from another series that himself was clearly inspired by the original character.

Yes, I know how that sounds. Convoluted and nonsensical barely begins to cover it. Still, that’s pretty much what happened with The Book of Boba Fett, the most recent addition to the Star Wars canon. What’s going on here? Were they playing with our expectations? Was the series supposed to be subversive? Was COVID-19 to blame for this mess?

Or did The Book of Boba Fett simply turn out to be one of the most inept instances of storytelling in the franchise – rivalling the manifold issues that The Rise of Skywalker suffered from?

There’s been a lot of discussion about the mess that is The Book of Boba Fett‘s plotting, and there have also been plenty of articles about how the series’ Achilles heel is its dedication to the kind of fan service that borders on pandering (and arguably it crosses that border more than once). Both of these things are true – but for me, they don’t get at the heart of what plagues the series most, and that’s how it seems to be suffering from a severe case of split personality. It tries to do several things at once that are all at cross-purposes with one another. It tries to fill in the blanks left by a character that captured the fans’ imagination exactly because he was a blank, albeit one with a cool suit. It tries to play into the idea of Boba Fett as a grizzled badass that The Mandalorian peddled (not one of its brightest moments, as far as I’m concerned), yet if The Book of Boba Fett is anything to go by, Fett is really not very good at being a badass. The series gives him a conscience, or at least something like a moral compass, but it remains vague and unconvincing about what brings this on or what it consists of.

Seriously, did the people who saw The Empire Strikes Back and thought that the bounty hunter who caught Han Solo for Jabba the Hutt want him to become one of the good guys? Did they envisage a Dances with Wolves – in Space! storyline for him, or did they want him to try and tame the criminal underworld on everyone’s overusedfavourite desert planet Tatooine? To begin with, The Book of Boba Fett seems to have only a vague idea of what people liked about the character (or what they projected onto him, seeing how much of a blank he really was), and an even vaguer idea of who they want him to be. The big problem here is that we already got everything that people liked about Boba Fett, everything that they projected onto him, with The Mandalorian: a laconic, lone wolf bounty hunter of dubious morality, at least to begin with, who wears a cool set of armour. That series took the Boba Fett template as its starting point and built it into something more varied and interesting. So, if The Mandalorian is pretty much The Boba Fett Show, just without actual Boba Fett, what do people want from an actual Boba Fett show? How would it be different from The Mandalorian?

While the writers seemed to know that The Book of Boba Fett couldn’t just be The Other Mandalorian, they certainly don’t seem to have had an idea of what to make Fett instead. We get glimpses of various different versions of the character: the grizzled veteran, the wannabe godfather, the fish out of water, the man out of his depth. But all of these feel like Jon Favreau and his collaborators throwing space spaghetti at the X-Wing cockpit (Star Wars loves its space idioms… but somehow they’re not as much fun to write as I thought they would be), without any of them sticking. None of these versions of Boba Fett are developed into anything particularly compelling, none are really built on as the series progresses. What we’re left with instead is an old man, a has-been, who doesn’t seem particularly good at what he does – which might not be what fans want, but it could have been interesting. Is The Book of Boba Fett trying to take a hint from The Last Jedi and deconstruct a character that basically comes down to a cool outfit, a snarky retort to Darth Vader and decades and decades of fan projection?

Except the series doesn’t bear this out either. For one thing, there’s nothing here tonally that suggests The Book of Boba Fett is trying to be subversive. The look, sound and feel of the series is firmly aimed somewhere in between epic space opera and pulpy spaghetti western. There is no evidence of irony or critique, other than the series and its main character being bad at what they do. We’re supposed to root for Fett, we’re supposed to share his goals. It’s just that how he goes about achieving them makes little sense. More than that, though: if The Book of Boba Fett had been meant in a similarly subversive vein as The Last Jedi, would it have turned into The Mandalorian Season 2.5 halfway through? Perhaps the makers of the series wanted to tell fans: beware what you wish for – but this would seem to be a rather expensive way to deliver a fairly banal message.

From what I’ve seen online, many viewers breathed a sigh of relief when everyone’s favourite Mandalorian turned up in The Book of Boba Fett, and certainly the series does pick up and become more enjoyable on a moment-to-moment basis once he does – but there is something deeply odd about how he, and other characters from The Mandalorian, basically take over the series from that point onwards. Din Djarin brings an energy with him that Boba lacks, and he pulls off the space western better than the character that inspired Disney to create him, but it leaves me to wonder why Disney didn’t just conceive of this as the next season of The Mandalorian instead. Boba Fett could still have been a supporting character, seeing how he was reintroduced in The Mandalorian to begin with.

Which highlights another problem: not only is The Book of Boba Fett only barely interested in telling a story about Boba Fett, and not only is it not very good at being a story about Fett, it increasingly becomes a delivery service for pandering fan service of a sort that feels more and more desperate. It’s as if the audience is spoken to directly: Here’s that guy you found so fascinating in The Empire Strikes Back! Don’t you like him? You don’t? Well… well… here’s the guy you liked so much that was closely based on the guy you liked in The Empire Strikes Back! That’s better, isn’t it? And if you’re still not happy, well, here’s this other guy from the films you initially liked! And here’s the cute puppet you loved! Yes, we know that he left at the end of that other series, but we’re giving you what you like! And if we get it wrong, we’ll give you something else you like instead! We must get it right eventually, right?

Fan service doesn’t automatically result in bad storytelling, but in the case of The Book of Boba Fett that fan service is both the reason why the series exists in the first place and an indication of a fundamental lack of confidence in the story that’s being told. It ends up turning The Book of Boba Fett into a series of moments amounting to “Remember this guy? You like him, right?” The moments where the series tries to stand on its own two feet largely fall flat, and the moments where they bring in the Star Wars cavalry of fan-favourite characters reek of desperation – and all of this within the space of seven episodes.

The Book of Boba Fett leaves me with so many questions. Why did they want to bring back Boba Fett if they didn’t have a good idea of what to do with him? Why did they have their creative crisis of confidence halfway through the series, and wouldn’t the warning signs already have been there from the start? Was there a mandate from up on high at Disney, saying that there’d be this many spinoffs in this short a period, because the fans’ll lap it up regardless of the quality? There are no good answers to any of this – and who knows, perhaps there are enough fans among the audience who will cheer at anything that looks and sounds like Star Wars, never mind the quality. But The Book of Boba Fett seems to be a vision of what an industrial-strength, planet-sized franchise turns into when the mandate to churn out content far outruns any creative ideas that the people involved might have. And if that’s what will eventually happen to these IP behemoths, then perhaps, like Fett, they should be left in the stomach of a desert monster to be digested over the next few centuries. It would still be the more merciful death.

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