TV Review: The Book of Boba Fett

Set to go down in television history as one of the most bizarre misfires in the streaming era, The Book of Boba Fett is both simultaneously absolutely fascinating and profoundly dull.

That is quite some trick from the creative forces within the Disney Star Wars family, who since LucasFilm was bought out in 2012 and the biggest science-fiction franchise in history was revived as one of the dominant multimedia IP’s, have presided over a distinctly mixed bag of content. For every The Force Awakens, you end up with what previously might have been termed a Rise of Skywalker, and from now on could well be designated as a Book of Boba Fett.

Quite how they managed to so staggeringly get this wrong is perhaps the biggest mystery about the whole project. It was steered by Jon Favreau, the primary mastermind behind The Mandalorian which, despite the flaws that show does have, is probably outside of The Last Jedi the most broadly critically acclaimed piece of modern Star Wars that we’ve seen produced, which has managed to seep into popular geek culture relatively swiftly. Star Wars stalwarts such as Dave Filoni are involved. Seasoned directors such as Robert Rodriguez. All of the creative building blocks are in place.

This is without even mentioning that the show is about Boba Fett. Is there, outside of Darth Vader, a masked character in pop culture history, certainly in the Star Wars universe, who has been so mythologised in the last 40+ years? So how, exactly, has his first significant dramatic storyline been so utterly, completely botched?

Let’s track back for a second because The Book of Boba Fett is the end result of many years toil attempting to give Star Wars’ most enigmatic character his own spell in the sun.

There is an alternate universe in which Josh Trank directs a Boba Fett movie around 2016/2017 at a point, amidst the sequel Skywalker trilogy, Disney were moving to try and replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by giving characters and situations within the classic Star Wars we knew their own ‘anthology’ pictures. Hence Rogue One (very good) and later Solo (not very good), the box office disappointment of which put paid to the continued big screen plans for such efforts as a Boba movie (while Trank’s career infamously torched itself after the failure of his (awful) gritty Fantastic Four reboot). Disney pivoted to The Mandalorian and the rest is history.

Arguably, without The Mandalorian being the success it was, we would never have been gifted The Book of Boba Fett, which begins life as a logical spin-off to that series after Boba (played by Temuera Morrison, as was his clone father Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones) popped up in The Mandalorian’s second season. That makes sense. You give fans a hugely well-known and important Star Wars character in one series and set him up for his own adventures in another. That’s been a recognised narrative technique of networks and production houses for decades now. Often, too, it can provide dividends; Frasier is arguably a better show than Cheers, and that’s just one example.

So far then, so logical. The end credits of The Mandalorian’s last season establish Boba as the new Jabba the Hutt of Tatooine, taking over the palace immortalised in Return of the Jedi, and looking to cement control over the hive of scum and villainy. Boba is, after all, not the noble heir to a prophesied throne as Djn ‘Mando’ Djarin is turning out to be. He is, and always has been, a bounty hunter. A killer. The cloned son of another assassin. The guy who delivered Han Solo, frozen in carbonite, from space Hitler himself—Darth Vader—to space Corleone, Jabba. 

Boba is not meant to be a crusading hero, not necessarily even an anti-hero. Establishing him as the new crime boss of a planet ruled by gangsters was a potentially exciting move that could have provided a show with a different texture and tone to The Mandalorian, or anything we’d seen before, especially given it largely remains land locked on Tatooine, arguably the best known and most iconic landscape in Star Wars history.

Sadly, that is not what we get from The Book of Boba Fett

We have what can only be considered an aberration. To the series’ credit, there is possibly no precedent for the creative choices TBOBF makes across the seven episodes here. What begins as a logical continuation of Boba’s appearance in The Mandalorian, plus discovering how he escaped from the legendary Sarlacc Pit which supposedly killed him in Return of the Jedi, first front-loads much of the storytelling with long, sometimes episode-long—as in episode 4, The Gathering Storm—flashbacks to establish Boba’s relationship with cohort Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) or with the Tusken Raiders, and eventually gives up the ghost completely and does something rather extraordinary.

It stops being a show about Boba Fett.

The fifth and sixth episodes of the series are, unequivocally, what we would have expected from Season 3 of The Mandalorian.

Across these two episodes, Boba appears in one scene for a matter of seconds and says nothing. The episodes entirely shift into the rhythm and style of The Mandalorian, which itself is not the biggest stretch given TBOBF in tone ended up aligning with that show almost perfectly – even down to a near identical score. These two episodes resolve dangling threads from the previous season of The Mandalorian, with barely any established characters from TBOBF. It is remarkable to watch and is without parallel, to see the protagonist of a spin-off show be totally and without explanation subsumed by another character and an entirely different series.

The only way this can possibly be explained is if we consider Disney & the Star Wars production team as viewing both of these series as, essentially, the same entity. Not various aspects in a franchise but the exact same show simply branched off. An example of the former will likely be Obi-Wan Kenobi, arriving in May and while at least partly set on Tatooine will potentially provide a different tone & structure thanks to an alternate writing team. The Mandalorian & TBOBGF are, in theory here, the same show. The differences in storytelling are secondary to the tonal and thematic similarities that the writers believe, in this context, give them license to embed one show into the other, as they do here.

Even if we charitably frame the choices of TBOBF in this context, we end up with the same problem: a vacuum in place of what we consider consistent, emotionally resonant storytelling. This is not to say moments in Boba don’t work. There are a few engaging set pieces, particularly the sequence in which Boba steals his old, rather iconic bounty ship and chases down the brigands he believes responsible for the murder of the Tusken’s who nursed him back to health. The finale, too, while at points preposterous, embraces the neo-Western aspects of Star Wars storytelling and plays up to the concept, allowing fab favourite villains such as Cad Bane to chew some scenery.

What TBOBF lacks, however, in its entirety, is a satisfying narrative through-line for the guy we’ve turned up to see.

Most fans will probably agree that the most entertaining and well produced episodes of the season are the penultimate two, in which the show both becomes The Mandalorian and reintroduces Luke Skywalker for his most protracted spell of screen time outside of The Last Jedi in the modern Star Wars era; a more appropriate name for that episode might have been ‘Refer to the Jedi’. When the series deigns to actually be about Boba, the shortcomings of trying to build a series around a taciturn clone killer become all too apparent. It isn’t necessarily that Morrison is a bad actor, he is simply given nothing to work with. Nor does it help that Boba Fett works better whenever he is in the legendary costume. The moment Favreau and the writers attempt to give Boba any kind of dramatic weight, it dies on the table.

Let’s be honest: The Mandalorian was a response originally to both the failure to produce the Boba Fett movie and indeed the long gestated George Lucas-era idea for a murkier Star Wars series that embraced the Western and Japanese saga archetypes embedded in his space fantasy. The key to this, in the best Spaghetti Western fashion, was to make your hero a silent enigma. Mando has only ever removed his helmet and shown Pedro Pascal at key moments, and even then there remains debate amongst fans whether he should have done at all.

Boba Fett is a hard beast to depict because he’s iconic precisely because he wasn’t characterised. The myth of Boba was eternally more intriguing than the reality, and TBOBF tries to have its cake and eat it in this regard to an extent. The result ends up being a dearth of dramatic impetus and simply an ongoing succession of dull conversations with all kinds of silly aliens, little tension, almost no plot direction and a heavy reliance on sketching in backstory to cover up the abject lack of story.

What frustrates is that there were several possible directions TBOBF could have taken across this season, given the set up. You might be forgiven for imagining Favreau was intending, outside of the natural gangster movie or Western tropes, to tell a quasi-Biblical story with Boba here. After all, he is literally swallowed by Hell, pulled from the pit, and is reborn into a new person – or theoretically. While on the one hand it was a wise move not to try and reconceptualise a character who audiences have strong preconceptions of, on the other if we aren’t here to see the evolution of Boba Fett, then why exactly are we here? The show never quite escapes this question as it becomes an exercise in expensive, high concept fan fiction to a degree we haven’t previously seen Star Wars deliver.

This isn’t meant as a slight on fan fiction. I used to write scripted fan fiction many moons ago. Yet the most self-aware fanfic writers would concede that most fan fiction is designed to fill in gaps that franchises otherwise leave to the imagination, or simply ignore. Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was especially infamous for this in how it attempts to provide a backstory for Star Trek’s initial pilot, The Cage, that nobody ever truly needed.

Even that show, however, was not as perniciously ‘made for IP’ as TBOBF. Everything about this series feels like it was designed to cater both to hardcore Star Wars fans and those who simply wished to see numerous fan favourite characters revived and set, largely, in amber. Hence we see Ahsoka Tano (reminding us of a character set to get her own Disney+ show soon). Hence we see Grogu, aka Baby Yoda (arguably the most breakout Star Wars character since BB-8). Hence we see Luke training Grogu as he was trained by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.

All of this might be palatable if there was any instinctive sense of Boba Fett’s centricity or genuine character development but this is entirely absent, especially in the final third of what is already a short season. There is no cathartic sense of evolution or closure. There is no definitive, independent style or tone. There is little even in the way of memorable Star Wars moments, fewer even than The Mandalorian – the character, incidentally, who gets the actual ongoing character development when the show morphs suddenly back into his.

The Book of Boba Fett is beyond even an experiment. It should be a bellweather for future writers and producers – not because it is offensive or even offensively poor in construction, but rather because it takes us all for granted. It assumes we will accept anything on screen in the Star Wars universe simply because it is the Star Wars universe. We should hope for better.

Maybe Boba should have stayed in the pit.

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