Star Wars reviews: The Book of Boba Fett

The Book of Boba Fett has come to its conclusion, so I’m going to take a general overview of the seven episode Star Wars series that streamed on Disney+.

As I’ve previously blogged, I’ve been a Star Wars fan since my father took me to see The Empire Strikes Back for my fourth birthday.  Truthfully, I never really understood the appeal of Boba Fett, who made his debut in that movie. Yeah, he looks cool, but he doesn’t actually do much.  He gives Vader some attitude, he then figures out where the Millennium Falcon is hiding and tracks it to Bespin, he takes a few shots at Luke in Cloud City, and he gets away with Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Then in Return of the Jedi he manages to hold his own against Luke Skywalker for a bit before Han accidentally knocks him into the Sarlaac. And that’s it.

If I had been born just a few years earlier I would have understood that Boba Fett had actually made his debut two years prior to The Empire Strikes Back, appearing in a lot of pre-publicity material, featuring as the antagonist in the animated segment from the Star Wars Holiday Special, and being available as a mail-order action figure.  For fans who were older than me it must have felt like Boba Fett was a big deal, and I expect a lot of them built him up to be this incredible figure in their heads long before they ever saw The Empire Strikes Back.

But for myself, having only his two movie appearances to go by, I just didn’t think Boba Fett was anything special.  I must have been one of the few fans who was happy when he was dropped into the Sarlac Pit. And it constantly mystified me how over the next two decades the novels and the comic books kept bringing him back, and offering him up as a hugely important, badass character, and how much other fans absolutely ate it up.

Fast forward to 2020 when Boba Fett was brought back from the dead in The Mandalorian; he shows up in the episode “The Tragedy” and single-handedly defeated a platoon of Stormtroopers, and I was thinking to myself “Well, that’s certainly cool, but he was never anywhere near as competent or dangerous as this in the movies.” It felt like director Robert Rodriguez was literally playing with his Star Wars action figures and giving us the Boba Fett that he’d always wanted to see, rather than the one who already existed.

So when it was then revealed in the mid-credits scene in The Mandalorian season two finale that Fett would be getting his own Disney + series, my immediate reaction was “Why?”  Honestly, I just didn’t think the character was strong enough or interesting enough to carry his own series.

Having watched The Book of Boba Fett, I actually still sort of feel that way. I don’t think it’s accidental that Jon Favreau & Dave Filoni made the series an ensemble piece. Fett works a lot better with the characters of Fennec Shand and Din Djarin / Mando to bounce off of.  Certainly it helps that Fett is played by Temura Morrison, who has an awesome voice, and who gives the character a brooding intensity while nevertheless exuding a certain type of vulnerability. Additionally Ming-Na Wen and Pedro Pascal are both very good actors who help to carry the story.

So, yeah, I do have to say that The Book of Boba Fett is nevertheless the first time I’ve ever been genuinely interested in the character.  A major part of this is that the series takes Boba Fett out of the “badass bounty hunter” niche and broadens him.

After barely escaping from the Saarlac, in a scene that reminded me of Star Wars #81 from Marvel Comics, Fett is mugged by a gang of Jawas who strip him of his armor and who leave him for dead out in the brutal Tatooine desert. Fett is eventually “rescued” by a tribe of Tuskens, who make him their slave, but after he defeats a four-armed monstrosity in the desert, the Sand People recognize his strength & bravery and adopt him into their tribe.

This guy has no luck with Jawas! Star Wars #81 written by Jo Duffy, layouts by Ron Frenz, finishes by Tom Palmer & Tom Mandrake, lettered by Joe Rosen and colored by Glynis Wein, published by Marvel Comics in December 1983.

A few thoughts on this:

Chronologically Fett is supposed to be in his early 40s at this point. Temura Morrison is 61 years old. Having Fett living out in the harsh deserts of Tatooine for half a decade is a good way to explain why the guy now looks much older than he actually is. Tatooine seems to prematurely age a lot of people. Just ask Obi Wan Kenobi, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.

Following on from The Mandalorian, this series does a good job at developing the Tuskens, the original inhabitants of Tatooine, beyond just brutal savages. It’s explained that in the distant past Tatooine was actually a world covered in water, and that after a catastrophic climate change the Tuskens were forced to adapt to their new, harsh environment, with many of them becoming brutal killers, but others, such as the tribe that takes in Fett, striving to maintain some semblance of honor & civilization.

We see Fett extensively training with the Tuskens, learning to fight with their weapon of choice, the gaffi stick, eventually becoming very proficient. This provides a good in-story explanation for how the guy who didn’t do much of anything in the original movie trilogy is now able to wipe the floor with a squad of Stormtroopers.

Finally, Fett’s adoption by the Tuskens explains why the character has changed so much. He hasn’t had a family since his father Jango was killed decades earlier. (I’m sure that Jango loved his son, but let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest father, and he eventually got himself killed, leaving his young son to fend for himself.) Fett comes to realize just how empty, how lonely, his existence as a bounty hunter has been. And when the tribe is wiped out, it’s a huge loss for him.  It explains why he wants to become “daimyo” of Mos Espa, because it’s a way, however flawed or misguided, for him to try to restore order to his life and establish a new family.

Among the allies Fett and Shand gather in these early episodes are the Mods, a gang of disaffected cyborg teenagers riding around on colorful speeders. Some viewers really didn’t like the Mods, saying they were completely out of place on Tatooine. I thought the Mods were fine, though. The way I figure it, they’re bored teenagers. They are hugely into self-expression and rebelling against the status quo. Getting cybernetic implants is one way they go about that. Having really colorful speeder bikes that totally clash with the whole “beige Tatooine” aesthetic is another way they’re looking to make their own identities.

I also liked Garsa Fwip, the Twi’lek proprietor of the Sanctuary cantina in Mos Espa. Jennifer Beals played Garsa as an intriguing, intelligent character, and costume designer Shawna Trpcic created some amazing, beautiful outfits for her. I was genuinely upset when Garsa and her cantina were blown up by the Pyke Syndicate, but I recognize that it’s important for the drama of a story like this one to occasionally kill characters you like to demonstrate just how dangerous circumstances actually are.

A side note: I felt sooooo bad for the guys who were stuck carrying the Hutt Twins around the streets of Mos Espa. They must have one of the worst jobs in the Star Wars universe!

The structure of The Book of Boba Fett is damn odd. The first four episodes alternate between Fett and Fennec Shand in the present day attempting to establish control of the deceased Jabba the Hutt’s crime empire, and flashbacks showing Fett’s time with the Tuskens and how he saved Shand’s life after her seeming death in The Mandalorian season one.

And then we get to episode five, in which Fett is completely absent from his own series. Din Djarin takes the spotlight in what feels like The Mandalorian season two and a half. Mando still has the Darksaber, but he doesn’t really know how to use it, and in a fight even ends up injuring himself with it. Which, let’s be honest, is actually a realistic thing to happen. Lightsabers are incredibly dangerous weapons, and Mando has had zero training in using one. After fulfilling a bounty on the stunning ringed-shaped space station Glavis, Mando locates the remaining members of his sect, now down to just the Armorer and Paz Vizsla, although he’s soon on the outs when they learn he removed his helmet. With nowhere else to go, he heads off to Tatooine where Pelli Motto (the ever-irreverent Amy Sedaris) has procured him a replacement spaceship. They finish rebuilding it just in time for Fennec Shand to recruit Mando in Fett’s war against the spice-running Pyke Syndicate.

This episode features a brief flashback to the Purge that saw the Empire completely devastate Mandalore. It also helpfully clarifies something that confused a lot of people, myself included. Why couldn’t Bo-Katan just accept the Darksaber from Mando, since she’d already done so years before when Sabine Wren gave it to her in Rebels?  As the Armorer explains, Sabine giving Bo-Katan the Darksaber, rather than Bo-Katan winning it in combat the way tradition demanded, led to Mandalore becoming cursed, enabling the Empire to destroy it.

Then we get to episode six, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” which I jokingly referred to as “Star Wars Team-Up.” Fett shows up again, but just for one scene, and the action is divided between Marshall Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) fighting the Pykes in Mos Pelgo, Mando trying to bring a chain mail shirt of beskar to Grogu, and Grogu training with Luke Skywalker (a CGI de-aged Mark Hamill).

“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” was occasionally frustrating, because as cool as it was to see Grogu again, it definitely felt like a diversion from the main plotlines, although it eventually does lead to Grogu deciding to return to his surrogate father Mando rather than train as a Jedi.

The sequel trilogy told us that Luke turned out to be a pretty crappy teacher, so I’m not too surprised to see him doing a subpar job with Grogu here. The guy who literally saved the galaxy because he refused to give up his emotional attachment to his father who everyone else said was beyond redemption and needed to be destroyed is now going “Attachments are forbidden for a Jedi.” Seriously?!?

All of that aside, it was really cool to see Luke and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) together. I’m sure most of us have been hoping to see that meeting for a while now.

Episode six also brings Cad Bane (voiced by Corey Burton) into live action Star Wars. He’s the “Stranger” who comes out of the desert to seemingly kill Cobb Vanth at the behest of the Pykes.  That scene where the character was on the distant horizon slowly striding towards town, I was wondering who the heck it could be. Then as he got closer, and his silhouette with the wide-brimmed hat became clearer, I literally went “Oh shit!” The thing about Cad Bane is that not only is he incredibly dangerous, but he’s also a stone cold killer.  Whenever he shows up you know shit’s going to go down.

Bane’s definitely got a distinctive design.  He was based off of Lee Van Cleef’s villain Angel Eyes from the movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  I was thrilled that not only did Bane look pretty much as he did in The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch, but that he also had that same creepy voice.  At least one person complain that the wide-brimmed hat is too “on the nose” in signposting Bane’s inspirations. But I like the hat. It makes the character instantly recognizable. There was even one episode of The Clone Wars where he murdered someone for their hat. That shows how much he likes wide-brimmed hats… as well as how ruthless he actually is.

Anyway, that takes us to the seventh and final episode. “In the Name of Honor” is a big, loud, action-packed spectacle directed by Rodriguez that has Fett, Shand, Djarn and their small group of allies fighting a desperate battle against the overwhelming forces of the Pykes in the streets of Mos Espa.

The climax of sees Fett and Bane facing off, and it’s no accident that it comes down to these two.  Bane is exactly who Fett used to be, a remorseless killer who works for the highest bidder, and indeed Bane insists that they are still the same.  It’s also deliberate that Bane outdraws Fett, but in the end Fett wins by using his gaffi stick, his legacy from the Tuskens, against Bane, seemingly killing him. So, yes, in a way Bane was correct, Fett is still a killer… however he’s killing not for money, but rather to avenge his fallen family and to protect his new one.

From a critical point of view the final episode (and indeed the whole series) is a bit of a mess, but damned if it wasn’t a huge heap of fun. I mean, Boba Fett riding around on a Rancor would have absolutely blown my seven year old mind, and even at 45 years old I thought it was really cool. Yes, sometimes Star Wars successfully transcends its pulpy roots to tell deep, insightful, nuanced stories. But a lot of the time it’s just an enjoyable mash-up of space opera, Westerns, Saturday morning serials, comic books, Japanese cinema, war movies and mythology.

C’mon, you know that if you still had your Star Wars action figures you’d be doing this with them right now.

It occurred to me that this season is structured along the lines of a comic book crossover. The first four episodes are issues of the Boba Fett series. Episode five is a Mandalorian annual, and episode six is a Luke & Grogu special, with episode seven being the big wrap-up as all characters and plotlines converse. And, yeah, there’s even an epilogue in setting up a future storyline.

A number of Star Wars fans were very unhappy with The Book of Boba Fett, claiming that Fett was acting completely out of character.  And all I can say is, what character?  The guy had four lines of dialogue and about six minutes of screen time in the original trilogy. The most we ever saw of him before now was when he was a teenager in the movie Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars animated series. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about the show, but “It isn’t being true to Boba Fett’s character” is a load of bullshit because he was practically a blank slate before he was brought back in The Mandalorian.

Some people have argued that there were plenty of novels and comic books over the past several decades featuring Boba Fett.  But how much of those is still considered to be canonical? And putting aside the issue of canon, having read some of those books and comics, I never found Boba Fett the unstoppable, faceless, badass killer to be a compelling protagonist.  The Book of Boba Fett actually made him into an interesting character that I actually care about.

If you actually watch the entire series, you see the picture of a middle aged man who decides to change his ways, because he looks back on his life and realizes that he’s unhappy with how it has turned out.  That’s why the guy who was once warned “No disintegrations” by Darth Vader is now going out of his way to avoid killing people unless he absolutely has to, who now values family & honor far above profit.

Sorry, folks, but like Darth Vader said, you know it to be true.

There’s a saying on social media: No one hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans. Two different live action Star Wars television series (with more on the way) and all some people can do is complain because it isn’t exactly what they were expecting or hoping for.  I swear, some people are never satisfied. Ten year old me would have killed to get all of this great Star Wars content back in the mid 1980s.

So, yeah, I enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Favreau & Filoni have in store for us next.

Star Wars reviews: The Bad Batch part two

The first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch concluded on Disney+ last week. I previously took a look at the first eight episodes, and here’s my thoughts on the second half of the season.

When we last saw Omega (Michelle Ang) she had been captured by ruthless bounty hunter Cad Bane (Corey Burton) who was acting on behalf of the Kaminoans. I was expecting the rest of the Bad Batch to have to come to Omega’s rescue. Instead, she nearly succeeded in rescuing herself, and then the arrival of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) did indeed enable Omega to escape, requiring only a last minute assist from the rest of the Batch. Omega is definitely no damsel in distress.

It was surprising to learn that Fennec Shand had actually been hired by Kaminoan scientist Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) to protect Omega. Back during The Clone Wars animated series Nala Se had actually been one of the most ruthless of the Kaminoans.  She regarded the Clone Troopers merely as property, and helped the Sith cover up the true purpose of the Clones’ inhibitor chips, thereby indirectly assisting them in wiping out the Jedi with Order 66. So I am curious why Nala Se is now acting so benevolent and trying to save Omega’s life.

The next episode, “Common Ground,” sees the Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) sent to rescue Avi Singh, a former Senator in the Separatist government, from the Empire, who are now occupying his  world. Echo, who was previously a prisoner of the Separatist military and who was experimented on by them, is understandably reluctant to help Singh. However, as was seen in several episodes of The Clone Wars, many of the Separatist’s civilian leaders did genuinely want what was best for their worlds, and just like the Republic’s Senate, were being used & deceived by the Sith. Such is the case with Singh, who is truly despondent at the thought of the Empire enslaving his people.

Singh is voiced by Alexander Siddig, formerly Dr. Julian Bashir of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making him the latest actor to have roles in both franchises. I hope the character will return again in the near future. Perhaps he will become a founding member of the Rebel Alliance?

The next two episodes shifted the focus to a few familiar faces. Hera Syndulla was one of my favorite characters from Star Wars: Rebels, so I really enjoyed seeing a two-part “origin story” for her and her sassy astromech droid Chopper.

I thought Vanessa Marshall did an incredible job portraying a teenage version of the Hera, clearly making it the same character that she previously portrayed in Rebels, but distinct enough that it’s clear this is Hera at a much different time in her life. Marshall is definitely a talented actress. I really appreciated the fast friendship that develops between Hera and Omega, who plays a major role in setting the Twi’lek teenager on the path to eventually becoming an accomplished pilot and an leader in the Rebel Alliance.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that, due to the COVOD-19 pandemic, all of the actors in The Bad Batch recorded their parts separately, and that Marshall had no idea who Omega was or what she sounded like until the two Ryloth episodes were broadcast. Credit to Marshall and Ang for their performances, really making it seem like they were acting opposite one another in the studio, giving the two teenage girls a genuine friendship & chemistry.

By the way, it was interesting to watch these two episodes and then read the novel A New Dawn written by John Jackson Miller, which explores how Hera first encounters Kanan Jarrus. I really appreciate the thought Dave Filoni & Co have given to how Hera develops as a character throughout the years.

What I found really surprising about these episodes is that Hera’s father, the militant Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkin Downes), is shown as initially being willing to give rule by the Empire a chance. After the Clone Wars, he wants peace for his people, and his family. Unfortunately the fascist, duplicitous Empire is completely uninterested in acting in an honorable manner

I like how these episodes also continued to examine the reasons why the Empire chose to replace Clone Troopers with Stormtroopers. On the face of it Clone Troopers were much better soldiers. But as we previously saw in the Umbara and Fives arcs on The Clone Wars, the clones are intelligent beings who are capable of independent thought, of feeling compassion & loyalty, and of disobeying orders that they feel are morally wrong. The Bad Batch has further explored that.

It’s very obviously that without the inhibitor chips the majority of the clones would never have turned on the Jedi, and even with the inhibitor chips functioning we still see Howzer and other clones on Ryloth questioning orders. So from the Empire’s perspective it makes sense that they switch to Stormtroopers, who may be inferior, but who they can just draft wholesale from the populace and indoctrinate to be complete loyal and follow orders without question.

Anyway, props to Dee Bradley Baker for getting so much of Howzer’s internal struggle across vocally. And the animators did an amazing job at the very end when we see Crosshair’s expression, and rather than being gleeful at the idea of finally going after his former comrades, he looks genuinely ambivalent. The animation for the planet Ryloth was also stunning.

The next episode “Infested” was a heist-type episode, with the Batch and their manipulative employer Cid (Rhea Perlman) stealing a shipment of spice in order to pit wannabe crime lord Roland Durand (Tom Taylorson) against the Pyke Syndicate. This one was fun, although it did seemingly come across as unimportant. However, I do wonder if this was a setup for future developments, and if we will see Durand again in a larger role.

This brings us to the final three part story of the season. The Empire accelerates its plans to transition to Stormtroopers, bringing in the clone Gregor to train them. Rex asks the Batch to rescue Gregor, but that leads to Hunter being captured by the Empire. The rest of the Batch now must return to Kamino to save their leader, who is in the custody of their former comrade Crosshair.

The surprising development about Crosshair was his claim that his inhibitor chip was removed some time before (perhaps destroyed in the starship graveyard on Bracca?) and that he’s now acting of his own free will in working for the Empire. Unlike the rest of the Batch, who remain loyal to the principles of the fallen Republic, Crosshair regards himself as a superior being who has an important place within the Empire’s fascist system. The rest of the Batch are despondent at the possibility that their brother is willingly working for the Empire, and that he actually wants them to join him.

There’s a brief interaction between Crosshair and Tech where the later explains that Crosshair has always been like this, and his behavior actually makes perfect sense. It’s one of the very few times Tech has ever been developed at all this season. He remains the most thinly-drawn members of the Batch. I hope that next season he is actually given more material.

The Empire, having seized the Kaminoans’ cloaning technology and forcibly recruited Nala Se, destroys Tipoca City. The finale has the Batch struggling to escape the rapidly-sinking ruins. Truthfully I found this episode to be a bit drawn-out, consisting of an extended action sequence. Nevertheless, it does set the stage for the second season.

There were some criticisms that the first season of The Bad Batch was tonally inconsistent, alternating between light family fare and exceedingly grim, depressing violence. I think that description pretty much sums up the entirety of the Star Wars franchise! After all, in the original movie one minute R2D2 and C3P0 are engaging in their latest round of comedic squabbling, and the next the Death Star blows up Alderaan. Personally I’ve always found Star wars to be at its most effective when it can successfully shift its tone back & forth between comedy and drama.

So what happens next? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2022 to find that out! A few bumps in the road notwithstanding, I did enjoy the first season of The Bad Batch, and I look forward to season two.