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 birthday memories

A number of people on social media noted that May 21st was the 40th anniversary of the release of the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  This prompted me to revisit my own memories of seeing it.  Giving it some consideration, it’s one of the earliest memories I have.

My father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the movie theater, probably in early June, 1980. I was three years and eleven months years old at the time, so truthfully I remember very little about watching the actual movie that day.

As is probably typical of childhood memories of movies and television, my recollection of that first viewing is vague & distorted.  For example, I remembered the scene from near the beginning when Luke Skywalker was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s ice cave.  I also remembered the scene in the cave on Dagobah where Luke fights an illusion of Darth Vader.  However in my young mind those two moments got squished together, and for a while there I really thought there was a scene in the movie where Luke is hanging upside down in a cave and gets loose just in time to fight Darth Vader.

Oh, yeah… I think I remembered the Imperial Walkers attacking Hoth. As a kid I thought they were pretty scary, and I referred to them as “Metal Dinosaurs.”

I much more vividly remember the experience that surrounded going to the movie. My father and grandfather took me to see it at The Central Plaza Cinema on Central Avenue in Yonkers, NY.  We got Burger King for lunch beforehand, and I seem to recall that we brought the food in with us to eat during the movie.  I definitely remember that I had a fun time. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of Star Wars, and of science fiction in general.

Obviously it must have been apparent to my parents that the movie made a huge impression on me, because a few weeks later at the end of the month I turned four years old and they had a Star Wars themed birthday party for me.  They even got a cake with a spaceship on it.

I mentioned this to my mother last week, and she was able to locate a couple of pictures from that party in one of the old family photo albums. In my memories I recalled the cake being decorated with a generic sci-fi rocket ship, but looking at that photo I see the bakery actually did a fairly good job drawing a Star Wars type ship along the lines of an X-Wing Fighter.

I guess that was also when my parents got me that large toy R2-D2.  I remember having that as a kid, but I’d forgotten it had been a birthday present.

Yes, that is four year old me in the photo below holding the R2-D2.  I guess my hair was always a mess!

When you are a kid time seems to pass by very slowly. The three years until Return of the Jedi came out felt like forever.  Since this was before the era of affordable home media, both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back returned to the theaters during that three year period, so I was able to see the first entry in the theater, as well as watch the second as a slightly older viewer.  I also filled that seeming eternity by making up my own Star Wars adventures with the action figures my parents bought me.

When Return of the Jedi came out in late May of 1983, I was well and truly ready for it.  It was amazing, and for many years it was my favorite Star Wars movie.  Why?  It’s very simple: I was almost seven years old, which is probably the ideal age to be watching the Star Wars movies.

I really believe that a great deal of what we enjoy as genre fans is subjective, heavily reliant on when and where and with who we experienced it for the first time.  I would not be at all surprised if there are people who saw the prequels when they were seven years old who regard them as their favorites.  The same thing holds for The Clone Wars animated series, and for the recent sequels from Disney.

In any case, thinking about all of these old memories, I realize that I was fortunate to have good parents.  Back when I was a kid I often had a difficult time recognizing this, probably due to a mixture of immaturity and undiagnosed childhood depression.  As an adult I am now able to look back and understand that they did the best they could to raise me, and I appreciate their efforts.

Star Wars reviews: Shattered Empire

Over the past few months I’ve been doing something of an informal countdown to The Force Awakens on this blog, reviewing some of my favorite Star Wars spin-offs. Today I’m looking at Shattered Empire, which was released in October by Marvel Comics.

Confession time: I haven’t been following the Star Wars comic books since they returned to Marvel, mostly because I’ve gotten the impression that they suffer from an extremely decompressed style of storytelling. But I decided to get Shattered Empire since it was a four issue miniseries and it was released on a weekly basis.  That meant I’d have the entire story in hand very quickly.  I waited until all four chapters were released and read it in one sitting.

Oh, yes, according to the indicia, the full title of this miniseries is Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire. What a mouthful!  I’m just going to call it Shattered Empire for simplicity’s sake.

SW Shattered Empire 4 cover

Shattered Empire is billed as a canonical prequel to the events of The Force Awakens. Writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto examine how events unfolded across the galaxy in the weeks and months following Return of the Jedi.  We see these developments through the eyes of Lieutenant Shara Bey, aka Green Four, a pilot in the Rebel Alliance, and her husband Sergeant Kes Dameron, a commando in Han Solo’s strike team.

The Battle of Endor was undoubtedly the Alliance’s greatest, most important victory yet. Both Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader were killed, and the second Death Star was destroyed.  However, as we see in this miniseries, this was not the end of the struggle against the Empire.

I was only seven years old in 1983 when Return of the Jedi came out. Even at that young age I briefly questioned if this really did mark the end of the Empire.  Yes, I was obviously too young to comprehend such concepts as the difficulties in dismantling the remnants of a vast dictatorship, the challenges of establishing a stable democratic government, and the likelihood of ruthless opportunists taking advantage of the sudden vacuum of power.  Nevertheless I distinctly remember thinking that much of the Imperial fleet at Endor apparently survived the battle, and it seemed odd to me that they would all surrender.

As we see in Shattered Empire, there are indeed Imperial forces throughout the galaxy that have no intention of relinquishing power. Their defiance is spurred on by none other than Palpatine himself.  Master chess player that he was, the Emperor left in place a deadly contingency plan to be implemented in the event of his demise.  Via technology and loyal agents, many of the Empire’s officers are convinced that Palpatine still lives.  They are given orders to implement Operation: Cinder, the total devastation of numerous inhabited worlds.  Clearly the Emperor intended that if he couldn’t have the galaxy then no one would.

Shara and Kes’s elation at the victory at Endor, their optimism for the future, gradually gives way to weariness and despair, as the promised end to hostilities fails to materialize. Instead the couple is forced to face the possibility that they will have to spend the rest of their lives fighting against an adversary that is unwilling to capitulate.

SW Shattered Empire 1 pg 13

I’ve enjoyed Greg Rucka’s work in the past on Whiteout, Queen & Country and Gotham Central. He is definitely good at writing interesting, well-rounded characters.  Certainly he does a fine job developing Shara Bey.  She is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe.  Her husband Kes Dameron is given somewhat less “screen time,” and is consequently not explored nearly as much.  Nevertheless, given the requirements of fitting such a large amount of material within four issues, Rucka succeeds at establishing both characters.

One of the subplots in Shattered Empire involves Princess Leia and Shara Bey visiting Naboo. This provides Rucka with a good opportunity to connect some of the strands from the original trilogy and the prequels.  Naboo is a peaceful democracy, but it was also the homeworld of the late Emperor.  Its people are understandably horrified and ashamed by this, and are quite eager to support Leia’s efforts to organize the New Republic.  Unfortunately this possibility was foreseen by Palpatine, and Naboo is one of the planets targeted by Operation: Cinder.  Leia, Shara and Soruna, the current queen of Naboo, are forced to pilot decades-old fighter craft in a desperate effort to fight off the orbiting Imperial fleet.

The final issue sees Shara joining Luke Skywalker infiltrating an Imperial facility on a rescue mission. The object that they seek to retrieve from the Empire is unusual, to say the least.  Well, perhaps that was why Luke only brought along one other person to help him, because he didn’t want to endanger anyone else on what might have been a questionable task.  This does give Rucka the opportunity to write an exciting action sequence showing Luke using his full Jedi abilities against a squad of Stormtroopers.

There’s another nice sequence Rucka has where he shows the Alliance have learned from past losses. In issue, #2, fighting against the Empire on Sterdic IV, the Rebels are pitted against an Imperial Walker.  Obviously remembering their devastating defeat on Hoth, this time the Rebels launch a group of Y-Wings to fly above the AT-AT, dropping clusters of magnetized bombs onto it.

SW Shattered Empire 2 pg 9

As Shattered Empire comes to a close, Shara and Kes have both put in the paperwork to muster out of active service. Shara explains her conflicted feelings concerning this decision to Luke…

Shara: I’ve got a son I’ve barely seen since he was born. A husband I get to see for an hour at a time every couple of weeks, if we’re lucky. I’m tired, and I feel guilty for even saying so. I feel like I’m abandoning the Rebellion.

Luke: But if the cost of our struggle is the lives we fought to protect, the future we hoped to see, then what is it we were fighting for?

At first I was a bit surprised that Shattered Empire ended without much resolution. Thinking it over, I realized that it did have closure as far as Shara and Kes are concerned.  And at its best Star Wars has always been concerned with how the lives of individuals and families unfolded amidst vast galactic events and upheavals.

Besides, until The Force Awakens actually begins showing, there is no way to know if Shattered Empire actually does set up any characters or subplots for the new movies.

SW Shattered Empire 3 pg 5

Marco Checchetto, with assists by Angel Unzeta and Emilio Laiso, provides the artwork for this miniseries. Checchetto’s work is very detailed.  He also lays out his pages dramatically.   Checchetto is definitely well suited to drawing both ground combat and space battles.

Checchetto is also good with the quieter, character-driven moments. That’s important, since the relationship between Shara and Kes is a central element of this story.

For the most part I found Shattered Empire to be a strong, enjoyable miniseries. Hopefully Marvel and Disney will ask Rucka and Checchetto to return to chronicling the Star Wars universe in the future.