Disney+’s ‘The Book of Boba Fett’ soared high—then crashed.
This essay contains spoilers for the first three episodes of “The Book of Boba Fett.”
I feel a huge debt to Disney+. Even though the first season of its universally acclaimed TV series “The Mandalorian” came out in November and December of 2019, months before the pandemic sunk its claws into our existence, the show was just so unbelievably good and populated by so many breakout characters, most especially everyone’s favorite li’l green Force-user, it provided a constant source of distraction from the nightmare that engulfed us.
It then managed to top its own initial achievement with the reintroduction of fan favorite character Boba Fett, the live-action introduction of the “Clone Wars” breakout star Ahsoka Tano, and the finale’s eye-popping reveal of none other than Luke Skywalker himself showing up to save the day and take Baby Yoda away. It would still be months before most of us had the opportunity to be vaccinated, but the gift of that finale seemed a perfect expression of the hope we all had at that moment that things were finally going to be O.K.
Where Boba Fett was originally presented as a highly dangerous, amoral bounty hunter, the new series imagines him now as older and wiser.
The year since the finale has been, if not worse than the year before, certainly messier. But once again, just as a new variant showed up that was capable of penetrating our stylish cloth masks like Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton through opponents’ front lines, Disney+ was there with a new series, this time about the spiritual and style predecessor to “The Mandalorian,” Boba Fett.
So far this new series seems to be a lot messier too. The show features two overlapping storylines: in the past, we follow Fett as he escapes from the massive underground starfish monster, the sarlacc, that swallowed him in “Return of the Jedi” (in a sequence that hilariously follows comedian Patton Oswalt’s “Parks and Rec” riff on how to bring Boba Fett back), only to be immediately captured by Tusken Raiders. And in the present, we continue the storyline that began in the post-credit scene of “The Mandalorian,” in which Fett and his assassin partner Fennec Shand take over Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire on Tatooine.
I am not a fan of shows that rely on weekly flashbacks. They tend to drain away the momentum of the present-day storyline that we came to see in the first place. But in the first two episodes, writer Jon Favreau and directors Robert Rodriguez and Steph Green created in Fett’s relationship with the Tusken Raiders a story so emotionally powerful and just plain awesome that it has literally stolen the show.
As I’ve written here before, “Star Wars” is a series deeply invested in the concept that no one is beyond redemption, and that the redemption of just one person can save the whole universe. Luke’s love for his father stops the Emperor from destroying the Rebellion; Leia’s love for her son enables him to finally overcome the darkness within him and help Rey defeat the Clone Emperor Thingy that J.J. Abrams apparently thought was a good way to do a “Star Wars.”
“Star Wars” is a series deeply invested in the concept that no one is beyond redemption.
“Boba Fett” is clearly invested in this same project. Where Boba Fett was originally presented as a highly dangerous, mostly silent amoral bounty hunter who has no trouble carbon freezing Han Solo for credits, the new series imagines him now as older and wiser, trying to turn the criminal empire he has “inherited” into an organization built on justice and respect rather than fear. While those around him keep insisting he needs to engage in public displays of cruelty or pomp to establish his street cred, Boba seems most at home taking off his helmet and having a little chat. (Yeah, it’s a little weird.)
Far more compelling has been the series’ exploration of the Tusken Raiders, the spooky nomadic tribe who live in the desert and never show their faces. In the past this community has always been presented as a pack of savage murderers who will either shoot you from long distance or come for you in the night. Though they have popped up more than once in the films, and were in fact responsible for the death of Anakin’s mom, we have never been given any sense of what exactly their deal is. Are they some kind of human sect like the Mandalorians, or something else? Why does it seem like all they do is murder? To misquote another franchise, why so angry?
In “Fett,” Favreau reveals that the Raiders are in fact the indigenous people of Tatooine, with their own rich culture and spirituality and also sad history with colonization. In a way, the first two episodes suggest all the prior “Star Wars” films have been “written by the victors,” i.e. the people who only see the Raiders as savage monsters. In “Fett” instead we see them terrorized by the other species who have long since taken over the world, and as a proud community that comes to respect and even mentor Fett. The second episode, in which Fett is slowly embraced by the tribe, is going to go down as one of the all-time great “Star Wars” stories, and that is entirely because of how it humanizes the Tusken.
After being tremendously excited by the first two episodes, right now I have to admit, I suddenly have a bad feeling about this.
Along the way the series uses some of the tricks it learned from “Mandalorian.” There is a scene-stealing Tusken kid who becomes Boba’s kind-of buddy. The Tusken culture in many ways echoes that of the Mandalorians, with their shared emphasis on fighting as a spiritual practice and their refusal to show their faces. Where the scenes of present-day Boba wandering around Mos Espa trying to convince its malevolent denizens to respect him seem to drag on endlessly, the Tusken scenes have never been less than fresh and compelling.
Then Episode 3 begins with Boba returning from a trip into town to find all the Tuskens murdered by some gang of humans we know nothing about, and now quite honestly I have no idea what to think of this show. Did it really just spend two episodes transforming a dehumanized community of indigenous people into a rich and vital culture only to kill it offscreen in order to motivate its hero? It sure appears that way right now. The fact that the series also seems intent on making this Fett’s Luke-Loses-His-Aunt-and-Uncle moment, with similar moments of Fett discovering the dead as Luke did and then burning their bodies, compounds the offense.
Part of the magic of “Star Wars” is that it allows everyone to be a subject of their own story rather than simply part of someone else’s. Even the characters we glimpse only briefly—like Boba Fett himself in the original trilogy—seem like they have their own thing going on. That is what makes its universe so endlessly interesting, but also so spiritually meaningful. Every character is a real person on a journey, even those who seem like the most monstrous of villains. (Well, except the Emperor. He actually is the most monstrous of villains.)
To have given the Tusken Raiders that same opportunity only to then turn them back into just a means toward some end of Fett’s would be shocking and disappointing. The fact that they have been reconceived here as indigenous people makes it so much worse—although perhaps that much more predictable as well.
Four more episodes are still to come. So there is lots of opportunity to fix this, and also to finally kick the present-day storyline into gear. (The appearance of a massive evil bounty hunter Wookie is certainly a step in the right direction. The introduction of a gang of wealthy street kids with fancy multi-colored bikes is um, less so.) But after being tremendously excited by the first two episodes, right now I have to admit, I suddenly have a bad feeling about this.