Boba Fett, the most legendary bounty hunter in the galaxy, was the product of budget constraints. Planning for the 1980 Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, the artists Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie crafted a prototype of knightlike armor for a legion of upgraded stormtroopers, the expendable soldiers of the evil Galactic Empire. But mass-producing the design would cost too much, so Johnston slapped some green paint and scuff marks on the white armor, and a new character, Boba Fett, was conjured.
Boba ended up speaking only four lines of dialogue over six and a half minutes of screen time in the original Star Wars films. Yet the impression left by the jet-pack-and-spurs-equipped henchman was haunting. Action figures, Pez dispensers, and lampshades replicated his image, and fans ached to know his backstory. But of course Boba’s appeal lay in his mystery. Anyone could be behind that T-shaped visor.
As the profitability of Star Wars grew, that sense of mystery began to fade. The 2002 prequel Attack of the Clones depicted a young Boba and his dad, Jango Fett (played by Temuera Morrison), whose clones later populated the animated series The Clone Wars. Now Disney+’s ambitiously staged live-action, seven-episode series The Book of Boba Fett follows the middle-aged Boba (also played by Morrison) gunning his way through a familiar gantlet. The show demystifies him in the workmanlike way that today’s cinematic universes inevitably treat their bit players: by turning them into boring old heroes.
Set on Star Wars’ inescapable sand planet of Tatooine, the two episodes released to date don’t aim for the who’s that thrill of old-school Boba. Morrison communicates in groans and grimaces, rendering his character as a haggard mortal rather than a glorified video-game skin. Director Robert Rodriguez depicts Boba’s escape from the worm that ate him in Return of the Jedi as a rebirth: The once-sleek warrior emerges from the monster all gunk-caked and vulnerable. As he heals in a tank of liquid, the viewer sees his flashbacks. We are firmly inside Boba’s previously impregnable dome.
That vantage point, as with so much of Star Wars, looks out on a pastiche of earthly genres: Westerns, mob flicks, Bible tales. In the series’ present-day timeline, Boba and his deadly lieutenant, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), attempt to consolidate power as the newly installed crime lords of a frontier territory. Although their iconically disgusting predecessor, Jabba the Hutt, “ruled with fear,” Boba says he wants to command “respect.” He is a weary sheriff in John Wayne’s lineage, albeit one beset by space ninjas wielding laser shields. He is the troubled gangster of a Martin Scorsese film, except his rival dons are shaped like car-size slugs.
For this pitiless mercenary to now act nobly is odd, but the show’s flashbacks promise explanation. After his liberation from the worm’s maw, Boba was captured by Tusken Raiders, the robed figures who bopped Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars. The raiders were always meant to be the othered tribe in an outer-space cowboys-versus-Indians tale, and The Book of Boba Fett now diligently rips off Hollywood’s noble-savage fables. As Boba protects the Tuskens’ young, learns their ways, and teaches them to fight off technologically advanced interlopers, viewers will note (unsettling) parallels to Lawrence of Arabia, Dances With Wolves, and Dune.
So Boba is reimagined as a redemptive sinner, a civilizing savior, and a spiritual quester—a deluge of archetypes that unfortunately crowd out much fun, surprise, and personality. How deflating for the spotlight to finally fall upon the shadowy figure of Boba Fett, only to reveal the kind of trauma-afflicted protector of the innocent that we’ve already seen take center stage so many times. The character’s previous mystique has been replaced by dutifulness and predictability. By the end of the season, will Boba’s primitive pals help him tame the unruly spaceport? Well, does a Bantha poodoo in the desert? (Maybe not?)
If the intrigue that once defined Boba Fett is gone here, it does suffuse the show’s excellent parent series The Mandalorian, also created by Jon Favreau. The helmeted bounty hunter Din Djarin is Boba’s truer modern incarnation because his own arc is basically a subplot: That show’s energy comes from its strangely naturalistic universe, not from the hero himself. The Mandalorian also made sure to foreground a clear motivation for its protagonist—protect Baby Yoda!—rather than coast on the audience’s assumptions about how myths unfold.
The Book of Boba Fett does nail its big-budget costumes, sets, and explosions, all of which would have once been unfathomable for a mere TV show. The second episode featured a train heist so kinetic—with a many-armed robot conductor—that my apartment rattled. It also debuted an intimidating Wookiee gladiator I can’t wait to find in a Happy Meal. Mesmerizing fights and tasty twists will no doubt unfold satisfyingly in the coming episodes. But look to the margins, to the creatures who aren’t saying much, for the saga’s future, because they still hold the promise of stories that, just maybe, we haven’t been told before.