A review of The Book of Boba Fett series premiere, “Stranger in a Strange Land” — with full spoilers for the episode — coming up just as soon as my tribute is a heartfelt greeting…
As we talked about last year when he introduced himself on The Mandalorian, Boba Fett long occupied a strange position in Star Wars lore, beloved far more for what he represented than for anything he did in the original trilogy. The prequels and Clone Wars featured him a bit more, but as a kid growing up in his late father’s shadow. It really wasn’t until those final three Mandalorian Season Two episodes where the facts of the adult Boba — now played, as Jango was in the prequels, by Temuera Morrison — began to live up to the legend. But even there, he lived somewhat in the shadow of Mando, a character who only exists because so many Star Wars fans like Jon Favreau grew up loving Boba’s armor.
Now, forty-plus years after his animated debut in the otherwise reprehensible Star Wars Holiday Special, Boba finally steps fully into the spotlight with The Book of Boba Fett. It is both very much in the Mandalorian vein and somewhat different. Where Mando travels the Outer Rim in a shiny suit of indestructible armor, and with an adorable sidekick in Grogu, Boba and his scuffed-up old armor have settled down on Tatooine for a while. And if anyone were to call Fennec Shand adorable, those would likely be the last words to ever escape their lips. This is still a show designed for Star Wars-crazed adults to watch with their kids, but it’s on the darker and grungier end of this family-friendly approach, even relative to some of the places we’ve seen Mando operate.
Given how crucial Grogu was to the early appeal of its parent show, we’ll see if Book of Boba Fett — also created by Favreau, but with Robert Rodriguez (who helmed the aforementioned Mandalorian episode) as chief director — can capture the public imagination without such a cute, instantly meme-worthy character. But “Stranger in a Strange Land” was a promising start, lean and mean in a manner befitting its taciturn title character.
As Boba sleeps in the healing liquid of a bacta tank, he dreams of what happened to him immediately after Han Solo inadvertently sent him into the Sarlacc pit back in Return of the Jedi. He avoids being slowly digested in the monster’s stomach for over a thousand years by stealing the oxygen supply from a Stormtrooper who already died down there, then by using his flame thrower and other weapons to cut his way free. He’s too weak to prevent Jawas from stealing his father’s armor — which will eventually end up in the possession of local lawman Cobb Vanth — or to fight off the Tusken raiders who find him dying of thirst under the harsh glare of Tatooine’s twin suns. They take him as a prisoner, and though he’s resourceful enough to escape at nightfall, he’s also easily recaptured.
Like so many Mandalorian stories, these flashbacks trade heavily on familiar tropes from classic Westerns, once again treating the Tuskens as Native Americans pushing back against settlers. When Fennec wakes Boba up to deal with the business of running Jabba the Hutt’s former empire, the influences look more to the east. As various crime bosses arrive at Jabba’s old palace to pay tribute to its new owner, one of them — Dokk Strassi, played by Robert Rodriguez himself under a lot of makeup to look Trandoshan — refers to Boba as the new daimyō, a term for a Japanese feudal lord. Such men appeared at the center of multiple films by Akira Kurosawa, whose The Hidden Fortress gave George Lucas the template to write the original Star Wars film. The line between the two hemispheres blurs at various points — the ninjalike assassins Fennec chases across the Mos Espa rooftops are fond of parkour, for instance — but it offers something of a clear delineation between Boba’s past and his present.
For the moment, the Tusken segments are the more compelling, even without Ming Na-Wen to banter with Morrison. Being the new daimyō seems like a headache, and it’s not exactly clear why Boba wants the job, especially when he’s so determined to do it in a very un-Jabba-like manner, ruling through respect rather than fear. Yes, the gig offers great wealth and power, but as Boba once put it to Mando, “I’m a simple man making his way through the galaxy.” Here, he has to interact with people he doesn’t like, including the Mos Espa mayor’s smugly threatening majordomo, played by David Pasquesi (Selina Meyer’s loser ex-husband on Veep). He has to keep a firm hand on the many pieces of Jabba’s old empire, and also figure out whether his inherited vassals like nightclub owner Garsaw Fwip (Jennifer Beals sporting Twi’lek head tentacles) will be loyal or treacherous. And he has to fend off the odd assassination attempt, despite being in less than fighting trim after the ordeals of the past few years.
On a stylistic level, the present-day scenes are a bit of a mixed bag. Rodriguez can be an incredibly inventive director of action, but the choreography of the scene where Boba, Fennec, and the two Gamorrean fend off the shield-bearing assassins is just OK. (The rooftop chase is a bit better.) Jabba’s palace and Garsaw’s club are both impressive sets, but ones trading off iconography from the original trilogy. Mostly, though, these scenes are set up for whatever larger story Favreau and company plan on telling this season. Which is fine for a premiere, if not always thrilling.
The desert sequences, meanwhile, don’t have nearly as much talking — Boba only speaks once in the first 10 minutes, while offering to free the Rodian prisoner tied to a nearby rock — but feel visceral and raw. Boba’s seeming death in Return of the Jedi was played as a joke, but it was the start of a nightmare for him. In these flashback sequences, Rodriguez leans on POV shots far more than Mandalorian does, neatly creating a sense that we’re chapped and starving in the desert right along with Boba. At this point, all he wants is to survive, escape, and figure out his next move. He accomplishes the first when he’s able to choke out a giant four-armed desert creature. (The beast is easily the episode’s most impressive creation, and the fight more exciting than what happens in Mos Espa.) Though the young boy guarding him brings the beast’s head back to camp as a trophy, the tribe’s leader recognizes who did the killing, and offers Boba some precious water — a suggestion the tribe may have use for him as an ally, rather than a slave.
It will be a years-long journey for Boba to reclaim his armor and assume Jabba’s throne, and The Book of Boba Fett will have to carefully balance its two timelines so that fans don’t grow impatient waiting for one to shift back to the other. And unlike Mando, Boba has no problem walking around without his trademark helmet on. But his stoic face is its own kind of mask. We’ll have to see how much he’s willing to open up over the rest of this season. Still, the Boba confidently wrapping his own chains around the monster lives up to the legend Star Wars fans have built up around him, far more than anything we actually saw in those older films.
Some other thoughts:
* The premiere is a bit lighter on oddball guests than the Mandalorian pilot, which featured Taika Waititi, Nick Nolte, and Werner flipping Herzog. But this one does have Matt Berry — like Waititi, part of the What We Do in the Shadow family — as the voice of Boba’s palace droid. It’s a nice reversal from the Shadows episode where Mark Hamill as Jim the Vampire pursued Berry’s Laszlo to the wilds of Pennsylvania. But it also raises the question of which Shadows actor will next voice a Star Wars droid. Mark Proksch could definitely make an amusingly depressed protocol droid, but it would also be fun to hear what Kayvan Novak or Natasia Demetriou could do vocally.
* The early POV shot through the T-shaped visor in Boba’s helmet raises the question of whether that’s optimal design for a guy who fights for a living. No peripheral vision available, is there?
* Ludwig Göransson’s themes for this show owe as much to his rousing Creed score as they do to his work on Mandalorian.
* Finally, before the flashbacks take us into the sarlacc’s stomach, we first get brief clips from Attack of the Clones, including the rainy planet Kamino where Boba and all the other clones of Jango were hatched, as well as to young Boba holding his father’s severed head after Mace Windu cut it off.