A review of this week’s The Book of Boba Fett, “The Tribes of Tatooine,” coming up just as soon as I’m sweating like a gumpta on Mustafar…
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?
While both this show and The Mandalorian have larger story arcs to deal with, they are old-fashioned Westerns at their core. The better episodes of each sprinkle dusty old genre tropes onto familiar Star Wars iconography, until both somehow seem new and sparkling. While “The Tribes of Tatooine” opens with various bits of business about challengers to Boba’s new throne — including Mok Shaiz(*), the Ithorian mayor of Mos Espa, and a pair of Hutt twins who believe Jabba’s empire is rightfully theirs — it spends the majority of its time in flashbacks to Boba’s early days as a member of the Tusken tribe. That long section of the episode combines a Dances With Wolves-ish tale of a civilized man learning the ways of his new indigenous friends(**) with the Star Wars version of a Wild West great train robbery.
(*) Another character voiced by Robert Rodriguez, though the episode itself was directed by TV veteran Steph Green.
(**) Made more complicated and interesting from our perspective because said civilized man is himself played by an indigenous actor.
This approach is for the best at this early stage of things. Though the present-day scenes offer Fennec Shand(*), the voice of Matt Berry, and assorted other pleasures, they’re not really coalescing yet. Boba’s operation feels too small-scale — Jabba’s palace(**) seemingly occupied by only him, Fennec, and the two Gamorean guards — and the attempt to treat both the assassins’ employer and the mayor’s motivations as something of a mystery makes those scenes feel a bit too abstract rather than tense. And Boba’s heart still doesn’t feel particularly in the job, even before he realizes the Hutts — whom he can’t kill without first getting permission — are coming after him, too.
(*) Last night, I had a fun interview with Temuera Morrison and Ming-Na Wen about their work on the show.
(**) The sparse population of the palace did have one good comic payoff, however, when Boba dumped the surviving assassin into the rancor pit, which has laid empty since Luke Skywalker killed its large occupant in Return of the Jedi. The terrified assassin, of course, didn’t know that, and gave up the mayor to the amused Boba and Fennec.
The Tusken flashbacks, on the other hand, were the strongest element of the premiere, and they continue to be here. It’s all mixing and matching of different bits of Western and sci-fi stories — with a brief side tour into The Wild One territory (or Sons of Anarchy, if you prefer) when Boba single-handedly dispatches a misbehaving alien biker gang to bring their speeder bikes back to the Tuskens. None of this is complicated or especially novel, even with the blurring of genre lines, but it’s all well executed and far livelier than most of what happened in the premiere. Both the speeder bike training montage and the assault on the fortified train itself are thrilling set pieces. (The only minor stumble is that there’s not enough of a payoff to the sequence where Boba teaches the Tuskens how to leap from one speeder bike to another, which is harder than Luke made it look on the forest moon of Endor.) It’s an opportunity to showcase Boba’s skill as both a fighter and a leader — the latter so far in short supply in the present-day scenes — and also to demonstrate how the Tuskens have been able to endure so long despite being vastly outgunned by Tatooine’s many settlers.
Almost as important, though, are the sequences back at the Tusken camp, where Boba trains with his new allies and learns about their ways. The Star Wars novels have offered some insight into Tusken culture(*), but for people who only watch the movies and live-action shows, the Tuskens remain even more mysterious than Boba himself, largely treated by the franchise as exotic and terrifying others, rather than a group worth examining as more than just “sand people.” Their culture borrows elements of various indigenous tribes from around the world — the gaderffii sticks they use, and that Boba gets to build for himself in the episode’s climax, are based, for instance, on a Fijiian weapon called a totokia — in a way that adds emotional richness to that setting that isn’t quite there yet in the Mos Espa timeline. Seeing Boba decked out in his new robes and performing a ceremonial dance around the campfire with his new weapon and his new brothers in arms felt as inspiring as the train robbery itself. That the Tuskens communicate so much via sign language or screeches we don’t understand (with the show only occasionally using subtitles) plays into Temuera Morrison’s strengths as an actor with great physicality.
(*) Some of those books also suggest that Tuskens cover themselves from head to toe because they find the sight of flesh distasteful, and would almost certainly put wraps over Boba’s face. But the books aren’t canon, and I think we’ve learned with both these shows that it’s better if we can see the leading man’s face most of the time.
For decades, the thing that so many fans of the original trilogy loved about Boba Fett was the air of mystery around him. In fact, I’ve heard some concerns that giving him his own show would ruin that element of the character. So far, though, The Book of Boba Fett has been less interested in stripping away Boba’s mystique than in using him to get to know another classic set of Star Wars characters with memorable headgear. If the remaining episodes are as strong as this one, that’ll do just fine, thank you.