Culture on My Mind
The Book of Boba Fett
February 21, 2022
The Book of Boba Fett has just recently ended on Disney+ and it is on my mind.
When the series was announced in a surprise stinger to The Mandalorian‘s second season finale, I was immediately struck by the name. The Book of conjured imagery of religious texts – particularly Christian, based on my upbringing – and unreliable narrators, which has been a theme of The Mandalorian‘s unique cult-like sect of wandering warriors. To that end, I expected The Book of Boba Fett to be the story of the resurrection and rebirth of the title character.
It’s a theme in keeping with the rest of Star Wars, which really is a collection of legendary tales. It is our modern mythology.
I have a complicated history with the character of Boba Fett. He debuted in the animated interlude of The Star Wars Holiday Special, returned for his best-known appearances in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and then popped up in the Droids animated series for a single episode. He was also peppered throughout the early comics. He was originally conceived as a member of some elite “super trooper” squadron, but was rewritten as a solitary bounty hunter. His air of mystery during a handful of movie minutes made him iconic to Gen X Star Wars fans, but I found the character boring because there was nothing substantial to him. I prefer characters with some amount of body and, sadly, Boba didn’t have that.
I got excited during the former Expanded Universe’s heyday when various authors tried to explore Boba’s history, but it all ended up being a dumpster fire of hand-waving, smoke, and mirrors. His return in Dark Empire was a highlight of that story, but from Jaster Mereel of Concord Dawn to is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-real-Mandalorian, I found all of Boba’s EU story to be frustrating.
When we got to the revised origin from Attack of the Clones, I finally found my hook. An unaltered clone of Jango Fett, the very template of the clone army that served and destroyed the Republic, Boba finally had some something interesting. His father was more interesting – we named our hound Jango, after all – but the potential in Boba was evident. It only expanded as The Clone Wars progressed, the Expanded Universe was transformed into Legends, and the overall canon was pseudo-reset.
Boba’s appearances in The Mandalorian finally made me care about him. The Book of Boba Fett gave me the promise of how he escaped death in the Sarlacc and would return to his father’s core belief as a simple man trying to make his way in the universe. I have been mostly pleased with what I have seen.
Boba Fett reminds me of a cowboy, and not just because of the spur sounds when he walks. To explain that, I have to give you some of my backstory. My parents both competed in the Utah rodeo circuits – my mother was a barrel racer and my father was bullrider and bullfighter – and I grew up surrounded by cowboys. I actually competed for a little while before bull riders that I knew were killed and I decided that it wasn’t the life I wanted to pursue.
My dad turned away from competing and performing as it took a toll on his body, but he never relinquished his core. He honed his craft as a professional photographer and my parents sold that skill and their experience to local rodeo circuits. Mom would help with timing and coordinating events while Dad was in the dirt getting the good shots but using his knowledge to stay out of harm’s way. They also both helped mentor the next generation.
It was during these trips that I met Charles Sampson. He was the first African American cowboy to win a world championship in professional rodeo, he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1996, and he was one of the people behind a circuit that we followed. Charlie rode for nearly 20 years, including 11 trips to the National Finals Rodeo, and is well-known for his many injuries. Notably, his left calf has 17 pins and two metal plates, he has broken every bone in his face, and even lost an ear when a bull ran him over in 1988. He literally shattered his face during a riding accident in front of President Ronald Reagan. He retired from riding and turned to helping a younger generation through his expertise.
Boba Fett reminds me of these two cowboys. The Book of Boba Fett shows us how the bounty hunter has changed from the quiet menace we met in the original trilogy. He undergoes a change during the miniseries, growing from a solitary hunter to a member of a community. He learns a new way of looking at the world while retaining his core experience and expertise. He can still move and fight as necessary, but he still wants to make his way through the galaxy as a simple man.
To that end, he has eschewed the methods that made him famous, using the knowledge he’s gained to bring about order with minimal bloodshed within the community. Much like how Charlie and my father remained cowboys but changed how they interacted with rodeo, Boba Fett still thrives in the Outer Rim while teaching the people who suffered under Jabba corruption how to thrive together.
Boba takes the title of daimyo, a title inspired from the Japanese feudal lords of the 10th to 19th century. Daimyo ruled hereditary land holdings and led clans, often guarding their holdings through samurai that were paid in land or food. Both land and food were used as payment for Fett’s own samurai throughout this show.
Boba has learned to rule through compassion and compromise, not through fear and absolutism. He has learned that there are better ways to resolve conflict than just shooting someone. It’s easy to kill an opponent, but it takes a stronger character to change minds and avoid taking lives. He’s learned this after his vengeance-fueled childhood and his years as a violent bounty hunter.
It’s actually disturbing to me that, based on the hot takes in social media, so many fans in my generation think that Boba’s compassion is a weakness. Of course, Boba’s attitude in this miniseries – injustice against anyone should not be tolerated, no matter how close or far from you it takes place – parallels the attitudes that these same Gen-Xers classify as the “social justice warrior” mindset, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
The Book of Boba Fett, which was billed as “Season 2.5” of The Mandalorian, is a side story that tells the legend of Boba Fett’s resurrection and rebirth through the style of the unreliable narrator. It highlights his reconciliation with his past, both the vengeful orphan and the “no disintegrations” violent hunter, as he evolves into a different kind of force. The season reminds me of the small spinoffs that happen in comics, offering an amplifying story to the big events that don’t necessarily fit in the main arc.
The flashback sequences of his survival and rise on the Dune Sea are his own dreams while he tries to regain his own physical strength. Those dreams are subjective by nature, part of the legend or the myth. For me, that also lent itself to the “modern day” sequences as possibly being told like the Armorer’s superstitious stylings of the purge of Mandalore.
This “legend of” story also explains why Boba Fett isn’t in every episode (even though the only one that he wasn’t in was the fifth episode, primarily a Din Djarin chapter, despite what the social media meme-makers think). The meme-makers have fun with this story because it is very different from the normal television method. Boba’s name on the tin, but he’s not in frame for twenty-five to thirty percent of the series.
Carrying the Biblical parallels forward, the New Testament is about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the progression of Christianity, but Jesus only appears in four of the twenty-seven books. Notably, those four all tell essentially the same story from different points of view. The remaining twenty-three books muse about the legacy and the legend.
The salvation of Tatooine is turned into gospel by Boba Fett’s ultimatum to the Pyke Syndicate. It is written and anyone within earshot will carry that legend to the ends of the galaxy.
I, Boba Fett, speaking as daimyo of the Tatooine territories formerly held by Jabba the Hutt, present the following offer: Nothing.
You will leave this planet and your spice trade. If you refuse these terms, the arid sands of Tatooine will once again flourish with flowering fields fertilized with the bodies of your dead.
At the end of The Book of Boba Fett, these Tatooine territories are free from the corruption and oppression of the Hutts, the Pykes, and the “curse” of the criminal element. The show called back several times to the ancient oceans of the desert planet, and I think that’s Boba’s vision of the future. It’s a restoration of balance to the planet by returning it to the people, both the Tuskens and the homesteaders. It also lights a beacon for the healing of another society as Din Djarin heads toward the ruins of Mandalore.
The Book of Boba Fett also fills some important gaps in the modern media landscape. First, we have the story of a sixty-year-old actor, Temuera Morrison, playing a middle-aged man in the second or third phase of his life. We also have an actress of similar age, Ming-Na Wen, playing Fett’s enforcer. Both characters are taking charge and getting results, living new and distinct phases of their lives. So much of what we see in Hollywood is focused on coming-of-age stories, tales of young and sexy CW archetypes battling angst, or even mid-life redemption stories portrayed by middle-aged actors. In the industry, older actors (especially women) aren’t even considered for action-hero roles. This is a refreshing change.
The second change is also refreshing: We have a single man and a single woman working together and they’re not romantically involved. There is no unresolved sexual tension, no will-they-won’t-they Moonlighting bantha poodoo, and not even a hint of attraction between them. The relationship is professional and asexual, and I am on board for all of it.
The Book of Boba Fett is not without problems, of course. The parallels to Dune are more than obvious, as are elements of the White Savior/White Man’s Burden, Magical Negro, Going Native, Mighty Whitey, and Disposable Vagrant tropes. The heartless elimination of the Tusken Raiders – the Tatooine natives – is deeply problematic because it treats them as props in Boba Fett’s ascension/resurrection. So, add Stuffed into the Fridge to the list of this story’s sins, which is a sad development since I really loved the added depth for the Tusken Raiders in this miniseries.
While I admired the storytelling style, I would have written the miniseries in a more linear fashion, presenting the flashbacks as the first few episodes, then building into the modern day story as Boba brings order to the towns under his purview. I would have spread the wealth of Episode 5’s Din Djarin story through Boba Fett’s story, following more of the A-plot/B-plot style of other television series. The present-day story stumbles in light of the flashbacks because there is no meat to it before the finale.
I would have also spent a bit more time polishing the disjointed action sequences that Robert Rodiguez directed because they are too narrowly focused. While the action occurs in frame, the rest of players stand around waiting for the lens to swing toward them. It breaks believability, especially in the finale.
But, those drawbacks considered, The Book of Boba Fett strikes me as the dogmatic material that inspired its name: A story told by an outside and biased observer trying to capture the epic scope and reputation but needing to embellish it here and there each time it comes ’round.
It’s not really a story about the man. It’s a story about his legend. Just like cowboy stories, both classic and modern.
We have a story about the legend of Boba Fett. All we need now is a campfire, a clear night, and a halfway decent pot of coffee on the Dune Sea.
Edited on February 24
I also joined the Earth Station One podcast to discuss the series with Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, and Ashley Pauls. You can find this discussion on the Earth Station One podcast’s website and wherever fine podcasts are fed. You can also find the ESO Network on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
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