This essay contains spoilers for the first three episodes of “The Book of Boba Fett.”
Disney+ is my greatest debt. 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. Although it would be several months before most people could get vaccinated, the gift of that finale was a fitting expression of the hope that we all felt at that moment that everything was going to be okay.
The original Boba Fett portrayal was that of a dangerous bounty hunter who is amoral. However, the new series depicts him as wiser and older.
Although it was worse than the previous year, the year that followed the finale has been even more chaotic. 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.
This new series is a lot more chaotic. 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 backTusken Raiders captured him immediately. 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.
Flashbacks are not something I enjoy. They can take away the momentum of what we are seeing in the present. 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. Boba is most comfortable with his helmet on and having a chat, despite his constant reminders from his friends that he must engage in cruelty or pomp to build his street cred. (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. This community was always presented as a group of brutal murderers who will either kill you at long range or hunt you down in the middle of 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. Is this some sort of human sect, like the Mandalorians? They seem to be a murderous bunch. Why are they so mad?
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. People who view the Raiders as barbaric 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 extremely excited by the first episode, I have to say that I am now having a terrible feeling about it.
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. Many similarities exist between the Tusken culture and that of Mandalorians. They share a similar emphasis on fighting spiritually and refuse to show their face. While the scenes of Boba trying to convince Mos Espa’s malevolent inhabitants to respect him seem to drag out, the Tusken scenes were always engaging and fresh.
The third episode begins with Boba returning to town after a visit to find all the Tuskens killed by a gang of human spies we don’t know about. It really spent two episodes turning a community of dehumanized indigenous people into a rich, vital culture and then killing it offscreen to motivate its hero. It seems that way at the moment. 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. This is what makes the universe so fascinating and so spiritually profound. Even the villainous ones, every character is a person who is on a journey. The Emperor is the exception. He is actually the most evil 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.
There are four more episodes to come. There is still a lot of time to fix this and to get the current storyline moving. (The arrival of Wookie, a huge evil bounty hunter, is definitely a step in the correct direction. I find the introduction of wealthy street kids riding fancy multicolored bikes by a gang is less exciting. I was incredibly excited by the first episode, but now I feel a bit numb.