There’s something beautifully paradoxical about The Book of Boba Fett, worth reiterating even a year later, when similar conclusions coalesced as the kind of “mixed reception” that leans increasingly negative with time – like True Detective season two or video games considered “the greatest ever” because of graphics. Coming into the show so late, having finished it only after the first episode of The Mandalorian season three premiered, I’d hoped to have a reaction buoyed by a complete picture, if only because the critical discourse surrounding the show had become so singular and discouraging. Something like, “Okay, now we can reevaluate the show as part of a larger story instead of on its own terms.” That was one of the big complaints, that not everyone wants to watch a spin-off in order to follow the story. Spin-off integrity. Why we’re so concerned with that “everyone” I’m not sure, and if anything, Star Wars completionism is supposed to be impossible, throwing back to its serial origins and calling the first sequel “part five.”
But that’s an impractical notion. Modern Star Wars isn’t based on Flash Gordon but Star Wars, and it’s not like even George Lucas wanted you to not watch the Prequel trilogy, just for the fun of incompleteness. It’s also dishonest; I was, too, grumbly about The Book of Boba Fett, fearing its implications. I’m fine with a show about the character, because that’s essentially what The Mandalorian is, but I don’t want to watch a show about Obi-Wan or Ahsoka, or the Bad Batch, or whatever else is coming down the pike. It isn’t Star Wars for me, it’s “space bounty hunter.” Now just make that bounty hunter a woman and call her Iria, and then we’re cooking with fire. Iria: A Zeiram Story.
It was actually the errant note that Book eventually features a daikaiju scene that finally got the ball rolling for me, in January of this year. I was actually preparing to sail right into The Mandalorian, having the relevant plot points long spoiled. So the paradox is that Boba’s show is theoretically skippable, given the recap at the start of Din’s season three, but don’t skip it because, hey, it’s about Boba Fett. This is where the other big complaint whooshes in from the wings: “Or is it?”
And who’s shared in such a complaint? None other than the man himself, Temuera Morrison, who told Entertainment Tonight in the summer of 2022, “I think it’s time to get him back to his badass ways. No two ways around that.”
The response I wanted from myself to this show was something like a friendly retort, because I want the guy playing Boba Fett – who everyone likes and remembers from Attack of the Clones, and isn’t it so cool they cast him again – to agree with the direction of the character. I think it’s a matter of separating story from storytelling, because the premise of The Book of Boba Fett is fantastic. It’s Deadwood in Star Wars, with an ex-villain trying to reconstruct a notorious town. The flashbacks in the early episodes, where we see how Boba Fett becomes the man who’d take on that challenge, are masterful. The train scene with the Tusken Raiders was another magical moment of pathos and action that this slice of the Star Wars universe does so well. And nothing beats the scene where the Tuskens gift Boba a lizard to “guide” him, and he plays along before its use is revealed – Morrison’s delivery of “A lizard! I will… let it guide me!” is perfect.
Unfortunately, the present-day storyline gives the impression that the writers settled on “Deadwood in space” as the endgame, not the starting point. The politics of Tatooine are so unclear, and Boba’s skillful maneuvering – the chief pleasure of any gangster story, occasionally breaking out with violence – is simple and unsatisfying. Thematically, it’s nice, that Boba takes the moral high ground in each instance, and gains allies enough for the final Mass Effect 3 war effort, but this is probably what Morrison’s talking about, especially when Din Djarin first appears and kicks more ass in three minutes than Boba had in the last four hours.
From the beginning – well, the very end of The Mandalorian season two – Boba Fett and Fennec Shand walk into Jabba’s Palace and kill Bib Fortuna. Then Boba Fett sits on the throne and suddenly he’s the new ruler. If the fail state for this sort of thing is “You keep what you kill” from The Chronicles of Riddick, I need to understand legitimacy and administrative responsibilities. What does Boba Fett need to do to claim power and keep it, and what does he do with that power? “Rule more humanely than Jabba” is a good character thing – and he puts it into practice in individual cases – but it seems to scuttle the plot.
The Book of Boba Fett doesn’t have the killer hook of “Star Wars bounty hunter show” that The Mandalorian had, which itself gave way to the killer hook of “Baby Yoda,” but I do like the key image of Boba Fett and Fennec Shand walking down the street together. They’re male and female leads who are not romantically involved and are both over 50. Ming-Na Wen has some really excellent action scenes here. I liked her fisticuffs on Boba’s ship when he was stealing it back from the palace, and of course, her big scene at the end, killing the heads of the five families, as it were. Could’ve used more face-to-face between predator and prey, maybe a one-liner, but she’s an assassin after all. It was quite something to watch a goofy-looking CGI alien garroted and hanged from the ceiling.
So it’s a tricky thing, because I enjoyed the show and do feel it was mischaracterized by the critical reception. I was expecting something disastrous, and while Din Djarin’s [amazingly cool] scenes [on that awesome Halo ring] were unnecessary, their insertion was structured with narrative logic. And Boba Fett does just enough that I’d be willing to call him a “badass,” having learned so much from the Tusken Raiders and using it to his advantage in the very end. That’s what this show is about, when Ahsoka calls Grogu a “padawan” instead of a “foundling” – a clash of cultures that produces understanding. Whether that show is The Mandalorian or The Book of Boba Fett, I’m not sure it matters in the long term. But in the moment, I do wish for more.