Review: The Book of Boba Fett debut banks on Star Wars nostalgia

(L-R): Temura Morrison is Boba Fett and Ming-Na Wen is Fennec Shand in Lucasfilm's THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT, exclusively on Disney+. © 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Temura Morrison is Boba Fett and Ming-Na Wen is Fennec Shand in Lucasfilm's THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT, exclusively on Disney+. © 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved. /

Boba Fett is the anti-hero we’ve always known him to be in The Book of Boba Fett. The titular Mandalorian armored bounty hunter (played to gritty, imposing perfection by Temuera Morrison) makes yet another triumphant return to the Star Wars universe after being resurrected for the second season of The Mandalorian. We all knew Boba survived the Sarlacc pit he was unceremoniously knocked into in Return of the Jedi, but The Book of Boba Fett finally shows us how. And it’s not pretty.

Left for dead on the sands of Tatooine

While The Book of Boba Fett is set about five years after the fall of the Empire (the same time period as The Mandalorian), the premiere episode — “Stranger in a Strange Land” — is heavy on flashbacks and reminders of the violence and trauma Boba has seen throughout his life. While he marinates in a medical bacta tank, he dreams of Kamino — the place where he was “born” — and picking up his father’s helmet after he was killed by Jedi Mace Windu in the Battle of Geonosis. Both of these memories are key to unpacking Boba’s psyche and understanding his motivations.

But a good chunk of the episode is spent showing how Boba escaped the belly of the beast (literally) and lost his iconic armor. Similar to but not exactly like the stories found in Star Wars Legends, Boba uses his flamethrower to burn his way out of the Sarlacc, collapsing on the sand from exhaustion and probably lack of oxygen.

That’s when the sand-crawling Jawas find our unconscious hero and strip him of his armor, helmet and jetpack. Don’t worry, he gets it back in The Mandalorian season 2. Boba is then picked up by a group of Tusken Raiders who hold him prisoner, beat him and probably withhold food and water.

But Boba eventually earns their respect by saving a young Tusken Raider from a scaly, multi-armed creature that looks like a mix of Goro from Mortal Kombat, Machamp from Pokémon and some sort of dragon or lizard. Of course Tatooine has one of these lurking in its sands.

Though not the point of the series, it’s refreshing to see a more complex look at the Tusken Raiders, who were largely depicted as nomadic savages in the original and prequel trilogies. They got a bit more depth and humanity in The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett continues this thread by highlighting their philosophy of loyalty and respect, things that Boba also values.

Lord Fett

In present-day Tatooine, Boba and his right-hand woman Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) are learning more about the not-so-smooth transfer of power at the former palace of the late Jabba the Hutt in Mos Espa. At the end of The Mandalorian season 2, Boba swiftly killed former boss Bib Fortuna and plopped his armored backside on the iconic throne. But as most rulers know, taking a throne is much simpler than holding it.

The beginnings of Fett’s underworld takeover are full of awkward moments, from him and Fennec struggling to understand one local boss and grumbling about the need for a protocol droid to a tense standoff with the mayor’s arrogant representative. That liaison makes clear that the local government isn’t going to roll over for Boba’s rule, and Fennec asks her boss if she should kill him.

In another world, in another time, Boba might have said yes. But while Boba’s penchant for ruthlessness has served him well, he seems to be reevaluating the benefits of brutality and fear in favor of a more moderate and calculated approach. As we’ve heard Boba say in every trailer for the series, he “intends to rule with respect” instead of fear.

But as Fennec reminds him, to the people of Mos Espa and others in the criminal underworld, a leader who doesn’t instill fear in his underlings can be seen as weak. This is evidenced by a quick battle scene when Boba and Fennec are attacked by a group of assassins bent on testing the new leader’s authority and strength. The fight scene provides a taste of more epic-ness to come, as Boba shows off his arm blasters while Fennec displays her parkour skills in a chase across rooftops to nab one of the assassins alive.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this premiere episode is how it shows just how world-weary Boba is. The man has been in countless fights. He’s been through the wringer for decades, and he’s understandably tired.

Morrison’s portrayal of the rugged Boba is grounded, dynamic and relatable — especially when he has to be carried to his bacta pod to heal after the street fight.

“Stranger in a Strange Land” verdict

For lack of a better phrase, the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett plays it safe. There’s no fandom-shattering reveal of a Force-sensitive child in need of saving or any hints of a Skywalker. And that’s a good thing.

This series isn’t being set up to be about the Jedi or the Republic or any other part of the galaxy at large. So far, The Book of Boba Fett takes a more focused view of a simple man trying to make his way and take what he believes is rightfully his.

There are hints of more interesting threads to be unraveled, as evidenced in an uneasy exchange with Garsa Fwip (Jennifer Beals), the Twi-lek manager of a lavish cantina in town. There are also probably more homicidal enemies waiting in the shadows, as it’s unlikely those formerly loyal to Jaba and Bib Fortuna will readily bend the knee to Boba.

There are also teases that Boba will eventually have to unpack and deal with the many traumas he’s experienced in his life, especially the lingering loss of his father Jango (played by Morrison in Attack of the Clones).

Despite the lack of mystery, The Book of Boba Fett shines the brightest when it’s focused on Morrison and Wen; Fennec’s humorous indifference plays well alongside Boba’s enduring stoicism. Between these two, there are sure to be plenty more epic battles and underworld scheming to come in The Book of Boba Fett.

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