Review by C.J. Bunce
This year on January 1 I reviewed the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, the show about the Star Wars bounty hunter’s return, 38.5 years in the making. The series’ first season had a bit of a tepid start, but over the next six episodes Star Wars fans learned what was happening. This was never intended to be a separate series, but the third season of a Boba Fett/Mandalorian hybrid, Saturday morning Western serial like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas created with Raiders of the Lost Ark. This may be Disney’s best amusement park ride yet. Maybe it would have made more sense to some if it were called some Western title like Star Wars: The Outcasts and didn’t have those two separate titles. Criticisms of this season have all been like that, all of it form over substance (or maybe it’s just people who forgot to have fun). In my first review I identified what I thought the series needed to do in its next six episodes. So how did they (and I) do?
The Book of Boba Fett was exactly what it needed to be, and precisely what we wanted and, maybe, needed. Detractors can go enjoy Dune if they want a long, dreary, wordy drama. Not everything needs to be life-affirming, life-changing, or thought-provoking. The real world can be a slog, and we all need a trip to an amusement park now and then. For me, when I first saw Boba Fett die at the sneak preview of Return of the Jedi 38.5 years ago, it was the low point of the movie–I’d rather they’d kill off Han Solo and let the mysterious bounty hunter drift off into the sunsets. Practically speaking it meant decades of no Boba Fett, and nothing but minor appearances of Boba Fett in the Marvel comic books. So we’ve all had a long time to picture how Boba Fett survives bumbling into the Great Pit of Carkoon, nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc, to be slowly digested over 1,000 years. But we actually had more than that. George Lucas gave us Temeura Morrison as Jango Fett in the (love ’em or hate ’em) prequels. And he told us Boba was a clone of Jango and all those troopers running around were clones of Jango, too. That was a pretty big serving of Fett-ness, and a big dose of “fan service” from Lucas before the phrase itself would arrive and become so annoyingly commonplace.
I raised seven key points in my review of the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett here at borg on New Year’s Day, items I thought the rest of the season needed to address. Let’s a take a quick look at where we ended up.
1. The series needed to pick up the pace, fast. Did they do it? Absolutely! from training Boba with a band of Tusken Raiders, to Boba taking over Mos Espa, to Boba partnering with unlikely comrades, Boba in a motorbike gang, chasing a former Lodge 49 lodger as a Twi-lek across town, to introducing new cyborgs, awesomely rendered twin Hutt mobsters, Fennic Shand showing us what a badass Star Wars borg assassin is like, battling a Ray Harryhausen-inspired Krayt dragon, a Rancor (with Danny Trejo!), and yes, to folding Pablo Pascal’s Din Djarin into this story, which brought a pod race-like spaceship test run and a giant-sized “kaiju Star Wars-style” finale with a nod to King Kong. Plus, a new and improved young Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano appearance, setting up a springboard for her own forthcoming series.
2. Any hope of matching The Mandalorian will need some type of Baby Yoda. Or, in this case, exactly Baby Yoda. They nailed it! I didn’t know I’d be so on-point. And what we learned about Grogu? Choosing a Mandalorian over the Jedi? And that choice gets him not only his own Mithril shirt, but likely his own Darksaber?!? I asked. They delivered. ’nuff said.
3. Boba’s emergence was… too brief. No worries! Favreau came back to the Sarlacc, and Boba got his revenge with the “all-powerful” Sarlacc. I was worried it would turn out too much like Dune. The series was able to double back and revisit a lot of Boba’s past in the years between Return of the Jedi and now. Once we saw the entire season, we learned why (see below).
4. The first episode was thick on nostalgia. So what? Yes, and that continued to be a good thing, but not everything. I’d said, “Nostalgia is great, but the series needs to have something else.” In seven hours it all evened out, and viewing it as 23 episodes of a single narrative, it all makes sense. Yes, for those of us that love it, many scenes seemed really close to a kid (ahem, little Jonny Favreau) playing in the sandbox with his action figures. We live in the era of Easter eggs and throwback Thursdays. That’s in part what made The Mandalorian a fun ride, like bringing the Troop Transport toy to life, and now we revisited Boba Fett riding a Bantha, and Boba Fett riding a Rancor, and a Rancor and baby Yoda nap. In a word, it was perfect. In the fifth episode, “The Return of The Mandalorian,” director Bryce Dallas Howard delivered one of the year’s best television episodes, following a bad day in the life of Din Djarin, and Steph Green did the same in the Tusken Raider training episode, “The Tribes of Tattooine,” in spectacular visuals and a compelling, emotional, wonderfully scripted journey. Robert Rodriguez brought the action in his two episodes, especially in the finale. Plus all those throwback characters from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, courtesy of Dave Filoni.
5. The music is… similar. How’d it end up? It was, but for a reason. It’s because this was really one three-season series about two very different Mandalorian outcasts. The Mandalorian’s Ludwig Göransson and Star Wars newcomer Joseph Shirley partnered to create the best of both worlds, including a lovely look back to Return of the Jedi. Boba ultimately got a memorable theme, steeped more in Ennio Morricone than viewers may have been ready for. Don’t forget, this is a Western! A space Western, but a Western just the same.
6. Defaulting to beast-killing plots was overdone as far back as The Phantom Menace. Do something else. How’d they do? Success! After the first episode no beasts were (seriously) hurt in the making of this series. It’s amazing that Favreau & Co. finally got this right, from Boba’s appreciation for all life, shown by Boba releasing his beloved Bantha to “find other Banthas, go make baby Banthas,” and then to take responsibility for the Rancor, not merely assert domination of the creature as past Star Wars creators would have done, and even befriend the angry Wookiee Krrsantan. This bounty hunter doesn’t treat these guys like soulless characters.
7. Isn’t he supposed to be the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy? Answer: No! And this is where we learned our lesson. Maybe the Boba Fett of The Empire Strikes Back was that guy, but character growth is what makes characters compelling and endearing. Nobody really wants more Anakin Skywalker, right? The point is clear now: Boba learned something and experienced some character change after being dropped in the Sarlacc and saved by the Tusken tribe. No longer would an older, rare breed of surviving hunter be a vengeful dude. No more would he carry Wookiee scalps. No more does he care about pursuing for vengeance Han, Chewbacca, Lando, and Luke. This near-retired, bacta tank jacuzzi, Old Man Boba story is happening 20 years later than fans may want, but that’s necessary because we want Temeura Morrison in that role and he is 61.
It’s fun enough that someone is finally making this show. Fans who lived through the Dark Age of no Star Wars and new fans that weren’t alive then need to remember that. It sounds like it is all fan service, but it isn’t, and yes, Star Wars has almost a trademark in goofy named characters and stilted dialogue, and it can always use improved plot writing. But the best Saturday Western serials didn’t have all those story layers either and generations enjoyed them just the same.
None of this is to say that what Favreau & Co. delivered in The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian isn’t art, worthy itself for art’s sake and defendable as same. Lucas’s new Museum of Narrative Art is all about that, and his mega-sized book, Star Wars Frames (reviewed here), deserves a sequel and update with what we’ve seen in Rogue One, Solo, The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett. One of the greatest futurist/sci-fi concept artists of them all, Ralph McQuarrie, can be felt in the visuals through all of these. The look of these shows is like nothing anyone has seen before– the visual effects technological innovation called the LED Volume is stunning and here to stay.
It was the most anticipated series of 2022 and it delivered a fun show we’ll be re-watching and enjoying for years. Watch both season one and two of The Mandalorian and its third season in every way but the title, The Book of Boba Fett, now streaming on Disney Plus.