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‘The Book of Boba Fett’ Is Squandering a Chance to Show the Social Side of ‘Star Wars’

The spinoff of ‘The Mandalorian’ had an opportunity to expand what it meant to be a ‘Star Wars’ story, but it’s consistently stopped right at the edge of actual exploration

Disney+/Ringer illustration

Consider, if you will, the appeal of the helmet. Chipped and dented, gaunt and dull; it’s not exactly pretty. It gives off nothing in the way of feeling. It inhibits and inhales nearly all facial reactions. Nonetheless, decades passed before anything other than this piece of headgear marked the presence of the bounty hunter Boba Fett in all corners of the Star Wars–industrial complex.

It would not be unreasonable to hypothesize that that fact alone would halt any potential mythmaking around the character, but this assumes that myths are the products of tangibility. In fact, the helmet and its accompanying mysterious aura supercharged the legend of Boba Fett, catapulting a figure who didn’t even appear in the original film—who would utter only four lines in the first trilogy—into the kind of stardom generally reserved for midi-chlorian-havers and their closest buddies. That’s lesson no. 1 when it comes to Boba, the most vital precept: The concealment of his character, the serial unknowability, was an asset, not a limitation. Under the helmet he could suit any needs.

The Book of Boba Fett, the new Disney+ series tasked with reviving the stoic hunter’s tale, arrived with much the same waft of possibility. Helmed by the team behind The Mandalorian, Boba was ostensibly pitched as a chance to deepen and build on a beloved character whose potential was haphazardly cleaved in the franchise’s initial incarnation. Fett, resplendent in beskar, would receive top billing for the first time ever, with the prequels’ Temuera Morrison donning the repainted armor he once wore as Jango Fett. But sometimes reality pales in comparison to possibility. Sometimes under the mask there’s just a letdown waiting to tumble to the bottom of a toothy pit.

In effect, the series has been muddled and disrupted by the nagging sense that it foregrounds certain settings and stories—the social themes with the potential to hold together the mysticism of the franchise—only as an excuse to rehash another legacy figure. In Boba, crime, desperation, and power are displayed only to certain ends. As its conclusion nears, the show, whatever its virtues, is a missed opportunity to expand the confines and meaning of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.

If the first formulation of Fett sketched him as a hermit of sorts, a loner purely devoted to hunting and profiting off fugitives, his subsequent appearances in the franchise have displayed the makings of a people-pleaser. In the prequels he appears as a child (played by Daniel Logan) alongside his father, Jango (played by Morrison), the Mandalorian whose DNA was used to breed a clone army for the Republic. As part of his deal with Kaminoan prime minister Lama Su, Jango asks for an unaltered replica (Boba) to raise as his son. When Jango dies at the hands of Jedi Master Mace Windu in Attack of the Clones, Boba is launched down the premature path to adulthood.

Particularly in his subsequent appearances in (Boba executive producer) Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars, the orphaned Fett appears rageful and unmoored, a child rejected by both clones and Mandalorians, who struggles to balance his quest for revenge against the Jedi with a desire for kinship. The boy falls in league with Aurra Sing, a bounty hunter whom he sees as a parental figure, oblivious to the transactional nature of the relationship. “Aurra’s an influence, and not much of a nurturing parental figure,” Filoni said, tellingly, of their pairing in 2010. “She preys on his weakness, on his desire for a family.”

Fett’s second life in the franchise is, in this way, dedicated to deconstructing his image as a loner. Across various intervals of his childhood, we see him develop a moral code, a commitment not to step on the most vulnerable. His very presence serves to reflect and refract the kinds of systems that make the galaxy function. To observe Fett from afar as a child, robbing and fighting, is to question the costs of the Republic’s militarism, the problem of identity in a neocolonial world, and the depths of poverty throughout the universe. Given Star Wars’ kid-friendly, space-operatic presentation, these themes have often been elided, understandably, in lieu of blaster fire and lightsabers and the mystics—both good and evil—who shape the galaxy’s fate. But the appeal of pulling Fett out of the sarlacc pit years later was partly the chance to tweak the established formula and see him portrayed as a disruptor, someone with a singular view of the forces that govern life on micro and macro levels.

If Boba has a defining attribute, it’s that the show has consistently gestured toward these themes and just as consistently stopped right at the edge of actual exploration. It is a work, much like The Mandalorian, with an itinerant gaze on the absence of power, the movements after the storm. But despite the time at its disposal, it never peers long or actively enough to home in on an answer. In the flashbacks that mark the series’ first few chapters, Fett is saved and eventually adopted by the Tusken Raiders, Tatooine’s Indigenous population. (A group referenced in earlier outings as “animals” and “savages.”) Viewers are provided with a glance at their culture—how they find water in the dune sea, the role of the Gaderffii stick, a ceremonial dance—without hearing any substantial dialogue from the actual members of the tribe. The entire arc is cut short after two episodes, when the clan is slaughtered offscreen in what presents as a device meant to move the plot forward.

Later, as Fett attempts to solidify his role as Daimyo of Mos Espa, we catch a glimpse of poverty’s tentacles on Tatooine: unemployment, hoarding, and skirmishes over paltry resources. But just as before, this exposition is cut short once it’s narratively convenient. What starts off as a quest to mediate a dispute ends with Fett convincing a gang of disaffected cyborg(?) youths to serve as his security force. (It is glaring that we see neither the spoils nor ignominies of the spice economy or the fallout from Fortuna’s fragile reign, with the exception of a graffiti-enthralled biker gang.) Even the wider theme of organized crime, the purported basis for the show’s existence, serves solely as another ladder for the former bounty hunter to climb. His desire to head a criminal syndicate is waved away as a quest for personal autonomy. “I’m tired of working for idiots who are gonna get me killed,” he tells his partner, the assassin Fennec Shand, in the fourth chapter of the series, “The Gathering Storm.”

The problem with Boba isn’t necessarily that these themes don’t work. (There’s some version of this show that’s rollicking and introspective. This, unlike the Tatooine system, is not a binary.) It’s that there’s not a real investment in any of them. Instead the writers have chosen to center Fett’s quest for power without contextualizing what that power means, where it comes from, and how it would actually present itself. The Book of Boba Fett need not be the story of a righteous crusade. Many of the biggest failures in the prequels are attempts to present social decay that ended up falling utterly short due to a creator’s cultural blindspots (*cough cough cough* Watto ***cough cough cough*** the Trade Federation). Boba doesn’t have to be about a man who chooses to disrupt the structures of the universe. With each passing chapter, though, it seems more apparent that it would be nice if we could catch more than a glimpse of what one might crusade against if so inclined.

It’s hard not to feel that the possibilities of the show have ended up swallowing the reality of it, that what could’ve been makes what is seem so inconveniently but unavoidably inane. It still seems as if we’re trying to find the space that Rian Johnson spoke about post–The Last Jedi—the optimal directions for Star Wars “to grow, move forward, and stay vital.” This series had the chance to expand what it meant to be a Star Wars story. Instead, it reads a bit like a totem of middle-aged angst.

That might be enough. Nostalgia’s a hell of a thing, even when it’s beset by inconsistent execution. Perhaps Star Wars, a franchise buoyed by a fictional religion that posits the interconnectedness and codependence of all living beings across all epochs of time and reaches of space, will never actually have to focus on anything other than the lives of a select few characters and their closest relatives. Maybe its makers, and even its fans, would rather certain subjects be left concealed.