“You are not a Mandalorian,” Bo-Katan tells Boba Fett in the second-season finale of The Mandalorian. “Never said I was,” Fett responds. Yet from the moment The Book of Boba Fett was announced in that episode’s post-credits scene, uncertainty surrounded the relationship between the existing Star Wars series starring Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian and the upstart series featuring Temuera Morrison’s Fett. Would Fett’s series be a spinoff? Or, with Grogu delivered to Luke Skywalker and Moff Gideon vanquished, would Fett permanently pick up the Mando mantle from Din Djarin?
A few days after the finale, Jon Favreau tried to clarify. “This is actually separate from The Mandalorian Season 3,” the Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett creator and EP explained. Yet The Book of Boba’s ties to The Mandalorian were still stronger than beskar. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy had previously said that “the next chapter” of an interconnected story set within The Mandalorian’s timeline would appear in December 2021, when Book of Boba was set to debut. Book of Boba’s creative team—from Favreau and fellow two-way EP Dave Filoni to Mandalorian director and Book of Boba director/co-showrunner/EP Robert Rodriguez and composer Ludwig Göransson—was largely the same as the flagship show’s. The lines between the two productions were so blurry that Ming-Na Wen, who reprises her Mandalorian role as assassin Fennec Shand in Book of Boba, went weeks without realizing that she was shooting a different show. “They call it The Mandalorian 2.5,” she said, noting that the numbering for Book of Boba scripts began with “301.”
Before The Mandalorian premiered, Din Djarin had been mistaken for Fett by fans who were fooled by Din sporting the latter’s trademark T-shaped helmet visor. But after anchoring two successful seasons that launched and solidified Disney’s streaming service and established a small-screen, live-action beachhead for Star Wars, Din loomed larger in the frame, both figuratively and literally. As Bill Burr’s Migs Mayfeld says when he sees Boba in The Mandalorian’s Chapter 15, “You know, for a second, I thought you were this other guy.”
Thus, some of the questions dogging Book of Boba in the lead-up to Wednesday’s premiere were related to the movies or series that spawned or preceded it. Would Han Solo have another run-in with the former bounty hunter who once captured him and transported him in a carbonite slab? Could Boba becoming a crime lord in the post-credits scene portend a crossover by Qi’ra, Cad Bane, Bossk, Xizor, or some other underworld figure from Solo, The Clone Wars, or elsewhere? Would Boba’s sister Omega, whom Fennec was hired to capture (and protect) in The Bad Batch, play some part in this story set almost 30 years later? Would Mandalorian characters aside from Fett and Shand appear in Book of Boba? Would the spinoff unspool any of The Mandalorian’s lingering plot threads, like Luke training Grogu, Din seeing Grogu again, Bo-Katan reconquering Mandalore, Ahsoka and Sabine searching for Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn, or the future First Order helping Palpatine return? Would this seven-episode season help set up the “climactic story event” that Kennedy had teased? What kind of climax is conceivable at this point in the Star Wars timeline, hemmed in as it is between two trilogies?
But the biggest unknowns concerned Fett himself. Some were basic biographical loose ends: How did Fett escape the sarlacc pit he’d plunged into in Return of the Jedi? What was he doing during the five years between somehow surviving the sarlacc and reclaiming his armor from Mando (via Timothy Olyphant’s Cobb Vanth)? Has the ship formerly known as Slave I officially been rechristened the Firespray? And how and why did Fett save Shand from her near-death experience in The Mandalorian’s first season?
Other mysteries were more existential. Foremost among them: Could Boba be a leading man? Introduced in 1978’s Star Wars Holiday Special in advance of his planned big-screen debut in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, Fett had all of four lines and six and a half minutes of screen time in the original trilogy. His beaten-up, go-go-gadget armor, menacing movements and line deliveries, and quiet competence as he did Darth Vader’s bidding made him an instant icon whose history and face were secrets. After decades of sporadic appearances in since-decanonized comics and books, Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars animated series fleshed out Boba’s backstory, but those screen roles and subsequent canonical comics still left him largely in the background. Boba has been a cool-looking, seen-but-hardly-heard adversary, and a part-time ally for Mando, but The Book of Boba Fett would determine whether he could carry his own story in addition to being a bad guy or sidekick in someone else’s. Is Fett more fascinating as a cipher than as an open book? Is it more entertaining to see him do disintegrations or to imagine why Vader might have warned him not to? And does Star Wars need another protagonist known for his helmet and armor, albeit one who’s more likely to take them off?
“Stranger in a Strange Land,” which was written by Favreau and directed by Rodriguez (who also helmed Fett’s first major Mandalorian episode), is a satisfactory, if surprisingly low-key, start to the series that leaves most of those major questions wide open. As with the famously hush-hush Mandalorian, Disney didn’t send screeners to critics. Normally, that kind of communications disruption prior to a premiere or finale can mean only one thing: dissuasion from spoiling major plot points, such as the debut of “Baby Yoda,” the reappearance of Fett, or a deus ex Skywalker. But unless you count Max Rebo returning to cover “Mad About Me”—possibly as part of a supergroup with Figrin D’an or a former member of the Modal Nodes—there’s no shocking plot twist or major character cameo in The Book of Boba Fett’s first chapter. It’s a somewhat workmanlike launch that gives us glimpses of a defeated Fett and a triumphant Fett, filling in a few gaps in his antihero’s journey along the way.
In The Mandalorian’s second-season finale, Mercedes Varnado’s Koska Reeves taunts Fett by saying, “I didn’t know sidekicks were allowed to talk,” then follows that up with a threat: “You’ll be talking through the window of a bacta tank.” Maybe she’d gotten her hands on an early spinoff script. Fett spends much of “Stranger in a Strange Land” in his personal bacta tank at Jabba’s Bib’s Boba’s palace, and although he doesn’t talk—the mouthpiece might make that difficult—he does dream about his past. After brief flashbacks to his birthplace—Kamino’s Tipoca City (RIP)—and to the Geonosis arena where his father Jango was killed by Mace Windu, he revisits another traumatic memory: awakening in the stomach of the sarlacc.
This is a reveal almost 40 years in the making, but Favreau doesn’t draw it out; he frontloads it and dispenses with it quickly, perhaps sensing that speculating about Boba’s means of escape is more exciting than seeing it. Fett’s escape from the sarlacc was alluded to or described a few times in old Legends stories, starting just a few months after Jedi depicted his ignominious demise. The refreshed, official version of events calls for a fairly similar exit strategy: Boba breathes fresh air from the supply of an expired stormtrooper, punches a hole in the wall of the sarlacc’s stomach, fires his flamethrower through it, and burrows his way to the surface. He emerges on the sand in front of the wreckage of Jabba’s sail barge and a motionless sarlacc, presumably dead of indigestion.
After passing on finding a new definition of pain and suffering while being slowly digested over a thousand years, Fett runs afoul of most of Tatooine’s other infamous fauna. First, sandcrawling Jawas steal his armor and leave him for dead (again). Then, before he can die of dehydration, Tusken raiders find him and force him into servitude. He soon stages an escape attempt (with no help from a Rodian fellow prisoner) and survives a tussle with a Tusken guard dog/lizard/massiff, only to be pummeled into unconsciousness and renewed captivity by a Tusken duelist.
After simmering in a sarlacc’s stomach acid, getting dragged behind a bantha, baking under Tatooine’s twin suns without water or sunscreen, and being beaten by the business end of a gaderffii stick, Fett looks a good deal the worse for wear, which at least in his pre-bacta scenes helps provide an in-universe explanation for why the 41-year-old Fett is played by a now-61-year-old actor. According to canon, Fett was born 32 years before Episode IV’s Battle of Yavin, which took place about nine years before the events of The Mandalorian. Jango was once said to have been born about 34 years before Boba, which would have made him 44 when he died—a few years older than Boba in Book of Boba, despite having been played by an almost-20-years-younger Morrison. (It’s probably best not to dwell on this.)
All of that bathing in digestive juices and failing to moisturize hasn’t just left Boba weathered and scarred (albeit a lot less so after his facials); it also may have weakened him in a way that either requires or benefits from ongoing bacta baths (à la his old boss). We get a sense of Boba’s vulnerability in the episode’s present timeline, which picks up roughly where The Mandalorian’s season-ending stinger left off. With Shand at his side, Fett has ousted Jabba’s former majordomo, Bib Fortuna, and installed himself as the head of the late Hutt’s (and late Twi’lek’s) criminal empire. When he wakes up from his bacta-induced reverie—“The dreams are back,” he confides to Fennec—it’s time to don his armor and receive visitors in his newly claimed throne room, where torture droid 8D8 (voiced by Matt Berry from What We Do in the Shadows) announces guests despite being fluent in far too few forms of communication.
An Aqualish delegate hands Boba a big box o’ New Republic credits, and Rodriguez’s Dokk Strassi, a Trandoshan leader Fett once worked for, offers a Wookie pelt and remarks, “May you never leave Mos Espa.” (“Even when a Trandoshan pays you a compliment, it sounds like a threat,” Fett observes.) Between those two tributes, pledges of loyalty from a pair of Gamorrean guards, and a suspiciously immediate display of obeisance from Madam Garsa Fwip (Jennifer Beals)—the proprietor of “the Sanctuary,” the upscale Mos Espa cantina in which Rebo’s band plays—it seems as if many of Jabba and Bib’s former vassals are prepared to bend the knee to “Lord Fett.”
Not all of them, though. Mos Espa mayor Mok Shaiz not only fails to appear at the palace in person, but he sends his majordomo in his stead to collect tribute from Fett. (The majordomo is played by David Pasquesi—like Berry, the kind of comic actor The Mandalorian has used to good effect.) And as Fett and Shand exit the Sanctuary, they’re ambushed by several assassins with stun batons and energy shields, who surround the deadly duo. With an assist from the Gamorreans, Fett and Shand overpower the Power Rangers, and Boba wastes one with his wrist rocket—this week’s sole disintegration. After a parkour pursuit of two survivors, Fennec kills one and captures the other, though the eventual interrogation—and any info the prisoner spills about who hired him—will have to wait for next week. Perhaps the assassins were the “delegation” from the mayor that the majordomo told Fett to expect, though the mayor could be in league with another organization, such as Crimson Dawn or one of the other “five syndicates” from Solo.
Boba’s reign isn’t going to go uncontested. Neither are his methods: Much to 8D8’s dismay, Fett doesn’t condone torture, and much to Shand’s dismay, he doesn’t rely on fear to keep the local systems in line. He rewards loyalty, forgoes a Hutt-style litter as he surveys his territory, and hasn’t bothered to buff out the dent in his helmet. He’s relentless and lethal, but as we learned in The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian, he lives by a kind of code.
Fett’s showdown with the assassins necessitates another trip to the bacta tank, which initiates another dream. Back in the past—where the relative lack of dialogue and the endless desert set a starker and more meditative tone—Boba bides his time and suffers the indignity of being led on a leash by a Tusken youngster, who takes him and the Rodian on a water run. After watching from afar as a moisture farmer’s reserves are raided by marauding graffiti artists—whose insignia may represent the Mining Collective or a syndicate that will have to be bent to Boba’s will—the Tusken orders Fett and the Rodian to dig for gourds full of water that lie beneath the sand, perhaps grown or placed there by the unfortunate farmer. Now we know where Tuskens get their water. (Were Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen hoarding gourds too, or are non-Tusken moisture farmers missing a natural source?)
The Rodian is a great gourd-finder, but he delves too greedily and too deep, unearthing Goro from Mortal Kombat (with fewer fingers and extra legs). Yes, evidently Tatooine’s arid biosphere supports yet another nasty creature, which falls between a massiff and a krayt dragon on the intimidation/terror scale. The four-armed monster with 20-pack abs makes quick work of the Rodian and sends the Tusken flying, but Boba manages to mount its back and strangle it with his chain, as enslaved Leia did to Jabba. The victorious Boba, sporting the complexion of post-mutation Ben Grimm, stands atop the fallen beast and brandishes his chain, bringing an end to a scene that won’t win any awards for “Best Star Wars special effects.”
In the Tuskens’ eyes, besting the beast qualifies Boba as a made man. After his captor carries the creature’s head back to the village, leaving Fett to walk unaccompanied, the Tusken leader hands Boba a gourd, a sign of respect or acceptance. This is the bond of water. We know the rites. A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe.
OK, that quote comes from a different ritual, a different desert planet, and a different sci-fi franchise. Even so, it seems clear that this moment marks the beginning of Boba—an orphaned clone who comes from a watery world—making his home (and perhaps finding a family) on a dry one. The Exodus verse that the episode title comes from refers to the Egyptian upbringing of Moses, who freed his people from slavery; in the premiere, Boba frees himself multiple times. Similarly, the Robert Heinlein novel that shares the episode’s name features an Earth native who travels to Mars and is raised by Martians, who teach him their values and culture. In The Mandalorian, Boba wears Tusken robes and wields a gaderffii stick, so some portion of Book of Boba will likely be about how he comes to grok the Tusken lifestyle. Tusken culture has heretofore been shrouded in secrecy, so Star Wars fans could benefit from an education about the hidden corners of Tatooine too. (For one thing, these Tuskens seem to have a different fashion sense from the ones we’ve known.)
Kennedy’s quote about Book of Boba being the next chapter of the Mandalorian saga will likely turn out to be true (from a certain point of view), but there are scant hints here of how its story connects to the flagship show or its other spinoffs. However, “Stranger in a Strange Land” looks and sounds like The Mandalorian, from Favreau’s nods to Westerns and samurai films to the volume-derived visuals to the concept art in the end credits to the main theme (by Göransson, who this time didn’t do the score). Visually, the premiere isn’t as kinetic or striking as the best of Favreau’s first Star Wars show—the Mos Espa fight choreography fizzles, though the rooftop chase raises the bar—and the series may lack its itinerant forebear’s frequent changes of scenery. Book of Boba seems more focused on soft power than Darksabers, dark troopers, and Force powers. But the series are thematically linked: Both explore the disorder that arises amid the power vacuum created by the end of an empire—galactic in one case, criminal in the other. Just as the New Republic attempts to rule with respect instead of the Empire’s fear, Fett is trying to rule with respect instead of Jabba’s fear. The respectful approach doesn’t work out well for the Republic, but maybe Boba will have better luck.
Mando and Grogu are bonded by being foundlings, and Mando and Cara Dune are bonded by being exiles from devastated worlds. Boba and Fennec are bonded by leading lives as outlaws, by having survived close calls in the Tatooine wastes, and by being dependent on technological aids to keep them alive. Both possess a very particular set of skills—anyone who doubts Shand’s should check out her battle with Bane in The Bad Batch—and both relish breaking the bodies of their would-be assassins in the premiere. If there’s a difference between them, it’s that Fennec—who wasn’t originally supposed to survive The Mandalorian’s first season—operates with little deference to trust or morals: “I keep an eye on everyone,” she declares. The rest of the season will make clear whether “everyone” includes Boba, whether either of the partners has a higher-minded goal than consolidating control over crime lords, and why “a simple man making his way through the galaxy” is bothering to be a daimyo at all.
It’s been more than a year since we last saw Mando. In ending a live-action content drought for the franchise, Book of Boba also marks the temporary passing of the Disney+ belt. This was a slow Star Wars year, in which Disney’s streaming service was ruled by the Beatles and the MCU. But no fewer than five Star Wars series are expected next year, including the remainder of Book of Boba, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and more Mandalorian and Bad Batch. For better or for worse, Star Wars will strike back on the small screen in 2022, and Book of Boba represents the beginning of the bombardment.
A project about Boba has been in the works for far longer than a year. The Book of Boba Fett marks the culmination of many attempts to produce a Fett film or series, not to mention many other efforts to flesh out the figures from the Star Wars underworld we first saw in Mos Eisley long, long ago. We do need their scum, but as of yet, there’s no obvious hook here aside from Fett himself. That may be enough to make The Book of Boba a page-turner, but one episode isn’t enough to tell whether he’ll seize the spotlight or be exposed as an empty suit who’s suddenly getting too many minutes. Book of Boba Fett will live or die based on how compelling Favreau, Filoni, and Co. can make their main character. Here’s hoping the spinoff can channel The Mandalorian’s magic while also escaping its shadow; it’s worth a lot to us alive, but it’s no good to us dead.