Boba's Back in Town
Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have attempted the impossible, to reintroduce a fan-favorite while satisfying forty years of anticipation within a fan base obsessed with minutia, canon, and a galaxy of details.
In order to successfully re-introduce Boba Fett in 2020 to the Star Wars franchise, the filmmakers will need to balance the needs of the story while navigating copious amounts of contradictory ancillary material AND presenting us what we have never truly seen, a fully realized, multi-dimensional character. By waiting this late into season two, it's a comeback that lands smack dab in the middle of what is shaping to be a ever more complex second act that takes on the burden of ancillary material taken as gospel by the faithful. And it’s also got to be good.
The Science of the Second Act
A strong second act must bring the hero within sight of their goal but introduce a confound. Secondly, it must raise the stakes. A well-structured second act achieves both of these through the same actions and contrivances depicted on screen or on the page: This happens, then this happens, therefore the situation is resolved or escalates. Added to this burden, a second act encapsulated within a serialized story must give an accounting for the events that raise those stakes while limiting the amount of new information that can be introduced. The story setups and payoffs carry greater emotional resonances when they have been telegraphed to equip the audience with just enough relevant information to reflexively make the calculation when confronted. The greatest second act in the english language panopoly is The Empire Strikes Back because it lays out the goals, challenges and stakes like a beautiful mathematical formula:
Lando opens the door to the dining room, Vader rises to meet our heroes. We know how serious a threat he represents and that the calculus has now changed. Out steps Boba Fett. Telegraphed from earlier in the story, the audience makes the connections instantly. “Oh shit! They’ve been betrayed!” And scarier too, they’re fate is only a step on the road to Vader’s ultimate goal.
Probably the nicest thing anyone can say about a franchise that has made its way from film trilogies into a different long-form serial, is to remark “it’s a really good show, it just happens to be Star Wars.” Every intellectual property has its apologists who will point to ancillary material outside what is presented on screen to fill in plot holes that should have been addressed in the film or show. These materials work better when they tell their own story and enrich or expand that universe, but can’t be relied on to carry narrative burdens that should be addressed in the original tale. This is why Rogue One, while so much fun for fans, is not as accessible to your average filmgoer because there simply is too much you already have to know just to barley keep track of the visuals and events. So concerned with fan service is the film, that Rogue One forgets to give agency to its protagonist and leaves Jinn Erso to react to decisions others are making.
By that measure, The Mandalorian is less comparable to other Star Wars properties and more akin to something like the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul. It’s an amazing show with fleshed out characters that just happens to be set in the Breaking Bad universe, but you don’t need to have ever seen one second of its progenitor to get the full experience. This is where The Mandalorian excels unlike any previous Star Wars spinoff project. The show is a clinic on how to write serialized fiction, how to write serialized fantasy-sci-fi, and most difficult of all (given Disney’s track record with the sequel trilogy) how to write Star Wars in particular.
The Art of Intertextuality
This brings us to the second element the show has chosen with which to contend and that is the rich, overlapping tapestry of canons, retcons, and re-imaginings that make Star Wars not just a story, but a post-modern mythology in the vein of classical and romantic tradition. Similar to the Marvel universe, Star Wars has more than one canon, beginning with the publication of the first official “sequel” titled Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978. Based on an idea which George Lucas had outlined in the event that a sequel film could not count on participation from Harrison Ford (the only actor to not sign any multi-film deal with Lucasfilm), it starred Luke and Leia marooned on a planet in search of the “Kyber Crystal.” The story played up the potential for a romantic relationship between the two.
Of course it wouldn’t be until well into the production of Return of the Jedi that Lucas would decide that the pair had all along been twins separated at birth which, like their on-screen kiss in Empire, retroactively recontextualizes scenes in Mind’s Eye in an awkward light. The point being that Star Wars canon has remained fluid since its earliest days, and often it was Lucas himself who would retcon details and events, particularly when it came to the prequel trilogy, that would contradict established canon in the “Expanded Universe” (while still having reaped the book and comic sales of soon-to-be tossed aside storylines).
Here we can only look to Dave Filoni who apprenticed under Lucas when he set out to make The Clone Wars animated series to fill-in the details of newly created intervals between and after the events of the prequels. Filoni’s earliest and most influential contribution was to assist Lucas in fleshing out the details of his grand new environments, characters, and most importantly, stories. As with other famous world-builders, like Gene Roddenbury, Lucas found someone to fill the role of taking these stories and giving the characters depth, better dialogue than, for example “I hate sand,” and refine the continuity to buttress against what had come before with where it all would lead. The animated series Rebels, both a sequel to The Clone Wars and the first Filoni/Disney project without Lucas, proved to be a story that lent itself well to mining the pre-Disney, aka “Legends,” era stories, characters, locations, vehicles, etc. and even re-canonized numerous elements. Eventually Rebels, a wholly new story, would sneak in Dash Rendar’s Outrider from Shadows of the Empire, numerous nods to Ralph Macquarrie’s unused concepts from the originally trilogy, and culminate with the primary antagonist, Grand Admiral Thrawn (introduced to readers in the 1990s as the original antagonist of the official licensed sequel trilogy).
Most significantly, Filoni has consistently demonstrated one guiding principle when looking to the now-defunct canon of the pre-Disney era, and that is to prioritize the story over the nostalgia or cool factor. It’s clear that his encyclopedic knowledge of and devotion to the whole of the Star Wars universe thus far inked, typed, painted and or animated since 1977 (notable exception, the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL) is tempered by service to the story and what makes sense in each character’s journey. Paired with Jon Favreu, a steward of a number of other projects for Disney and for Marvel’s cinematic universe, we have an excellent balance of storytelling sensibilities that can contend with the herculean material with which to work. That is why a television show inspired by the look and legacy of a legendary pop-cultural image of Boba Fett, waited fourteen episodes and two years before delivering what could be the most anticipated act of fan-service since Darth Vader hacked and force-choked his way down that dim corridor in Rogue One. Only instead of tacked on to the ending, this resurrection has been setup, foreshadowed, and vitally important above all else, constructed to fit logically within the context of the plot of The Mandalorian.
From Icon to Character
The greatest challenge in bringing a character like Boba Fett back to life is that the role for which he was originally invented did not require characterization so much as inject him into the narrative as a plot device. We see he has some agency by the way he clearly is the only bounty hunter to think the Millenium Falcon would be hiding in plain sight, and he shares the dubious honour of being the only character to talk back to Darth Vader and never raise his ire, or clenched fist. He outsmarts the heroes and even takes a shot at the main protagonist of the trilogy in both films in which he appears. But these are not sufficient in and of themselves to pass for “character” as the Alien seems to outsmart the crew of the Nostromo, as does the shark from Jaws to the trio aboard the Orca. They serve the story and antagonize the heroes but that is all the script requires. In Empire, as soon as Fett has served his purpose, he exits the story. In Jedi, he has even less relevance and is only there because we knew Jabba’s palace is where he was taking Han Solo. (It is apparently the case that early drafts of Jedi called for a much larger role for Boba Fett as the secondary antagonist to Vader, but as the story evolved and his presence shrinked, finally Lucas is said to have remarked “just throw him down the Sarlacc, I’m sick of thinking about him). Over twenty years later in Attack of the Colones, Lucas’ attempt to fix this disposability would lead to his overcompensating idea that Fett’s lineage would serve as the template for the entire clone army!)
That has left decades between Fett’s last on-screen appearance (not counting the prequels depiction of a child) and the potential of his return in a post-Lucas Star Wars universe. In that time, so many different takes have continually been put forward. Some, like the comics, would lean on the deadliness of his reputation and give us vignettes of him blasting away random beings with no deeper point. Other depictions like the Disney era anthology From a Certain Point of View, in which various characters share inner-monologues during important moments from the films, would give us a braggadocious thug. Apart from having to live-up to the expectations of fans, the task of re-introducing Fett in The Mandalorian is made even more difficult when the source material can be at times wildly contradictory. What Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau have written and brought to life is a broken man in search of redemption whose journey has the potential to inform and challenge the protagonist Din Djarin. In his awaited return, we get a Boba Fett who is both vulnerable and very deadly. Dangerous not because he is cold and calculating behind the iconic T-shaped visor, but precisely because he is vulnerable.
And here is where Filoni excels in threading a near impossible needle by not simply reintroducing a familiar image, but introducing us to a newly-contextualized character. When pressed to reveal his identity by our protagonist, Fett replies with the line “I’m a simple man making his way in the galaxy, like my father before me,” and references both Attack of the Clones and Luke’s defiance of the Emperor in appealing to his lineage during the climax of Return of the Jedi (thus also embracing his role as a fulcrum between the two trilogies. What we can look forward to now, is a man putting himself back together and searching for his identity in a universe without a wealthy Galactic Empire or Jabba the Hutt to pay exorbitant bounties. As one Rebel pilot observed in season 2 of The Mandalorian, “these are trying times.”
The possibilities are tantalizing and the online community of fanboys and gals is already speculating and theorizing, writing their predictions about what comes next. One common thread is the worry that Boba has been brought back to life but may not make it to season three. However, even if the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy finds redemption in an act of self-sacrifice at the conclusion of his story, this time at least, he will have played an integral part in his own story arc; that would beat the ignominious supposed end he was thought to have met in the Pit of Carkoon any day.