The best episode of The Book of Boba Fett is barely an episode of The Book of Boba Fett. In the game of open-ended franchise-building, episode 5 of the Disney Plus series feels like the ultimate defeat, caused by creator Jon Favreau’s own success story.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett episode 5.]
In the wake of the referential sequel movie trilogy, Favreau and Dave Filoni’s The Mandalorian charted the lives of unknown characters across unknown biomes, and gave new hope to a struggling mega-franchise. Then, somehow, plans reverted back to the obvious. Despite collective shrugs over the nostalgia-encrusted Solo and The Rise of Skywalker, Lucasfilm followed The Mandalorian with a miniseries about Boba Fett that’s been, well, as dry as the Dune Sea. For Star Wars fans, the sandbox will always have inescapable pleasures — getting to yelp “Hey, the sarlacc pit!” is not a sign of quality, but it is a minor form of joy. Still, each week finds Favreau, the sole writer on the series, filling time rather than discovering dimension to a character.
The greatest rebuke to the existence of The Book of Boba Fett came in the form of Favreau’s own collaboration with director Bryce Dallas Howard on “Chapter 5: Return of the Mandalorian.” A complete diversion from the main storyline, Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin, having handed off Baby “Grogu” Yoda to Luke Skywalker, steps back to the spotlight, and acts like the Boba Fett fans fell in love with in the first place. He slices through a gang of butcher aliens with his newly acquired Darksaber to collect a bounty. He forges Grogu some Beskar armor with the help of the mysterious-but-devout Armorer. He duels his fellow Mando, wins, then still finds himself kicked out of the order for not being true to “the way.” Then he returns to Tatooine, not to actually aid Boba in the ongoing attempt to lockdown the Hutt’s territory, but to grab a new vehicle from Peli Motto. Besides a final run-in with Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand, who fails to lure Din away from his own interests, the episode has nothing to do with the show that surrounds it. But it’s a total thrill, and feels like a definitive moment of New Star Wars eclipsing Old Star Wars to save the franchise’s worthy pieces.
The Book of Boba Fett enters Star Wars media history like a passed gallstone. Since Boba’s first live-action appearance, standing in Darth Vader’s lineup of bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars fans have dreamed of the masked vigilante’s possibilities as a standalone character. George Lucas treated Boba as the strong silent danger with no alliances, a Western warrior of sorts, and Expanded Universe writers had a field day stretching his potential as far as it could go without snapping the character’s mysterious, deadly essence. In the second entry of his prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, Lucas fanned those fires of interest without actually indulging fan demands. Turning Jango Fett into the genetic key of the entire Clone army was not the kick-ass Boba movie anyone wanted, but to Lucas’ credit, the idea that the bounty hunter was the cloned kid who watched Jedis wipe out his dad appropriately explained why someone might spend their days hiding in the shadows of the galaxy.
A full-fledged Boba Fett vehicle was immediately on the table when Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012. After the core original trilogy characters, there was no one more iconic in the Star Wars pantheon. (Most of that credit goes to Joe Johnston, who is credited in his pre-director days for designing the mask and armor.) Lucasfilm worked with Fantastic Four’s Josh Trank on a Boba Fett film before the director burned out. Then, a few years ago, Ford v. Ferrari director James Mangold stepped up to finally make a Boba movie happen. A run of middling “Star Wars Story” entries seemed to kill the project (though Mangold got Indiana Jones 5 to makeup for it). When Lucas successors Filoni and Favreau wowed longtime fans and newcomers with The Mandalorian, most assumed the itch for a Boba Fett movie had been scratched — here was a new character, unmoored from original or prequel trilogy lore, who carried the same weapons without any of the baggage. But the pair couldn’t resist, ultimately introducing Boba Fett as a side character in season 2, and eventually penning The Book of Boba Fett.
There is logic beyond fan service to giving Boba Fett a show in 2022: Temuera Morrison is the right age to play a war-torn version of the bounty hunter, especially one who may not have dealt with his clone lineage. The stinger at the end of Mandalorian season 2 didn’t signal that Favreau would go in a more heady direction, but a slumlord Boba Fett taking over for Jabba felt rooted in the eons of EU comics, short stories, and Lucas’ own talk of Underworld, Lucasfilm’s scrapped TV project described over the pre-Disney years as The Sopranos/Deadwood/The Wire for Star Wars. But instead of barreling forward in any direction, Favreau engineered The Book of Boba Fett to reorient its main character into a true hero while checking boxes of familiar locations, creatures, and sounds. Even Fennec Shand, a crackling addition to Star Wars both in live-action and animation, is stuck as a sidekick. If The Mandalorian was a return to old-fashioned, Gunsmoke-like episodic gunslinging on TV, The Book of Boba Fett feels like one of the many generic Westerns launched for popularity’s sake throughout the 1950s. The anonymous miniseries, thus far, is only about iconography.
After the last 10 years of experimentation, telling stories within Star Wars feels a bit like playing with a tub full of mixed up Legos. There’s no going back to a fresh box — George Lucas molded the pieces, wrote the plans, and built the first models. All that’s left of those kits are memories. So there are two options: Sift through the mountain of bricks with faded blueprints in hand in an attempt to reconstruct the original sets, or grab a bunch of pieces painted in Star Wars colors and decals, connect them into something that looks like a spaceship, and let the imagination run wild. The Mandalorian feels like the latter, and when dropped into the middle of The Book of Boba Fett, lacking meaningful depth in its main character, or even a clever antihero-style mission to whisk viewers along on, the contrast between the two methods of play looks even more stark.
The Book of Boba Fett’s third episode introduced a biker gang riding a colorful fleet of mid-20th-century-style hovercrafts. This disturbed some longtime fans, who felt “this wasn’t Star Wars.” It’s a line screamed into the abyss nearly every time a New Star Wars Thing hits the scene, and one that’s especially confusing in the instance of episode 3, which nods to Lucas’ love of retro vehicles and his legacy as the director of American Graffiti. But there may be a point to the yelping: Going that hard to recreate the Original Trilogy, and trying to turn Boba Fett, a walking piece of set dressing, into an engrossing character, will only clash with attempts to meld the elements of Star Wars into something new and constantly evolving. For all the wars fought over The Last Jedi, my main takeaway is that both sides are right: It’s an exceptional drama culled from Star Wars canon, and would have made a great trilogy-starter. But when dropped into the middle of J.J. Abrams’ two nostalgia-fueled movies, Rian Johnson’s reimagining kills existing momentum (and based on more passionate reactions, did not satisfy throwback expectations set up by Abrams). The Book of Boba Fett is not a great show, but it’s especially egregious when The Mandalorian made such strides to rethink this universe. Throwing in a random episode of Mandalorian into its run feels like acknowledgement that the miniseries’ existence threatens the momentum of the new era.
As Lucasfilm plots the next 100 years of this endless storytelling, the definition of Star Wars stands to be tested in public, and the question of “what is it?” will remain pertinent, however excruciating and knuckleheaded the discourse. “Chapter 5: Return of the Mandalorian” feels like proof positive that Lucasfilm doesn’t need to move on completely, but instead, needs to dump out the Legos and let even its most trusted brand ambassadors play. Literally, there is a sequence in the episode devoted to this pursuit: Instead of replacing his destroyed ship with a second Razor’s Crest, Din and Peli Motto restore an N-1 Starfighter last seen in The Phantom Menace. Plated with silver to match The Mandalorian’s look, Din’s test flight blasts through Beggar’s Canyon to conjure the velocity of Phantom Menace’s podrace, arguably the best thing that happened in the entire prequel trilogy. True to Filoni’s mission on the animated side of the business, every ounce of Star Wars can be reclaimed and remixed for new joy.
I don’t think this is snobbery. Nostalgia can be put to good use. Spider-Man: No Way Home cashed in 20 years of goodwill chips. The Matrix Resurrections confronted its own legacy while still delivering a long-awaited reunion. Star Wars can and should hit those notes: the world of the franchise runs deep enough to have created genuine investment, and as Favreau experienced himself when announcing The Mandalorian to an auditorium of cosplayers at the 2019 Star Wars Celebration, the connections and echoes between past and present are as, if not more, important to people than reinventing the wheel. The problem is when a project has to pick a lane between nostalgia and originality.
I pray The Book of Boba Fett is the last time Lucasfilm and the bevy of creators feel like they need to tell a story. The docket of future Star Wars shows skews more toward The Mandalorian’s methodology, although the upcoming Obi-Wan and a Lando series starring Solo’s Donald Glover could suffer the same one-foot-back consequences if the plots have any obligation to existing lore. Filoni has been around long enough that he too could consume his own creativity; he’ll shepherd a live-action Ahsoka series — which could land on the timeline as either a prequel or a sequel — over the next year.
The reason to be encouraged by the direction, despite this bump in the road, is that The Mandalorian remains fresh. Even a Doctor Who Christmas special-like one-off planted smack dab in the middle of a seven-episode Boba Fett series is full of surprises. The characters are strong, the set pieces are thoughtful, and there’s a sense of a greater world waiting to be explored. It is a big tub of Lego bricks. And when The Book of Boba Fett wraps up next month, I can only hope all the old instructions have been torn to bits.