From the pilot onward, season 1 of Book of Boba Fett had a major hero problem — a protagonist (Temuera Morrison) who’s largely opaque, and so detached from his own story that he’s readily and repeatedly upstaged by visitors from several other Star Wars series. It’s often unclear why Boba does anything he does, and the show doesn’t give viewers much reason to engage with his primary goal of becoming the crime boss in Mos Espa, a city on the little-loved planet of Tatooine. Even his big turning-point conversation with his right-hand assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) doesn’t cast much light on what he wants out of life, besides a cushier retirement plan than the original Star Wars trilogy gave him. (Not hard, when that retirement plan was a thousand years of agony in a Sarlacc pit.) When Fennec asks why he wants to head up a crime family, he says “Why not?”
He doesn’t have any real skin in this game. He doesn’t have a dream, and he doesn’t have a plan. He’s a sullen loner who shows up in Mos Espa without a purpose, then stands in the way of the most ruthless and entrenched people he can find. He can’t articulate why he’s doing it, and doesn’t have any thought-through scheme to make it work. And yet somehow he seems astounded when that doesn’t work out.
The show has an equally big villain problem. The Pyke Syndicate, his major enemy throughout season 1, is a diffuse collective of nameless fish-faced aliens. The Pykes’ key goal is to profit immensely from a drug called spice, apparently imported at great expense from the Dune books and movies. Boba eventually decides to object to spice, again for reasons he doesn’t articulate, and that clearly aren’t personal or passionate. The show doesn’t put any kind of meaningful face on the spice trade, or its possible human (or alien) costs — it’s an absolute abstract. The other season 1 villains, like the Hutt twins, the Wookiee Krrsantan, and fan favorite Cad Bane, are temporary speed bumps who get no development and are disposed of cavalierly. Plenty of heroes are bland archetypes who define themselves by what they’re fighting against, or who they’re fighting for. But Boba Fett is half-heartedly fighting an anonymous school of fish-people over money, because he has nothing better to do. It’s a baffling setup from the start.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to both problems. And it comes from acknowledging the undercurrent running through the whole series: Boba Fett is actually the villain of The Book of Boba Fett, and the whole story is a wry comedy about how he accidentally fails upward through the ranks of more established, competent, and powerful villains. People watching the show have been complaining all along that he’s too undefined. But looked at in terms of his choices, he’s actually extremely clearly defined — as a selfish crook who’s oblivious to the harm he causes and how unsuited he is for the role he’s claiming.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for the finale of The Book of Boba Fett, season 1.]
It isn’t a stretch. Boba Fett was a villain in the original Star Wars trilogy, a cool, stylish, secretive figure only slightly dampened by his ignominious exit from the story, sucked into the belly of a monster while waiting to watch it eat a hero. When he turns up in The Mandalorian, he’s just after his father’s hand-me-down armor. While he shows off some strong fighting skills and a willingness to stand by his word, there’s no reason for Book of Boba Fett viewers to expect heroism or nobility out of him. He’s still the same self-serving, amoral merc who handed Han Solo over to Jabba the Hutt to use as a wall decoration.
And in his own series, he’s laughably incompetent. He tries to take over a crime empire while backed by one minion and a couple of Gamorrean bodyguards who’ve already failed to save two bosses before him. He boasts that he’s rich, but doesn’t use his copious credits to hire guards or enforcers until late in the series, as an afterthought. It’s incredibly unclear what kind of crime he’s planning on doing as a crime boss, given that he disapproves of the drug trade, and he doesn’t have the infrastructure or employees even for something as minimal as a protection racket over the existing vice dens of Mos Espa. He boasts about ruling with respect instead of fear, but he doesn’t give anyone reason to respect him — he shrugs off all the local expectations for a crime boss, and strolls around hostile territory with his guard down and his helmet off, walking right into an ambush that he nearly doesn’t survive because he’s somehow lost all his hand-to-hand skills since The Mandalorian.
Then he starts trying to lay down the law with the Pyke Syndicate, which is so entrenched, wealthy, and powerful that it makes the local Hutts flee town. From the perspective of the Mos Espa natives, he’s a woefully unprepared carpetbagger who walks into a crime world he doesn’t understand and doesn’t bother learning anything about. Then he upsets the status quo so severely that they end up with giant droids smashing their buildings. And as far as we can tell, he does it all because he’s mildly irked that other people weren’t running their crime rings competently by his standards, and he felt he could do it better. The irony is honestly more comedic than dramatic, at least until he starts getting innocent people killed — the few locals who do acknowledge his claim to Mos Espa get bombed into oblivion, because he’s made no effort to defend them.
His greed and incompetence defines his backstory, too. The flashbacks where he finds peace and respect among a band of Tusken warriors are enjoyable, but that idyll ends purely because of his avarice. When he uses the Tuskens for a shakedown racket that hurts and humiliates the Pykes, they respond by wiping the Tuskens off the map. The show plays this as a tragedy for Boba, but it’s far more of a tragedy for the sandpeople who took him in, listened to his overreaching and short-sighted advice, and made enemies out of people with the reach and power to destroy them.
It takes no effort at all to see The Book of Boba Fett as a protracted version of the standard criminal-empire rise-and-fall story, the Goodfellas / Casino / Wolf of Wall Street / Scarface type of tale, about a selfish striver who channels his hunger, arrogance, and aggression into a push to the top, then finds those same characteristics dragging him down. The difference is that Boba Fett doesn’t get anywhere near the top until the final moments of the show, and he never demonstrates that he deserves to be there. He doesn’t even demonstrate that he wants to be there. As soon as he has the power he was chasing, he wearily tells Fennec, “We are not suited for this.” He’s right, he isn’t.
But he clearly is suited to ruin a whole lot of lives, all because he barges into a situation he knows very little about and murders anyone in his way, all while grasping for power and profit. He shows no capacity to learn from his mistakes or adapt to his situation, as heroes tend to. (Look how much the protagonist of The Mandalorian has grown and evolved over two seasons.) In most stories, Boba’s monomaniacal focus on muscling into other people’s territory, his drastic mismanagement of that territory, and his raw fury at being balked would make him the villain. From a certain point of view, it does here, too.
And his old enemy Cad Bane certainly knows it. Boba claims he’s somehow started the gang war on behalf of the people of Mos Espa, who he’s barely spoken to, and who in no way stand to benefit from his bloody rise to power. Cad Bane sneers at those pretensions, and points out that Boba is just a thug, and always has been. “I knew you were a killer,” Cad chuckles, just before Boba lives up to the jibe by killing him. He clearly sees that Boba isn’t clever enough to be a schemer or foresightful enough to be a leader, and that his only real skills are violence and ruthlessness. He isn’t just amoral, an anti-hero, or a gray character. He’s a full-on villain who doesn’t care if he gets his subordinates bombed, his allies shot, or his town smashed, as long as he gets his way and comes out on top.
Remembering that Boba is a bad-guy protagonist brings a lot of the vaguer parts of Book of Boba Fett into focus, including the reason he’s so easily sidelined in his own story. The hero of a story needs to take center stage, but it’s fine for a villain to stand down while other, actually heroic figures like Marshal Cobb Vanth, Mandalorian Din Djarin, and even Luke Skywalker all step up to serve nobler causes.
And the “Boba Fett is the villain” reading clears up the confusing tone of the series, which draws heavily from classic Westerns and pulp crime stories, while throwing in melodrama, fantasy, and comedy borrowed from The Mandalorian. In the end, season 1 of the show isn’t any of these things — it’s a farce, and a pretty subversive one. The villain wins, even though he isn’t prepared for the wars he starts, and he’s fighting them for the wrong reasons. He gets his revenge on the drug-pushing criminal bureaucrats who killed his Tusken family, even though it’s an afterthought and he doesn’t do it himself. He takes the throne he was after, even though he doesn’t know why he wanted it in the first place, and doesn’t enjoy it once he has it.
Of course, the one person who can’t acknowledge that he’s the villain is Boba Fett himself. He clearly thinks he’s some kind of hero, given his out-of-nowhere claims that he’s fighting on behalf of Mos Espa’s people — people who didn’t invite him to their town, don’t want him there, and are suffering because of him. But maybe that’s the most villainous thing he does in the whole season: He justifies all his failures, and all the havoc he causes with his own weakness and belligerence, by pretending he’s serving a greater good. Maybe The Book of Boba Fett works best as a cautionary tale about self-justification and selfishness. Or maybe it’s just funny to see how, in the chaotic criminal underworld of Star Wars, where everyone’s chasing some kind of profit, sometimes pure stubborn villainous tenacity wins out over everything else.
Season 1 of The Book of Boba Fett is now streaming on Disney Plus.