Leaving aside his animated debut as part of the Star Wars Holiday Special, Boba Fett made a powerful impression when he established himself as the most skilled (and most mysterious) of the bounty hunters assembled by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. With just a few lines of dialogue, a striking costume covered in mysterious features (is that an antenna on his helmet?), and a take-no-guff attitude, Fett left Star Wars fans wanting more. Then they got more. Fett returned for one of the most inglorious deaths in all of Star Wars, ending up in the belly of the Sarlacc pretty much by accident. It was an end unbefitting a badass.
That helps explain why Fett’s kept coming back, getting resurrected in novels and comics many times over the years. All of those stories went out the window when Disney bought Lucasfilm, of course, but with the second season of The Mandalorian Fett made a canonical return, played by the New Zealand–born Temuera Morrison, who also played Fett’s adoptive father/genetic clone, Jango Fett, in Attack of the Clones. (It’s complicated.) The Mandalorian left the door wide open for a series chronicling the further adventures of Fett and his newfound partner in crime Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) as they seek to fill a power vacuum in Tatooine’s underworld left by the death of Bib Fortuna (a vacuum they very much helped create).
The Book of Boba Fett teaser attached to the Mandalorian’s season finale ended with a shot of a triumphant Fett atop a throne in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. This first episode kicks off with Fett still in the palace but nursing his wounds in a healing chamber. Being a crime lord is draining work apparently, but his time under gives him an opportunity to reflect on his past (and for the show to offer up some flashbacks depicting it).
In what looks likely to be a pattern for this series, Fett’s reflections fill in his backstory, from his childhood (which we knew about already) to his post–Return of the Jedi adventures on Tatooine (which we did not). These latter scenes pick up the action moments after we last saw Fett in Return of the Jedi. He’s seemingly down-and-out in the belly of the Sarlacc (where he’s soon to be digested over a thousand years, according to the best Star Wars science). But with a little resourcefulness he burns his way out. (Also, that antennalike device serves as a powerful flashlight.) But Boba’s escape just marks the beginning of his troubles. First Jawas steal his armor then Tusken Raiders kidnap him, drag him through the sand, and hold him prisoner. Tied to a post, he nearly escapes after subduing a massiff (the Tuskens’ doglike companion animals) only to see his efforts undermined by a sniveling Rodian prisoner beside him.
Fett does seem to earn some respect from a Tusken warrior (Joanna Bennett) and chief (Xavier Jimenez) in the process, however. That respect grows in a later flashback when Fett — after witnessing some toughs steal water from a moisture farm — survives a forced-labor expedition digging for moisture-rich gourds and rescues a Tusken kid from a Ray Harryhausen–inspired beast with six limbs. This newcomer might be good for more than digging in the sand, it would seem.
Meanwhile in the present, Fett and Shand have some work to do setting up shop and making sure everyone on Tatooine knows who the new daimyo in town is. Some residents seemingly get with the program immediately. Dokk, a representative of the Trandoshan family who used to employ Fett, offers a generous tribute accompanied by a kind of ominous wish that he “never leave Mos Espa.” Even more ominous, Mok Shaiz (David Pasquesi), an unctuous Twi’lek representative of the (still unseen) mayor of Mos Espa, offers a tribute of … nothing. In fact, he demands a tribute of his own (with a smile on his face). This could be troublesome.
It could also offer a challenge to Fett’s management philosophy. Against the advice of de facto protocol droid 8D8 (a character previously seen working in a torture chamber in Return of the Jedi and here voiced by Matt Berry), Fett doesn’t torture. He also forgives, believing this will win him more loyalty than threats, as evidenced by his recruitment of a pair of Gamorrean guards previously loyal to Bib Fortuna (and to Jabba before that). Shand’s not sure about this approach nor is she entirely on board with Fett’s decision to walk the streets of Mos Espa rather than be paraded about by minions. Will this funky, man-of-the-people strategy pay off?
It seems to, at least at first. Paying a visit to the Sanctuary, a kind of upscale version of Mos Eisley’s cantina, Fett meets the club’s Twi’lek owner Garsa Fwip (Jennifer Beals). (He also enjoys a little music by Max Rebo. Nice to see he’s stayed busy since his gig as the leader of Jabba’s house band ended so abruptly.) They exchange short pleasantries and Fett leaves with a helmet filled with coins given in tribute. But he doesn’t have long to enjoy his score.
In the streets of Mos Espa, a gaggle of would-be assassins target Fett and Shand and almost get the better of them. (Maybe retaining those Gamorreans wasn’t such a bad idea after all.) Shand gives chase to the survivors with the orders to bring one back alive. But who sent them? The Mayor? Fwip? Some adversary we haven’t met yet? Max Rebo? And will Fett be able to extract this information without torture and show 8D8 he knows what he’s doing? All that, and more info about Fett’s past, will have to wait until the next episode.
• Written by series creator Jon Favreau and directed by Robert Rodriguez, “Chapter 1: Stranger in a Strange Land” gets this new series off to a rousing start. That’s no small task since The Book of Boba Fett almost has to recreate Fett as a character. Fett was incredibly effective in Empire Strikes Back as a man of mystery. We learned a bit more about him during his Mandalorian appearances, but those didn’t necessarily mean he could hold the spotlight all on his own. It’s one thing to stand in the shadows and wear a cool helmet. It’s another to be a character with history and depth. Morrison ably steps up here, bringing gravity and flashes of understated humor to the role. It should be fun to see what he does with the character.
• “Chapter 1” also establishes The Book of Boba Fett as a series that’s part crime story, part Western, and part old-fashioned sci-fi pulp adventure. Rodriguez, who directed one of The Mandalorian’s most action-packed episodes in its second season, arrives with a lot of experience in all three styles and blends them well. (He’ll be back later this season, too.) It helps that the Star Wars universe is such that shows and movies within it can nod to many genres while still feeling like Star Wars.
• The Tuskens debuted as analogs to Native Americans in the first Star Wars movie, where they were treated as savage warriors. That depiction has grown more nuanced over time, particularly in The Mandalorian, in which they were presented not as fearsome barbarians but as marginalized and misunderstood people with ways of their own. The Book of Boba Fett looks to deepen it further by offering an up-close look at Tusken life, but it also seems to be on a course to recycle the iffy trope of a “civilized” person adapting the ways of an Indigenous people and ascending to a position of power within their culture. (A Man Called Horse, a hit 1970 western starring Richard Harris as a man kidnapped and tortured by a Sioux tribe who then becomes their leader, would seem to be a particular model.) Will future episodes subvert this?
• “I would not be surprised if you received another delegation in the future.” Sounds like the setup for a future episode.