The Mandalorian has always been a Boba Fett derivative, and his return in The Book of Boba Fett episode 5 highlights both how good a job Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni did with Din Djarin and how fumbled the new Disney+ Star Wars series has been. What exactly is off with Boba’s show has been chewed over since the first extended Tusken Raider flashback, but in stark contrast to “Return of the Mandalorian”, the fundamental creative block is clear.
Since it dropped, “Return of the Mandalorian” has been a topic of intense metatextual debate. Having a de facto The Mandalorian season 3 backdoor premiere in another show, directed by now-vet Bryce Dallas Howard, brings a level of quality and familiarity that the show so far has lacked. But what role does a Din Djarin side-mission stuffed with essential Mandalorian lore play in The Book of Boba Fett’s prime narrative: is it a fun diversion setting up the two T-helmeted anti-heroes coming together or a worried attempt to give importance to a flailing story by proxy? To many, The Book of Boba Fett‘s best episode not featuring Boba Fett proves the show’s failure.
While that may be the case, it’s only part of the real tragedy caused by “Return of the Mandalorian”. The Book of Boba Fett has struggled with stilted direction, inconsisntent pacing, and a reliance on shrink-wrapped references to the original trilogy, but its prime storytelling sin lies in its main character.
The Mandalorian Is The Great Boba Fett Story You Wanted
One of the common criticisms leveled at Boba Fett over the years has been that he’s a blank slate. He’s an action figure designed to look cool that generations of children have projected their own sense of badassery onto. While it’s true Boba’s iconography and merchandising history are essential to his lasting appeal (and his death was underscored as a joke), there’s plenty of strengths to define him. The lone gunslinger vibe is instantly evocative, design and small nods present a clear past (“No disintegrations” tells a deep story all on its own), and the Expanded Universe ran with the idea and crafted two distinct versions of the character, pre-and-post-Jango Fett retcon. He’s a clear archetype ripe for exploration in a myriad of directions.
Indeed, that’s what happened, just under a different name. Although now a Star Wars icon in his own right, Din Djarin is very much from the Boba Fett mold. A loner bounty hunter of few words wearing armor retroactively derived from Fett’s initial design who strikes out on the line between good and bad, Republic and Empire, he’s a clear analog for Boba in a show that didn’t want a Fett. Given the need for the Disney+ series to be a fresh start for Star Wars, creating a new character – albeit one immediately recognizable – was a smart move on Lucasfilm’s part. There was no baggage or lingering connection between The Mandalorian and the simultaneous theatrical release of the derided Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, nor anything any major fan sect could find problematic. This shadow of familiarity in something new runs through the show’s designs and lore deep-pulls, but is most clear in its titular character. If there’s ever an endorsement for the potential that exists in Boba Fett’s existing elements, it’s the story of Din Djarin and Grogu.
It was refreshing, then, that The Mandalorian could also serve as a soft reintroduction for Boba Fett after the Disney-era kept him in the peripheries. Giving Attack of the Clones‘ Jango Fett actor Temura Morrison the role (despite him being 20 years older than the charcater canonically), his return was drip-fed out over the Tatooine-set episode before a triumphant entrance in Chapter 14, “The Tragedy”. Across the following episodes, Boba Fett received a methodical rehabilitation, with fight scenes taking advantage of all his action figure’s gadgets, a fresh paint job, the return of the sonic bombs, and a post-credits stinger setting up his own seedy show. It felt like a masterful long game, using one of the most hotly debated emblems of George Lucas’ used future in a post-sequel era to show how blinkered nostalgia topics could be earnestly delivered.
The biggest hope came from the uniqueness of this take. Stood next to Din Djarin in “The Tragedy”, it was easy to see how the two bucketheads were distinct. Unfortunately, while it served as a strong reintroduction point for Boba Fett, the characterization similarities mean so much potential story for The Book of Boba Fett has already been used up by The Mandalorian. The Bounty Hunter’s Guild, a fight to rule Mandalore, even taking up the position of an unexpected father figure are all key parts of Boba’s backstory in Star Wars Legends. This meant there was an intentionally constructed blank slate. And this seems to be where the new series’ issues began.
Who Is Boba Fett? The Book of Boba Fett Certainly Doesn’t Know
The first true hint that there was something off with Boba Fett came mere minutes after his proper reintroduction. While chasing the Dark Troopers stealing Grogu in “The Tragedy”, he emerges from the clouds and sees Moff Gideon’s Star Destroyer and remarks “The Empire… they’re back.” Ignoring the canon incredulity in his shock (after escaping the Sarlacc, Boba spent much of the years between Return of the Jedi and The Mandalorian with the Tusken Raiders in the middle of the Dune Sea), it struck as a little off. Boba Fett worked for the Empire as a contractor, he hung around with vile gangster Jabba the Hutt, where does his sudden shock and fear come from?
More personality adjustments have come thick and fast in The Book of Boba Fett. In the present timeline, the titular character is so principled that to even call him an anti-hero (a broad brush used to hit characters ranging from Han Solo to Darth Vader) seems a little too extreme; he seeks to rule Jabba’s former criminal empire with intense, unwavering compassion and respect. In flashbacks, he learns to care for the Tusken Raiders by developing a sense of togetherness. There’s a character in there, but is it recognizable as Boba in any of his previous forms? He’s not a bounty hunter. He’s not morally gray. He’s not cold and efficient. He doesn’t wear his helmet. He’s not quiet and direct. He’s not a loner. He’s not mysterious. The Book of Boba Fett is so alien to what Boba Fett has been, even in those first moments after his Sarlacc escape, that there’s no chance to have him develop into a new role: he’s a new character from the start.
There is something to be said for making Morrison’s Māori heritage a narrative core to the character, but the methodology of The Book of Boba Fett seems to be to treat the oft-cited “no character” criticism as true and build away from anything that was viewed as an asset in the past. Given Boba’s undergone one top-down retcon with Attack of the Clones, that’s not entirely objectionable. But what’s been created in place of anything he was before is so lacking in any grit that the end result is a story where Boba Fett is interchangeable with any number of Star Wars characters for much of his show: sub Luke Skywalker into the Tusken Raider sequences and the basic plot and character beats can be hit with little change.
Return of The Mandalorian Shows What Boba Fett Could Have Been
If it wasn’t for the beskar and Darksaber origins, the introductory bounty hunting of “Return of the Mandalorian” could have easily felt like a Boba Fett adventure. Scrappy-yet-ingenious fighting, a no-nonsense aura of fear, and aversion to pleasantries, set against a quirky sci-fi background, what’s shown in the first 10 minutes fits the character better than anything he’s been experiencing on Tatooine. Of course, there is the armor, the weapon, and the subsequent lore and supporting characters to distinguish Din Djarin. It’s not that Mando is better than Boba, it’s that Mando shows what Boba could have been.
The episode isn’t immune to some of the unique quirks of The Book of Boba Fett‘s storytelling. Its very existence is of the same narrative whiplash as the plentiful flashbacks, and the long diversion in creating Mando’s new ship is origin padding at its most extreme (complete with explaining an OG prop). But it highlights the innate potential that is being squandered. Whereas the pair being together in “The Tragedy” enabled their distinctions to shine, in the context of The Book of Boba Fett’s limp first two-thirds it only shows where the delivery has fumbled.
Every creative choice made for Boba Fett’s journey erodes any pre-existing character he has in a bid to move him away from The Mandalorian. His docile approach to crime; his unmasked, chatty demanor (two fundamental aspects Temura Morrison wanted to downplay); even keeping the action in the Mos Espa region of Tatooine, a planet Boba Fett only has a glancing connection with previously. Every one of these gets a murky explanation with the show’s plot, but none are convincing enough to get past the question of why Lucasfilm decided this was the story to tell. There was no reason this couldn’t have had the scale, scope or characterization of “Return of the Mandalorian”. A Boba Fett crime empire show crossing myriad planets and a wide range of engaging characters, with the skills of a former-bounty hunter revolutionizing the galaxy’s underworld is equally as simple but much more immediately exciting.
The Book of Boba Fett still has some pages left, so it’s entirely possible that when he and Din finally reunite this character distinction issue can be addressed. But with so much time already spent taking Boba as far away from anything that made him so beloved for so long, it will take more than a Grogu cameo to do so.
The Book of Boba Fett episode 6 releases Wednesday, February 2 at midnight PST on Disney+.
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About The Author
Alex Leadbeater (1120 Articles Published)
Screen Rant’s Managing Editor, Alex Leadbeater has been covering film online since 2012 and been a permanent fixture of SR since 2016. Based in London, he oversees a global news & features team based in NY, LA and beyond. You may have also seen/heard him on the Total Geekall podcast, unaffiliated YouTube channels, BBC Radio and CBC News. Growing up in the English countryside on a mixture of Star Wars, The Simpsons and Aardman, Alex is a lifelong movie obsessive. Despite a brief jaunt in Mathematics at Durham University, film writing was always his calling. He’s covered a wide range of movies and TV shows – from digging out obscure MCU Easter eggs to diving deep into deeper meanings of arthouse fare – and has covered a litany of set visits, junkets and film festivals. He once asked Tom Cruise about his supposedly fake-butt in Valkyrie (he swore it was all real).