It’s only been a month since the finale of The Book of Boba Fett, which would be too early to go back and give it a second look, except Ben Chinapen made a pretty good video essay about the series, presenting Boba Fett’s character arc mostly independent of everything else in the show.
The video does exactly what it sets out to do: recap Boba Fett’s story in chronological order, to call out how the series managed to take what was essentially a dozen or so lines of dialogue and a cool suit, and turn it into an actual character with real motivations and such. There aren’t any shockingly surprising new takes in the video, but that isn’t a knock on the video at all. It’s just an acknowledgement that the series wasn’t really about ambiguity or layers. All of its meaning was floating there on the surface, keeping all the action scenes from being purely empty calories.
It did make me realize, though, that the series did have a little more thematic resonance than I originally gave it credit for. My main complaint about The Book of Boba Fett stands, and it’s the most obvious one: the series just suddenly loses interest in its main character and goes back to making The Mandalorian. I was willing to give the fifth episode (“Oops, All Mandalorians”) the benefit of the doubt, since it didn’t just continue Din Djarin’s story, but established it as a parallel for Boba Fett’s. But I thought the sixth episode (“How Grogu Got His Groove Back”) was a complete non-sequitur.
It seemed like the series hadn’t just lost interest in Boba Fett’s story, but stopped it completely to show us some fan-favorite characters doing predictable stuff that could’ve happened off-screen. Meanwhile, the Mandalorian chose a new spaceship completely inappropriate for bounty hunting, as if the filmmakers knew the scene they wanted to see at the end (and the toys they wanted to sell) and worked backwards from that, instead of giving it any genuine motivation. Worst of all, the ultimatum Luke Skywalker presented at the end seemed hypocritical and completely out of character; he’d seen more than anyone else how the old Jedi rule of “no attachments” always ended in tragedy, so why was he making Baby Yoda choose one or the other?
But if you reconsider that episode as an intentional part of The Book of Boba Fett instead of a clumsily-shoehorned interlude, it makes more sense. It’s yet another story of a character who has a path clearly laid out for him, but he chooses to define his own path and his own clan. Grogu didn’t even have a name until midway through the second season of The Mandalorian; until then, he was “Baby Yoda.” So of course he was going to end up following the same path as Yoda, training to be a powerful Jedi. (How that would fit in with the timeline of The Last Jedi was going to be an interesting exercise for the writers). I felt like the series was showing me stuff I already knew was going to happen, because it hadn’t even occurred to me that it could play out a different way.
In that context, the end of that episode feels less like an ultimatum, and more like Luke offering the freedom of choice. And the character appearances are meaningful, instead of just being cameos for the fans: Ahsoka chose to leave the Jedi and make her own way, while Luke speaks more like he’s doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do instead of “trusting his instincts.” Even Din Djarin’s new spaceship feels less forced; he wasn’t choosing a ship for being a bounty hunter, because he was redefining himself as something else. He didn’t need room for bounties, but for his new family.
To be clear: I still don’t think it all works. I think the series would’ve been a lot stronger if they’d spent that time developing the characters and plot threads they left hanging, like the Rancor, and Jennifer Beals’s character, and the Hutts, and the other crime lords, and Fett’s history with Cad Bane and other bounty hunters. But at least I can understand why they thought the two episodes of The Mandalorian fit into The Book of Boba Fett without being completely arbitrary.
It seems like I spend a lot of time insisting that Star Wars works best when it doesn’t try for nuance or layers or ambiguity, and just sticks to Good Guys vs Bad Guys with spaceships and lasers. The reason the stories resonate isn’t because they’re complex or open to multiple interpretations, but because they take straightforward ideas about morality and free will, and present them in interesting ways. It’s best kept in the realm of parable, which is why it feels facile to look for too much in the way of philosophy or thematic complexity, and why it feels tone deaf to try to work in too much moral ambiguity or “mature” content. But that’s also why I refuse to just reject all of it as being frivolous or just for kids; having all of the “meaning” floating on the surface, ready for interpretation, is a feature instead of a bug. The simplicity and accessibility makes it universal, not necessarily juvenile.
This is a franchise that has more archetypes than fully-realized characters — outside of the comics and some of the animated series, Boba Fett was the ultimate example of a “character” who had no actual characterization apart from “a bad-ass who has a cool spaceship and a jetpack.” I’m currently reading a book of short stories that recount events from the movies from the point of view of an incidental or background character, and it includes one from the perspective of Boba Fett. It’s written by Paul Dini, who’s extremely talented, but having to work with the version of the character as it exists in the movies. And it shows just how little there is to work with; it’s difficult to make music when you’ve only got one note to play.
So I respect what a big swing it was for The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett to take one-note characters and spin them into genuine character arcs about loyalty, identity, and self-determination. And I doubly respect that they did it while keeping everything in the realm of parable, instead of trying to take the Rogue One approach, trying to turn stories of Good vs Evil into “more mature” stories of politics and morally-compromised heroes. I’d expected The Book of Boba Fett to be a story about an anti-hero, with all the double-crosses and dirty deals of a mob story — Star Wars trying to bring spaceship and lasers to a more action-heavy version of The Sopranos. As frustrating as the series often was, I really like that they rejected that idea. Instead of asking me to identify or even empathize with an anti-hero, they took a pretty shallow non-character and let him become a hero.