Boba Fett and the Road Less Traveled

Reconsidering both The Book of Boba Fett and how “sophisticated” Star Wars needs to be

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.

Boba Fett and Other Figures Each Sold Separately

Thoughts about the finale of The Book of Boba Fett, and the season (series?) as a whole

When I finished watching the season finale of The Book of Boba Fett (no word yet if there’ll be a season two), I thought it reminded me of all the times I’d procrastinated and then crammed for a final exam at the last minute. Sometimes I’d squeak through with a B- because I was careful to check off all the requirements, but it was clear that my heart wasn’t fully in it.

The more I think about it, though, it takes me even further back. It reminds me of when I was little younger and playing with my Star Wars toys, throwing together my favorite figures and whatever playsets I had, trying to make a story out of it. The stories were always disjointed and a little repetitive, and clearly just building up to whatever showdown I wanted to see, like, oh I don’t know, Boba Fett riding on the back of a Rancor going raaarr! and then droids are shooting at him pew pew pew and then he fires his rocket fwoooosh and it explodes.

Characters would all gather around one small location for no good story reason, and they’d just hole up there for long stretches of time when I forgot about them. I’d suddenly remember something that I’d wanted to include, so I’d just bring it in without sufficient build-up. And most of it would be a lot of firing lasers back and forth without much actually happening.

And yes, I was still enough of a nerd to try to have a thematic arc for my story. So I did appreciate that the finale hit the right beats for Boba Fett’s story in this season — defeating the vestiges of his past with the help and the tools of the new tribe he’d found for himself — even if it came across a little obvious and clumsy.

A highlight of the episode for me was Fennec Shand’s chance to be a total bad-ass at the end, with a more brutal graphic scene than we’ve been used to seeing in Star Wars in a while. I also liked how the Rancor was depicted, in that pseudo-stop-motion practical effect style that reminded not just of Return of the Jedi but the obvious reference to King Kong. (I also liked that the framing was like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, although after all the business with the Tuskens, I’d been hoping for Lawrence of Arabia).

I still don’t think Grogu should’ve been anywhere near this series, and especially not Luke Skywalker. Including them feels like it was done for the benefit of marketing or merchandising, not for the good of the story, and just comes across as crass. But if they had to include Grogu, I at least loved his hilariously awkward walk, which always looked like that little girl who walked in on her dad in the middle of a BBC interview.

I don’t like being too critical of the series. For one thing, some of the most annoying people online have been vocally critical of the series, and I hate thinking that I have anything in common with them. But more than that, my main criticism has always been that it’s fine. I’ve gotten spoiled by the Disney+ series with The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Hawkeye, and even Falcon and the Winter Soldier being from huge franchises with built-in audiences, but still always better than they needed to be.

This series had a ton of really cool stuff, so much that it feels odd to be critical of it — Thundercat doing cyborg modifications on an assassin played by Ming-Na Wen and a space marshall, all to a space funk soundtrack? What the hell am I complaining about?! But so much of that really cool stuff was put in the wrong places, or presented in a weird or shallow way.

More often than not, The Book of Boba Fett showed me the stuff I wanted to see. But it was exceptional in those brief moments where it was showing me something I’d never expected to see. I wish there’d been more of that.

One Thing I Like About Murderville

The new Netflix series is a semi-improv comedy that avoids almost everything I hate about improv comedy

I’m really enjoying the new Netflix series Murderville, which is surprising, because I don’t like improv comedy.

Actually, that undersells it: I hate improv comedy. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable. It combines social awkwardness with people desperately trying to be funny, creating a Saw-like nightmare scenario that I’d usually do just about anything to escape. And the fact that the people who like it seem to really like it just makes it worse. My discomfort over improv made me dislike The Adventurer’s Club at Disney World, which on paper seems like it should’ve been the coolest thing that ever was.

The premise of Murderville is that Will Arnett plays a hapless detective who gets paired with a new rookie detective each week. Everyone has a script except for the rookie, who’s played by a different celebrity guest star, and who has to improv their way through all the scenes and put the clues together to guess the killer at the end of the episode. None of the mysteries so far have been at all challenging, but the prospect of someone having to keep a scene going while simultaneously paying attention to clues is where the comedy lies. Especially when the scenes are constructed specifically to mess with the guest star — forcing them to eat hot sauce, do the Harpo Marx mirror routine, go undercover with an embarrassing name, or explain death and murder to a little girl.

It’s a combination of absurd comedy (I keep being reminded of Childrens Hospital, partly because of the tone but mostly because it’s the same production company, and many of that series’s actors keep showing up in Murderville), prank show, game show, and improv. It’s such a brilliant concept that I was disappointed to learn that it was based on a British series with the same premise.

Disappointed because I was imagining yet another case of a genius British TV series being clumsily adapted for US audiences in a way that robs it of everything that makes it special. Luckily I found this hilariously snobby review in The Guardian, which trashes Murderville for doing exactly that. The writer describes the Netflix version as “torturous cringe”1And few things make me cringe more than seeing an adult writer use “cringe” in that way., then goes on to list the aspects of the original that were changed for the US version.

And in every single case, it sounds to me like the change was infinitely for the better. For one thing, Murderville casts celebrities who are used to doing comedy (and Marshawn Lynch, who’s awesome in his episode because he seems game for anything) instead of B-list reality TV stars and pop singers — apparently, the charm of the original was in being able to mock “self-ironising” media personalities for being awkward and uncomfortable?2I have to say that the line “Perhaps, the US doesn’t quite have the same depth and diversity as celebrity Britain, so it can’t cast the sort of self-ironising, famous-yet-normal types who made Murder in Successville such a pleasure.” is just chef’s kiss in its pure insufferableness. The writer notes that both versions have sequences where the guest has to wear an earpiece and do everything that Will Arnett’s character tells them to do, but the US version fails because it’s done in front of other actors, instead of forcing the guest to embarrass themselves in front of people who aren’t in on the joke.

Most telling, though, is how the writer faults the US version for breaking the inviolable rules of improv. Guests look at the camera, Arnett tries to steer scenes back on track, and everyone breaks character and starts laughing “far too often.” Which I mention because that’s the One Thing I Like most about Murderville: it embraces the moments when the actors crack up.

I have to say I didn’t really notice exactly how well it worked until my favorite moment in the first episode, in which Conan O’Brien is having to improvise a story to a group of women in order to “maintain his cover.” The whole scene is set up so that the actor he’s playing against is feeding him lines to force him to slip up, and he’s clearly in his element, doing basically the same stuff that he did in the unscripted segments on his show, reminding the audience that he was a comedy writer long before he had a talk show. He delivers the punchline to his story, and it cuts back to the actor cracking up before immediately turning her head to hide her laughter from the camera.

That cut is what makes it stand out — if the point were to make a funny scene, they could’ve ended on the punchline and edited around the laugh, but they deliberately chose to include it. The point wasn’t just to construct a comedy scene; the point was to show the joke land. The series seems eager not to show people being embarrassed, but to show people having fun.

It goes both ways, too: earlier in that episode, Conan and Will Arnett are interrogating a magician played by David Wain. Wain keeps doing magic tricks, and Arnett keeps losing his shit over every one, which has Conan cracking up. I wouldn’t expect everyone to know who David Wain is, but if you do, it changes the whole feel of that scene: it’s not the prank show implied by the premise, but three comedians trying to make each other laugh. There’s a similar moment in the episode we watched tonight, where Kumail Nanjiani tries to goad Arnett into doing a racist impression of a Pakistani person, and Arnett seemingly side-steps it at the last minute.

Again, the setup makes it seem like the goal is to put Arnett in an awkward position to embarrass himself, but that’s not really the case. It’s actually just giving Arnett an opportunity to be spontaneously funny, to let audiences see that spark of creativity that’s impossible to get with heavily-rehearsed material. If nothing else, having such a heavily-edited format allows the producers to emphasize the moments they want to: either go the Reality TV route and assemble the show for maximum drama and embarrassment, or take the Murderville route and show everyone getting the gag and having fun with each other.

I get improv comedy well enough to know that that spontaneity is the whole appeal, and that trying to force spontaneous moments into happening is almost always a mistake — no appearance of Debbie Downer on SNL was ever as good as the first one, where Rachel Dratch was looking at her castmates in desperation, trying to keep things on track while simultaneously knowing that the sketch was turning out to be so much funnier than anything that could be scripted. SNL is always hoping for moments like those — with Bill Hader as Stefon having to read jokes he hadn’t seen before the live airing; or Kate McKinnon looking for signs that someone else on stage is about to crack up, and then doing everything she can to get them to break character — but the show is stuck just hoping those moments happen, because it’s not something you can force. SNL kind of has to pretend that the point of the show is to go smoothly, even though some of its most memorable moments have been the ones where something goes wrong.

So I really like that Murderville splits the difference between scripted comedy and improv, allowing for spontaneous moments while still having a script and editing to keep things from going too far off the rails or falling flat. I really like that everyone’s in on the joke, even if not everyone’s in on the script — the only people who are being put on the spot are people who chose to be. It seems like the entire show is built around seeing actors having fun, and hoping that rubs off on the audience. I’m sure that to some people, having everyone in on the joke would make it seem like Murderville is too safe or doesn’t have that edge that awkwardness and discomfort and embarrassment bring to comedy, but I hope those people will grow out of it eventually.

And in case it sounds like I’m being anti-British, I’m definitely not. I’m just ragging on that one writer for The Guardian. In fact, there’s a great example of what I’m talking about in one of my favorite moments from Taskmaster: I won’t completely spoil it, but early in the episode, the contestants are given a task to do on cue, but the cue isn’t given to them until much later, at the worst possible time. Greg Davies says that it seems like one of the moments in the series that made James Acaster genuinely angry. Acaster says, “Well at the time I was pretty furious, but I was also thinking: ‘Ah, this’ll be good.'”

  • 1
    And few things make me cringe more than seeing an adult writer use “cringe” in that way.
  • 2
    I have to say that the line “Perhaps, the US doesn’t quite have the same depth and diversity as celebrity Britain, so it can’t cast the sort of self-ironising, famous-yet-normal types who made Murder in Successville such a pleasure.” is just chef’s kiss in its pure insufferableness.

Boba Fett and the No For Real, Though, Did Temuera Morrison Get Laryngitis or Something?

Thoughts about episode 6 of The Book That Used To Be About Boba Fett

Things are heating up with chapter 6 of The Book of Boba Fett, with a guest appearance that must’ve gotten a lot of fans excited. There’s one scene with a fan-favorite character, a mysterious and notoriously deadly bounty hunter who hasn’t made a lot of appearances in the Star Wars universe lately. His name is Boba Fett.

I gave a pretty charitable interpretation of the last episode, figuring that it fit into the story because it showed how Boba Fett’s story and the Mandalorian’s were thematically similar. This one, though, just had a pretty cool showdown in a desert town that was at least tangentially building on the season storyline, and then a ton of stuff that should’ve been in season 3 of The Mandalorian.

It bugs me because I would’ve liked almost all of it, had it been presented as part of that series instead of interrupting the story I’ve gotten invested in. It actually retroactively makes me like the series so far a little less, because the stuff that’s been introduced — like the Rancor, and the Sanctuary club, and the Mods — no longer feel like parts of a building story, but just seeds for images that’ll appear in the final showdown with the bad guys. There was so much room that could’ve been used for telling an intriguing story of crime bosses and double-crosses and revenge plots, but they chose instead to just use it as a vehicle to squeeze more comics and animation characters into live action.

(I say “almost all of it” because the choice at the end seemed like a completely false one that never should’ve been presented in the first place. It seemed like something meant to play on the audience’s emotions instead of something that would’ve been genuinely motivated by any of the characters involved).

I hate to say it, but I was pretty disappointed and even annoyed by this episode. I’ve seen quite a few disgruntled types bad-mouthing the series around the internet, and I don’t want to add to that — even the episodes I’m not crazy about still seem to have stuff I like a lot. I just feel like the storytelling has been frustratingly disjointed, from a team that in the past has been able to give the audience everything what they want to see but make it feel resonant as well.

Top 10 TV

My 10 favorite episodes of TV ever, because why not

I can tell I’ve been watching too many YouTube videos and listening to too many podcasts lately, since I was inexplicably compelled to compile/update my list of Top 10 Favorite Episodes of TV Ever. (Actually, it was prompted by the sudden thought, “Damn I loved WandaVision,” which is something that I think about almost daily).

These aren’t necessarily all of my favorite TV series (but most of them are), and many of them are here because of one scene instead of the entire episode, and also I obviously went over 10 because none of this is at all important. Also I loved series like Alias, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, 30 Rock, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, but couldn’t think of any one particular moment or episode that stood out in my memory. Also I guess I should mention that I’ve never seen more than one episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, True Detective, or Fargo, and I got so annoyed with The Sopranos that I had to stop watching and it drove out any memories of how much I was enjoying the first part of the first season.

16. True Blood, “Plaisir D’Amour”
This one starts with showing what happens in the True Blood universe when a vampire gets staked, and that scene alone was my favorite in the entire silly series. This is where the series hooked me, and I was low-key obsessed for a while there. The show is so horny and so over-the-top, that I’d spent a lot of time wondering whether they were in on the joke. The start of this episode made it clear: oh yeah, they get it.

15. The Book of Boba Fett, “The Tribes of Tatooine”
Still early in a series that I haven’t liked quite as much as The Mandalorian, but damn if that train sequence wasn’t one of the best Star Wars moments I’ve ever seen. It also had Boba Fett’s vision quest at the end of the episode, a perfect example of how these series can best spin off into weirdness while still feeling like Star Wars.

14. Battlestar Galactica, “Sometimes a Great Notion”
This might be the bleakest episode of a very bleak series, and at the time I thought it was one of my least favorite. But one character’s suicide is the one scene that I remember the most vividly from the series, all these years later. I’m sure it was done mainly for shock value, but it felt like a flash of maturity in a series that was otherwise designed just to heap trauma on its characters. It’s an intriguing idea that if someone’s been suffering under years of stress and horror that an ongoing series demands to keep things exciting, they’d choose to go out with a pleasant memory instead of a brutal one.

13. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”
One of the best of the gimmick episodes (another of my favorites was called “Doppelgangland”), this one worked for me because it went back to the formula of combining gags based on the supernatural premise with the theme of a Teen Girl Drama; Buffy and her boyfriend were having trouble communicating.

12. Arrested Development, “Mr. F”
I’m not going to suggest that this episode was ever in good taste, but it still feels like it’s aged poorly enough that I feel a little weird calling it out as a favorite. The whole storyline with Charlize Theron’s character was what hooked me on the series (I didn’t see the first season until later). This episode in particular is where the whole shaggy-dog-story format of Arrested Development finally “clicked” for me: the ingenious way it piled set-ups on top of each other across an episode or multiple episodes, finally letting them all pay off in an interconnected punchline.

11. How I Met Your Mother, “Three Days of Snow”
This is the one where Marshall shows up to meet Lily at the airport with a marching band (spoiler), and that moment makes me cry every damn time. This is still one of my favorite sitcoms, because it had no hesitation being maudlin and romantic. And by the way, I still say the series ended perfectly, and anyone who says otherwise just didn’t get it.

10. Futurama, “The Sting”
This is the one where Leela is mourning Fry after he’s killed by a giant bee. The episode of Futurama that first springs to mind as a favorite is “Jurassic Bark,” and I’ve got a soft spot for “Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles” because it’s where I got the name for my cat Pazuzu. But “The Sting” is the one that surprised me for being so surprisingly sweet and romantic.

9. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Inner Light”
This is the one where Picard is hit by a probe that causes him to experience the entire life of an alien on a doomed planet. It shows off the best potential of Star Trek: not being obsessed with continuity or grand story arcs, but taking a single sci-fi premise and spending an hour elaborating on it and its repercussions. My second favorite episode of the series was called “Remember Me,” the one where Dr. Crusher realized, “If there’s nothing wrong with me, there must be something wrong with the universe.”

8. Cowboy Bebop, “Speak Like a Child”
This is the one where Faye Valentine receives a Betamax tape in the mail, and Spike and Jet have to go pick through the ruins of Earth to find a machine that can play it. The last scene gets me every single time I see it, and Faye’s “I don’t remember” is what does it.

7. The Mandalorian, “The Sin”
This is the one where Mando returns to collect the bounty on the foundling and then regrets it. It’s hard to pick a single favorite episode of the series so far, but I think this is the one that really started to deliver on the premise. Not just the premise of a bounty hunter finding redemption and re-inventing himself, but the premise of Star Wars on TV means you get to see a whole covert of Mandalorians flying jetpacks and shooting lasers at aliens and because it’s all in a series you get to see more of it next week.

6. Lost, “Man of Science, Man of Faith”
The introduction of Desmond and the code he has to keep typing in to keep the world from ending. At the time, the cold open of this episode just blew my mind, and I’ve always liked the song “Make Your Own Kind of Music” because of it.

5. Twin Peaks, “Coma”
This is the one where Maddy sees killer Bob menacingly crawling towards her in the Palmer living room, which still might be the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on television. As a bonus, it’s got the song James, Maddy, and Donna sing together, without a trace of self-consciousness.

4. The Good Place, “Dance Dance Resolution”
This is the one where Eleanor (and one time, Jason) figures it out over and over and over again. After the season one finale, I thought I knew where the series was going to go, but they crammed every one of my short-sighted predictions into a single episode, and then went off in new directions.

3. WandaVision, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”
Once again: damn, I loved WandaVision. This is the one with “Agatha All Along,” and while the reveal itself wasn’t that surprising, every element of the reveal and the end of the episode was pulled off flawlessly. It was so satisfying to see everything that the series had been building for weeks culminating in one extended sequence. There are so many great details in it, one of my favorites being how the aspect ratio quietly and near-invisibly changes as Wanda moves from a 2000s sitcom back into the “real world” of the MCU.

2. Doctor Who, “Blink”
The series overall kind of crawled up its own butt, and they overused the Weeping Angels to a ridiculous degree, and I’m still even more annoyed by “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” as I was by “the cake is a lie.” But this episode is still a masterpiece, full of genuinely scary moments and monsters that are terrifying because of the implications of their attacks, not just the attacks themselves. Plus Carey Mulligan is so charismatic that she overshadows the leads; at the time I was convinced this had to be a back-door pilot for her own series.

1. The X-Files, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Always my favorite episode of television ever, even if the rest of The X-Files has mostly lost the magic it had over me in the 1990s. The series tried this kind of meta-storytelling multiple times, but it never worked as well as here because it wasn’t just parodying The X-Files, but spinning the parody into a larger idea about the nature of faith and belief. Highlights are Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as Men in Black, the D&D player who knows a little something about courage, and the fairly savage parody of the ridiculousness of Fox’s Alien Autopsy specials of the time.

Boba Fett and the Mystery of the Disappearing Boba Fett

My thoughts on Episode 5 of The Book of Mostly Boba Fett

When the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett showed him punching and flamethrower-ing his way out of a sarlaac, I thought that clearly the series was trying to make up for all the indignities the Star Wars franchise has piled on the character over the decades. But I can’t think of much that’s more disrespectful than getting Cousin Olivered out of your own series!

Obviously, I love The Mandalorian, and I’ve been eager to see how the story progressed after the finale of season 2. The last episode all but explicitly said that he’d be coming back in this one, and I was really looking forward to seeing what had changed. And it would’ve been awkward to just say, “Hey look, Mando’s back!” without addressing any of that. And this was, by any standard, an excellent episode, full of cool stuff. But it was an episode of The Mandalorian.

I wish that they’d managed to bring him back in a story that kept Boba Fett’s moving forward, and saved all the best moments of this one for an episode of the next season of The Mandalorian. They could’ve teased the intrigue in this appearance — Where did he get that new ship? What did he get for Grogu? — and then gone into all of this detail in a flashback.

One of the reasons I’ve loved these series is because they don’t just show me what I want to see, even as they’re showing me exactly the version of Star Wars I’ve been wanting to see since the early 1980s. There’s always a real effort to make stories that have thematic resonance and show a real arc for the characters, even for those of us in the audience more preoccupied with seeing space battles and jetpacks. This episode just left Boba Fett’s arc hanging.

I do appreciate that it sets up Din Djarin to be a kind of analogue of Boba Fett. They’ve both lost their tribe, and they’re reinventing themselves on their own terms instead of what other people have told them they have to be. That’s been the ongoing theme of this series so far. It would’ve been stronger if both characters had been there to play off of each other.

But apart from that, I really liked everything in this episode. The new ship is, indeed, wizard, even though I wonder how a bounty hunter can work with a starfighter that only has enough extra space for a baby Yoda. I loved seeing the BD droid from Jedi Outcast, Amy Sedaris speaking the Jawa language, the Rodian kid staring at the Mandalorian like on every commercial flight, the arches in Mos Eisley taken from Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art that I had hanging in my bedroom. I even gave a genuine gasp of emotion at The Armorer’s final dismissal, which surprised me as I hadn’t thought I had any emotional attachment to any of these characters apart from Grogu.

I just wish they’d figured out how to work Boba Fett into an episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

Boba Fett and the Thundercat-Installed Stomach Mod

Random thoughts after Episode 4 of The Book of Boba Fett

It has come to my attention that the street gang in last week’s episode of The Book of Boba Fett were directly (and blatantly!) patterned on Mods, not just “vaguely European” as I’d thought. I regret the oversight. I do love that Fennec Shand explicitly calls them “the Mods” in this episode, presumably from “modified.”

(I’m also embarrassed that I didn’t come up with with calling them “Mos Vespas.” I mean it was right there and I didn’t see it).

I was also aiming low last episode, apparently, since I was delightfully surprised to see Stephen Root show up in a Star Wars franchise. In retrospect, he was bound to show up eventually, considering the demand for character actors for all the new movies and series. The bigger surprise was this week, when Thundercat showed up as a rad black market cybernetic-modification installer. Complete with a rad soundtrack during the A-Team-inspired montage where he wheels out a special cart holding his robot arm replacement. It was one of those cases where I could tell he was having a blast to be in Star Wars, and I was so happy for a complete stranger. I’m sure the make-up crew was also happy that they didn’t have to do a whole lot to make Thundercat fit into Star Wars.

Even though episode 2 is still by far my favorite, I’ve liked all the episodes so far, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. On the surface, episode 4 just seems like wrapping up act two and heading into the climax — the flashback part of the episode detailing how Boba Fett found and saved Fennec Shand didn’t seem to be reinforcing or building on ideas in the “main” story, but simply connecting the dots. It was full of great, satisfying moments, but I didn’t immediately pick up on any “thematic resonance” that the other episodes had.

But after thinking about it some more, I think it just makes explicit the themes that have been going through the rest of the series. This one is about loyalty through respect, explaining exactly why Boba Fett has been doing what he’s doing. It’s important to see him continuing to build alliances and add characters to his gang. Even past adversaries, like Black Krrsantan and that rabbit droid. I’d been wondering how they’d make a story about an anti-hero feel compelling, and they’ve done it by showing he’s got his own code of honor.

And I’ve got to admit it’s fun to have a series where the characters aren’t constantly struggling to stay true to the light side. Watching Boba Fett mow down a murderous biking gang was oddly satisfying, as was watching him and Fennec Shand take on the Sarlaac with the coolest weapon in Star Wars.

I also loved the Bantha. Through all of these episodes, I’ve been wondering how things are “supposed” to look, and how much is a limitation of practical effects, shooting scenes in studios instead of on location, or using TV-budget CGI. But the Bantha was so much more expressive and detailed than they’ve ever been shown before, and it never didn’t feel real to me. I don’t want to watch a making-of, because I don’t want to know exactly how it was done.

One thing that occurred to me during this episode is that it feels like they’re finally achieving what Star Wars has been wanting to do in live action for a long time. The train heist from episode 2 was a perfect rendition of late 70s/early 80s Star Wars action and comedy, and I think the scene in the kitchen from this episode nailed the tone that much of the prequels were trying to achieve. Hitting the right combination of goofy slapstick and action violence.

I don’t know how to write fan letters in the Modern Era, but if I did I’d want to thank Jon Favreau for delivering, over and over again, the fun and expansive version of Star Wars that I’ve been wanting to see ever since I was little.

Boba Fett and the Eurovision Street Gang

The third episode of The Book of Boba Fett was gloriously corny, and I loved it

Considering that I’m enough of a nerd to write a whole treatise about what “feels like Star Wars,” I guess it could be surprising that I loved just about every second of the third episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

It introduces a gang of young toughs who look less suited to the streets of Mos Espa than to a Shadowrun-themed Eurovision act. With their suits and accents and brightly-colored speeder Vespas, they looked more like citizens of Paris than citizens of Tatooine. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d abandoned any pretense of being in Star Wars and just started blasting Prototypes on their speeder speakers.

The sedate car chase through the city had already won me over by the time a car actually crashed through concept art of Jabba’s palace being carried, inexplicably, across the street. That moment just sealed the deal for me. After the first episode, I’d said that I couldn’t figure out whether the hints of cheesiness were intentional; this episode felt kind of like Robert Rodriguez saying, “Bitch, I made Spy Kids!

I’d be lying if I said that no part of my enjoyment of the episode, and the car chase in particular, was imagining how angry it was going to make other Star Wars nerds. I’ve already watched a couple of nerd reviews on YouTube, and I admit it makes me low-key gleeful to see them complaining about the corniness. I’m realizing that one of the many things I don’t like about Rogue One is that it takes itself so seriously; I can’t remember any moments of comedy (or even levity) in it, and it just seemed to need the audience to think it was bad-ass.

There was a guest appearance by Danny Trejo, which honestly was inevitable as soon as they announced Robert Rodriguez was an executive producer. I was more surprised to see Stephen Root show up, because he’s just awesome and because I never would’ve expected to see him in a Star Wars project. There was also a character in the background in a flashback to Mos Eisley that clearly seemed to be Amy Sedaris’s character from The Mandalorian, which was a nice callback.

I’m enjoying all the machinations and misdirections and happily avoiding making assumptions or predictions (although come on, the main bad guy has to be Jennifer Beals’s character, right?). Instead I’m just enjoying watching Boba Fett going out and collecting friends to bring back to his castle. It’s like a Star Wars version of Suikoden.

Boba Fett and the Nasal-Induced Vision Quest

I can remember seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time1At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it, and being so disappointed that they not only introduced another Death Star, but immediately went back to Tatooine. It was deliberately supposed to be a lifeless backwater where nothing happens! That was the whole point!

Obviously, Star Wars went back to that moisture evaporator many, many more times over the years, turning it from the planet farthest away from the bright center of the universe, into the place where just about everything happens. It’s been one of my biggest annoyances in a franchise that includes Dexter Jettster and Caravan of Courage. But after seeing the second episode of The Book of Boba Fett, I’m finding myself thinking, “No, Tatooine is good actually.”

The Mandalorian already often felt like a Lucasfilm-sanctioned fan film, finally making live-action versions of exactly the things that Star Wars-obsessed nerds have been wanting to see for decades. The Book of Boba Fett is that, doubled. When the subtitles identified a character as “Camie,” I had a momentary nerd freakout when I realized that we were seeing Luke Skywalker’s friends at Toshi Station. (Or maybe Anchorhead?) Including characters from deleted scenes and the novelization was a masterfully-executed deep cut — if you’re a nerd of a certain persuasion, you appreciate the reference, but the story doesn’t depend on your getting the reference at all. The moment earlier in the episode, with the Rancor pit, works similarly: another bit of interesting dramatic irony as the audience is wondering what’s changed since we last saw it.

It’s not just “fan service”2Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love because it doesn’t stop the action for the sake of a nerd reference. It’s also not fan service because it’s awesome. The train sequence in this episode is one of the best sequences in any Star Wars thing ever. It was a perfect blend of action and comedy, old west and sci-fi, with all the elements working perfectly with each other. Even if this had been the one notable scene in the episode, it would’ve made this episode a stand-out.

But all the other details were so well-done, too. The sequence with the mayor, menacingly speaking through a calm translator device. The showdown with the Hutt twins, with one of them wiping the sweat off of himself with some kind of rat creature. Boba Fett realizing he was more effective with a practice gaffi stick than with his rifle. The Tuskens immediately trying to scavenge the speeder bikes instead of riding them. The whole speeder bike training sequence. And Boba Fett’s whole vision and the following ceremony. It was all filled with concepts that were more interesting, more clever, and more original than they needed to be.

Two ideas stood out to me: one was how interesting it was to see a more expansive — not “inclusive” — take on Star Wars. The Tuskens are shown here to have a society more inspired by native American, aboriginal, and at the end Maori cultures. In just about every other depiction, they’ve just been the Star Wars equivalent of “The Injuns,” backwards, violent, dangerous savages. It could’ve been handled so much more clumsily, but here they’re given a more interesting depiction that makes them sympathetic without losing any of their weirdness, or denying the fact that life in this type of environment would be really brutal.

Which fits with the second idea: seeing the depiction of crime syndicates and gangs on Tatooine gives an idea of how the Empire could’ve been appealing to people if Star Wars planets were real places. To be clear, I am 100% a believer in the idea that Star Wars is about good guys and bad guys, and it’s actually worse for the stories when they try to make the villains nuanced or relatable. Whenever they’ve had villains trying to justify mass genocide and slavery and all of the other stuff the Empire does, by insisting that there needs to be order, it’s come across as unnecessary at best, or clumsily tone-deaf at worst. But showing it from the perspective of regular people trying to go about their day-to-day lives and having to deal not just with monsters everywhere, but gangs and crime syndicates, you can kind of see why they’d be in favor of a Law and Order platform. Plus, all their stuff is newer and shinier.

I liked the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, but I didn’t love it. Even if I end up being ambivalent about the rest of the series, I loved the second episode. It alone justifies the existence of the whole series, as far as I’m concerned. I want to see an entire spin-off series about the sweat rats.

  • 1
    At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it
  • 2
    Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love

Jawas are A-holes

Random thoughts about the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett

I don’t honestly have a lot to say about The Book of Boba Fett yet, since the first episode was mostly just laying the foundation for the series. But it’s a new Star Wars TV series about Boba Fett, so I mean it’s not like I can not force my opinions onto the internet.

I really like both Ming-na Wen and Temura Morrison, so I like seeing them be able to take the lead in a series. Especially an action series highlighting lead actors in their late 50s and early 60s — although I hate even mentioning their ages as if it were some kind of novelty, since they’ve made it more or less irrelevant. Before checking IMDB, I would’ve assumed they were at least a decade younger, and obviously, they can both still, as they say on Tattooine, “get it.”

The first episode seemed to be doing everything it could to restore Boba Fett to his 1980 bad-ass status, since the franchise has been piling indignities onto him ever since Return of the Jedi. He didn’t just jetpack out of the Sarlaac, he punched his way out! Granted, the entire episode was basically him getting his ass kicked, but the key was getting his ass kicked and coming out on top. And with his sense of honor-among-thieves-and-murderers intact.

Although I liked it quite a bit, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the budget for this series was cut relative to The Mandalorian. In that series, I can’t remember a single moment where I was taken out of the story by effects or costumes, even when they were paddling down a lava river. In The Book of Boba Fett, though, I kept noticing that they were on a set, or the costumes looked like costumes and the make-up like make-up, or the CGI was noticeably CGI.

One scene in the city had droids that were clearly Boston Dynamics robots in the foreground, which seemed mid-way between a cop-out and a commitment to practical effects. The Gamorrean Guards looked like they found a couple of guys from the Folsom Street Fair and gave them a light coat of green body paint. Speaking of green body paint, one of the Sexy Twilek Servants from the casino looked like they’d brought him in without doing a camera test to make sure the paint worked.

I was wondering whether it was an aesthetic choice, especially when Boba Fett was fighting a monster that looked like an homage to Ray Harryhausen. Some of the animation looked almost like stop motion. To be clear, I’d absolutely 100% respect it as a commitment to practical effects, I just wish I could be more confident that it was. There was a lot of ambition elsewhere in the episode, with perfect costumes for extras only on-screen for seconds.

In any case: I was surprised to see Jon Favreau so heavily involved in the series, just because I’d thought this was more of an independent spin-off with Robert Rodriguez as show-runner. It’s a good sign even though the projects have so much in common, that this already feels distinct from The Mandalorian, with its own tone and a scope that feels just right for a seven-episode series. It’s not exactly what I expected it’d be, but I’m already on board and looking forward to the rest.