He walks like Boba Fett. He talks like Boba Fett (and literally anyone in Star Wars with a helmet on all the time). He looks like Boba Fett. You might have assumed coming into The Mandalorian that the titular hero of the new Star Wars show might have the legendary reputation to match. But he doesn’t...and that’s what makes him so interesting.
Thanks to their most famous figurehead—despite the fact he’s, well, not actually a Mandalorian—the armour-clad peoples of Mandalore have all had to, at some point, live in the shadow of Boba Fett. An incredibly cool character design without the actual character to match, the Fett we see in The Empire Strikes Back and especially in Return of the Jedi could never live up to the persona the Bounty Hunter would go on to be given by the Expanded Universe in the years after he clumsily slammed himself into the side of Jabba’s sail barge and down into the sarlacc’s gullet.
Despite this bit of on-screen buffoonery, Boba would live on in Star Wars’ tie-in fiction—figuratively and literally, as it was established that he’d clawed himself out of those thousand years of digestion alive and well to continue his work—as a seemingly perfect badass.
Boba became a Batman-esque ultimate warrior who was everywhere at once, five steps ahead of everyone around him, an unstoppable, improbable, and effortlessly cool anti-hero who could always escape seeming defeat thanks to an ace shot or a master strategy. It’s a reputation that has made Boba Fett such a beloved and popular character among fans, but it’s one that’s become a haunting specter for every character that dons that iconic armour. Because if even a wayward pretender like Boba Fett was this impossible badass, surely actual Mandalorians must be somehow even more perfectly awesome, right?
Turns out that the answer is no. And in The Mandalorian’s case, so far that has been fascinating to watch unfold.
Over the three episodes we’ve seen so far, Pedro Pascal’s mysterious bounty hunter has barely managed to shoot himself out of several bad situations—situations he’s in, more often than not, thanks to an incredibly adorable little asset he’s picked up in his career. He’s bad at dealing with people (and Jawas). He’s headstrong to the point of almost being obtuse, albeit in an endearing manner considering he’s headstrong for the sake of his little green ward. Perhaps most crucially, we’ve seen him fail at things multiple times, whether it’s trying to ride a Blurrg or picking a fistfight with a pre-prepared elite shocktrooper—and even more crucially than that, still persist in spite of those failures.
Frankly, the only thing we’ve seen him be repeatedly good at is shooting things, and even then, he cannot shoot (or cool wrist-cluster-rocket, or cool wrist-flamethrower) his way out of every situation he finds himself in without a little help. And trying to shoot his way out of those situations has rarely managed to actually work, at least without the consequence of making the lives of people around him that much harder.
It’s an important reminder for The Mandalorian to teach us that even in the wild and rough outer fringes of Star Wars’ galaxy, where lawless scum and villainy make their wretched hives, not everyone can get by just by being a hardass with a blaster or three. These flaws make our titular hero feel relatably human: he’s a fish out of water having to deal with a curveball—the one thing he’s trained himself to be really good at can’t always solve his problems. But they’ve also made his actual victories that much more satisfying, whether it was the simple act of actually learning how to ride one of Kuiil’s Blurrgs in the first episode, or working with Cara Dune to defend a small village in episode four. Because we don’t expect everything to go perfectly for the Mandalorian (because he kind of is a bit of a hot mess in a galaxy filled with similarly messy survivors), the times when he perseveres are made much more satisfying than if he was just effortlessly blasting his way through the Outer Rim without a care in the world.
It makes sense, even beyond the fact that watching a flawed character competent in a very specific set of skills and little else would have to (to their surprise) work outside of that skillset always makes for compelling storytelling. It makes sense because the specter of that impossible badassery Boba Fett embodied has become an actual metanarrative within the text of the show as well. The Mandalorian has been raised in a time where his adoptive people are in hiding, taciturn and secretive even with each other, as they slowly claw back a cultural history eroded by the rule of the now-ruined Galactic Empire. They’re at a disadvantage, having survived a purge that threatened to divide and decimate their people...not exactly the scenario some may imagine an entire race of Boba Fett-ian asskickers to find themselves in.
And yet because of it, the Mandalorians themselves wield the impossible mystique that the imagery of someone clad in beskar armour has in our eyes—as fans who grew up with the mythos of Boba Fett—as a tool of deception. The rule of the Mandalorian Enclave, the way they all must adhere to, is that they can never be seen in the outside world unless they’re alone. They can never remove their masks to show the people behind that iconic facade, and they’re always travelling from place to place hidden in underground enclaves, so that they may present this persona of a race of deadly wandering ronin. They wield it because it’s a useful tool, but crucially they know above all that it’s all it is—a mask, literal and symbolic. A trick played on the galaxy at large to hide the grave wounds inflicted on their people by decades of conflict.
It’s a fascinating way for The Mandalorian to have its cake and eat it too. The myth of Boba Fett lives on in the show, yes, but that’s what it is: a myth. The reality is much more complex and nuanced than an unstoppable badass in blaster-deflecting armour could ever seem to be on its shiny surface. That the series is willing to play in that nuanced reality rather than give in to the simple thrills such a facade provides is a welcome thing indeed.