Not Even Boba Fett Can Escape His Own Shadow

Not Even Boba Fett Can Escape His Own Shadow
The mythos returns. (Image: Lucasfilm)
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It’s taken 40 years, but Star Wars finally did something that only its ancillary media could dream of in those four decades: it made Boba Fett a character. But in our first steps with an intimately familiar, and yet somehow still completely alien Star Wars icon, it feels that those steps are cast under a legacy that will prove harder to escape than the bowels of a sarlacc.

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Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

“The Tragedy” got many, many things about the return of Boba Fett right. In bringing actor Temuera Morrison back to Star Wars, the series presented a fascinating connection to the prequel era for it to leverage a parallel between Din Djarin and himself, the push and pull of the bonds between parent and child. In a more primal sense, seeing a raw, angry Boba Fett unleash himself on the Empire he once worked for finally codified the masterful warrior fans and tie-in media have always imagined Fett to be, despite his cinematic appearances being anything but.

But while the visceral thrill of watching Morrison crack open Stormtrooper plastoid like an overeager dad eyeing a bowl of walnuts was fun in the moment, “The Tragedy” and its extrication of Boba out of his own mythos and back into the Star Wars galaxy hit me as something hollow.

After all these years, Boba Fett has character beneath the iconography of his mask. It’s just a character we’ve met a dozen times over on The Mandalorian already.

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

Throughout “The Tragedy,” Boba Fett is a dominating presence. From the second Slave I soars through Tython’s atmosphere, to his skulking through the rocks of its surface, to finally donning the armour he has sought for nearly a decade, his presence is almost suffocating. Aesthetically, he is a man changed, the scars of time and sarlacc clear to see, and even when he retrieves the armour that made him an icon, there’s something powerful in the idea that it does not quite fit. As if, The Mandalorian wants to tell us, that this will not be the Boba Fett you have dreamed of all these years: there’s a familiarity there, but it’s rough around the edges, ill-fitted, rendered mutable by time and pain.

But textually that isn’t the case at all. Boba’s systematic dismantling of the Stormtrooper squads that come to Tython to wrest Grogu from his guardian’s hands is gleeful in precision brutality. In and out of his armour we are delivered an elite warrior, as if to say that he never really needed the toyetic image of that visor and that rocket-firing backpack to be the bounty hunter burned into the minds of everyone who spotted him in the corridors of the Executor and Cloud City back in Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett is indeed, in this regard, the man we always imagined, prepared and hypercapable.

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

That in and of itself is fine — but it’s what drives Boba Fett in this episode that feels like chances missed. His martial prowess aside, the Boba we are presented with is driven by a sense of honour and duty — far from the image of a bounty hunter willing to work with any side, even the Empire, as long as it pays. He is, as we are, fixated with his armour, but equally with an unspoken code, referenced repeatedly. The code that lead to him healing the left-for-dead Fennec Shand, the code that dictates that he must see his debt paid to Din Djarin and help recover Grogu, code this, code that, code other.

For all the hubbub over whether or not Boba and his father are “true” Mandalorians — a factoid this episode tackles for Jango at least, as much as Boba himself cares little for the heritage himself — it’s a code that feels along the lines of the other Mandalorians we have met over the course of this show. From Din and his covert’s belief in the Way, to Bo-Katan’s own belief in iconography-by-creed with her quest for the Darksaber. It’s not even an inherently Mandalorian thing: dutybound, honorable badasses on the outskirts of law are what define the cast of The Mandalorian, Din included, and even the former wearer of Boba’s armour, Cobb Vanth. The show is an homage to the Westerns of old, right down to its repeated archetypes, and Boba is no exception.

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

Which is to say that cutting Boba Fett from the same cloth — the cloth his legacy came to define, even as The Mandalorian itself previously attempted to interrogate it in part — feels like something of a disappointment. If we have waited so long since Return of the Jedi (or more accurately, since Disney threw out all the stories where Boba had returned already) for Boba Fett to actually live up to the image we had created for him in our heads, the fact that he does so in the easy way out, by following in the footsteps of new characters inspired by his legacy, feels almost cowardly. As if Star Wars was afraid to ponder the potential of answering his mystery any other way — that Boba, like so many things on The Mandalorian, must evoke the Star Wars we remember in the past, rather than present a chance for its future. Of course Boba Fett is like this. Isn’t this what we always imagined, what we always wanted? Now we have it.

There are things in there, deep down, that hold promise for Boba’s future, whether it’s told over these final few episodes of this season — for which it seems clear Boba will stick around — or in the oft-rumoured potential spinoff, or elsewhere in Star Wars’ grand canon. The fleeting mentions of Jango and Boba’s complicated relationship with his father’s legacy are ripe for contextualizing a much more human man beneath Fett’s ill-fitting armour, as is his lingering fear upon sighting the Imperial might of Moff Gideon’s cruiser, a dead Empire returned. There is potential there, for Boba Fett to become more than the old thing we liked.

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

But for now, The Mandalorian is content with what it’s done to return a familiar favourite: it has re-embraced the imagery of Boba Fett, even if it has not yet been bold enough to question just what that imagery could really mean to the man himself.

The Mandalorian is currently streaming on Disney+.