I’m some kind of outlier among ’80s kid Star Wars fans in that I’ve never particularly cared about Boba Fett—the terse, helmeted, heavily armed and retroactively Kiwi bounty hunter who Lucasfilm this week announced will be getting his own Star Wars Story film. I am here to tell you that this might not necessarily be a bad thing, but that it is certainly not a good one.
For Fett, in a way, is a sort of tree-ring or polar ice core for the most regrettable parts of Star Wars as a franchise. He’s nearly as old as the entire phenomenon, shows up for maybe a combined 10 minutes of screen time in the two feature-length theatrical movies in which he’s appeared, and yet has a wiki entry the length of a Russian novel—only some of which is now “canon” as we understand it. Fittingly, he also represents what makes me nervous and exhausted about the prospect of a Disney-helmed Star Wars franchise, even as I readily admit I’ve enjoyed the most recent films and some of the ways I feel they’ve really fixed the property’s earlier missteps.
I’m happy we’re getting a continuation of the sweeping saga I enjoyed as a boy. I’m less thrilled that Lucasfilm, which used to overturn its grand toy box of spaceships and laser swords with fey abandon, now seems to do it with all the enthusiasm of a CPA checking off items on a grocery run. With Boba Fett or, I’ll just bet you, just Fett once it hits theaters, I am here to tell you why there is basically no chance the end result will be anything I care to see.
A Tie-In Character Tight from the Start
Boba Fett—whose name somehow becomes more unfortunate the more you say it, not less—is often cited as first appearing as a bounty hunter hired to go after Han Solo and Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back as they flee from the Empire. This is actually not true. He appeared in cartoon form in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special which totally exists, and was part of a 1979 toy promotion that has become notorious among collectors for reasons that would require a whole other article to explain. These were both before Empire in 1980, and they’re just what I know of.
Not surprisingly given that Star Wars has never been a property shy about raking in toy sales, Boba Fett seems chiefly to have been designed to sell toys and look cool. There was little backstory or even much scripting attached to the character, according to original actor Jeremy Bulloch, who has said he was selected in part because he happened to fit in the costume as if it had been tailored to him and that in his brief shoots for the two movies he never once read from a script. Fett’s original, sibilantly menacing voice was provided by Jason Wingreen and seemingly abides only in my memory since they still refuse to re-release the theatrical cut of these movies.
“I think as an actor you try everything you possibly can without overdoing it,” Bulloch said in explaining how he essentially did not come up with a backstory for the character, preferring instead to be precise about the character’s tough-guy mannerisms. “Now actually, the less you do with Boba Fett, the stronger he becomes.”
This isn’t to say Bulloch’s and Wingreen’s efforts didn’t yield results: People remember Boba Fett precisely because he comes off as tough and stoic, and the great costuming work and intimidating arsenal make him seem like what you’d imagine a space bounty hunter to be. He became an instant fan favorite. Good for Bulloch and Wingreen and good for the costumers and armorers whose work kicked off a phenomenon. I argue this doesn’t warrant adapting him to a full-length feature, but that’s sort of a moot point considering what happened next.
They Adapted Him Anyway. Over and Over and Over…
In that same interview above, Bulloch mentioned that many fans have expressed disappointment in Boba Fett’s fate in Return of the Jedi, in which he essentially dies by pratfall. This was so true that pretty much as soon as the projectionists shut off the last canister of Return of the Jedi in 1983, various creators who were given license to gallivant about in the Star Wars universe started inventing stories to fill in the backstory that Bulloch had wisely decided was an encumbrance on the character.
We learned about this expansive backstory through vast collections of comic books, short stories, tie-in novels, and myriad other sources that I, a very serious and cool person with a girlfriend have never read. But I gather that in immersing oneself to an unhealthy degree in them, one would find out Boba Fett was an exile from a proud warrior race known as the Mandalorians, known at various points for being good at hunting down Jedi. And yes, he did eventually escape the jaws of the almighty sarlacc and go on to have more adventures, including, no joke, ending one story in cliffhanger blaster standoff with Han Solo.
It’s worth noting those latter two were part of the mid-’90s wave of Star Wars capitalization, when tons of novels and videogames took advantage of the vastness of the galaxy far, far away to tell all kinds of off-the-wall stories. Han married Leia after absconding with her to a planet he bought, Luke founded a Jedi Academy that only almost got destroyed by an upstart apprentice, and poor Chewie got a moon dropped on him. For his own part, Boba Fett served as a formidable boss in videogames like the N64 classic Shadows of the Empire and unjustly forgotten shooter Dark Forces. Whether he was dead or only sleeping after getting shot in the face 80 times by Kyle Katarn or Dash Rendar is, I suppose, up to interpretation.
This period of exciting possibility—with many creators borrowing liberally from Star Wars lore to tell their own quirky tales—was something that benefitted everybody’s favorite bounty hunter, too. Until the dark times…
Until the Prequels
It’s always mystified me how much some fans have hated the upending of the expanded universe canon in 2015 as Disney took over, when the truth is that the expanded universe canon suffered an outrageous upheaval just by virtue of all the absolute nonsense featured in Episode I, II and III some 10 years before. Besides utterly wrecking huge assumptions everybody had already operated under regarding bedrock concepts like the Jedi or the Republic or the Sith, George Lucas decided to introduce the concept of clones that utterly undid the far more interesting ideas laid out in earlier works (which I haven’t read) and to posit that all the clones were the product of Boba Fett’s father, played by New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison, who, bless him, sounds nothing at all like the voice they used for the character earlier.
In Episode II, a young Boba Fett—a clone of the elder Jango Fett who we learn is being raised as his son—basically doesn’t do much except get mad that Samuel L. Jackson chops off his father’s head in a climactic fight. This craziness put Boba Fett, a character with maybe a half a dozen lines, as a central character in the universe. Morrison was paid good money to go back and re-dub all of Fett’s lines in the original movies, AND all the lines of stormtroopers, when the original trilogy of films were re-released with more of Lucas’ unnecessary tinkering.
This all raises unanswerable questions. Is he not property of the Empire, being a clone? I assume as a badass bounty hunter that his missions must occasionally require him to cross the Empire—does he feel anything about maybe having to kill himself while on a mission? Does literally every contact he meets with hesitate for a second when he speaks, thinking they are the target of a rather inept undercover sting operation because he sounds like every stormtrooper ever? If every stormtrooper in the original trilogy is actually a clone now, why aren’t the officers (they were in the stupid cartoons)?! If every stormtrooper in the original trilogy is a clone now, is that better than before, when I got the impression they were just incompetent weekend warriors who were going along with the Empire to collect a pension—less evil than complicit and complacent?
And yes, while I acknowledge they aren’t for me, I dislike both Clone Wars and Rebels for reasons I won’t enumerate here. But one of the reasons I don’t like Clone Wars is that it, for the love of Mara Jade, insisted on making annoying young Boba Fett the central character in a variety of plots.
Look: If you were born before roughly 1990, the prequels ruined basically everything. And again, Boba Fett sits at the nexus of all of that, the arc of his character going as the whole of Star Wars goes. So it’s fitting that he seems poised to be a perfect barometer for the series’ failings again.
Why Must It Be Fett?
Part of the magic of the earlier, de-canonized Star Wars canon was that it took risks. One particular novel might not sell well, or one particular videogame might not ship as many copies, but it didn’t seem to hurt the brand any—the next one would do fine. Now, we get one videogame every couple of years, and that has sadly been the insultingly thin Battlefront franchise, which can’t be bothered to do things that 20-year-old games did with ease. Knowing that more movies are going to come out—the details of which are TOP SECRET—we’re left with fewer novels or comics, all with the specific directive of not treading on anything J.J. Abrams might want to do.
So we get stories that tread over ground we’ve already beaten into familiar paths. There is nothing to say about Boba Fett that has not already been said—all the breathless articles out there saying he’s about to make his “debut” or headline his own story for the first time are factually wrong.
There is a literal galaxy of possibilities creators could tap into instead, and with way less pressure from fans over whether or not a franchise touchstone is potentially being ruined. Where is the movie that is Top Gun but for Imperial TIE Fighter pilots and it’s a Starship Troopers-y satire? Where is Seven Samurai but the samurai are fighter pilot mercenaries and the town is a mining colony in an asteroid field and the 40 thieves are, I don’t know, a fleet owned by the Hutts? Where is a Jedi detective using the Force to try to hunt down a serial killer aboard a space yacht and the Alderaan Royal Family might be the next target?
I’m sorry if these sound like silly or dumb ideas, but there must be some other ones out there that we can take a chance on, instead of dragging Boba out of the damn sarlacc again.
Kenneth Lowe is non-canon. He works in media relations for state government in Illinois and has been published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Illinois Issues Magazine, and Colombia Reports. You can follow him on Twitter and read more at his blog.