Then: From the depths of a Tattooine Sarlacc pit, the armoured bounty hunter Bobba Fett claws his way out, barely alive and quickly at the mercy of scavengers such as Jawas and Tusken Raiders. He may have defied certain death, but with new punishments ahead he may not be grateful.
Now: Ready to take over the throne of Jabba the Hutt, Bobba Fett and Fenec Shand need to consolidate their powerbase and convince others to respect them as much as fear their wrath. However, it would seem that establishing that authority is going to be easier with some than with others…
Bobba Fett is an interesting character in the Star Wars universe, though the reasons for being so may vary depending on your opinion of his stature. He was properly introduced in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the bounty hunters sent to track down Han Solo and bring him back to the Tattooine crime-boss Jabba the Hutt and succeeded in his mission only to seemingly die in Return of the Jedi. The helmeted henchman was flung into a Sarlacc pit, where – we were told – victims were digested over hundreds of years.
In most cases, such a character would then be confined to footnotes and eventual Wookiepedia entry a little above an average stormtrooper and the galaxy, far, far away would have moved on further and further with hardly a passing glance. However, in this case, there was a section of fandom that latched onto to the character and the idea that Fett had somehow survived his fate took hold. The scarcity of special-edition action figures and the rise of the internet did nothing to dissuade the notion and though there was never any official endorsement of survival, neither was it discouraged.
The decision by Lucasfilm to make The Mandalorian – about a bounty hunter called Din Djarin who wore very similar armour – lit the touchpaper for more developments. Though the series central character was not Bobba Fett, there were hints that a similar character was around and might be the inexplicably-revived bounty hunter of old. That was confirmed in the second run of the Madalorian, when Fett helped Djarin against common enemies. Lucasfilm then announced that a third season of The Mandalorian was being developed, but first there would be a ‘The Book of Bobba Fett’ show.
And so, filling in the must-see streaming position vacated by Hawkeye, the Book… is finally opened this week.
Whether a devoted follower or not, there’s something for everyone here but also something that doesn’t quite satisfy. Lucasfilm have been at the cutting-edge of technology for decades and The Mandalorian showcased some of the best tech available – digital backgrounds filmed in-situ and a high-resolution standard second to none. Maybe we’ve been spoiled, but despite some nice vistas of Tattooine’s wretched space-port of scum and villainy and an assortment of vehicles and droids… there are also moments here that don’t quite reach that expected benchmark. An encounter with a multi-armed sand monster looks more like a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion entry (likely a deliberate decision as Rodriguez is a fan of the ground-breaking fx artist of the 1970s/1980s) and though some of those desert scenes were shot in the wide-screen Australian wilderness, others look like the strategically-lit more compact film-set (with a few piles of imported sand) that they probably were.
The pacing is also a little off. While it would always be important to explain Fett’s survival after his feature-film write-off, front-loading the pilot with Fett remembering how it happened seems more like a catch-up info-dump. It might have worked better to plunge us into action proceedings and then scatter that reveal at a slower pace. But Fett escapes the Sarlacc’s stomach in the first five minutes and subsequent flashbacks are more to do with him proving himself to a bunch of Tusken Raiders / Sand-people who drag away his barely-alive body for their own amusement. The ‘contemporary’ story sees Fett undergoing regular healing procedures in a medical tank (hence his dream intervals) and his efforts with new ‘partner’ Fenec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) to establish control over the late Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire. He intends to rule with ‘respect’ rather than ‘fear’ though Fenec wisely warns him that could be seen as a sign of weakness – one tested when the duo are attacked by parkouring assailants.
The Book of Bobba Fett seeks to start a new chapter that somewhat humanises a character best known for his action-figure armour. He’s not a character with super-human powers nor an untouchable hero – he’s a scarred, battle-weary pragmatist needing regular convalescence and with a moral code that can be entirely flexible when it comes to amassing power. He’s a trained killer who’d rather not if it’s all right with you… but if it isn’t, he’ll likely kill you to prove his point. Temuera Morrison is the kind of solid actor needed. Over the years his performances have graced such diverse releases as Once Were Warriors, Barb Wire and Aquaman (as well as playing clone-template Jango Fett in the Star Wars prequels) but he comes without the ‘star-name’ baggage that might have been a casual-viewer draw but ultimately a double-edged saber. There’s a Dredd-like argument for never showing Fett’s face (but even The Mandalorian couldn’t hold that line for long) but Morrison’s weathered features and furrowed brow give the character some needed mileage – he’s the kind of character that simply never gives up and has the scars to prove it. In many ways it’s in the steely determination to survive captivity among the Raiders that sees Morrison/Fett thrive, the scenes of modern-day empire-building being flatter or at least more templated.
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe, Agents of SHIELD) has long since proven herself a capable physical and emotive actor and handles all her scenes here with ease. Her fighting style is more convincing and organic and she holds her own with Morrison in every scene, her character deferential but never a true subordinate. With all due respect to the titular character, she could be just as big a draw. There are also subtle cameos from Matt Berry (What We Do in the Shadows) as a droid, comedian David Pasquesi, playing the Mayor of Mos Espa’s Majordomo and Rodriguez himself as Dokk Strassi. One hopes the appearance of The L World / Flashdance‘s Jennifer Beals as hostess Garsa Fwip is surely not a throwaway role and could promise much if she’s the sophisticated challenge to Fett’s growing powerbase.
Stranger in a Strange Land (a title inspired by the Hugo Award-winning novel by Robert Heinlein) is a decent if not exceptional start to the series, one that wants to bring everyone up to speed before continuing, though one has to applaud any show that casts veteran Māori and Asian actors in the lead roles rather than flavour-of-the-month newcomers. If the show can build on their talent and gather some more momentum and spirit of its own beyond pure nostalgia, there’s still much potential.
- Production Design / VFX8