Review of "Stranger in a Strange Land", the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett's series -- complete spoilers included -- will be up as soon as I send my heartfelt greeting...
We talked last year about Boba Fett's introduction on The Mandalorian. He was long revered for his unique role in Star Wars lore. He was more prominent in Clone Wars and the prequels. But he was a child growing up in his father's shadow. It wasn't until the Mandalorian Season Two episodes that the truth about Boba as an adult -- now played by Temuera Morrison, just like Jango in the prequels -- started to live up the legend. He was still there in the shadows of Mando. This character is only possible because many Star Wars fans, like Jon Favreau, grew up with Boba's armor.
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Boba Fett finally makes his animated debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special 40+ years ago. Both it is Mandalorian and a little different. Mando is seen traveling the Outer Rim wearing a shiny, indestructible suit of armor. Boba, his old, scuffed-up armor, and Grogu are joined by Mando. Fennec Shand is adorable. While this show is still intended for Star Wars-crazed adults, it's a show that they can watch with their children. However, it's more family-friendly than some of the other places Mando has been.
We'll be watching to see if Book of Boba Fett, also created by Favreau but with Robert Rodriguez (who directed the Mandalorian episode) serving as chief director, can grab the public's imagination without such a cute and instantly meme-worthy character. The promising "Stranger in a Strange Land", which was lean and mean in a way that reflected its taciturn title, was a good start.
Boba dreams of the events that took place after Han Solo accidentally sent him to the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi. To avoid being slowly eaten by the monster's stomach over 1000 years, he steals the oxygen supply from a Stormtrooper. He then uses his flame thrower and other weapons as a way to free himself. He is too weak to stop Jawas from taking his father's armor, which will eventually be in the possession Cobb Vanth -- or fight off the Tusken raiders that find him thirsty under the harsh glare Tatooine’s twin suns. He is taken prisoner and although he is resourceful enough to escape at nightfall he can be easily captured.
These flashbacks, like many Mandalorian stories rely heavily on familiar tropes of classic Westerns. They treat the Tuskens again as Native Americans fighting back against settlers, just like so many Mandalorian tales. Fennec awakens Boba to take care of the business of running Jabba the Hutt’s empire. The influences are more eastward. As a variety of crime bosses make their way to Jabba's old palace in tribute to its new owner and one of them, Dokk Strassi (played by Robert Rodriguez under lots of makeup to look Trandoshan), refers to Boba the new daimyo. This is a Japanese term for a feudal lord. These men were featured in multiple films by Akira Kurosawa. His film The Hidden Fortress provided George Lucas with the blueprint to create Star Wars. Although the lines between the hemispheres blur at times -- Fennec's ninja-like assassins chase across the Mos Espa rooftops, for example -- parkour offers some clarity between Boba and his past.
The Tusken segments seem more compelling at the moment, even without Ming Na Wan to chat with Morrison. It seems like a difficult job to be the new daimyo. And it's hard to understand why Boba would want the job. He's determined to rule through respect and not fear, which is very un-Jabba-like. The gig is great for wealth and power. But Boba said to Mando that he was a "simple man making his way through this galaxy" and that he didn't like the Mos Espa mayor's smugly intimidating majordomo. This role was played by David Pasquesi, Selina Meyer's ex-husband who lost everything on Veep). He must keep his eyes on Jabba's empire and figure out if his vassals, like Garsaw Fwip (Jennifer Beals with Twi'lek head tentacles), will be loyal or treacherous. He must also resist the occasional assassination attempt despite his reduced fighting ability from the previous years.
The present-day scenes are somewhat mixed on a stylistic basis. Although Rodriguez is an inventive director of action and a skilled choreographer, the choreography in the scene where Boba, Fennec and the two Gamorrean fight off the shield-bearing assassins seems a bit lacking. (The rooftop chase is slightly better. Both Garsaw's club and Jabba's palace are impressive sets that trade off the iconography of the original trilogy. These scenes are mainly set up for the larger story Favreau & Co. plan to tell this season. This is fine, even if it's not thrilling for a premiere.
While the desert sequences don't require as much talking, Boba speaks only once in the first ten minutes while offering to release the Rodian prisoner, who is tied to a nearby stone -- but they feel raw and visceral. Although Boba's apparent death in Return of the Jedi was intended as a joke it became a nightmare for him. These flashback sequences show Rodriguez leaning on POV shots more than Mandalorian, creating the impression that we are all starving in desert along with Boba. He wants to survive, escape and figure out the next move. When he is able to slay a four-armed desert creature, he achieves the first. The episode's most spectacular creation is the beast, and the fight is more thrilling than the one in Mos Espa. The young guardian of the beast brings it back to camp as a trophy. However, the leader of the tribe recognizes who killed the beast and offers Boba water. This is a suggestion that the tribe might have used for him as an ally rather than as a slave.
Boba will need to travel for years to recover his armor and take Jabba's throne. The Book of Boba Fett must balance both timelines to ensure that fans are not impatient and lose patience waiting for the other to change. Boba, unlike Mando's helmet-wearing counterpart, is comfortable walking around with his helmet off. His stoic visage is a different kind of mask. We will see how open he is over the course of this season. The Boba, confidently wrapping his chains around the monster, lives up to the Star Wars legend Star Wars fans have created around him.
* This premiere has fewer oddball guests than the Mandalorian Pilot, which had Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi and Werner flipping herzog. This one has Matt Berry, who is part of the What We Do In the Shadow family and voices Boba's palace robot. This is a nice reverse of the Shadows episode in which Mark Hamill played Jim the Vampire and chased Berry's Laszlo into the wilds. It also raises the question: Who will be next to voice a Star Wars droid? Mark Proksch could certainly make an amusing protocol droid. But it would be great to hear what Kayvan Novak and Natasia Demetriou can do vocally.
* Boba's early POV through his helmet's t-shaped lens raises questions about whether this is the best design for someone who fights for his livelihood. Is there any peripheral vision?
* Ludwig Goransson's theme for this show is as much a result of his energetic Creed score than his work on Mandalorian.
* Before the flashbacks take you into the stomach of the Sarlacc, we get first clips from Attack of the Clones. These include the rainy planet Kamino, where Boba and the other Jango clones were hatched. Also, young Boba holds his father's severed skull after Mace Windu cut off it.