This problem with Boba Fett is not a new one

Star Wars has a handful of iconic characters that are really little more than just great costume design. Heroes and villians like Darth Maul, Captain Phasma and Zorii Bliss all get a few of lines and the occasional neat bit of action but mostly they just look great and thus their position in the history of a galaxy far far away is ensured. This should most certainly be called the Boba Fett Effect because the famous enigmatic bounty hunter in the Mandalorian armour was the one to truly start this trend. His brief appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, made up of some confident walking around, the occasional considered nod and one single release of his firearm was enough to generate a huge long lasting fan base and now, forty years later his own TV show. This new word Mandalorian meant nothing back then yet still raised so many questions, and that was precisely the point.

Now, with the disappointing reaction to the Disney+’s The Book of Boba Fett, where viewers feel confusion over Fett’s weak motivations and personality, people are saying that the legacy is being damaged. This isn’t new though, they’ve been fudging Boba Fett ever since Return of the Jedi. This desire to do something with this character who was actually best when he was doing nothing has resulted in poor choices from the start. They could have done great things with the man behind that famous T-visor helmet, The Mandalorian show has proved this, but they rarely, if ever, have.

Fett was handled well at the start of Return of the Jedi. More nodding, the brief lifting of his weapon but no shots fired yet, and lots of lurking in the background in Jabba’s Palace built nicely on the similarly minimal use of the man in his debut movie. Then he got involved in the action above the Sarlacc pit and it all went wrong from that point. Boba Fett was apparently this formidable fighter so seeing him die by slapstick was a little hard to go with. Having his jet pack ignited when it was whacked by a long stick being brandishing by a nearly blind Han Solo who was turning to someone talking to him was essentially a replay of the classic plank routine played for years by everyone from Laurel and Hardy to The Chuckle Brothers. Seeing him then face plant into the side of Jabba’s barge before falling into the Sarlacc’s waiting stomach served to undermine his easy earned reputation, even at this early point.

Having apparently gone out in a less than dignified manner (although we now know this wasn’t his demise) we then got to see the start of his life in the prequels. I’m not sure that going back and seeing legendary bad guys in their childhood ever works, certainly not if you are going to show them as cute little innocents. This is clearly the problem with the whole of The Phantom Menace where there is not a single aspect of young Anakin’s characterisation that works with the man he would become in the next film, let alone him finally taking on the mantle of Darth Vader. At least the adolescent Boba, a clone of his father Jango Fett, isn’t really played as a cute kid but he doesn’t really register at all so I am not sure what having him in the narrative added to the film’s story or his. It certainly didn’t help his mystique and it felt laboured and unnecessary. Jango himself, was an attempt to add to the mythology but they humanised him too much which is exactly the issue with his offspring now. You don’t need to repeatedly see someone’s face to like them, Mando proves this too, and if that face is too often unexpressive it doesn’t make them mysterious, unreadable and interesting, it actually does the opposite.

This latest version of Boba Fett was actually cool when he showed up the second season of The Mandalorian, which reintroduced him to the world of Star Wars a little over a year ago. It was genuinely exciting to see him and his ship fly in and join the action and crucially he got to add to that action. Seeing him fight stormtroopers and the like in those last three episodes was great. It isn’t that this promise has now been squandered though, it is that these moments were welcome anomalies in the mostly flawed historical portrayal of the character.

This is all about his appearances in live action of course, he has been presented effectively in the animations and the comics but this only makes everything else so disappointing. They’ve got the other returning Star Wars players right in this new show but how to handle Boba Fett is still eluding them, pretty much like it always has.

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