By Sammy Bovitz
For all the tiresome debating among fans of Star Wars, there seems to be very little that everyone can agree on. But there are just two things that everyone seems to enjoy. First is the return of fan-favorite characters and locations, provided it’s handled well. Second is an injection of originality and personality, and not just the same Skywalker storyline.
Now, each fan seems to balance these requirements differently, which is why the sequel trilogy seemed to fail in a different way each time. The Force Awakens was a fantastic return to form for the series, but didn’t have enough of its own ideas to truly stand alone. The Last Jedi was a much-needed injection of creativity, but faltered in how it continued some of the central characters’ arcs. Finally, The Rise of Skywalker provided fan service in spades at the cost of any actual character development.
That’s exactly why The Mandalorian was such a breath of fresh air when its first season arrived in 2019. It presented an all-new protagonist at an unexplored time in the Star Wars universe, and the journey was relatively low-stakes. There was enough recognizable imagery (stormtroopers, armor, blasters, etc.) to still please the nostalgia-first fan, but focused on exploring genuinely new territory with engaging writing and a well-paced story. While season two brought in a couple of fan favorites in– specifically, Fett and Ahsoka Tano– they were integrated into the story relatively naturally and were firmly placed as background characters in what was still a narrative about The Mandalorian and Grogu (neé Baby Yoda). While Luke Skywalker taking in Grogu at season’s end was a little overindulgent, it was still an understandable conclusion that was built up to naturally. All of this is to say that The Mandalorian had started to veer dangerously close to pure fan service, and I desperately wanted the story itself to remain the priority.
Unfortunately, The Book of Boba Fett is absolutely not a course-correction of this trend of service over substances– in fact, it doubles down on the problems of The Mandalorian season two to deliver the blandest Star Wars story since 2019.
Before we talk about how the fan service affects the story, let’s take a step back and realize how much fan service is jam-packed in here. The backbone of the entire series is the titular Boba Fett, a cool-looking bounty hunter guy with less than 10 minutes of screentime in the original trilogy before being unceremoniously killed. The Mandalorian appeared to be an answer to this, giving us a character that was a Mandalorian just like Fett, but with enough screen time and unique traits to develop into a genuinely interesting character.
But somehow, fans weren’t satisfied with having a Fett-like character. This series is based purely on calls from fans to raise Boba Fett himself from the dead and let him rule Tatooine on the throne of his former master, Jabba the Hutt. For four straight episodes, that’s exactly what happens. The only real development he gets comes in extended flashbacks, which provide a weak motivation for Boba Fett (the people that kidnapped him and then died were his family, because they could all fight?) and not much else.
The creative team then pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone and their mother was able to say “I recognize that!” at least once, in case setting the series on Tatooine– the most iconic planet in the series’ history– wasn’t enough. In the span of just the first four episodes, they bring in more Hutts, a Chewbacca-like war general, the Tusken Raiders, and the Jawas– four iconic species from the original trilogy that don’t serve a large purpose, with the exception of the Tuskens who serve as the aforementioned weak motivation behind Boba Fett’s quest. On top of that, they also brought in a new rancor– one of the most iconic monsters from the original trilogy– to hang out with Danny Trejo in a useless scene before bringing the rancor back (sans Trejo) to basically become King Kong in the finale.
On top of that, the “villains” of this series are the Pyke Syndicate, a crime organization known best for their use in the fantastic animated series The Clone Wars but whose motivations– nothing more than “I would like to conduct my spice trade and make money here” – are weak at best and thoroughly uninteresting at worst. It’s clear now that hinging a whole series on them makes for unexciting conflict.
Then, for episodes 5 and 6, we essentially get two episodes of The Mandalorian, which almost completely undoes The Book of Boba Fett’s purpose as a spinoff, which by design are supposed to be relatively self-contained. Bringing back our new favorite Mandalorian for this show seemed inevitable, but the execution is poor. Episode five is a little side story where we get to see what he’s up to, and it’s a cool enough distraction, though I would have preferred if he had just joined Boba Fett in a short sequence so we could focus more on our title character. But the Mandalorian gets two episodes nearly all to himself– and with only seven episodes to work with, there’s clearly an imbalance here.
Then there are the fan-service-driven problems of episode six. The show brings back Ahsoka Tano, Luke Skywalker, and Grogu. This episode would be a solid premiere for season three of The Mandalorian, which we are being told is 1) still coming and 2) a separate entity from this show. The episode is a distraction from the spinoff’s story to the extent that it feels like a normal episode of The Mandalorian, again invalidating The Book of Boba Fett as its own entity. As for those side characters, Ahsoka Tano’s inclusion is unnecessary, Luke doesn’t do much other than copy his old masters, and all Grogu does is a couple flips while looking cute. I’m glad that the Mandalorian and Grogu don’t actually reunite in the episode, but this is practically the only time the creators show any restraint.
They also bring back an old character from The Mandalorian season two, Cobb Vanth, who exists in this episode purely to set up the reintroduction of yet another old bounty hunter. While Cad Bane’s introduction into live-action after a decade of bounty hunting in animation is cool, it is really only a surface level “this is cool” moment. As a big fan of The Clone Wars, where Bane debuted, I was excited to see him in live action. But the scene he appears in doesn’t do anything particularly special. If you replaced Cad Bane with a completely original bounty hunter, the story would not change– and that is the mark of an unnecessary piece of fan service.
Then the finale somehow makes all of these problems worse.
In the finale, we get an hourlong dumb CGI battle, but since we haven’t gotten time to focus on our main characters, it feels shallow and unengaging. The episode features the galactic version of a cyberpunk biker gang– who somehow find a way to be bland and unexciting– alongside the aforementioned rancor King Kong, giant unkillable robots, and Grogu alternating between being powerful and vulnerable in a sequence that gives me serious deja vu. They all join the Mandalorian and Boba Fett in a giant gunfight, and in a result that surprised no one, pull out a win after getting pinned down with seemingly impossible odds. Boba Fett gets his peace on Tatooine, Cad Bane seemingly dies after doing a couple of generic standoffs (so he really was useless!), and the Mandalorian flies off with Grogu to start season three of The Mandalorian, undoing practically all momentum from the season two finale. It says a lot that the final moments of the show linger again on the main character of the original show, and not on our title character.
The Book of Boba Fett fundamentally fails at doing anything below surface-level fan service and Marvel-style universe building. The show fleshes out Boba Fett’s backstory to fill in the plot holes created by reviving his character– then practically leaves it at that so he can get back to using his jetpack. Two entire episodes are devoted to the main character of what was supposed to be a separate series, and these episodes are indistinguishable from said series. The series doesn’t introduce a single original central character, complete any interesting character arc, and is largely unconcerned with telling a compelling original story. The series brings back several characters and groups that had no reason to be there other than to look cool and induce nostalgia. This might as well be The Mandalorian season three, but at least that series had a clear focus above all else on the arc of its main character.
I’m as susceptible to nostalgia and braindead action as anyone else, but The Book of Boba Fett is a stark reminder that fan service must be supplementary in order to tell an actually interesting story. Even if you do fan service near-perfectly– which this show does– that’s not enough. But my criticism hardly matters if people continue to love the fan service anyway, and they turn that love into subscriptions to Disney+ and purchases of Boba Fett-related merchandise. That’s exactly what’s happening– therefore, the people behind Star Wars don’t feel the need to change anything about their creative approach from when they made this show.
As both a spinoff of The Mandalorian and as a standalone show, The Book of Boba Fett is worthless. It did not need to exist, and could’ve all been packed into a couple episodes of The Mandalorian if the creative team really felt the need to tell this hollow story.