Ever since seeing the famed Mandalorian fall into the Great Pit Of Carkoon in the summer of ’83 at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road I’ve wonder how Boba Fett could escaped. In the years that have past I’ve read about it and seen artwork but not until Boba returned in ‘The Mandalorian’ last year did I think we would get an official live action canonisation of what happened. Then ‘The Book Of Boba Fett’ was announced and now anything is possible.
Show creator, writer, and producer Jon Favreau and director Robert Rodriguez don’t hang around in delivering the biggest fan-service moment in Star Wars history. Following a brief introduction of a deserted Jabba’s Palace, we see Fett (Temuera Morrison) sleeping in a coffin-like Bacta tank and we go into his dreams. There is a shot of his home on Kamino followed by a recreation of a young Boba mourning his father’s death on Geonosis. And then we jump straight to it, Boba deep in the guts of the Sarlacc, and the beauty of the scene is that it is all very methodical and straight forward how he frees himself. Then, to cap it all off, there is what must be a direct reference to the famous Star Wars filibuster from ‘Parks And Rec’ where, in the words of Patton Oswalt, we see “the gloved, Mandalorian armor gauntlet of Boba Fett grabs onto the sand outside the Sarlacc pit and the feared bounty hunter pulls himself from the maw of the sand beast.”
As Fett lays dying on the sand, the perpetual dicks of the Star Wars universe, the Jawas, arrive to steal his armour. Not only do they beat a dying man as the steal his belongings, they laugh about it is they walk away. But saviors do come for Fett in the form of a band of Tusken Raiders and, while they do treat him like an animal, they do save his life. This begins what appears, in a dated reference that most won’t get, the ‘A Man Called Horse’ part of Fett’s life. He is the stranger in a strange land of the episode title and he will need to respect and learn from the natives if he is going to survive. This all culminates in Fett saving a Tusken youngling from a Harryhausen-esque multiple limbed beast while out searching for water. While the youngling claims the kill upon return to the camp, the chief is wise enough to subtlety acknowledge Fett’s achievement.
These flashbacks are cut into the present day story every time Fett is in Bacta and he is still clearly not back to his physical self of before his fall. He has implanted himself as the crime lord of Tatooine and wants to rule through respect rather than fear, something we are clearly going to see him learn from the Tuskens. He wants to collect tribute peacefully but his sidekick, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), wants to rule with an iron fist. Fett’s approach is shown to both fail and succeed in this episode. It fails because he doesn’t come down on the Mayor of Mos Espa’s Majordomo when no tribute is offered which leads to an attacked later on. On the other hand, he is successful when he chooses not to torture two Gamorrean guards. This much to the distain of UK2-B, the latest posh British droid in Star Wars, who is voiced by Matt Berry but those two guards go on to prove their loyalty and come to Fett’s rescue when he is attacked.
While this episode doesn’t have a massive hook like the first episodes from seasons one and two of ‘The Mandalorian’, season one being the introduction of Grogu and season two the re-introduction of Boba, it plays like Star Wars comfort food. We get the story that we thought we were going to get, in a familiar location, with familiar characters and aliens. There is even an appearance from a Star Wars super group with the revelation that Max Rebo survived the sail barge explosion, looking like he has just stepped off the set of ‘Return Of The Jedi’, and has teamed up with Figrin D’an to play a variation on the original cantina music. Once again, Favreau and Filoni prove they understand the source material but also what the audience expects from it. There is nothing wrong with fan service as long as it is used to effectively tell the story and is not just there to be winked at. If it makes senses for a character to appear or an event to take place then there is no reason for it not to. But not relying on a hook to bring the audience back for the next episode also means the creators have faith in the story that they are telling.
There are some big themes at play during the episode, the main one being that water equals life and sand equates to death and this repeats throughout. The show starts with a shot of Fett’s watery home, a place where he was happy, then straight away cuts to the worst moment of his life is a sandy arena. We see water being stolen by gangs because it is so important and we see death dealing beasts emerge from sand. We know water is important on Tatooine and you get the feeling it is going to play a big part in the series. Could this be Fett’s ‘Chinatown’?
Boba is clearly a changed man by his time in the desert but can it last? He doesn’t want to use fear and violence but others still see him as representing that. Going into the show we have been told that it is going to be a crime drama an it gives the impression that just when Fett thinks he is out, he is going g to be pulled back in. How many times can people poke the bear before it turns on them. I think this is going to be Fett’s ongoing struggle as he strives to control his new empire.
The only thing I think didn’t quite work with the episode was the structure. It finishes on a flashback rather than in the current timeline. To me, it felt jarring when the credits rolled as the story wasn’t moving forward but I understand why it finished where it did to highlight Fett learning about earning respect. It will be interesting to see if this episode structure remains through out the series and how long they take to play out Fett’s missing years.
Although this isn’t Star Wars crack like ‘The Mandalorian’ premieres, this is perfect viewing for people who were at the right age when they saw Fett for the first time, just like the show’s creative team.