I’d like to talk about that one character’s surprise return in the new season of The Mandalorian.
No, not that one.
No, not that other one. The one in the premiere.
No, not that one, the other one in the premiere.
Heh. Anyway, Boba Fett. I think a lot of people, especially those whom you might call the core Mandalorian fanbase, see the nineties Expanded Universe as Boba Fett’s golden age—a time when the mainstream sensibilities of the Star Wars franchise, in both comics and prose, aligned perfectly with Boba’s gritty, amoral vibe in the original trilogy, and thus a slew of gritty, amoral content was released—famously including his resurrection from the sarlacc pit, but much of it set during the Empire’s reign, giving him no shortage of killable adversaries. Boba had no confirmed origin, no character arc, and frankly, no personality. He simply was.
I came into Star Wars at the peak of that era. I read all those stories, and they were mostly decent enough—I think the tone worked better in comics than in prose, but as part of the tapestry of what Star Wars was at the time I had no objection to them. But I don’t think I’d have called myself a Boba Fett fan.
Later Attack of the Clones came along and gave way to not just new knowledge of Boba as a child but a new slew of content about him as a child—and again, I mostly kept up with it, and it was fine. Even years later when The Clone Wars started charting a slow, Lucas-endorsed course for him to adulthood he was mostly just an amusing diversion because there’s only so much to be done with a twelve-year-old who thinks he’s the shit—and anyway Jango was a lot more interesting. Here was a character with all of Boba’s cool bells and whistles, but with an actual personality to boot! He had concerns beyond the next bounty; he had friends and allies, often in spite of himself; he had a son he didn’t just stumble upon but had actively bargained for.
Trouble was, he was dead. While I could write another piece entirely about the dearth of pre-Clone Wars storytelling in canon, the fact remains that by the time things really start to happen he’s off the board—and only a decade or so later does Boba become old enough to carry that kind of weight.
For whatever reason, there hasn’t been a lot of adult Boba thus far in the new canon—and when he has shown up, he’s been the blank-slate Boba of the nineties; no reckoning whatsoever with his now-well-known backstory. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that the era of Boba Fett as a figure of major fan interest was over—that the prequels had killed his mystique, and that without the mystique there just wasn’t much gas left in the tank. I probably figured as much myself, and because I was never really a Boba Fett fan, I didn’t much mind. I certainly didn’t think they’d go to the trouble of bringing his partially-digested ass back to life.
The existence of The Mandalorian only strengthened that feeling—you don’t need two bounty hunters running around in the same kind of armor in the same era, so I figured Din Djarin would be Boba’s post-Endor substitute going forward. Even his pairing with The Child seemed to be less about distinguishing Din from Boba than about getting back some of that Jango energy—the cool factor of Boba but with actual emotional stakes.
So when Temuera Morrison popped up at the start of season two, you might think I was moderately perplexed—what the hell for? What could they do with Boba now that they couldn’t do better with Din?1
Instead, I find myself very much intrigued by this iteration of Boba, for one simple reason: he never went after his armor.
If we take Cobb Vanth’s story at face value (its conflicts with Aftermath notwithstanding), the armor must have resurfaced fairly soon after Return of the Jedi, which was at least five years ago now. That means either the sarlacc somehow burped up the armor without losing Boba himself until potentially years later, or…Boba used the armor to escape and then ditched it. And then decided to hang out in the desert for another five years.2
Mandalorian heritage or not (and the jury’s still out there), that is by no stretch of the imagination any version of Boba Fett we’ve seen before. And that fascinates me, because it implies that this, at long last, is a Boba who’s grappling with why he is who he is.
Boba idolized his father, obviously, and everything we’ve seen of him in post-AotC storytelling, both Legends and canon, has been about either avenging Jango or becoming him. But he never really became Jango, because he was too young to fully know the man. What he became, what we see in the overwhelming majority of adult-Boba content, is a ten-year-old’s idea of who Jango was. Which is both less interesting on its face and, if properly considered, extremely interesting.
An entire Legends novel trilogy was actually dedicated to Boba’s escape from the sarlacc and its repercussions, but having been written before 2002 it didn’t progress the character in any meaningful way and was more about charting his path back to that nineties glory. Later material did eventually see Boba start a loose family of his own, and much later in life he even took on the role of Mandalore, extending his family to encompass his entire culture. But he never fully escaped the shadow of the bounty hunter he felt destined to be, and “Mandalore” was just a thing he did on weekends or when his grandkid dragged him back into it.
So yes, The Mandalorian‘s Boba seems to me to be very much a new thing. Whether he sticks to a recurring role on this show or headlines one of his own, I’m no longer concerned that his arc will be simply a less emotionally-complex version of Din’s. I would have been very disappointed if they’d brought him back just to rehash the Boba material I grew up with, but whatever this ends up becoming instead? I think I could be a fan of that.
In light of, sadly, more than one ongoing concern regarding the cast of The Mandalorian, Eleven-ThirtyEight would like to take a moment to highlight this excellent fundraiser started by Star Wars fans on behalf of the Transgender Law Center. This notice will accompany all of our Mandalorian content this season, but it should be seen as the bare minimum, and does not preclude more direct coverage of the matter in the future. Trans rights are human rights.
- I should go ahead and acknowledge here that it’s not completely impossible he’s playing another clone—but between the character’s apparent age and the context of his appearance I find it extremely unlikely and am willing to disregard it for the sake of this piece. [↩]
- PS – He’s living at Obi-Wan’s place, right? He’s totally living at Obi-Wan’s place. [↩]