A New Beginning – Review of “The Book of Boba Fett” Episode One “Stranger in a Strange Land”

Poster Art for “The Book of Boba Fett” Source

When it was announced that Lucasfilm was going to do a stand-alone Boba Fett project, I was initially hesitant. As someone who grew up on the Original Trilogy, Boba Fett was the character everyone was utterly convinced was a bad-ass, despite not really doing much of anything before being dispatched in The Return of the Jedi. It was the ancillary material now known as the Legends continuity (formerly known as the Expanded Universe) that grew the legend of Boba Fett into the consummate warrior and bounty hunter. Then, The Mandalorian came along, specifically the episode “The Tragedy”. For the first time in live-action, we got to see Boba Fett at his deadliest. The ending of The Mandalorian’s second season dropped a bombshell for the Star Wars fandom: Boba Fett (along with Fennec Shand) return to Tatooine and take over Jabba’s palace, installing themselves as the new crime lords of Tatooine.

The end result is actually a pretty good first episode. Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.

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Robert Rodriguez (director of such wonderful films as Planet Terror and the Mariachi Trilogy) helms the first episode (titled “Stranger in a Strange Land”), much as he did for “The Tragedy” in The Mandalorian. The main framing device for the first episode is Boba spending time in a bacta tank to rejuvenate his body. While in the tank, we see flashbacks of Boba’s time after The Return of the Jedi, including his escape from the Sarlacc. Upon burning his way out of the creature’s stomach, he is quickly stripped of his Mandalorian armor by a pack of roving Jawas and left for dead, only to be discovered later by Tusken Raiders and enslaved. To say that Boba’s situation went from bad to worse is an understatement. The series takes its visual cues from The Mandalorian, right down to the appearance of the title card and the naming structure for the episodes, making this as much a spiritual successor to The Mandalorian as it is a separate series.

Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) and Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison). Source

Temuera Morrison’s performance as Boba is a lesson in understatement. It’s rare to get a full reaction from the bounty hunter, who rarely if ever raises his voice. Much of the performance, particularly during the flashbacks is through facial expressions and his eyes. Even during the sequence where Boba attempts to escape the Tusken Raiders, Temuera brings a laser focus to his performance, conveying in few words both the desperation and determination that lies underneath the cold exterior of Boba. During the scenes set in modern times, there is a quiet self-assurance in both Temuera’s cadence and his posture, showing that while he is not afraid of resorting to violence, his time amongst the Tusken’s changed Boba in a profound way.

To counter-balance this, you have Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand, an assassin who was saved by Boba in the first season of The Mandalorian. Fennec is the more pragmatic of the two, always advocating for the path of least resistance (which usually means killing and torture). I’ve been a fan of Ming-Na ever since her turn as Melinda May on Agents of SHIELD and it is fun to see her embrace the villainous side of Fennec. This character is an example of some of the rich storytelling opportunities that have been sorely missed in the Star Wars franchise over the years. While it is certainly fun to spend time with Jedi and Sith, the rest of the galaxy is filled with character like Fennec: principled yet prone to acts of violence as a matter of course. The chemistry between Fennec and Boba is clear, largely because you can see that Ming-Na and Temuera enjoy each other’s company.

The middle of the episode, which follows Boba receiving tribute from Jabba’s former vassals, sets up several potential plot threads, most prominent being the Mayor of Mos Espa (the city Jabba lorded over) refusing to pay tribute to Boba. When Boba and Fennec (along with two Gamorrean guards) travel to the Sanctuary, Fennec insists that Boba should have been carried through the streets on a litter, like Jabba would back in the day. Boba’s statement that Jabba ruled through fear and he intends to rule through respect is an admirable idea and one that will be sorely tested as the season goes on.

The core idea is pulled from Machiavelli’s The Prince, where the question is whether it is better to rule through fear or through respect. From a Machiavellian point of view, if you have to choose between being beloved or being feared, it is better to go with fear in the long run. As we’ve seen in many of the Star Wars stories, the underworld of this universe is exceptionally violent (a mirror of our own world in that regard). Crime lords rule through intimidation and fear, subjugating others with the threat of imminent and permanent violence. Boba’s attempt at a more enlightened method of controlling Mos Espa and the criminal class of the city is going to be the main thread for this season.

The attack on Boba and Fennec (which is only thwarted by the Gamorrean guards Fennec was concerned with earlier in the episode) illustrates this idea perfectly. The attack was designed to incapacitate and remove Boba from the board but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also a test of Fett’s resolve, an attempt to see what the former bounty hunter is made of. The aftermath of the fight, with Boba being returned to the bacta tank leads me to believer there’s something more going on with the bounty hunter, an illness or physical ailment that hasn’t been revealed fully yet.

The ending of the episode is a flashback to Boba’s time with the Tuskens. Taken out into the sands by a young Tusken to scrounge for water pods, Boba, a Rodian captive, and the young Tusken encounter a sand creature that quickly dispatches the Rodian. Using his chains to kill the monster, Boba endears himself not only to the young Tusken but also to the Chief of the Tusken tribe. It’s a great moment considering the amount of grief Boba has had to deal with up to this point in the episode. If the series is going to include flashbacks to his time with the Tuskens as a framing device to show how Boba is who he is in the present, I’m on board with that. The Tusken Raiders have always been a background group in the franchise and not given a great deal of time to be fleshed out. I’m intrigued to see where the story goes from here.

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