“Stranger in a Strange Land”
29 December 2021, Disney+.
Written by Jon Favreau. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Walt Disney’s second live-action Star Wars series feels, for its first episode at least, to be a rather redundant experience. It is spun off from, and is produced by the same creative team as The Mandalorian. That series, which has run for two seasons to date, featured a mysterious armoured bounty hunter that visually resembled classic Star Wars character – and fan favourite – Boba Fett. Now that the same team are using the same visual style to tell stories about Fett himself, one wonders why they spent two years beforehand developing a near-identical character rather than the original.
Some time following the end of Return of the Jedi, bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) has staked a claim as Tatooine’s new crime lord. He soon faces resistance, however, from the mayor of nearby city Mos Espa.
Any way you slice it Boba Fett is an unusual character. While he was created to feature in the first sequel The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, he was actually introduced in advance via a rather groovy animated short during The Star Wars Holiday Special and as an action figure. In the film itself he mainly stood in the background looking generally menacing, aside from taking a few pot shots at Luke Skywalker and taking a frozen-in-carbonite Han Solo away on his spaceship. In the entire film he gets just two lines of dialogue, unless I am forgetting one: ‘As you wish,’ and ‘He’s no use to me dead.” In the 1983 follow-up Return of the Jedi he doesn’t get any dialogue at all, and falls to his death into the giant Sarlacc monster during the first act climax.
It is amazing how much mileage one can get out of the right piece of production design – just ask the makers of the Predator and Alien franchises. The theatrical Boba Fett may have simply been an anonymous henchman in a helmet, but what a helmet. Second only to Darth Vader in the ‘cool-looking-villain’ stakes, he amassed his own ardent enthusiasts within the broader Star Wars fandom and simply wouldn’t go away.
In 1992 he was unexpectedly resurrected in the Dark Horse comic series Star Wars: Dark Empire. When George Lucas supervised a re-edited ‘special edition’ of the original Star Wars in 1997, Boba Fett was inserted into a new scene. Most significantly of all, in 2002 the character appeared as a child in the prequel Attack of the Clones with an entirely new back story and origin: the clone of Mandalorian mercenary Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), he inherited his father’s armour and spaceship and wound up becoming a galactic bounty hunter. When The Empire Strikes Back was subsequently re-released on home media, the voice of original actor Jason Wingreen was replaced by Morrison’s.
It makes sense, then, that Morrison has returned in this new series to play Fett. In this premiere episode his surviving the Sarlacc is not simply noted but presented in flashback. It is a pleasing way to begin the episode, as it ties the character firmly back to the events of Return of the Jedi, but in all honesty that pleasure is short-lived. Before long events are right back into the pseudo-western tone of The Mandalorian, a similar cavalcade of awkwardly performed and weakly written characters cross the screen. It feels a bizarre stretch that Fett is setting himself up as a powerful crime lord with only one lieutenant by his side; the capable Fennec Shand (Ming-na Wen). The episode even makes direct mention that Fett does not have enough employees, which does not so much excuse the problem as draw it into focus. Morrison is great as Fett, and the episode affords the character more personal development and personality than the entire preceding saga. Similarly Wen plays Shand with a nice level-headed sense of cool, and pulls out much more depth than Jon Favreau’s bare-bones script supplies.
Robert Rodriguez directs, although you would not guess it from what is on screen. While the production values manage to present film-style science fiction vistas extraordinarily well, the action is very weakly choreographed and shot. It feels stilted and awkward, and unexpectedly slow. As a first instalment of seven, it is understandable that “Stranger in a Strange Land” is focused on introducing characters and premises. At the same there is really nothing self-contained in this episode that feels satisfactory – let alone satisfying.’
Like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett will undoubtedly find an enthused following, but it really feels like more of the same – The Mandalorian Season 2.5, if you like. Given the wealth of different settings, characters, and stories that could be told in the Star Wars universe, that is a crushing shame. This episode is watchable, and passes 35 minutes amiably enough, but it’s hard to imagine eagerly awaiting the other six.