“I’ve decided,” I announced to my husbeast as we lay in bed, post Episode 6 of The Book of Boba Fett, “that the Mandalorian’s mustache bothers me.”
Husbeast frowned. “He hasn’t taken off his helmet in this show, though.”
“I’m working under the assumption that he hasn’t changed his look since the end of The Mandalorian season 2.”
We’d just been kissing, which meant mustaches were on my mind.
“It bothers me because it is the least logical grooming choice possible, given his situation,” I said.
“You’re right.” He was clearly hoping I’d just get back to the kissing. He never agrees with me this quickly under normal circumstances.
“A mustache is a choice, right?” I plowed on. “Very intentional grooming, but he knows no one is supposed to see his face, ever, so why the hell does he do it? It’s got to get itchy under all that beskar. A beard might make more sense, in the ‘who cares, fuck it’ way some beards go — not you, I like yours — but that would be even worse under the helmet. Like, ‘Covid masking with facial hair’-level uncomfortable, but forever.”
“So, he should just go clean shaven, though that involves work nobody would much care about. But a mustache? It is the worst of both worlds: all the maintenance work, little to no comfort benefit. It’s the stupidest possible decision. Totally takes me out of the moment.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
Husbeast shrugged against his pillow. “I assume Pedro Pascal was filming Mandalorian episodes in between something else where he was expected to have a mustache.”
The sheer reasonableness of this thought snapped my mouth shut.
“You’re thinking about this because you’re not sure you like The Book of Boba Fett, aren’t you?”
The Husbeast knows me all too well.
The best part about not being sure if I’m enjoying something is that my brain has permission to get critically engaged with why. I grew up on all things George Lucas, so why can’t I just be happy to see another star war?
Sometime between midnight and 2 AM — well past Husbeast giving up the ghost as I grumbled over geek theory — I lit upon the answer:
The Book of Boba Fett isn’t actually a story.
Or, put another way, it was founded on an idea which never succeeded in becoming a story.
I talk to my students a lot about the distinction between an idea and a story. An idea might be the start of a story, but it isn’t a story all by itself. A story requires a setting, characters, some set of stakes, some sense of resolution, and it requires some sense of cohesion and credibility in these various parts. An idea is the shiny starting point. In the world of sff, it’s the speculative thorn that’s dug itself into the creator’s mind.
The Book of Boba Fett was born because of an idea from The Mandalorian: “What if Boba Fett was still alive?” From that idea, various questions arise: How did he survive the sarlacc? What does he want now?
Well, he wants his armor back.
Okay. Cue Cobb Vanth, borrowed from Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels. Set up a side-quest with Mando, continue his redemption journey as he tries to do what’s best for Grogu, etc., etc.
And now, pursuant to that, Boba Fett has regained his armor from Din Djarin, has returned to Tatooine, and has disposed of the imminently disposable Bib Fortuna.
So — now what?
Well, he’s going to become the crime lord of Tatooine.
That might seem like the start of a story — how will he do it? What will stand in his way? But there are a number of reasons that idea doesn’t yield a story. Instead, it gets us to a premise that, while genuinely interesting, is doomed from the start, the same way virtually any face reveal for Mando was doomed from the start. No face under that helmet quite makes sense because we’ve built our understanding of the character almost entirely without his face. Something similar is true for Boba Fett.
The Three Reasons The Book of Boba Fett Can’t Quite Work
In Boba Fett, the Star Wars universe keeps trying to sell us goods that are long out of stock. He was billed as one of the deadliest, most ruthless, most effective bounty hunters in the galaxy in The Empire Strikes Back, a goon fit for a direct summons from Darth Vader, whose name could by itself could send a vulnerable Han Solo into a panic attack mid-battle. Months of toy sales, posters, and teaser images had primed the original Star Wars audience for a vicious, intimidating villain.
Instead, that tough-guy potential was sacrificed to prove how powerful Luke had become. It was discarded with a Wilhelm Scream and an out-of-control jetpack ride into the mouth of the sarlacc. This gets us to the first reason why The Book of Boba Fett fails as a story, however much it compels as an idea.
- One: You can’t make your audience buy Boba Fett as the next Tony Soprano of Tatooine (his escapades in The Mandalorian season 2 aside) because you’ve already pulled the rug out from underneath his character’s power and authority. The story can’t effectively explore Tatooine’s seedy underbelly and Boba Fett’s mastery of it because our central memory of him is a lot of standing around with his arms crossed, then getting owned as a combat afterthought.
So, the showrunners tried for a different story — or, at least, tried to have it both ways. Could their idea lead to a redemption arc? Boba Fett could become a different kind of warrior-leader, one with compassion and a sense of balance and reason. Perhaps happenstance leads him into an encounter with a being or beings very unlike himself, with whom he can’t easily communicate, and drives him to change his priorities and his habits, taking responsibility for their welfa–
Oh. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
- Two: The Book of Boba Fett can’t succeed as its own story if it’s a reskin of the fan favorite elements of its predecessor, The Mandalorian. Star Wars has gained traction in series format because it’s giving its audience a variety of different things — or at least trying to, if the calendar of upcoming series is to be believed. Focusing The Book of Boba Fett on its shared characteristics with Mando’s story (even general characteristics, to say nothing of shared recurring characters) doesn’t help distinguish it as Boba Fett’s journey. It turns your titular character into an also-ran.
So, the show tries a third story strategy. Could the series focus instead on how Boba got to this moment alive in the first place? Star Wars has been working all along its timeline with prequels and such for years. The franchise takes for granted that audiences will accept a story whose general outcome is already known if how we got there turns out to be engaging.
This is how you get episodes 1-4 of The Book of Boba Fett, which might alternatively be titled Dances With Tusken Raiders. While Boba’s engagement with the Sand People gives us more insight into their world than we’ve known before, it’s a very heavy lift for your character — or, more precisely, for Temuera Morrison. He’s surrounded by characters he can’t communicate with (at least for the first three episodes) and whose emotional affect is functionally inaccessible to him and to us. Unlike working with humanoid aliens with a visible face and expressions, from which you might extrapolate emotive meaning, the Tuskens are swathed, bundled, and masked (Maybe? Are those masks or some kind of cybernetic modifications? Rebreathers? Biological growths that only look mechanical? Something else?) in a way that makes them almost unreadable. Morrison is forced to emote for everyone around him. If he’s to carry off his character and the assumptions we can reasonably make about him (which, to his credit, Morrison does), then this is a real issue, because Boba isn’t exactly a verbose, performative guy.
The early episodes pass primarily in pantomime, Boba’s bacta-tank flashbacks interrupted by jaunts into the present with Fennec Shand, who seems to be the only one of them who actually understands how to Do Crime and Get Stuff Done.
And at the end of episode four, Boba’s droid valet congratulates him on being fully healed. From that point on, the series shifts its gaze away from Boba Fett and what we thought the show was about to something quite different. Thus:
- Three: A backstory isn’t necessarily a story. Once it catches up to the present — or at least to the point that The Mandalorian began to tell Boba’s story — the series abandons Fett as the character of focus, betraying that it wasn’t his story we were being given, only an idea. “What if he lived?” gets us through the hows and whys of his Dances With Tusken Raiders period and no further. Even the showrunners seem to understand that “what would he do after?” is a story they don’t know how to tell without putting it in other characters’ hands.
There are things I enjoyed quite a lot in The Book of Boba Fett. Sadly, few of them have much to do with Boba himself. The idea of “what if he survived” might have given way to the premise of “Boba Fett is a stern but fair criminal ruler of his territories, who must fend off far greater threats to himself and others” except that it’s not a premise that seems well suited to his character. We struggle to accept his toughness because it was discarded long before he had a chance to be a fully-fledged character. We struggle to engage with his emotional transformation because it seems reductive and duplicative, given the stories that came before it. We can’t focus solely on his survival because that’s already the given of the series’ premise — the core idea in its katamari of almost-story-ness. His backstory has to give way to new events at some point, but all of those new events rely on one or both of the other two flawed approaches to the premise. It’s not enough to hold a series up, because it was just an idea, not a story, after all.
The Book of Boba Fett might best be viewed as the prequel to The Mandalorian season three. It also has the benefit of getting my mind off Mando’s mustache. But there’s something to be said for the “mustache logic” needed to take the series apart: you have to understand your story, and your character, well enough to keep it internally consistent. Something as small as a mustache can’t by itself break a story, but it can break our sense that a story is a logical whole, and that the people in it are behaving with an understanding of their circumstances.
Mando shouldn’t have a mustache. It’s not a choice that makes sense, or suits his circumstances.
Boba Fett probably shouldn’t have had a seven-episode series, because once you subject it to mustache logic, well. . . you start to think a lot more about razors and if you’re really pulling off the look in the first place.