(“The Hunter and His Prey,” Celebration V print by Chris Trevas)
I won’t pretty it up too much–when Jango and Boba Fett showed up in Attack of the Clones, twelve year-old Ian was…less-than-enthused. In truth, I was actually angry. I’d watched the original movies on VHS since the early-’90s, so I was aware of the Special Edition changes, but none of them bothered me when I was seven; not many of them bugged me when I was twelve, either. But this? The Fett that showed up in Attack of the Clones was the first time that a Star Wars retcon burned me–or, more properly, the first time George Lucas not being tied down to anything licensing published burned me.
But why? Why would I care so much about a character whose screen-time in the original movies must have totaled, what, about 10-15 minutes, tops? There are a few different reasons, the first of which would of course be the way Boba Fett looked and the way he acted in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Sure, Boba died like a chump, but kid-Ian never focused on that so much as the gunslinger attitude he brought to the second and third films, an aspect that might otherwise have been missing in the widening gap in the thematic purpose of the movies; Han Solo became less of a gunslinger over the course of the movies, becoming instead a lover, a Rebel, a leader…and Boba served to remind us where we’d come from, watching the interactions between the scum on the Middle Eastern/Western-fusion world of Tatooine, and he did so in a way that looked and acted cool.
Anyone who says they don’t think the Mandalorian armour looks cool? Well, I call that person a damn liar, because it’s absolutely one of the most iconic looks in cinematic history, and it’s so ingrained in the DNA of Star Wars itself that it has reappeared (time and again) both in the now non-canon “Legends” (i.e. the old Expanded Universe) and the new canon as well.
But what about the way he acted? From his introduction, Boba Fett strikes us as someone who is dangerous. He gets a warning from Vader on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, yes, but…he takes it in stride. He almost sounds sardonic in the way he says, “As you wish,” as if he doesn’t have a care in the world about Vader’s displeasure at his “disintegrations.” Think of that, by the way–this is a bounty hunter who is being introduced to us* as someone who disintegrates his prey. What does that even mean? How awful must that be? But back to the portrayal of the man…he doesn’t falter, he doesn’t fawn like so many of the Imperial officers we see in the movies. He calmly responds, “As you wish…”
And then he gets to work.
I think a lot of people forget the fact that, out of all the bounty hunters–aside, maybe, from IG-88, who may/may not appear on Cloud City–Boba Fett is the only one who is successful in tracking his quarry. And not only is he successful, he is at least as crafty as Han Solo, if not more so, because he pulls the exact same trick, masquerading as Imperial garbage after the fleet has moved on..and then he tracks the Falcon from Hoth to Bespin and, his hyperdrive being functional, goes on ahead, contacts the Imperials, and sets up the trap that ensnares Han Solo.
Boba Fett is the reason why Luke faces Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. He’s the reason why the heroes have to save Han from Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. He’s the reason why Luke knows the truth, comes to believe in empathy and love, and redeems his father as Anakin Skywalker in the throne room of the Galactic Emperor.
In many ways, Boba Fett is the catalyst for some of our heroes’ greatest (mis)adventures.
But all of that? That’s only one reason why I love Boba Fett. The second reason is because of a man named Daniel Keys Moran, a science-fiction author who penned three short stories for the Kevin J. Anderson-edited anthologies of the mid-’90s.
Moran wrote my favourite piece of Star Wars short-fiction, and maybe my favourite piece of Star Wars fiction, period. “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” was included in 1996’s Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and is one of the relatively few “Legends” stories that I would legitimately point people to if they want some good Star Wars today. I’m not a #Di$ney troll, I’m not a “restore the real canon” type, and I typically admit that a lot of the Expanded Universe…maybe it wasn’t garbage, but it wasn’t as good as I thought when I was pre-teen, alright? But Moran’s story is one that I think holds up. It taps into something primal, something that connects it to the movie-serial aspect of Star Wars as it was in 1977, but it has something else, too–it provides context. We see behind the mask; we learn that Boba Fett has thoughts, that Boba Fett has a past. He is made into more than just someone who looks cool and someone who acts cool–he becomes something more like a well-rounded character, who just is cool.
And then Attack of the Clones came out, and swept that story away.
I was hurt. And, being an adult now, I’m willing to admit that some of my anger probably had something to do with the fact that a character I had assumed (for no real reason) was white suddenly wasn’t. But more than the “lack of representation” angle this twelve year-old me might have pushed–it’s laughable to even write that, of course, but bear with me–more than that, what hurt me was the fact that a story I’d come to love, a story I’d come to internalize over a period of six years, was swept away without (it seemed) a second thought and an entirely different backstory concocted for the character.** And one that, even today, I’m not entirely sure is better.
But I’m an adult now, and I’ve had something like sixteen years to deal with that.
But the truth is, I’ve probably only come to terms with the fact that canon-Boba is the Boba we have (at least, as far as his backstory is established…there’s still a remarkable amount in the wind) over the past few years, when I finally (after a long hiatus away from Star Wars) decided to give the CGI Clone Wars series a go. And wouldn’t you know, it really struck a chord with me. I’ve given thoughts elsewhere (and may here, at some point) about the fact that The Clone Wars recontextualized a great deal of the Prequel movies for me, and whether or not that’s ultimately a good thing, but where it relates to Boba…I think it did do some good, because I was able to let go of that hate and see what was given to us in the movies and the show.
And so we come to the third reason I love Boba Fett.
What did we get with this new Boba? A child who is literally one in a million, one in a trillion–however many damn clones there actually were in the GAR, Boba Fett is a creation of science and not of nature like all his buckethead brothers. Sure, he was raised separately from the rest, taken as part of the payment Jango demanded from Tyranus/Dooku, but that doesn’t mean his nature as a second-class being wouldn’t have informed his development in-universe, especially after the brutal death of his father at the hands of the Jedi.
Thinking about Boba as a child, being raised by an underworld figure and exposed to some frankly horrible stuff…there’s a lot of sympathy there for the child-soldier that he is, in part, and the PTSD-scarred survivor of the First Battle of Geonosis where he saw countless people killed, among them his father, beheaded at the hands of a Jedi.
Which brings me to Boba’s turn in The Clone Wars, and why I’ve gravitated more and more to this canon interpretation of the character. Raised after his father’s death by his cohorts in the underworld, Boba becomes a disturbing figure: He masquerades as a child-soldier, pretending to be one of his countless numbered-and-shipped-off clone brethren, but he also is a child-soldier, fighting his own war of vengeance against the man who took the one thing he loved in the galaxy…his father, Jango Fett.
His attempts to kill Mace Windu are, honestly, understandable. Maybe not actually in the way he goes about it, even though he (if not his watchers) tries to limit collateral damage, but the desire is at least something that we can understand on some level. And even more so than that, the revulsion I felt when Mace Windu wouldn’t even apologize, couldn’t bring himself to think about the kid’s well-being over just straight incarcerating him in a Coruscanti jail…yeah, Boba had my sympathy, Boba intrigued me in a way that was different but maybe close to the old story I’d read. Boba became an even more diverse character in that he became a survivor of trauma who, in time, became someone who (clearly) had no issue causing trauma to others.
To the point that he would become someone who would disintegrate his prey.
So now I ask you, dear reader: What’s not to love about Boba Fett? He’s one of the most complex characters in the entire saga, both in the canon and the old Expanded Universe. He’s one of the characters who could provide not only some really cool stuff going forward, but potentially some really deep storytelling if they go further into the psyche of what turns a kid into the murdering psychopath he becomes. And it doesn’t seem like a straight path to that–one Clone Wars arc that wasn’t completed would have been based (at least in part) on one of George’s favourites, The Searchers, and in the released clip from the production pre-visualization, Boba is seen to confront his mentor, Cad Bane, and seemingly work in the defense of the sort of innocent people he would later come to terrorize.
Well, after all that, I think Boba Fett is an interesting character, and someone worth another look. Don’t you?
* I am very aware that Boba’s introduction to Star Wars was actually the 1978 Holiday Special, during the Nelvana cartoon segment, but I didn’t see that until (at least) 2005.
** This experience has allowed me to understand, to some degree, the hurt Expanded Universe fans felt when the “Legends” rebrand occurred. Where I stop empathizing is when people organize campaigns and harass people at Lucasfilm. If you want to take up the fact that the EU was ultimately an exercise in futility and not something the company was beholden to, talk to the Creator. (But not actually, because he’s retired and you shouldn’t hassle someone over fiction, for fuck sake.)