Tatooine is a rough place in Star Wars. Not everyone is the type of person who sits in a bar like Mos Eisley, that “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” but even the good and just people of the desert planet would likely admit that the wretched hive has all the power. A planet far away from the concerns of the Imperial and the Rebellion, it doesn’t feel like a place for redemption. It’s ever-present slave trade, moisture farm raids, and criminal overlords seem to just emphasize the matter.
Which is what makes its heroes so beloved. That Luke Skywalker of all people grew up in a place like this, that it molded and shaped him, is part of his appeal. And it’s a large part of Boba Fett’s as well, at least in the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” which debuted Wednesday on Disney Plus.
There’s a lot on Boba Fett that will feel very familiar to fans of The Mandalorian, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who watched the bounty hunter’s return in that show. The two men are very similar. Neither is prone to speaking much, both would be more than happy just to do their jobs and be left alone. But director Robert Rodriguez and writer Jon Favreau are clear about one difference: this is the gritty western space show where the outlaw guy with a cool helmet takes the helmet off.
And it’s a good thing, too, because to hide away Temura Morrison’s face for too long would be a grave mistake. The New Zealand actor, described in 1995 by Roger Ebert as “a leading actor as elemental, charismatic and brutal as the young Marlon Brando,” is on full display in Boba Fett. Gone is the mysterious allure of Mando, replaced with the pains and tensions of aging made undeniable on a face burned and beaten more times than its owner can count.
Morrison’s magnetism comes from a sense of desperation that seems to occupy Boba Fett at all times. The show starts with a flashback to Fett’s notable ending in the original trilogy, death via Sarlacc pit. But watching Boba’s escape from the belly of the beast doesn’t just feel like adding more details to his Wookiepedia page; it shows the desperation and hunger of a man willing to survive, even if he isn’t exactly sure why.
The sections of “Stranger” set in these flashbacks are short on conversation and long on Boba Fett getting beaten up. There are Jawas, lizards, and most notably, Tusken Raiders. Morrison is pushed repeatedly to survive, barely allowed to drink water as he’s made part of a two-person chain gang. These scenes clearly have the same reference points as Mandalorian, with the long shots and dramatic scores of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns.
But while Mandalorian seemed to relish isolation, Boba Fett can’t find a moment to himself. Out of the Sarlacc pit and into the hands of Jawas for old Boba, there’s isn’t much difference. There is the desperation of noir on Boba Fett’s Tatooine, which Guillermo del Toro recently described to the film magazine Little White Lies as “the tragedy that emerges between the haves and the have-nots.”
The next section of “Stranger” concerns Boba Fett’s new reign as a “have.” He’s been named the new head of the Hutt crime syndicate, which is a little like getting into Studio 54 after the last days of disco. There’s some prestige in the title, but things clearly aren’t what they used to be. The mayor, of all people, only sends his majordomo (David Pasquesi) to pay tribute and then ends up demanding tribute from Boba.
Pasquesi once played the ex-husband of Julia Louis-Dreyfuss on Veep, and he clearly has a knack for getting under the skin of powerful people. He infuriates Fett’s second-in-command, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), with his rudeness and diplomacy-is-war-by-other-means attitude. Amidst a collapsing organization, the majordomo’s head appendages feel like a nautral-born jester’s hat, mocking a proud tradition.
There’s some nice comic work in Boba Fett, including Matt Berry as a droid seemingly once loyal to the Hutts. Pasquesi is one of the show’s stand-outs, allowing for a quick repreive from everyone on the show who would shoot first and ask questions later (most people).
Fett doesn’t want to be an extravagant crime boss like any of his slug-like predecessors. He wants to be a crime boss of the people, walking under his own two feet with two green pig-guy bodyguards by his side. He wants to rule with respect, not fear. But the question of if the people and various bosses of Tatooine want such a ruler in the first place is wide open.
While Ming-Na Wen gets some good shots in, Book of Boba Fett is focused on Morrison’s rage, boiling just underneath the surface. It’s hard to tell where any of this will go, but the show seems to content for viewers to understand that first and foremost, this is a man who will not serve a master. Not anymore.