The Book of Boba Fett and the problem with ‘fan-service’

Rubie McDermott 23 March 2022
Image Credit: @ thebookofbobafett Instagram

When Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012, many fans were weary of the ‘Disneyfication’ of Star Wars. Personally, I had no qualms about this, having enjoyed the third trilogy of films produced by the company. 2020’s The Mandalorian has arguably been one of the strongest additions to the Star Wars franchise, and so the announcement of a spin-off series centred on the adventures of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) was met with much excitement. However, since watching The Book of Boba Fett’s season finale, I can’t help but feel short-changed.

Despite having only four lines in the original trilogy, Boba Fett has become a huge fan-favourite amongst Star Wars fans – everyone loves an ominous antihero. For a series revolving around a character mythologised for being a ruthless mercenary, one might be forgiven for expecting grittier, darker themes than those of the main film franchise. Instead, the result has been much more lukewarm.

The Book of Boba Fett’s opening scene returns us to the Sarlacc Pit from 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the moment at which the revered bounty hunter, who supposedly met his grisly end here, re-emerges from beneath the sand. From then on, we watch as the resurrected Boba Fett travels the deserted landscape, eventually falling under the tutelage of the mysterious Tusken Raiders.

It’s a shame these early moments were all flashbacks really. It’s scenes such as these which were a great strength of the series and made for some of its most interesting moments, and I find myself wishing that the premise had chosen to focus entirely on Boba Fett’s timeline from Return of the Jedi to The Mandalorian. Instead, by ending the season finale of The Mandalorian with Fett having already overthrown Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire, the stakes are vanquished before the show has even begun.  Boba Fett finds himself in an already comfortable position by episode one, and the result is a narrative that remains relatively pedestrian.

I sincerely wanted to enjoy this series more than I did, but unfortunately ‘pedestrian’ seemed to be the running theme of the entire show. The introduction of the Mod cyborgs was arguably the series low, whose scooter ‘chase’ in episode three was hilariously awkward. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a high-stakes chase run at such a snail’s pace, which again is unusual for a franchise that features some of the most impressive action scenes in film. Seeing Boba Fett reduced from a crime lord to a blasé sheriff was similarly disappointing, while Fennec Shand was severely underused as a character. It feels as though Disney placed too much faith in Boba Fett’s fan appeal, hoping that this might gloss hastily over the series’ multiple issues.

Episode five was an incredibly necessary lift to a series that was beginning to seriously lag. The return of Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) along with a young Luke Skywalker (with a much-needed CGI revamp since The Mandalorian’s season finale) made for emotional viewing. I’m also admittedly smitten with any scene that features the slightest glimpse of Disney’s latest showstopper Grogu (lovingly nicknamed Baby Yoda). Unfortunately, it’s tender moments such as these that only emphasise the lack of emotional weight to Boba Fett’s story, who is oddly side-lined in a show bearing his own name. To compensate for this, The Book of Boba Fett fills the emotional void of its plot by cramming itself full of referential gags, obscure easter eggs and niche character appearances.

It’s fan-service such as this that stokes worries as to the direction of major franchises like Star Wars and Marvel. Massive media conglomerates seek mass appeal, and these two dedicated fan bases have become the ideal cash cows. In many ways, Disney is beginning to sway too heavily towards fan demand, to the detriment of the show’s substance which is ultimately lost.

Star Wars-aholics may argue otherwise, but knowing the full ins and outs of a forty-year franchise should not be a prerequisite for being able to engage properly with a Disney+ show either. This was the issue with the abrupt live-action debut of Cad Bane, whose lack of introduction was particularly confusing for fans unfamiliar with the animated series The Clone Wars. Easter eggs can certainly be impactful; Marvel’s recent Spiderman: No Way Home succeeded in this regard (for very good reason). However, there’s a worry that these franchises are running heavily upon nostalgia and inside gags rather than new ideas. Why, for example, does a franchise whose whole premise takes place in a galaxy ‘far, far away’ insist on returning to the same sandy backdrops of Tatooine? The potential for world-building is full of vast opportunities, yet Disney seems to shy away from any creativity with this series.

Perhaps this is an outcome of the onslaught of criticism received by 2017’s The Last Jedi, as director Rian Johnson’s daring character choices left a foul taste in many fans’ mouths (side note: I actually love The Last Jedi for this very reason). Star Wars has played things relatively safe ever since this controversy though, sticking by its tried and tested methods on repeat.

Aside from my grumbles and gripes on this series, I still think it’s a fun show overall. While reliant on classic Star Wars tropes, The Book of Boba Fett’s dedication to its Western, gun-slinging influences adds a refreshing touch to the series. Star Wars as a whole has long been a much-loved franchise of mine for its dynamic world-building and epic storytelling. 1977’s A New Hope was a monumental for pushing the boundaries of the blockbuster, and following instalments continue to be model examples of a franchise still holding strong. I just hope I never have to witness a 5mph scooter chase by random British space Mods again.