This is the way to do a Star Wars show! After four episodes of wandering in the desert, The Book of Boba Fett‘s fifth episode took a hard pivot away from Boba himself, and instead, gave us an episode of The Mandalorian inside of a show supposedly about Fett. Make no mistake, this worked, and the fact that it worked, proves, unequivocally, that the character of Mando is ten times cooler than the character of Boba Fett. There are many reasons for this, but there’s really only one reason that counts. And once you think about it for one second, you’ll realize it’s 100 percent true. Spoilers ahead for The Book of Boba Fett through Episode 5. You’ve been warned.
In the Boba Fett episode simply titled “Return of the Mandalorian,” Mando himself takes center stage and we learn just how everyone’s favorite Star Wars dad is doing these days. Short answer: Not great. He misses his Baby Yoda, and his former allies in the super-secret Mandalorian covert are mad at him for taking off his helmet. This fact brings us very quickly to why the return of Pedro Pascal’s Mando return in Boba Fett was so refreshing. Both of these shows are, presumably, about helmeted badasses with sweet, sweet Star Wars headgear. In the entire run of The Mandalorian, we’ve only seen Mando’s face twice, and for very specific reasons. In The Book of Boba Fett, Mr. Fett seems to take his helmet off constantly, even when he doesn’t need to.
This is the difference. It’s superficial and sounds trite, but in Star Wars, aesthetics matter just as much as the story. The characters in Star Wars are not — by any stretch of the imagination — the most complex deep characters ever created. Instead, the Star Wars characters are archetypes, initially designed by George Lucas to be generic enough to be instantly recognizable. At the risk of being super-reductive with all critical analysis of Star Wars ever (including essays written by me): the simple truth is we don’t relate to Star Wars characters because they’re deep and well-developed. We relate to them because they’re just flat enough that we can project ourselves onto them. As far as a storytelling tactic, this little bit like the escapism of James Bond, but with a different result. Star Wars doesn’t indulge in adult-only action-adventure, but instead, gestures at a larger fairytale-like world of pseudo-morality. In other words, even when Star Wars characters have checkered pasts, we’re encouraged to forgive them.
In fact, redemption arcs and forgiveness of former villains, pretty much dominate every single major Star Wars story. So, how much you connect with a particular Star Wars TV show or movie probably depends on how much you can project yourself onto the characters in this particular arc. This is why angsty twentysomethings in 2002 actually liked Hayden Christensen’s Anakin. He wasn’t realistic, exactly, but he felt like someone we knew, or, in moments of misguided self-importance, he represented ourselves. Anakin, Luke, Rey, and Finn all have something in common: They’re fairly generic until they’re not. But while they’re becoming who they’re supposed to be, we like them, because we can project our own issues into their stories.
Fast-forward to Mando. In 2019, Star Wars finally threw parents a bone by giving us Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian, a character who represented a power fantasy for parents in a way the franchise had never accomplished before. And, do you want to know what helped this fantasy work? We never saw Mando’s face. We could all be Mando. We could all imagine ourselves as Mando. And even the fleeting moments when we did see him, it almost didn’t matter.
Arguably, Boba Fett started this way back in 1980. In The Empire Strikes Back, he could have been anyone underneath there. In Return of the Jedi, Leia used a cool helmet to disguise her voice and made everyone think she was a male bounty hunter named Boushh. (C-3PO very clearly refers to Boushh as he.) The point is, before the prequel films, Boba Fett could have been ANYONE under that helmet. Any gender. Any backstory. But in 2002, with Attack of the Clones, we got the whole thing. We know who he is, we know who his dad is, and now, with The Book of Boba Fett, we have his entire mid-life crisis, too.
None of this is bad per see, but it’s pretty clear by now that the fantasy of Boba Fett is gone. For better or worse, he’s a more three-dimensional character than he was before. Sadly, in the slightly two-dimensional storytelling world of Star Wars, this also makes him way less cool. In this series, playing Boba Fett, in our heads, got way less fun.
Sure, we can still relate to Boba Fett, but we don’t fantasize about being him anymore. Boba Fett has become like Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic; an accurate, somewhat tragic characters study. But, not someone you actually want to be. Also, because Boba Fett seems to be done growing and changing, his story is no longer in progress, which, in the perpetual “becoming” of Star Wars arcs is inherently not that interesting. The arrival of Mando in The Book of Boba Fett drives this point home. If you’re a parent, you connect with what Mando wants — to see his kid again. But even if you’re not, you can still be excited by his journey. He’s still becoming himself. And we still don’t see his face.
With Boba Fett, we’re watching something happen to a guy, and every time he takes off the helmet, the reality breaks the spell. But with Mando, it’s like we’re wearing the helmet. We’re not just watching the adventure happen. The image of the Mandalorian is his mask, and underneath it, is all of us.
The Book of Boba Fett has two more episodes left, which air on Disney+ over the next two Wednesdays. The Mandalorian Season 3 hits sometime later this year or early 2023.
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