Thoughts On... James Mangold's Boba Fett

May 24, 2018

After years of rumours and speculation swirling around the industry and Disney’s intentions behind a plethora of standalone spinoff Star Wars films featuring returning characters from the series’ past, news finally broke the other day that apparently American film and television writer/director James Mangold (Cop Land, Walk the Line and Logan) will be helming the long-anticipated Boba Fett movie as the third instalment of the anthology Star Wars stories.


The reaction to this online has been decidedly mixed, with many fans coming out in support of such an idea to see a fan favourite character given his dues on screen, by many others across the film press and fanbase letting out weary and resigned sighs of “why?”


But why is this?


Considering the toll that Disney have been on with Star Wars since its successful relaunch into cinema back in 2015, with one film released each year since and a near constant online hype machine perpetuated by online journals, one could see this as a form of franchise fatigue. Never mind the apparently divisive perceptions of The Last Jedi and the severely underwhelming box-office take of Solo: A Star Wars Story so far – and that’s not even taking into account the behind the scenes dramas and creative conflicts of both standalone features – but it mostly feels to me that as little as a majority of people were really interested in seeing a Han Solo origin story, even fewer are up for a revisitation of a character that many see as just rather boring.


Boba Fett as a character holds a weird place in the history of the series. He was introduced as a minor character in an animated segment of the non-canonical and widely ridiculed 1978 ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’, and introduced properly into the series with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 as one of the bounty hunters hired by Darth Vader to hunt down the crew of the Millennium Falcon.

His appearance was mostly underplayed with a minimal amount of dialogue – originally voiced by Jason Wingreen before his replacement by Temuera Morrison for the post-2004 versions, but we’ll get back to that – but he left an impact mostly due to his unique and sharp looking design and the mystique that surrounded him. His role in the follow-up Return of the Jedi being mostly throw away and seeing him killed early and by a malfunctioning jet back and hurled into the Great Pit of Carkoon and consumed by the Sarlacc.


But his popularity remained and swelled, partially due to his high marketability as an action figure released in the fallout out of the original 1977 film and the Holiday Special, and his significance to impressionable children in the lead up to his feature debut in Empire.


But the issue with fans and critics has always been that despite his popularity, Boba Fett doesn’t really DO anything to warrant his massive status in the canon. Beyond the elaborate (but highly dubious and mostly nonsense) fanfictions drawn of him by the Expanding Universe novels and comics, nothing that Boba Fett actually does onscreen informs any of the supposedly cool factors of his character beyond a unique costume and ship design and distinctive line reads by Wingreen. He rests on the same page as Darth Maul and Captain Phasma as characters who achieved instant adoring status marked almost entirely by marketing and exclusive costume and prop choices.

It’s a strange perpetuation that held up until his reintroduction into the narrative in prequel episode Attack of the Clones, as the cloned son of the similarly outfitted bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). He doesn’t do much, both his and Jango’s inclusions being mostly part of a ploy to bring fans back to the series after the tepid response to The Phantom Menace three years prior.


But it does add an interesting new wrinkle to the nature of the character, and where this might take him in this proposed spinoff film that will supposedly be set between the events of Episode 2 and the original trilogy.

Since Boba was retroactively made to be a clone of Jango Fett, who also acted as his father as well as standing as the template for the Clone Army that would eventually evolve into the Stormtroopers, Boba’s voice in the original was recast with actor Morrison’s to keep this continuity as a young Boba would eventually grow up to be a replica of his ‘father’.


What’s interesting is how this might affect the psychology of a character who has already seen not only his father die, but also taken on the literal mantel of his place in the universe as a man who was regarded as the best mercenary in the galaxy during the final years of the Republic. Literally building up an entire image replicating his former self’s image and position, which wouldn’t feel out of touch with the new trilogies glaring obsession with reconstituting the remnants of iconic imagery of the past as a means of perpetuating rule (especially where the First Order is concerned).

Putting the possible narrative since we know nothing of its proposed function yet, it would be genuinely fascinating to see a character who is literally a replication of something from a trilogy almost before his time. How might this play into the grand scheme of a character existing in a world where aspects of fate and destiny are prescribed to certain individuals and force users? Particularly since The Last Jedi established a new concept that lineage and bloodlines are no factor who how significant a person’s presence can be in the galaxy.


Also of note, the fact that very notably actor Temuera Morrison is of Polynesian descent. Even in a world where Moana can exist as a respectful and prolific representation of Māori talent (also under the Disney's arm), how great would it be to see a similar Polynesian actor take up the leading role of a major franchise title? This might be bound to happen anyway considering the canon and the fears of whitewashing controversies should an average looking but more bankable Caucasian actor be cast.

The race angle is even something that could be plausibly worked on as a piece of character definition, since he would physically resemble the oppressors of the Empire and almost certainly face backlash and hostility from civilians in some form. That’s a big IF though as the thought process could be very muddy, and one wouldn’t want to make an act of prejudice into some sort of character building exercise for the sake of drama – but it could be drawn in some reading.


There’s the influence of attached writer and director James Mangold as well, and following his recent work on the critically acclaimed Logan last year, his experience could offer exactly this kind of required depth. His work is usually layered and thematically rich, with Logan particularly offering a deconstructionist take on an iconic figure of popular culture in a stripped back and lower key manner. His work within the western genre with 3:10 to Yuma and Logan both working under these guises, could fit with a shared aesthetic following Solo’s heavier than usual leanings on the frontier trappings of the series influences. A hard and gritty action film featuring an intergalactic hitman might just do it – although I wouldn’t expect anything near as bloody or violent given Star Wars’ position as a money spinner for the otherwise family-friendly Disney.

All of these factors, as well as any kind of take on the material or character that would be required in order to flesh out the concept into a feature-length narrative, would only be a positive in many ways when it comes to the representation of Boba Fett on screen. Literally, anything that they could add would only serve to make the character significantly more interesting than he already is. Hell, there’s even the option of dispensing much of the character focus entirely, stripping it down like 2012’s Dredd and not revealing the identity of the actor at all or their face at all.


Ultimately it means nothing as the box-office take would decide on its success, and whether or not audiences who weren’t willing to pay out to see the by-the-numbers Star Wars affair that was Solo would be open to seeing something marginally similar done for a character with even fewer signifiers and characteristics to work from.

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