Stop the Hyperdrive, I Want to Get Off: Losing Faith in Star Wars TV

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Stop the Hyperdrive, I Want to Get Off: Losing Faith in Star Wars TV

When The Mandalorian first premiered—hot on the heels of five Star Wars films in four years—viewers thought maybe these small-scale adventures on Disney+ would be the ones to unite us all. We’d be saved from the vitriolic discourse, the unwieldy fan expectations, and sheer meteoric size the Star Wars films came to represent. Many watched both seasons and were left completely satisfied by the stylish set-pieces, teasing guest appearances, and array of Outer Rim worlds creator Jon Favreau and his exciting development team had to offer. But looming above everything was the thought that the show wasn’t really about anything.

No matter, we’ve now moved on from the charms of Baby Yoda to the iconic bounty hunter Boba Fett, who has transfixed audiences since he debuted as the king of the dinosaurs in The Star Wars Holiday Special. And to Favreau’s credit, if any Star Wars icon deserved being thoroughly fleshed out, it’s 1979’s most sought after action figure. After his decidedly muted comeback in The Mandalorian (He wore a costume! Flew a ship! Stood in the background!), it finally came time for him to see some proper, well-developed action. The Book of Boba Fett, however, has turned out to be anything but a page-turner.

In the new series, Boba has assumed Jabba’s throne on Tatooine, and the locals aren’t as instantly thrilled at his new position as the audience are. Parallel to this, we see a flashback showing him post-emergence from the Sarlacc Pit, where he was taken in by a band of Tusken Raiders in the desert sands. There are some initial, obvious issues. Why does Boba Fett want to claim Jabba the Hutt’s throne when he was effectively an independent contractor and Jabba was just a regular commission? By Episode 3, it’s clear he had a reform of character thanks to the Tusken tribe that took him in, but how this extends to the rest of the Tatooine populace is withheld from the audience, leaving gaping questions about his motives and goals in the present-day.

These problems are less urgent when confronting the show’s more cardinal faults. Boba Fett, like nearly all Star Wars series, exhibits a lack of originality that makes the whole affair feel lethargic. This goes further than packing the episodes with in-house references. Sure, there are Gamorrean guards, Wookiees, Rancors, and the Hutt clan (is their awful CGI perhaps a reference to the A New Hope special edition?), but while this fawning over iconography no longer holds the shine it did in 2015, the irritation it once provoked has also simmered. Boba Fett, like The Mandalorian, is derivative in a more insidious way, one that reveals the narrow-mindedness with which Star Wars television operates.

When Boba Fett’s trailer dropped, some were quick to dub it “Star Wars does The Godfather,” a comparison that’s been repeated by cast members. Three episodes in, the comparisons to the mafia epic seemingly extend to 1) there is organised crime and 2) they both feature parallel narratives of ascents to power. Disney wants to give the impression that Boba Fett is in some way intertextual, and not just because such an idea adds legitimacy to their insubstantial stories; they’re forcibly taking the franchise back to its ‘70s roots and emboldening all the inspirations that formed the original films. Intertextuality is the bacta tank keeping the weak, sickly Star Wars brand alive.

Boba Fett wants you to think of The Godfather, despite them only having the thinnest connective tissue. The Mos Espa power vacuums, the opposing candidates for Jabba’s throne—even Boba’s next-to meaningless line, “Jabba ruled with fear. I intend to rule with respect”—they all feel like they should have a weight to them, but only because we remember them having significance in other, better crime stories. The show is taking advantage of our familiarity with them instead of crafting its own well-structured drama.

It doesn’t stop there. Boba Fett also wants to remind you of Ray Harryhausen monsters, Lawrence of Arabia, and great train robberies, with the second episode giving us the third convoy fight in four years. More than just referencing other stories, the series seeks to use all their emotional payoffs without engaging with what provoked those emotions in the first place; we’re supposed to feel a great power shift when Boba helps the tech-equipped Tuskens take back a convoy from oppressors they don’t understand the significance of, rendering a potentially seismic moment relatively toothless. What’s more, the emotional satisfaction we get from other stories of cross-cultural connection is softened because it’s not happening with rich characters we can dive into—the investment we have in the ensemble is all assumed.

“It’s what Star Wars was always meant to be,” a cousin told me when The Mandalorian first premiered. “A western.” I knew I disagreed, but couldn’t quite articulate why. On reflection, I see it raises an important question: what exactly do people think Star Wars was meant to be? There are plenty of clear influences with samurais, serials, and yes, the occasional cowboy; but listing any of these as an answer misses the point. Star Wars was always supposed to be Star Wars, because Star Wars meant something new. It was a flashy updating of all of its inspirations into something that was, crucially, more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t matter what Star Wars’ influences are, as long as it transforms them, rather than using them as a crutch.

The emptiness and transparency of this new series’ inspirations can’t fully be blamed on its creators. Favreau and Robert Rodriguez (an executive producer and director on Boba Fett) are from the generation of filmmakers after George Lucas, and will, like him, bring with them a menagerie of influences to whatever project they develop. Rather, it’s the shadow of Disney that looms above it all, with their trademark vampiric way of looking at film history; they’re prepared to exhume any stories they see as suitable for their hollow projects. With the original Star Wars, you weren’t supposed to point out all its constituent elements, you were meant to be bowled over by how fresh it all felt in its contemporary climate. This doesn’t mean we should demand new, flashy things every week, but there’s the growing feeling the franchise isn’t capable of developing anything that feels like we haven’t, in some way, seen before.

It could be argued that, because Star Wars takes place in foreign, alien worlds, the way we navigate through them is with recognizable plot and character dynamics. Calling the settings of Star Wars totally alien, however, would be disingenuous; we don’t need to be guided through a simple, unchanging biome, with a clearly coded society that is only interesting because of how it affected the adventures of our characters. Tatooine is a planet Luke doesn’t want to spend his whole life in; its ability to seize our interest with a complex underworld is limited, especially as the development of the gritty streets extends to a punk cyborg biker gang. In addition, thanks to the deluge of Star Wars stories we’ve recently seen, anything that made the planet unique has now been replicated on countless other backwater worlds. There is little that’s interesting about these alien settings on their own, there must be innovative stories taking place there.

I don’t want to see Star Wars do The Godfather, just as I got tired of seeing them riff on Seven Samurai, monster movies, and prison breaks. I want something other than the dull, numb familiarity I’m handed every week. Every time you show me Star Wars through the prism of a story I know, you are further limiting the boundaries of an unlimited universe.

Boba Fett is not without its graces; sometimes it’s more rewarding than tedious watching Temuera Morrison bring life to an otherwise blank-slate of a character, and it continues The Mandalorian’s hot streak of exceptional casting. But television was meant to promise Star Wars freedom to do everything the films were too big to accomplish. So far, they’ve given the barest justification that these stories are worth telling, while claiming to have more scope than they are actually capable of. There is no exploration, no outward movement. There is only down, a look within that’s devoid of introspection, a descent into a dark Sarlacc pit of what we already know. Forgive me if I drop out of lightspeed here.

Rory Doherty is a screenwriter, playwright and culture writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can follow his thoughts about all things stories @roryhasopinions.

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