The Book of Boba Fett: Reflections
This series, along with The Mandolorian, has redefined the Star Wars universe in my opinion. And it's improved it enormously. I'm talking from a writer's perspective mainly, this post highlights some of the ways the improvements have been made.
Let me declare, at the outset, I've never been a massive fan of the Star Wars franchise. Its science fiction so of course I'll watch it, enjoy it even. But I haven't immersed myself in it. Why?
My reasons are found in this post. I'd like to celebrate those factors here. Please be aware, this post contains spoilers.
The Art of World Building
The Book of Boba Fett received considerable criticism for its slow burn. The scenes with the Tusken Raiders drew a lot of that fire. Yet the title of episode 2 is where I'll start with my celebration of the two series. 'The Tribes of Tatooine' expands details of the politics, cultural and societal elements of the planet. But it goes much further. We see these tribes from very different perspectives than before. Where Tusken Raiders were perceived as "baddies" in the films, now we get to explore who they really are. Their culture is tough, ruthless, perhaps even cruel. But, as Boba Fett explains, they have to be tough to survive the landscape. They are warriors too. What Fett learns in this episode stands him in good stead for later (especially in *that* final fight sequence!).
For this to happen we need objectivity. A very brave and innovative way to achieve this is Jon Favreau's choice of using limited dialogue. I read somewhere there are nine minutes of no dialogue at all. It requires actors to apply a physicality to the way they communicate. Instantly, the audience has to abandon their traditional methods to find understanding. We watch. We interpret. We are given subtle instructions from the writer to open our minds, not to judge. In the same way Fett is forced to do as he struggles to stay alive. We are plunged into the same experience. It begins our journey into re-evaluating the world we thought we knew.
Good Point No.1: World building requires attention to detail. It takes time. Rather than easy-to-achieve but boring-for-the-audience exposition, good writing finds a way to deliver this detail. One of the best ways is for the exposition to appear through the journey of a character. In this instance, Boba Fett's efforts to survive at the hands of the Tusken Raiders. As he learns, as his eyes are opened, so are ours. We see the world through the eyes and experiences of those who live there.
A reason for my lack of enthusiasm in Star Wars has always been the lack of depth to its characters. (With the exception of Rogue One, and to some extent, Solo.) I'm sure this will upset many, so let me emphasize this is my opinion. I've perceived them as rather two-dimensional, necessary to the plot but lacking in background, motivation and relationships. That is not the case in the TV series. I accept a series, which is 4-6 hours in length, allows for greater character development. However, in both instances, Fett and Mando experience a huge turn-around. As a bounty hunter and a man who's tried to kill Han Solo, we cheer when he appears to die by falling into a sarlacc in Return of the Jedi.
But his reppearance poses a problem. How can the audience engage with a bad guy? Answer? You make him a good guy. But how? What could ever transform someone so significantly - and in a way the audience will accept? To sound slightly religious - he needs to be resurrected. This is another reason for his encounter with the Tusken Raiders.
When you want to transform a character they need to be desconstructed in front of the audience. They must be broken. Driven to the edge of survival. Where, as life slips away, it forces them to confront their experiences and question them.
Even then, how do you make the audience cheer them on? In this respect, the role of Fennec Shand is pivotal. She is also broken, close to death, rescued by Fett. But her transformation is incomplete. She hasn't revoked her bounty hunter life. It's all she knows so what else is there? It is Fett's determination to be a better person, to protect others, that leads her to become his ally. He goes further. He points out how their clients are invariably stupid and their commissions will, eventually, lead to their deaths. Isn't it better to die for something where you have greater control? This "double act" over the episodes illustrates not just how a character develops but becomes someone we want to win.
There are more of these "double acts" to help identify the transformation of a 'broken' character. In some respects, they are broken too. At least, looking for a purpose.
What I liked about both series, is the way minor characters are used as a mirror to the main protagonists. They reflect different aspects of their personalities. For instance, Skad actually challenges Fett in episode 7 as they discuss where to fight the battle and Fett is the one to give way. This shows how far the character has travelled on his transformational journey. You can imagine him shooting the guy in his original profile!
Good Point No.2: Characters need depth, derived from their motivation, background and relationships. That's a given (and I would contend frequently lacking in the films). However, in the series we see real transformation. The breaking down and reconstruction of the protagonists. This means, for the audience, we never know what that end product will look like. Will they become good? Can it be sustained? And even then, will we even care? Sustaining our engagement means giving us regular insights into this transformation. That was the purpose of all those flashbacks. They didn't slow the story down, they gave it meaning.
Give the protagonists a clearly defined goal
Sounds obvious doesn't it? In the first film,the goal centred around the destruction of the Death Star. Simple. We get it. Big, bad space weapon needs to be blown up and only Luke can do it.
In the first series of The Mandolorian, the goal is to rescue Grogu and find him a home. Notice how the emphasis is less about objects and structures - now it is about people. The same turns out to be true for The Book of Boba Fett. His goal is to protect the people of Tatooine from the spice-dealing Pykes. Our protagonists are protectors, defenders. Who doesn't love such folk?
The emotional heart strings are yanked even harder when the character in peril is so cute! In this respect, the Mandolorian has it easy.
Back to the issue of pace for the Boba Fett series. If the goal is to protect a race of people - remembering they are not a homogenous lot - you need to be clever in your world building. Stories are all about thwarting the protagonists from their goal. In this series, there are numerous tribes. They don't get on well together. It's why Tatooine is a terrible place in which to live. It is corrupt and dysfunctional because there is no one to unify it. Cobb Vanth tries with Freetown and suffers for his efforts. His fate foreshadows what is likely to happen to Fett and his allies.
Therefore, as the seven episodes develop, we need to see if this broken society can rally behind its saviour. That's why, I think, episode seven is called In the Name of Honour. Mando and Fett are ready to give up their lives to protect others. We return to the possibility of our protagonists being deconstructed and destroyed. The story comes full circle. Except this time, the circle is broken by the action of those people we've met as the story developed. They appreciate the sacrifices being made for them and are willing to fight alongside our heroes. That is what they have become. Heroes are the ones willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. The script needs time to identify the obstacles to the protagonists' goal and show us how each one is removed and momentum is achieved to bring success.
Good Point No.3 - the idea of people coming together to assist the completion of the protagonist's goal is not new. What is different in this series, is the emphasis on the goal focusing on people - rather than structures and objects. It scales down the goal and makes it personal. Star Wars is epic space opera. That scale of storytelling can easily lead to the loss of people-led goals. To illustrate my point I'm reminded of Peter Hamilton's classic space opera, his Night's Dawn trilogy. It is a truly epic saga, spanning dozens of planets and with hundreds of characters. Yet, at its centre, are people. They suffer terribly and the story is all about them finding a solution to the horrific wrongs committed. For me, stories that centre on the trials faced by people, they are the ones that hook me.
Genre and Style
Science fiction is such a broad genre you can do anything with it. There are lots of TV series and stories where the world building has a distinct 'wild west' style - I'm looking at you Firefly!
The films missed this chance. They relied so heavily on CGI we (unconsciously?) they left the audience ogling the pretty pictures at the expense of any style. Acknowledging the ground breaking technology used in the TV series, the style has redefined much of the world building. Not only that, it has a consistency which gives it a strong, dynamic identity. It stands out from so many other SF series for this reason.
The Book of Boba Fett has a Magnificent Seven vibe to it - the assemby of ethically-challenged individuals to protect a town. In episodes 6 and 7 we're treated to traditional gunfights, in the middle of deserted streets with cameras focused on hands and guns on the hip. There is little sword or light sabre wielding, the battles here are old school.
Again, it comes down to detailed world building. Detail consistently displayed achieves this effect. It comes from the context shots where extras run and hide behind their doors, peek out of windows. High angles give us views from rooftops gives us a sniper's perspective and add to the tension.
The style offers unification. It's there in the costume, the props. It's in the language of the dialogue - such as in the tone and syntax between Cad Bane and Cobb Vanth and Fett. It's straight out of every western from the 1940s and 50s.
Good Point No.4: Adopting the right style in any story is vital. But whatever style it is, it must be consistent. It needs to be seen, heard and felt everywhere. The audience must be immersed in it. For me, this is another failure of the films, they lacked this cohesion. The TV series has it in abundence.
I like to define storytelling by using the analogy of weaving. The warp and weft of threads combine to form a pattern we see, without being aware of how it's constructed. But if the warp and weft are not accurate and consistent, the pattern fails. We see the mistakes, the pattern is flawed. To continue with my analogy, the warp is the story's characters, the weft is its world building. Together they create a narrative which engages us, keeps us entertained and offers the occasional surprise.
The Mandolorian and The Book of Boba Fett achieve this weaving exercise in style. It disappoints me when people judge a story before it is complete. Complaints about the opening two or three episodes were ill-judged because no one could know how they would come together at the end. The picture was far from complete. Simple moments in episodes 7 filled me with wonder. Such as the way Fett kills Cad Bane - using what he learned in episode 2. The reappearance of the rancor in the final battle is another moment of the story coming full circle. There are many more.
I contend that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have redefined the Star Wars universe in ways which have improved it enormously. I am now a fan! I can't wait to see what happens next.