I’m going to take a WILD guess that if you’re reading this article, you’re among those who have seen a Star Wars film.
It would then follow that you have a favorite character. I’m not going to try to guess who, but I’m also willing to bet that you at least know someone who likes Boba Fett. Is there a Star Wars character that engenders more love/hate than the mandalorian armor wearing bounty hunter? For years he seemed to be EVERYONE’S favorite character and now there seems to be just as many who must tell about how they “never understood the love the character gets, he didn’t do anything!” I say let’s explore this reaction to the character.
Let’s start with the beginning, who is Boba Fett for those unfamiliar. He’s a bounty hunter who works with the antagonists of the original trilogy. In “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” he appears with a bunch of other bounty hunters being hired by Darth Vader to hunt down the Millennium Falcon. He immediately tracks them down and then takes the carbonite encased Han Solo to the space gangster Jabba the Hutt. In “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” he’s seen hanging around Jabba’s palace and attempts to prevent the heroes from their rescue. Later he unceremoniously gets knocked into the Sarlacc pit. And yes when you look at things like that then it probably can be hard to see why he is so loved. However, it didn’t stop him from capturing a generation of kid’s imaginations. Is it the badass looking costume? It could be. I mean it is unbelievably cool looking, but I think we’ll have to dig a little deeper. So now let’s dive into the REAL beginning. Say you’re at a bar and some joker is wanting to show off their trivia knowledge with a “where did Boba Fett first make his appearance” type question. “Empire Strikes Back” they’ll expect you to answer and they’ll retort “The Star Wars Holiday Special” with pride. However, you can “Um actually…” them with the San Anselmo Country Fair parade in 1978 which was only a year after “A New Hope” came out in 1977. Yes the character has a foggy real-world history to match his foggy in-universe history. The origins began as very early design concepts for Darth Vader, but the designers (and the character) quickly went in a different direction. So the design evolved a bit more into a potential super commando version of the storm troopers. Ultimately they didn’t use it, but they obviously liked the design enough to find a character for it. If you think that sounds weird it isn’t. “Star Wars” has a habit of reusing older early designs for later (completely unrelated) characters. They do it so much that you could probably make a whole list about it.
For the fans out there who thought the “Star Wars Holiday Special” was his first appearance, it does present a very different version. For those who haven’t seen it, after the major success of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” George Lucas wanted to keep the property in everyone’s mind until the sequels came out and agreed to allow a TV production. What came from that is one of the most infamous specials in TV history. I don’t need to go into too much detail, but it’s as bad as you can imagine… mostly. I say mostly as the cartoon segment (though oddly animated by Nelvana) is an entertaining little story. Luke searches for a crashed Millennium Falcon and running into Boba Fett who claims to be a friend, but is later revealed to be working for Darth Vader. In this cartoon Boba Fett says more dialog (in a pretty cool voice) than he does in the original trilogy combined. Could this have been the introduction for fans that started it all? Unlikely as the special was only aired on TV once due to it’s unpopularity (and Lucas’s shame) and not widely seen until youtube. It’s possible someone was like “who was that character” and spent the time in between the special and the first sequel imagining all sorts of adventures with him and later got a big kick out of seeing him pop up in “Empire Strikes Back” but not in the sorts of numbers needed to become a fan favorite. The same goes for his first true appearance at the San Anselmo parade. Those present got a sneak peek at a future beloved character but I highly doubt they had much information to go off of. Heck, when the actor in the Boba Fett costume recounted the story he had to check with the producer Gary Kurtz while writing autographs if Fett was spelled with one or two T’s.
There is of course the now abandoned extended universe. Again for those who don’t know, the expanded universe was all the extra stories in books, comics, games, etc. that took place before, after or during the movies. Basically ANY background character in any of the films has a history and/or stories devoted to them in the extended universe. While it has given fans tons of enjoyment it was never seen as all that important by the film series. You could easily ignore it if you wanted to or it could help enrich your enjoyment. Needless to say there are a ton of Boba Fett stories out there with him doing all matter of awesome things. It even showed that he used one of his many gadgets to escape the Sarlacc pit to have more adventures and conflicts with the rest of the characters. George Lucas even considered portraying that in an added scene for the Special Edition version of “Return of the Jedi.” He eventually decided against it though he still regrets not giving Fett a better death. The reason was during filming he hadn’t realized that the character was so beloved. However I could list off all the awesome stuff Boba Fett has gotten into in the expanded universe which I’m sure made a great number into fans, but it couldn’t have been all of them. After all there are many viewers out there who believe “if it’s not shown ON-SCREEN in the film then it doesn’t count.” I get where it comes from as it can be bullcrap to try to explain all the problems with an awful movie with tie-in material and/or deleted scenes. However I think a lot of people can be a bit too myopic in that line of thinking. Mainly because very few hold completely true to that idea. When I hate a movie, I don’t care if there’s a deleted scene that clears something up that SHOULD have already been in the darn film. On the other hand, there are plenty of times my enjoyment of something can be influenced (fairly or not) to other material that I feel weaves a bigger more interesting story. And with both of those examples there are times I also felt the exact opposite, I can’t help it. It can make it difficult for debating these kinds of stories. It’s something geek culture is still grappling with itself. Everyone’s going to have different opinions for what the “rule” should be in this sort of thing. There are some so devoted to the ideal of the “original” version that they probably yelled at the computer when I referred to the original 1977 “Star Wars” film as “Episode IV: A New Hope” as it didn’t originally have that subtitle.
Which brings things back full circle to the original trilogy and only looking at Boba Fett in those films. As stated before when you look at it action by action, he’s doesn’t do a lot. However, I would remind people that he did find Han. Remember Han Solo is the reigning king of cool in the original trilogy and up to this point there hasn’t been anything he couldn’t outfox. He has a pretty clever plan to escape the Star Destroyers. As awesome of a villain as Vader has been up to this point he can’t catch Han, but Boba can. While everyone else is chasing their tails, Fett immediately knows Solo’s game and tracks him down. Does this mean he personally knows him? Is he just that smart of a hunter? Does it even matter? Either potential answer makes the character more interesting. You may consider it a shallow reason, but he IS really cool looking. Not just the costume, but in his body language. It’s said that the actor based his movements on Clint Eastwood from the Dollars Trilogy. He also follows with the very little dialog and when he does talk it’s with a fantastically gravely voice (pre-New Zealand overdub). I think it is very much a less is more kind of thing. Although I notice audiences are less receptive to that as they seem to want the film to hold their hand and explain everything to them. Personally I like a little mystery and having to do a little mental work on my own with a film. Obviously not too much as I shouldn’t have to imagine the whole film myself ,but used correctly I think it works. And I think that’s what happened with Fett. They left him just mysterious enough to make him a fan favorite. Maybe it’s a sign that viewers (and times) have changed in that they don’t want uncertainty with a character. Regardless of the reason it’s perfectly fine if you really don’t care for the character, but know that a lot of other people do and they all have different though valid reasons for doing so. Honestly all of those differences make it more interesting in a way.
I’ll leave you with this, in addition to all of the stuff I mentioned, the internet is full of articles trying to explain why he’s not that great of a character. Although if he was as unimpressive as some say, then there wouldn’t be this much written about him…with more to come still.