[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Book of Boba Fett” Episode 1, “Stranger in a Strange Land.”]
When “The Mandalorian” premiered in the winter of 2019, it gave its titular hero (and the world) the gift of Grogu (aka Baby Yoda). When “The Book of Boba Fett” debuted in December 2021 — an obligatory spinoff of that first, very successful, Disney+ series — it gave its titular hero… a drink of water.
A kind reading of such a simple ending would be that “Star Wars” is getting back to basics. Rather than go overboard with the “bigger is better” mentality typically attached to Hollywood successors, “The Book of Boba Fett” stuck to its core story. In Episode 1, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) splits his time between the present — where he’s establishing rule in Jabba the Hut’s old territory — and dreams (nightmares?) of the past, where he’s just trying to survive. Jawas steal his armor. He’s beaten and held captive by Tuskan Raiders. He’s forced to dig with his bare hands for orbs of water and, when he finds one, his keeper pours the precious liquid into the sand rather than let him have any. It’s only after he decapitates a six-armed monster that Boba’s fortune trends upward, earning their respect and, thus, a few refreshing sips.
In theory, after his backlit hero shot — standing atop the scaly lizard, chains dangling from its lifeless neck, lenses flaring from the flashes of sunlight behind his triumphant torso — Boba is meant to earn our respect, too. Except… he already did. The blaster-touting captor of Han Solo attracted a massive fandom with just a few brief appearances in the original trilogy. Sporting battle-worn armor, a sleek helmet, and a fearless attitude, the bounty hunter’s cool factor was so high it led not only to his resurrection (after appearing to perish in “Return of the Jedi”), but provided the template for “The Mandalorian” to become one of TV’s biggest hits.
Now with a series all his own, Boba has to live up to the mythology built in audiences’ imaginations, and in the premiere, he falls way, way short. What some may savor as a cozy return to “Star Wars” territory, others may see as a rote, uninspired rehash. One of the biggest questions surrounding the bounty hunter’s survival post-“Jedi” is, “How did he escape the Sarlacc pit?” Back when Jabba was dropping bodies back in 1983, the toothy garbage disposal embedded in the desert floor inspired immediate and lasting terror. Not only were there all those teeth, but a giant worm-monster (which, while largely unseen, looks like a cross between the Graboids in “Tremors” and Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors”) awaited anyone who avoided the bowl of daggers.
Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.
“The Book of Boba Fett” wastes no time leaping into the pit to explain how Boba got out, but perhaps series creator and episode writer Jon Favreau should’ve taken a few more minutes to think on it. Shown in flashback, Boba wakes up mid-digestion and wades through the slimy darkness to a lifeless storm trooper. After stealing his oxygen tube and catching his breath, he punches a hole through some random Sarlacc intestinal wall, shoots a burst of fire, and then… crawls out? The next thing we see is Boba’s fist punching through the desert sand, before the rest of his greased-up body tumbles out, exhausted but alive. Given not only how long it’s been since fans first witnessed what they thought was the bounty hunter’s death, but also the basic tenets of storytelling — let’s see the struggle so that then his resurrection feels like an achievement — the 90-second scene makes for a considerable letdown.
Most of his adventures in the past feel similarly middling. Do we need to see Boba sparring with Tuskens? Or being dragged behind a bantha? Or fighting with a badly CGI’d dragon dog? “The Mandalorian” found great success as a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, delivering episodic adventures filled with fun cameos and a smattering of serialized hooks. But the premiere of “Boba Fett” is too low-stakes to scratch that same itch. Fights are simply staged. Conquests are predictable. (How many times have we seen a prisoner in chains choke his opponent with those same shackles?) Banter goes in one ear and out the other.
Things get a bit more intriguing in the present, as Boba — alongside Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) — tries to instill a benevolent dictatorship in Jabba’s old town. You have to love an armored bounty hunter who preaches peace while weeding out a city’s worth of corrupt pests, just as you have to love David Pasquesi playing an alien politico, trying to cajole control away from Boba on behalf of his boss, the mayor. Jennifer Beals, as the local cantina owner, is another welcome cast member among a a group just enticing enough to spur faith in fun scenes to come.
But there’s nothing in the first episode that makes “The Book of Boba Fett” must-see TV, and little that makes it memorable. Even with screenshots, gifs, and video clips populating the web like a wildfire in 2019, you still had to log in to see Baby Yoda for yourself. The promise of an odd-couple, father-son saga sounded like blissful fun even before the pandemic struck, but there were also the lavish visuals, mysterious central figure, and general air of possibility tied to the launch of “The Mandalorian.” Here, Boba’s face is front-and-center throughout. Any lingering ambiguity about the man seems preferable to the answers being provided. There’s plenty of time left for “The Book of Boba Fett” to establish itself as a page-turner, but all that’s offered at the outset is a sip of “Star Wars” to keep subscribers satiated.
“The Book of Boba Fett” airs new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.