Aside from the grand finale of the Skywalker Saga with Episode IX, there is another Star Wars story that has everyone buzzing: The Mandalorian, premiering in November on Disney’s new streaming service. Starring Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian is set post-Return of the Jedi, as the galaxy struggles to restructure itself after the death of Emperor Palpatine and the fall of the Empire. The titular character is a mercenary with a cowboy sort of swagger, adhering to a personal sense of justice, with a reputation for doing things his own way.
But… but isn’t that just Boba Fett?
The character of Boba Fett had a rich and complex life that played out in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or Legends, as we now call the stories written before the canon reintegration that occurred when George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney. He escaped the Pit of Carkoon and the Sarlacc that meant to make him dinner, tore apart the Bounty Hunters Guild, became the Mandalore (leader of the Mandalorian people), and helped Jaina Solo figure out how to stop her brother, Darth Caedus. He had a daughter and a granddaughter, a community that relied on him, and even in his old age, he professed an intense dislike of Han Solo. (He did eventually stop trying to kill him, though.)
Boba Fett was built upon a very specific archetype—the lone gunslinger, a man apart from society but still beholden to it, who is in it for himself but possesses a code all his own that commands respect. It’s a fairly commonplace Western trope that nonetheless feels reinvigorated among the often less ambiguous roster of Star Wars heroes and villains. And that’s before you put him in extremely cool Mandalorian combat armor.
In the Legends canon, Boba Fett outlived characters like Chewbacca and even Han and Leia’s youngest son, Anakin Solo. But since the Disney reset, Boba Fett’s story seemingly ends with his unfortunate tumble into the Sarlacc’s mouth. His snack status is forever in a holding pattern—it’s possible that this time, Boba Fett is truly dead. (I have a gorgeously rendered Unleashed action figure that begs to differ, but I can die on this hill another day. I can.)
There were potential projects meant to showcase Fett from one year to the next, even with this seeming expiration date: Initially, the scrapped Star Wars: Underworld television series was going to feature young Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett. There was also a rumored standalone film, helmed by Logan director James Mangold, though it was never officially announced by Lucasfilm—likely due to Solo’s box office failure and Disney backpedaling on the idea of one-off movies for the time being. With none of those projects ever leaving the ground, the only places where new Boba Fett stories have popped up post-Disney is the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series. But in a show that often excels at expanding Star Wars canon in thoughtful, exciting ways, each episode with Fett tended to feel like a sad afterthought. It’s a strange spot for the character to be caught in, once the eternal fandom darling, now an aggravating hanger-on that Star Wars seems to want to rid itself of.
It would be remiss not to state the obvious possibility: The Mandalorian stars a character who’s description matches the Boba Fett of the Legends canon. The character looks like Boba Fett. The character has yet to be given a name, which is a highly suspicious move. It is possible that Jon Favreau is simply making a Boba Fett show? It wouldn’t be hard to imagine, and the timeline works out startlingly well. Pedro Pascal looks like nothing like Temuera Morrison or any of the other actors who have played the Fetts or one of their many clones—but it’s possible that Boba needed some reconstructive surgery following an unknown span of time being melted by Sarlacc stomach acid. This would also account for why his armor and silhouette is so similar to Boba Fett’s, but has a different color scheme—it likely would have had to be repainted. And the timeline works out great with this being post-ROTJ, potentially setting the show right after a possible reemergence into the galaxy after a very close scrape with death. You could even pull one of those “he hit his head on the way out of the Sarlacc and can’t remember who he is yet” plots, if you had a mind to. Is this just the long con to bring Boba Fett back?
There’s one piece of information that seems to put the kibosh on that angle. Favreau released a little teaser crawl about the show around when it was announced, and it began with these words: “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe.” That sounds pretty final, and a little silly if it turns out to be a misdirect. It means that Boba Fett is likely dead once we move past the original trilogy in this version of the Star Wars universe. The Sarlacc ate well that day, and took one of the most feared bounty hunters in the galaxy with it.
Given the popularity of Boba Fett’s character over the course of Star Wars saga history, why would Lucasfilm and Disney replace him with a seemingly obvious copycat? Regardless of how good The Mandalorian is, it’s still building on the legacy of a character that the franchise has left on the back burner in perpetuity. What went wrong?
The answer might be simpler than we want to admit, and we don’t have to look much further than Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Plenty of errors were made in the execution of the prequels (which I’ve talked about at length, including how much better they are without dialogue), but the truth is, they’re still full of fascinating material that can be easily retrofitted into great stories. Star Wars: The Clone Wars proves this over and over, taking under-explained or underused aspects of the prequel trilogy, splicing it with bits of reappropriated Legends canon, and mixing that story stew into compelling narrative. But there are always pieces that are hard to reconcile, and even amidst the universe’s most awkward love story and trade blockades and a very drawn out plot about some guy named Sifo Dyas who we never see, the biggest failure of the prequels might actually be Boba Fett and his sorry retconned backstory.
It’s understandable that Lucas wanted to bring that Mandalorian combat armor into the prequels, given the enduring popularity of Boba Fett as a character. But part of what made the character compelling was the air of mystery surrounding him. We didn’t know who he was or where he came from. Even the Legends canon was careful to only hand out backstory in scraps, aware that Boba Fett’s inherent unknowability was part of what made him enjoyable. And what did Attack of the Clones give us? Tween Fett sitting in the cockpit of Slave I shouting “Get ‘im, dad, get ‘im!” as his father Jango Fett proceeded to do all the heavy lifting. It also gave Boba the tragic backstory of losing his father at the hands of Jedi Master Mace Windu, for some reason. And when Boba Fett was used in the Clone Wars series, that backstory limited what he had the ability to grow into—a grief-struck, angry teenager who displayed none of the eerie, silent discipline that became the character’s trademark.
No one wanted that origin for Boba Fett, and so no one knew what to do with it. The history was too definitive, so it wasn’t malleable enough to reshape into something better. Before the Disney buyout, Legends authors worked to painstakingly integrate Boba’s new history into the character they’d already meticulously crafted, and they did an excellent job with it, all things considered. But once the changeover happened, the question of how to solve that niggling Boba Fett problem hovered in an awkward corner. Solving it became less of a priority. Tackling it probably started to sound like a bad idea. Elsewhere in the Star Wars universe, the Mandalorian people have proved thriving and fertile ground for new stories, from the pacifist era of Duchess Satine to the ever-changing color palette of Sabine Wren’s beskar armor. The clone army made of Jango Fett’s DNA, too, have incredible tales to call their own. But Jango’s son—the character who inspired these tales in the first place—is being digested by a desert carnivore for the next thousand years with no way out in sight.
George Lucas reportedly never quite understood why people were so taken with Boba Fett, since his only real mandate was that the character look cool. But he managed to hook into fans’ minds so relentlessly that narrative branches had to be built around him. And in needing to move beyond what the prequels did to Fett’s history, the Star Wars franchise accidentally discovered that there were many equally (or more) interesting stories to tell using the pieces the character left in his wake. That armor isn’t going anywhere, and the people who wear it are more vibrant and intriguing than ever. Boba Fett may be gone, but a whole garden grew up in his wake.
So now we’ll have The Mandalorian. And if he doesn’t turn out to be Boba Fett in disguise, it will be abundantly clear who this show and character owe their primordial conception to. I hope it’s wonderful, in all honesty, and that the series captures old and new fans alike. But I can’t give up on the guy whose helmet still sits atop my bookshelf, glaring down at me in impenetrable judgment. I’m still holding out hope that one day, the prototype comes back into fashion and takes us all by storm.