The Shocking Secret of Boba Fett!

The other week, I heard that the long-rumored stand-alone Boba Fett movie has been scrapped by Lucasfilm in favor of The Mandalorian, a live-action TV project that's being helmed by Jon Favreau. While some Star Wars fans may be disappointed by this news, I think it's probably a good idea. As someone who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and witnessed the bounty hunter's introduction to the public back in the late '70s, there's only one thing that you need to know in order to understand Boba Fett: He's a misdirectional sequel teaser.

Of course, the Star Wars franchise has gotten plenty of mileage out of the Boba Fett character. He's appeared in countless comic books, novels, video games, and pieces of merchandise (e.g., action figures, t-shirts, mugs, backpacks, etc.). In the Attack of the Clones prequel, he was woven into the origins of the Clone Wars, the conflict that Darth Sidious engineered to ensure his rise to supreme power. The planet from where Fett originates, Mandalore, provided plenty of great narrative arcs for the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series, and I'm sure that it will continue to do so for the upcoming Mandalorian show. However, looking back at everything that led up to his canonical introduction into the Star Wars universe, Fett served the much more utilitarian purpose of promoting--but not spoiling--Empire Strikes Back.

It may be hard to imagine this now, but there was a time when the success of the Star Wars franchise was not guaranteed. The first film emerged as both a surprise hit and an unexpected cultural phenomenon, but Star Wars still could have become a one-hit wonder like so many other pop culture artifacts. If a Star Wars sequel was going to succeed, it would have to have an excited fan base eagerly waiting its arrival and it had to entertain audiences in ways that were different from before. So, how do you keep fans wanting more without giving too much away about the second act?

Boba Fett, as he appeared in the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Enter Boba Fett. Kenner had a hit toy line on its hands with Star Wars, and Lucasfilm used that to its advantage by hyping the next film with arguably the most toy-friendly character design in the entire franchise. Fett was first introduced as Darth Vader's new henchman in the animated segment of the notorious 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. During 1979, Kenner offered Fett as an exclusive mail-away 3.75-inch action figure with a spring-loaded rocket jet pack. (The spring-loaded feature was subsequently removed due to safety concerns.) A Fett figure was also added to the 12-inch Star Wars figure line with a ton of features, including an in-helmet range finder, a jet pack that doubled as a grappling hook, and more points of articulation than any of the other characters in the larger figure line. All of this for a character who barely does anything when he finally shows up in Empire.

This may seem like a joke to Star Wars fans now, but it makes perfect marketing sense. The two new characters in Empire that had the biggest impact on that film's plot were Lando Calrissian and Yoda. However, if Lucasfilm promoted the sequel by teasing one or both of those characters, it could have spoiled the sequel's plot and potentially undermine its success at the box office. Thus, what better way to keep kids enthralled with the possibility of a new Star Wars movie than with a character who works as a fantastic toy but is little more than a set decoration in the very same movie where he's introduced?

A promotional one-sheet for Kenner's Boba Fett action figure.

The production history behind Fett suggests that George Lucas wanted another villain in the original trilogy and saw Fett fulfilling that role. Yet for all of the macho-sounding ideas that Lucas and his team came up with for Fett's back story (super soldier, bounty hunter, super soldier-turned-bounty hunter), nothing translated well into the sequel scripts. Nevertheless, that didn't keep the franchise from making the most out of Fett's cool armor design and features, which turned out to be a great way to hype Empire without saying a thing about the movie's plot.

From this perspective, Fett's subsequent demise in Return of the Jedi feels like an in-joke. Not only did Lucas bump him off in one of the most undignified ways imaginable, but he did it in a way that explicitly involved one of the key features that was used to sell Fett to toy-hungry kids in the first place: the jet pack. Why not? Fett has already served his purpose by the time Jedi came around, so why not have a few laughs at his expense when getting rid of him? That's about as shameless an in-joke as, say, creating an archaeological action hero as a tribute to vintage adventure serials and then making him completely inessential to the outcome of his debut movie.

Boba Fett--ruthless space bounty hunter, eager parade participant.

Some Star Wars fans are still angry about Boba Fett's humiliating death in Jedi. Then again, the Star Wars fandom has shown a steadfast interest in bounty hunter characters in general throughout the years. For example, the other five bounty hunter characters that appear in Empire--Bossk, Dengar, 4-LOM, IG-88 and Zuckuss--do even less than Fett and yet just about every franchise fan knows who they are anyway.

Maybe Fett wasn't needed at all to hype Empire Strikes Back and forestall spoilers before the sequel's release in 1980 (some actually leaked out anyway, thanks to David Prowse). Yet the fact that this character still has an impact on a franchise that celebrated its 40th anniversary last year means that Lucas and his team did something right in making such a well-designed red herring.

Here's to you, Boba Fett. May your suffering in the Sarlacc's digestive system be mercifully short.

"So Boba, does that rocket in your jet pack actually fire,
or is it still glued in there so kids won't choke on it?"

Related Products:

LEGO Star Wars 75533 Constraction Boba Fett Star Wars Boba Fett Deluxe Adult Vinyl Mask Star Wars Boba Fett Head 3D Mug


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