NOTE: Contains spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett, and is written assuming you’ve watched the whole thing.

Now the dust has settled on the Book of Boba Fett, its last episode retreating into the distance like Mando’s souped-up Naboo fighter, Grogu’s ears flapping in the wind, we can look back on the series as a whole piece. It’s our opportunity to see how it all fitted together; to tease out its core ideas, unpack its themes, appreciate it as a wider piece of work within a wider piece of work and finally, ask ourselves … what the hell was that?

It’s painful to hate on Star Wars. Anything that puts you on the same side as the dudebro mob that so pathetically whaled on The Last Jedi (which was brilliant) can make you feel like you need a very hot shower and a very stiff scrubbing brush. Star Wars is brilliant. It’s brilliant when you’re eight years old and, at its best, it’s brilliant because it makes you feel like you’re eight years old. That’s the magic of it. George Lucas knows that, Dave Filoni knows that, Rian Johnson knows that, JJ Abrams knows that, Jon Favreau knows that. Even Robert Rodriguez, surely, must know that.

The Book of Boba Fett was the first version of Star Wars in quite some time that contained precious little of that makes-you-feel-eight-years-old magic. It’s there in places, particularly in the finale when the Rancor takes on those spidery battledroids, and the scene where Din Djarin and Boba Fett hover on their jet packs together, blasting the hell out of some faceless foes; but good grief as an audience we deserved those moments – there’d been precious few of them in the preceding six weeks.

When the series was announced, in a particularly bad-ass post-credits scene at the close of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, it was met with some cautious excitement. Jon Favreau’s uniformly excellent show had dragged Boba out of the Sarlacc pit he had been dumped in back in 1983 and given him a bit of dramatic weight. When the character, played – finally – in the flesh by Temuera Morrison, made his reappearance in the Rodrigez-directed ‘Chapter 14: The Tragedy’ he was both hard as nails and cool as fuck, casually wiping out stormtroopers and firing rockets from his knees. Morrison instilled Boba with a certain soulfulness, a warrior with a sense of honour and dignity, channeling some of his own Māori background. It might not have been the Boba we’d pictured in our heads back in those pre-prequel days when he was just a cool suit of armour with a swagger in his walk, but it was a take on the character that worked, that managed to merge the instantly iconic masked stranger from Empire and Jedi with the baggage of the prequels: that he was a clone of Morrison’s Attack of the Clones character, Jango Fett. It worked.

boba fettAnd on paper, The Book of Boba Fett should have worked too. The premise is good – Fett has turned his back on bounty hunting to set himself up as a boss, ruling with dignity and respect rather than fear and violence. That’s solid. That makes sense. We also get the flashbacks in which he escapes the Sarlacc – the subject of literally decades of fan speculation – his imprisonment and later acceptance by a tribe of Tuskan raiders who are then cruelly slaughtered, his friendship with Ming-Na Wen’s Fennac Shand, how he recovers his ship, tracks his armour, takes over Jabba the Hutt’s crime empire and the machinations of the criminal underworld he must now try to conquer. Those are all great story ideas. There’s fantastic set pieces and action too; the train heist in episode two, the Rancor fight, the raid on Jabba’s palace, some decent gun fights and tussles (Cad Bane’s slow walk out of the desert to stand-off with Cobb Vanth), Boba gunning down the byker gang in Slave I. On a purely ‘pew-pew’ level it ticked plenty of boxes.

bobafettchapter410So why did the series as a whole feel so unsatisfying? Disney+ has been largely nailing its original shows, with The Mandalorian and Marvel properties Wandavision, Loki and Hawkeye (we’re going to gloss over Falcon & The Winter Soldier) becoming proper appointment-to-view weekly event television, a format that Netflix had supposedly killed. Though we can’t know its ratings, Book of Boba Fett certainly felt different to those. There were fewer Twitter trends and much less chat about getting up at 8am to watch it straight away and avoid spoilers. It generated very few memes, TikTok lipsyncs and reaction videos – the capital of modern pop culture, though it did certainly generate a lot of complaining.

Ultimately it feels like a failure of storytelling. The elements are all there, but they’re arranged in a very peculiar order – the flashback-heavy earlier episodes give us no investment in the ‘present day’ storyline, which never feels substantial, yet the pivotal show-downs in the season finale depend on us buying into Boba’s stake in his new life. We never really know why Boba is so invested in the planet Tatooine or the city of Mos Espa, why he care about its people in particular, why it’s this town he chooses to clean out. He spends what seems to be several years living with the Tuskens, yet once they’re wiped out he basically forgets that they ever existed. Yes, we can assume that he’s carrying around the pain of that loss in his heart, learning lessons from it, being inspired and driven by it, but the show never actually shows us this is any meaningful way. Much of that could be fixed with just a few lines of dialogue.

book of boba fettThe show often plays to hardcore Star Wars fans without much consideration to its mainstream audience. For example, we only know that Boba spends five years wandering the desert because fans already understand that that’s how long there is between his plunge into the Sarlaac pit – and presumably fairly prompt escape – in Return of the Jedi, and rescue of Fenac Shand off-screen in season one of The Mandalorian. The show does nothing to show us that passage of time and its effect on our hero. It’s important information if we’re to buy into Boba’s bond with the Tuskens who took him in. We need to bring that knowledge in with us to get our head around the timespan, which is not great storytelling. You can’t assume that of casual viewers.

It’s a mistake the show makes a few times. Boba mentions – once, briefly – that Bib Fortuna betrayed him, hence brutally killing him off in that Mandalorian post-credits scene. That’s the only motivation we’re ever given for why it’s Jabba’s operation on Tatooine that will be the focus of his new life. Fans of the Star Wars comics know some of the background here (Bib screws Boba over Han Solo’s frozen body and takes out a bounty on him), but the percentage of viewers who actually understand the depth of that betrayal is absolutely tiny: everyone else is left wondering why he cares so much when he can just fly off into the galaxy and get on with his life.

cad bane book of boba fettSlightly more viewers will have recognised the ice-cool cowboy bounty hunter Cad Bane when he moseys into Freetown in Chapter Six – the character is a fan favourite in the Clone Wars animation – but really not that many. Bringing in cool characters from other parts of the Star Wars universe is great, but you need to give them real weight in their current conflict. Bane and Fett have history – it was Cad Bane that essentially trained Boba to be a bounty hunter when he was a boy, and it’s that history that gives their final showdown its significance … which is totally lost on anyone who hasn’t seen the Clone Wars. It’s a hell of a reach to assume that the audience will have done their homework. The Mandalorian’s introduction of Ashoka Tanoh and Bo-Katan Kryze, both characters from Clone Wars/Rebels, was handled perfectly and worked well for both deep-cut and casual fans, so how come similar introductions are done so clumsily here?

I’m aware that we’re getting into the weeds with this; that we’re nitpicking a shiny, silly kids show, but it’s difficult not to feel short-changed. There is so much creative effort being put into this production – the blend of puppetry and CGI on the Rancor, Grogu himself and many of the aliens is incredible, and that’s before we get into the jaw-dropping achievement of a virtual Luke Skywalker. Presumably someone spent weeks making Grogu’s tiny chainmail vest. The talent on show is magnificent, especially Morrison and Ming-Na Wen, and as we have said, the set pieces are often peak Star Wars – so why have they, and we, been so badly let down at the script level? It’s baffling.

The Bantha in the room, of course, is chapters five and six, when the Tatooine plot is abandoned all together and, completely unexpectedly, we get two episodes of The Mandalorian in all but name. Those two episodes are great – there’s spectacle, sure, but they also have stakes and weight. They move characters forward and set up future quests and obstacles with genuine motivations. With the exception of the Cad Bane issue, they do fan service (Luke! Artoo! Ashoka!) with real meaning. Chapter six does the most of any Star Wars story so far to draw the three trologies together as a single narrative – Grogu flashes back to events of Episode III, while sat with the hero of Episodes IV-VI, himself at the start of the journey that will take him to Episodes VII and VIII. The hubris of powerful beings and their lack respect for the deep bonds of personal love ultimately leading to downfall and darkness, forms a thematic bridge across the whole saga and it’s right there in a handful of scenes between a puppet frog baby and a digitally recreated Mark Hamill. That’s remarkably elegant storytelling. We’re seeing the exploration of a well thought-through, connected universe. Where the hell was that back when Boba was dreaming in his bacta tank?

book of boba fett finaleThe problem with that two-episode trip into Mandoville, is that it highlights everything that the rest of this story isn’t: cohesive, emotionally invested, compelling. It’s fun to hang out in this world, sure, and many people will tune in just for that, but it can be so much more. Star Wars has always had glaring faults that we’ve simply waved through – Luke’s plan for rescuing Han from Jabba’s Palace? It’s terrible. Han’s lightspeed trick to get inside the shields of Starkiller base? Don’t think about it. Obi-wan’s plan to hide baby Luke by giving him to Vader’s only living family and letting him keep his surname? Shhh! “Somehow … Palpatine has returned” – really don’t think too hard about that one.

The point is, that you don’t tend to notice any of this at the time, or really care that much when you do. In all of those scenarios we understand the stakes for the characters, and all are at the very least true to those. Dubious plotting, sure, but emotionally satisfying. We know these are dumb kids movies and we’ll look past a lot of this because of how much the series gets right, because of how it makes us feel. The eight year old in all of us doesn’t care about that stuff. And that’s true of the Book of Boba Fett too. Sure, the Mods are a bit rubbish but they serve a proper narrative purpose. The motivations of that awesome-looking Wookie are a bit murky, but who cares – he’s a big, mean, black-furred Wookie and we’re just glad he’s here. It’s all fine. Our inner kid, with their action figures and toy lightsabre and pew-pew noises doesn’t really care about a lot of that stuff. But even children understand how a story makes them feel, and why they care. The biggest disappointment in the Book of Boba Fett, is that we rarely do.