The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
The mysterious
appeal of Boba Fett


April 1, 1999
By Franklin Harris

All of you die-hard, true-believing fanboys will have to excuse me, but I have a problem. I just don't comprehend what is so all-fired special about Boba Fett.

I understand that among "Star Wars" aficionados, my opinion is a minority one. Almost everyone loves Boba Fett.

Fanboys think he's cool for being a bounty hunter, and they practically drool over that "Mandalorian" armor he wears -- not that any of them knows what, exactly, a Mandalorian is.

Boba Fett's first appearance was as a cartoon character in 1978's dreadful "Star Wars Holiday Special." Now, for my money, that discounts him from any degree of coolness right there.

Nothing originating from the "Holiday Special," a long-forgotten variety program in which everyone in the "Star Wars" cast embarrasses themselves to varying degrees, can be anything but lame.

But Fett's first real appearance, at least as far as "Star Wars" creator George Lucas is concerned, is in 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back."

You remember Boba Fett. He is the bounty hunter who follows Han Solo and company to Cloud City and, at the film's end, carts Solo off to meet the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

Fett utters such memorable lines as ... er -- oh, wait! I remember! -- "But what if he doesn't survive?" and "As you wish."

It's all truly inspiring stuff, isn't it?

Now, I can see Boba Fett arising as something of a cult figure based upon his mysterious presence in "Empire." We never see his face, and he wears such neat-o weapons, after all.

But after "Return of the Jedi," it's hard to see Fett as anything but laughable.

(Of course, after "Jedi," in which the mighty Imperial army is defeated by a tribe of viscous Teddy Bears -- er, Ewoks, I mean -- it's hard to take the entire Galactic Empire seriously. Did I mention I hate Ewoks?)

Boba Fett, the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy, apparently has nothing better to do than lounge about Jabba's palace. In the not-so-Special Edition version of "Jedi," he even takes time out to flirt with Jabba's dancing girls.

Cue the "Shaft" theme:

"That Boba Fett is a mean mother..."

"Shut your mouth!"

"But I'm talkin' 'bout Boba Fett!"

"We can dig it!"

In both editions of "Jedi," however, Fett suffers the same lame fate.

Han Solo accidentally hits Fett's rocket-propelled backpack with a stick, causing it to misfire and hurl Fett screaming through the air.

Fett smacks the side of Jabba's flying sailboat and unceremoniously falls into the waiting mouth of that Freudian nightmare of a monster, the Sarlacc.

The Sarlacc burps -- no kidding -- and that is the end of Fett.

So how can this klutz have generated the cult following that supports all the "Star Wars" novels and comic books featuring him, often in staring roles?

Even Lucas is amazed by Boba Fett's popularity. But Rick McCallum, Lucas' co-producer, says Fett is his favorite "Star Wars" character.

Go figure.

Now, to be fair, the Boba Fett of the novels and comics is a lot more effective than his screen counterpart. And, unlike the cartoon Fett, he doesn't ride a dinosaur and have a giant tuning fork for a weapon.

But the novels came along well after Boba Fett had achieved his cult-figure status. They didn't make him a fanboy icon, although they did contribute to his legend, such as it is.

The first thing the novelists and comic book writers did was have Fett survive his encounter with the dreaded Sarlacc, thanks to his protective armor.

Being digested by a giant hole in the sand isn't a classy way to go, after all.

Some of the Fett stories that have seen print are even pretty good.

But all of the post-"Jedi" Boba Fett stories have the same thing in common: they don't quite get what it means to be a bounty hunter.

If you want to see a movie about bounty hunters, see "Midnight Run," which features Robert De Niro's slovenly, down-on-his-luck bounty hunter, Jack Walsh.

Now there is a real bounty hunter!

Unlike the Boba Fett of the comics and novels, most real-world bounty hunters aren't weapons experts, ace pilots or peerless hand-to-hand combatants. They're just guys who know where to look for bail jumpers and who have enough muscle to smack their targets upside the head a few times if necessary.

If you were to put them in a real fight -- say, against a lightsaber-wielding Jedi Knight -- they'd last about as long as Boba Fett did in "Jedi."

That is, not very long at all.

Now, if you want to form a cult around a second-string "Star Wars" villain -- someone besides the two main heavies, Darth Vader and the Emperor -- why not build one around Grand Moff Tarkin?

Sure, Tarkin died in the first film, but he went out in the biggest bang in cinema history, aboard the exploding Death Star. And, even better, a real actor, Peter Cushing, portrayed him.

Cushing, of course, played the even more villainous Baron Frankenstein in a series of Hammer Studios horror movies. He has a perfect pedigree.

So, enough already with Boba Fett! Let's hear it for Tarkin!

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