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The Enduring Myth of Boba Fett

Science Fiction,Fandom,Star Wars
Chelsea Tatham Zukowski
February 1, 202211:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)

Boba Fett behind the scenes from "The Skywalker Legacy" (photo via Boba Fett Fan Club)

The man. The myth. The armor.

Boba Fett first appeared to the public on a sweltering day in 1978 in San Anselmo, Calif., about 20 miles north of San Francisco.

Baking inside the mythical bounty hunter’s gray-green armor was Duwayne Dunham, an assistant film editor who worked on Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. But on that September day, he was the man for the job of promoting the release of Empire Strikes Back, and introducing a new character to the Star Wars canon — one that in the decades to come would amass a cult following, be played by a dozen different people, and ultimately star in his own series.

It’s now been more than 40 years since Boba’s first appearance — with Dunham donning that now-iconic armor to march alongside the villainous Darth Vader in the San Anselmo Country Fair parade.

San Anselmo Country Fair, September 25, 1978. (photo via / Boba Fett Fan Club)

“The only reason I ever put that uniform on is because I was the right size,” Dunham said in a 2014 interview with “When the guys brought it over from England, George (Lucas) said ‘put it on.’ Then it got aged up to George’s liking…I don’t even know how it came about, but someone thought with the movie coming up (Empire) that the parade would be a good idea.”

At the time, no one knew who this character was other than he must be in cahoots with Darth Vader. His armor was kind of like a stormtrooper? But he had a jetpack. And what looked like many other tools and weapons encased in his armor.

The next day’s issue of the Independent Journal had Vader and Fett splashed across the front page, showing the two leading the parade.

“Everyone had high, high hopes because Boba was such a cool-looking costume. Outside of Vader, it was the best,” Dunham said.

The Star Wars Holiday Special.(copyright The Walt Disney Company)

Flash forward to Christmas 1978, when Boba debuted in animated form in the cartoon segment of the much-maligned but still iconic Star Wars Holiday Special, as Vader’s “right-hand man.” Then in 1980, Boba had his first movie appearance in Empire Strikes Back with the late Jeremy Bulloch under the helmet. 

Boba returned in Return of the Jedi (1983), again with few lines and screen time, and was unceremoniously knocked into the Pit of Carkoon to be slowly digested by the Sarlacc. He was “left for dead on the sands of Tatooine,” as current Fett actor Temuera Morrison says in the new The Book of Boba Fett series on Disney Plus, where he stars alongside Ming-Na Wen’s cunning assassin Fennec Shand.

Despite the character’s supposed death, Dunham says:  “fans have never let him die.”

Dengar, IG-88, Boba Fett, and Bossk. (photo via / Boba Fett Fan Club)

Thank the Maker

It was less than a year after the original Star Wars premiered, and creator George Lucas needed a new stormtrooper.

“The original idea behind Boba Fett was that he was going to be an army of super troopers. There was going to be 40,000 of these guys,” said Joe Johnston, visual effects art director on Empire Strikes Back, in a 2020 interview.

Continuing a now-iconic creative partnership that began with Star Wars: A New Hope and continued through the rest of the original trilogy, Johnston worked closely with artist Ralph McQuarrie in bringing Boba to life one pen and pencil stroke at a time.

Johnston’s sketches and McQuarrie’s concept paintings of the character showed a man decked out in gleaming, all-white armor characteristic of Imperial stormtroopers. This “super trooper,” however, was equipped with much more tools and weapons and sported the earliest version of Boba’s helmet.

But after many sketches, paintings, and a complex suit of armor prototype, Empire filmmakers realized making tens of thousands of these troopers was not going to happen. So, Johnston said Lucas pivoted. And Boba became a bounty hunter.

When Boba Fett was born, he was billed as a bad guy, but not on either side of the galactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebels. He does his own thing, answers to himself, and does jobs for whoever will pay him the most, including Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt.

Turning the pristine white trooper armor into one of an experienced bounty hunter meant unique paint colors and battle-worn armor that communicated a quiet ruthlessness. And, of course, the most enduring piece of Boba’s armor and character legacy is his helmet — now instantly recognizable and characteristic of male Mandalorian warriors. 

For Johnston, the helmet “was his face,” especially as Boba never took off his helmet in Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi.

The prequel film Attack of the Clones (2002) showed a pre-helmet kid Boba (played by Daniel Logan) and the subsequent series The Clone Wars chronicled young Boba’s exploits following the death of his father Jango Fett (Morrison in Attack of the Clones).

But it wasn’t until the live-action The Mandalorian and flashback scenes in The Book of Boba Fett that we saw Boba stripped of his armor and helmet — and, essentially, his identity. 

Boba Fett. (photo via / Boba Fett Fan Club)

Memories of Men and Monsters

“Maybe I can help you. I am Boba Fett.”

Boba’s first lines of dialogue probably seemed innocuous when the character emerged on the animated screen riding a magenta reptilian sea creature called a Paar's Ichthyodont. Still, his low, monotone voice (Don Francks) felt calm and lethal.

Over the decades, Boba continued to be defined in part by the many alien species and creatures he’s fought or accompanied. A slimy, suffocating Sarlacc, the Tuskens’ massiff guard dogs, and recently a Rancor calf that Danny Trejo’s character is training him to ride in The Book of Boba Fett.

Like the Tusken Raiders and even Boba himself, the Rancor gets a bit of an image rehabilitation in The Book of Boba Fett, thanks in large part to Trejo’s role as this calf’s caretaker. We learn from him that Rancors are emotionally complex creatures who are naturally loving but often bred and trained for fighting. They’re also intelligent and loyal to their humans.

All of these details make us think the Rancor is basically the pit bull of Star Wars. It’s a sweet real-world tie-in, as Trejo is known as much for his acting as his advocacy and rehabilitation efforts of bit bulls. 

Boba Fett vs. Luke Skywalker BTS (photo via Liam Dalton / Boba Fett Fan Club)

As for our eponymous hero, the key to every iteration of the character lies in the man behind the helmet. Boba has been voiced or portrayed by a dozen actors since 1978. Like Batman, every fan has their own “favorite Boba.” 

But the three men who brought the most life to the character — and most impacted the legions of dedicated fans — are Jeremy Bulloch, Daniel Logan, and Temuera Morrison.

For official Boba Fett Fan Club member Juan Fuentes, Bulloch will always hold a special place in the heart of every fan. He vividly brought the character to life in Empire Strikes Back, but also “transmitted a deep affection that boosted the (imaginations) of thousands of people.”

“His persona has gone beyond what we knew of Boba — a menacing character of few words with a fearless and uncanny appearance — as Jeremy broke that coldness so characteristic of Boba in the Star Wars world with his kindness in real life,” said Fuentes, who lives in Madrid, Spain, and manages the club’s social media channels.

The Boba Fett Fan Club has been bringing fans together since 1996. The non-profit site boasts more than 150,000 fans from around the world who contribute to message boards, share original stories and visual content, and generally celebrate having a welcoming home for their Boba Fett obsession.

Promo Art of Boba Fett Firing Flamethrower (photo Boba Fett Fan Club)

Bulloch, who died in 2020 at the age of 75, was an inaugural member of the Boba Fett Fan Club. The non-profit organization was founded by Aaron Proctor when he was only 13 years old, and in the 25 years since it has featured content by Boba actors Logan, John Morton (stuntman and double for Bulloch) and Mark Austin, featured in the 1997 special edition release of A New Hope.

For Jess Tompkins, a video game UX designer and social scientist with a Ph.D. in media psychology, it was Boba’s armor and his “mysterious aura” that drew her into the character while watching the original trilogy DVDs in the 1990s. 

“As you know, the cumulative screen time is not much, but even in those very few minutes, I was like ‘wow.’ I think a lot of fans initially (were) just drawn to the appearance of the armor,” said Tompkins, 32.

Tompkins has been a member of the Boba Fett Fan Club for more than 15 years, though she says her participation fluctuates over time. In 2021, she combined her social science expertise and love for Star Wars to help launch the “State of the Boba Fett Fandom” survey.

The results showcased how the club’s fans first got into Boba, what drew them to the character, their opinions on how he’s been portrayed, and how they express their fandom for Fett.

Tompkins, who lives in Central Florida, first delved into the fandom by “soaking up basically any book” about Boba “or just reading Wikipedia or Wookieepedia.” 

“I guess a lot of teenage girls obsess over different actors or musicians. But as far as fictional characters go, I was, I would say, obsessed with Boba Fett,” she said. “And I still am in many ways.”

Tompkins notably credits Karen Traviss’ books in the Legacy of the Force series, which were published from 2006 to 2008 and featured the return of Boba after Return of the Jedi. Boba’s escape from the Sarlacc pit was explored in the 1996 short story A Barve Like That: The Tale of Boba Fett, part of the Tales from Jabba’s Palace compilation.

“She (Traviss) did such a good job…of thinking about the sort of things Boba Fett might be confronted with emotionally as a man who is essentially a clone of his father,” Tompkins said. “He also lost his father at a really young age and in a really traumatic event.”

“And I feel like that has to have long-lasting ramifications on an individual, particularly at the psychological level.”

The Nomad concept art by Brian Matyas (image via Boba Fett Fan Club)

Tusken Raider and Ruler of Tatooine

Fast forward to October 2020 — the second season premiere of The Mandalorian boasted the surprise reveal that Boba is alive. Gone were his trademark helmet and armor with no Firespray starship (formerly the Slave I) in sight. Still, it’s a galaxy-altering arrival, and fans were ecstatic.

“I was in tears almost,” Fuentes said. “Boba Fett, the one who made all this Mandalorian stuff possible.”

Later in the season, Boba regained his armor and spruced it up, lent his bounty hunting skills to Din Djarin and (reluctantly) to Bo-Katan’s Nite Owls, and claimed Jabba’s Mos Espa throne.

“To have him return in The Mandalorian was a huge validation that Boba Fett did in fact survive just like in the old canon,” Tompkins said.

Sarlacc sequence production sketch. (photo via Prop Store / Boba Fett Fan Club)

In The Book of Boba Fett, which premiered Dec. 29, 2021, this current Boba is still capable of lethal precision — but he affects a relatable world-weariness. It’s in this series, specifically its first two episodes, that we see those ramifications of a violent and trauma-filled life, as well as chilling flashbacks to his escape from the Sarlacc pit and his time with the Tusken Raiders.

While the series moves Boba’s story forward as he struggles to cement his new rule, some of the most interesting aspects are the character’s Bacta-induced flashbacks to his childhood on Kamino, his father’s death on Geonosis, terrifying moments spent inside the Sarlacc’s belly and his transformative time as prisoner-turned-warrior with the Tuskens.

The Tuskens are having almost as much of a renaissance and rebrand as Boba — finally getting the character treatment they have long deserved. For decades, the Tuskens of Tatooine were offensive stand-ins for ignorant and harmful stereotypes of Indigenous cultures. They were often referred to as the “sand people.” 

Boba Fett fighting Luke Skywalker BTS (photo via Boba Fett Fan Club)

And where The Mandalorian shined a different light on the fictional aliens, The Book of Boba Fett gives the Tuskens the stage and expands their cultural significance to the most famous planet in the Star Wars galaxy.

Instead of showing the Tuskens as dangerous and uncivilized, both series reposition them as the natives of Tatooine who have been experiencing decades of colonizers taking over their land and using their resources. When Boba evolves into a Tusken ally by helping them hijack a train carrying spice, the mission also helps reclaim some of the tribe’s land and ensures that all who wish to pass through the Dune Sea will pay reparations in the form of a travel toll.

The revolution of the Tuskens is an important one not only for Star Wars but also for New Zealand-born actor Morrison, who has Indigenous Māori heritage.

“We know all about that word ‘colonized,’” Morrison, 61, said in an interview with Yahoo. “I feel a sense of responsibility. I put the name of one of my ancestors on my chair, my changing room, and on my parking space. It gave me a sense of pride…and a sense of responsibility for the people back home who will get to watch some of this stuff.”

And when, in the third episode, Boba’s tribe is abruptly killed off, Morrison said he pulled from his own culture when portraying Boba performing a funeral ceremony for the fallen Tuskens.

“But they are the Indigenous of the sands of Tatooine, and I was creating a little bit more history about their own culture…and I was pulling from my own culture, in a way, in terms of the ceremonies and preparing the warrior and preparing a weapon,” Morrison said during a virtual Television Critics Association press panel, referencing both the Tusken funeral pyre and the moving scenes of Boba crafting his own gaffi stick weapon.

“We knew so little about the Tuskens, and it really gave them an incredible backstory,” Wen said. “I thought all those elements really enrich who the Tuskens are.”

Boba Fett with Gaffi Stick (photo via Boba Fett Fan Club)

A key part of Boba’s transformation into a Tusken warrior is the ceremonial task of whittling and sharpening his own gaffi stick - a long, lethal club with a spiked head and a sharp spear on the end. In Star Wars, the Tusken gaffi stick is a clear homage to the Fijian totokia weapons crafted here on Earth, in the 1800s. 

According to the Museum of New Zealand, totokia clubs were “often associated with chiefs and warriors of reputation.” 

There are also clear Māori influences in Boba’s fighting style and his martial arts training with the female Tusken and the trainer gaffi stick. Māori fighters have used the taiaha staff as both a weapon and as a cultural symbol of their way of life. Like Boba’s Tusken training, real-world Māori warfare was “emotional and strenuous…but also full of ceremony and ritual.”

These cultural and historic influences on Boba and the Tuskens are unique to The Book of Boba Fett, as Morrison explained how he incorporated his heritage into this role when we first saw Boba return in season 2 of The Mandalorian.

“I come from a warrior background in New Zealand,” he told in 2020. “I’m a Māori and I’ve been trained. It gives me something to draw on. I was trained as a young boy back in New Zealand in the art of our haka. ‘Ha’ is the breath, and ‘ka’ is the fire. I’m using my warrior background as a source of energy and as a source of confidence.”

There’s even a video of Morrison performing his haka in his Boba gear on the set of The Mandalorian, which Wen shared to celebrate his birthday in 2020.

Boba Fett / The Mandalorian (photo via Boba Fett Fan Club)

A Legacy of Respect

"Return of the Jedi" Stuntman Glenn Randall Jr. as Boba Fett, On Stunt Wires (1982) (photo via Boba Fett Fan Club)

“Jabba ruled with fear. I intend to rule with respect,” the former bounty hunter drawls in The Book of Boba Fett.

If ever one word defined Boba Fett — besides “badass” — it would be respect. 

He was raised to respect the scientist Kaminoans but even more so his father Jango Fett, of whom Boba is an exact clone. He was taught to respect and revere his father’s Mandalorian armor and the power and fear it brings.

Boba is an intimidating figure and one that commands respect. But as we’ve seen in his return in The Mandalorian season 2 and subsequently in The Book of Boba Fett, there’s so much more to him than armor, helmet, and weapons. The new series gives fans the deeper character study they’ve always wanted and makes him the protagonist of his own story — one that is defined as much by epic action as it is by trauma.

“People have been admiring him for so many decades,” Fuentes said. “We have so much stuff of Fett not just in TV or in the movies, but there’s also so much stuff in Legends, the Expanded Universe, the comics. The character has grown up, and he has built this identity.”

Neither a villain nor a hero. No longer a bounty hunter or hitman for hire. He’s not a Jedi. He is Boba Fett. He answers to no one and rules his hard-won kingdom on a legacy built of hard-earned respect. Both on-screen and off.

Chelsea Tatham Zukowski
February 1, 202211:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)