'The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 1: Stranger in a Strange Land' Review: Setting Up a New Crime Empire

Four Star Rating: *** 
Starring: Temuera Morrison, Ming-Na Wen, Matt Berry, David Pasquesi, Jennifer Beals, 
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Jon Favreau
Created by: Jon Favreau
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas
Producers: Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Robert Rodriguez, Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson
Music by: Ludwig Goransson (Themes), Joseph Shirley (Score)
Cinematographer: Dean Cundey, Paul Hughen
Director of Photography: David Klein
Production Design: Andrew L. Jones, Doug Chaing
Editor: Jeff Seibenick
Visual Effect Supervisor: Richard Bluff
Production Company: Lucasfilm, Golem Creations
Distributed by: Disney 
Network: Disney Plus
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi/Fantasy
Rated: TV-14 - Violence
Release Date: December 29, 2021
Run Time: 39 minutes

<SPOILERS for a several week-old episode.>

I am way late to The Book of Boba Fett, especially since I plan to review episode by episode, so I'm about five weeks behind every other reviewer and writer. I'm sure everyone is eager for my steaming hot take on something that was released at the end of December. I watched the first two seasons of The Mandalorian with my son Everett, and so the plan had been to watch each episode of this series fresh with him again as our little Star Wars tradition. I also intended to release weekly reviews of the series.

But considering I've only watched the first episode now and I did it alone, the strategy failed. My life doesn't quite always mesh with watch something with my kids and gets reviews out in a timely fashion. My dear readers, it will have to be our little secret that I'm watching the episodes without Everett for now, and hopefully, I can catch-up so that the final two episodes can be reviewed much closer to their release.

Being way behind on reviewing The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 1: Stranger in a Strange Land means I already caught the buzz that it was a divisive episode and quite a few fans and critics were disappointed after the highly acclaimed first two seasons of The Mandalorian. I have actually been a ninja in avoiding spoilers and most opinions of the series, so my viewpoint and speculations will mostly be crafted as if the proceeding episodes aren't already zipping around in the universe.

I admit that it is a little awkward to be speculating on things that most of the readers already know the answers, so I'll try to harness in my habit for predicting and theorizing. 

First, we need to jetpack back over to the divisive reaction to the first episode where many fans and critics seemed to be disappointed. Now, in my ninja maneuvering of avoiding spoilers and shielding myself from the The Book of Bob Fett conversation, I never learned the source of dislike. 

Now, finally being part of the 'watched the first episode' club, I can see why those praising The Mandalorian may have been slightly bummed on what was first offered here. The episode is really short by not even making it to 40 minutes and barely an actual story squeaks out of it. Going into the episode, most were able to figure out that Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) got out of the sarlacc pit and that he now wants to control Jabba the Hutt's crime empire, and by the end of the first episode, that is largely all that we learned as well. But despite conceding to this as an issue, I slide on the side of enjoying and recommending it.

But here is where my reviewing and 'grading' a single episode significantly differs from how I approach movies. I strongly believe that a movie is a stand-alone entertainment, even if it is part of a planned trilogy or larger series of pictures. A movie can hint at things that will be answered and explored in future pictures, but it should still have a satisfying ending rather than a glaring feeling of being continued. A movie should be enjoyed by being watched on its own, even if it can be enhanced by watching the whole series. Empire Strikes Back sets up Return of the Jedi, but it is a great movie even without the follow-up and has a satisfying end to its specific story. 

Episodes of TV series are far trickier to rate, as by design, they are meant to be chapters of a larger story. You can watch them as stand-alone, but since it is serialized and usually weekly, they are created with an expectation you are engaged in the entire season or series. 

This means when I'm reviewing an episode, there is a lot of caveats when it comes to recommendations or non-recommendations. I trust that what is being hinted at or what is being set-up is going to have a bigger payoff down the line. My appreciation is over how successful the episode makes me want to find out the answers. Often my feelings of a particular episode can't truly be realized and fleshed out until I've seen how an entire season has played out. I may hate a story direction but then several episodes later I recognize why it had to be done. There is a bit of trust in the long-term storytelling that must be displayed, especially when approaching the series premiere, which almost always is about setting the table for the future meals.

This is my far-too-long-winded way of saying that I admit that Stranger in a Strange Land may have lacked a lot of substance and mostly felt like a tease with little happening, but it was a tease towards things that I'm very excited and intrigued to see unravel.

The episode possibly set the tone of the series by presenting and intercutting two stories from different points in Boba Fett's time on Tatooine. One is set directly after the events in Return of the Jedi where we learn how Bob Fett escaped the sarlacc, and he is left barely alive and literally stripped of his power and identity as the Jawas steal his famous armour. This feels much like a classic Western tale or sweeping myth where the hero must find himself and go on an arduous journey to regain his strength and possibly transform to a new person.

The second storyline is set after the second season of The Mandalorian, as we know he does regain his strength and suit, but there are hints he is a very different man from when we first met him in Empire Strikes Back. This one feels more like a crime and gangster tale as Boba Fett takes over Jabba the Hutt's crime empire and tries to establish himself as a new power on Tatooine. The two stories feel like different genres while still holding true to the aesthetic and storytelling style of the Star Wars.

The story of Boba Fett left to die in the desert captures the style of the ancient myth storytelling that drove George Lucas through the original trilogy. After losing his armour, he is captured by the Tusken Raiders, and this is the test for him to truly find his true self. Like many great mythic tales, it is the struggle and obstacle that shapes the lead into a hero. Bob Fett never allows himself to be broken down and he continues to maintain hope while his fellow captive the Rodian is broken and dejected. 

Boba Fett's biggest obstacle arrives in a giant sand monsters that looks like it is straight from Clash of the Titans, which fits with the Greek myth-like vibe. He conquers the beast, saves the life of a Tusken kid, and earns the respect of the tribe. He has found a new place to belong, and likely we will see how his time with this tribe transforms Boba Fett, and leads him to becoming the character in the other storyline

The other story is the weaker one as a narrative, but it is effective at teasing some tantalizing future events and crafts an intriguing world of crime. It also spotlights the fascinating relationship between Boba Fett and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). Both Morrison and Wen bring a quiet confidence and poise to their characters. The soft spoken nature of Fett makes him more threatening, but there is also a sense of compassion to him. Wen brings a strength and confidence to Shand. 

Shand is loyal and trusts Fett, but she doesn't allow him to control her or define her. This feels more like a partnership and one built out of mutual respect rather than creating Shand to be the typical sidekick. Shand expresses her own views and opinions, and fights along side Fett by choice rather than blind duty. She has her own beliefs, values and motives. This creates for an interesting dynamic between the two, and makes Shand one of the stronger female characters in Star Wars.

Maybe it happens in a later episode, but the taking over the crime empire would have been stronger if they had redone or revisited Boba Fett killing Bib Fortuna from the end credit scene in The Mandalorian finale. The moment needs a little background on what power Fortuna had, and why he had taken control of the crime syndicate that had been under Jabba the Hutt's rule. Did Fortuna have respect and power among other crime lords? What are the rules or code where a guy can just shoot the boss and is now be declared owner of the turf? All that stuff is interesting, and hopefully there is intention to flesh it out going forward (again; totally get this hypothesizing is annoying for those that aren't five episodes behind).

The scene where various figures were paying tribute to Boba Fett was great for setting up storylines, establishing the world and being an interesting character moment revealing how he has grown. It also sets up a potential antagonist as a messenger from the Mayor of Mos Espa dares to demand a tribute from Boba Fett. Obviously, the mayor will play a bigger part going forward and won't appreciate not getting any gifts from the new crime boss. The moment reveals how much Fett has changes as he allows the messenger to live despite the thinly veiled threats. It is the first sign of how Boba Fett will be a different leader, as it fits with his later statement of wanting to rule through respect rather than Jabba's method of fear. 

The big action sequence in Mos Espa where Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are surrounded by space ninjas doesn't really work. The battle seems like everyone was dipped in molasses and lacks the visceral explosiveness of his battle with the Clash of the Titans creature from the other time period. It does nail creating mystery as we don't know if it was the mayor's goons or another crime boss trying to take over the territory. The narrative made it clear that despite Boba Fett being calm and confident that he isn't established and still must garner respect.

The episode was effective in setting up several possible challenges to Boba Fett's throne. Like any good crime story, we are left questioning who can we trust. Even the owner of the bar (Jennifer 'Flashdance' Beals) appears to have her own motives and plans. There are several interesting directions to go with many of the characters moving about in Mos Espa and surrounding areas. Will Fett's way of handling things cause conflict with Shand, and does he have any other allies? 

While there are two stories, they are both about finding respect and creating a family. Boba Fett earned the respect of the Sandpeople by saving the youngling. But Boba Fett also found himself a family and he earned the acceptance and companionship that he has been searching to gain ever since losing his father. There was a reason they revisited the scene of a young Boba Fett holding the decapitated head of his father from Attack of the Clones because it establishes that the loss has been haunting him ever since. As it would for anyone with a soul and heart. And this series seems intent on showing Boba Fett has both, even if his ways are violent and dark.

Another moment that spotlights his need for family is when he also shows mercy to the Gamorrean guards after all his allies pushed that it would be smarter to kill them since they were from the old regimes. But his deciions to spare them pays off as they are loyal and protect him from the space ninjas. Boba Fett shows moments of compassion that earns him loyalty, He also show this through his deeper than just business relationship with Shand where both have respect and loyalty for each other even when views differ (like sparring the Gamorreans).

The value of this episode hinges on how future episodes answer the questions and what all this set up leads to in the future. Most of you already know, so you've probably been shouting what has already happened through this long review. But based off what a series premiere is designed to do, this delivers the intrigue, even if we are left wanting so much more. Since there is more to come, that is okay.