The Book of Boba Fett, Chapter 1: Stranger in a Strange Land
Director – Robert Rodriguez
Cast – Temuera Morrison, Ming-Na Wen
Rating – 2.5/5
With little plot progression and minimal momentum, the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, the second live-action Star Wars series on Disney+, is an ordinary half-hour that is let down by the man chosen to direct it.
After hustling for so many years, Robert Rodriguez found himself in the rather impressive position of not having to go hat in hand to Hollywood anymore, but having Hollywood come to him. He’s spent the better part of the last decade making movies in his own backyard, using green screen soundstages and a scrappy mentality that gives him and his investors a bang for their buck. This makes Rodriguez, in a rather roundabout manner, the ideal candidate to lead the directorial team on a Star Wars show filmed entirely during a pandemic, on state-of-the-art digital sets.
Having re-introduced the fan-favourite bounty hunter in that excellent season two episode of The Mandalorian—The Tragedy—Rodriguez brings his trademark Rebel Without a Crew aesthetic to the pilot episode of The Book of Boba Fett, titled Stranger in a Strange Land.
At just over 30 minutes long, it isn’t the sort of supersized season premiere that Jon Favreau (who serves as creator and head writer) directed over on The Mandalorian a couple of years ago. Both in visual scale and narrative heft, Stranger in a Strange Land is curiously contained. Not much happens, and those expecting a Baby Yoda-level twist will be sorely disappointed. It’s too early to tell, but there are no signs of thematic ambition either. There are no throwaway comments about faith and honour, and Stranger in a Strange Land has all the spirituality of a highway Burger King.
After an opening scene brimming with fan service—the first few minutes are devoted to Boba Fett’s escape from the Sarlacc Pit—the episode leaps back and forth in time as the bounty hunter struggles to fit in to his new position as the chief of Mos Espa, after having taken over from Jabba the Hutt and his aide Bib Fortuna.
Favreau’s hyper-lean screenplay—I’m willing to wager it doesn’t exceed more than 15 pages—is undone by interminable stretches of inactivity. This shouldn’t be confused with the poetic Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone-inspired style that the filmmaker perfected on The Mandalorian.
But there’s a marked difference in how he handles his scripts, and what someone like Rodriguez does to them. While Favreau brought a Spielbergian sense of awe to the Star Wars universe, Rodriguez’s interpretation is more grimy, more ground-level. You won’t find stray shots of ruined Star Destroyers here; Rodriguez, instead, has a noticeable kinship for the scum and villainy of the galaxy far, far away. They’re rapscallions, just like him.
You can sense Rodriguez’s glee when he gets to film with puppets, or use stop-motion animation. It brings a very interesting retro energy to an episode that must have easily cost more than the biggest Bollywood blockbusters of this year.
The episode rarely leaves Boba Fett’s side, which, in hindsight, seems like a rather restrictive move for a show that will surely have to expand its horizons in the upcoming six episodes. Nor does it give Boba Fett any sort of mission to complete, or an objective to fulfil. Think of it as watching a weary traveller settle into their hotel room after a long trip. Roughly half of the episode is a long-ish flashback, while the ‘present day’ bits focus on Boba Fett strutting about Mos Espa and stirring up all sorts of (minor) trouble.
“Jabba ruled with fear, I intend to rule with respect,” he declares in one scene, before being ambushed by a bunch of goons and engaging in a low-stakes scuffle. He rejects the idea of projecting his power by having servants carry him about town, but chooses to walk instead—it’s the Star Wars equivalent of a modern-day politician choosing to take the Mumbai local instead of a chopper. He also spares the lives of a couple of foot-soldiers who were loyal to the previous regime. I imagine this might come into play, one way or another, in a future episode.
It had better, because Stranger in a Strange Land doesn’t leave you with much to hold on to—either emotionally or thematically. The bar has been raised by The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett will need to radically reinvent itself, unless it wants to be left for dead in the middle of a pop-culture desert.