A Note Before We Begin: No, I'm not saying that Boba Fett is a clone of Darth Maul or that Darth Maul comes back and puts on a bucket and a jetpack and reinvents himself. Unclench those nerdy buttocks, fanboys - I'm talking in metaphors and larger pictures here.
As a kid in the 80s, my favorite Star Wars movie was Return of the Jedi. I know, I know. What can I say? It had the most number of weird creatures and monsters and I was always into that. However, 2 of my favorite scenes in the Holy Trilogy came from Empire Strikes Back. The first was the weird, quick-cut Luke in the Wampa cave scenes - again, it was the most like a monster movie and I love me some horror. The second was the gathering of the bounty hunters when Darth Vader is instructing them to bring him Han and the rest. I thought each were so different, unique and interesting. There's lizard guy with the tiny hands (Bossk). Some robots, a bug and a guy with a headwound (IG88, 4LOM, Zuckuss and Dengarr, respectively)! But the one that held my attention was Boba Fett.
He just looked so cool - he was masked like Darth Vader, had a jetpack, plus he got the job done. And did Vader say something about disintegration? Then there's that scene where he's standing with Vader waiting for Leia and Han to take a seat for the most awkward dinner ever. From the moment he showed up in that Imperial Destroyer to when he got slurped down by Jabba's pet giant vagina dentata, Boba Fett left a real impression on me.
And I wasn't the only one.
I didn't know about Fett's exploits in the animated part of the holiday special - this was pre-Internet when Lucas had the ability to purge such things from most of the collective minds of society. I didn't know about any of the comic book adventures or anything else. All I knew was that he looked cool, seemed like a badass and was gone before I knew anymore about him. Fett was an abject lesson in leaving the audience wanting more.
The amount of time in which he features in Star Wars movies is in direct opposite proportion to his staying power figure - Fett is often referenced in everything from Family Guy to Newsradio to even his very own (quite catchy) rap song. Fett left an impression on me and many others in my generation that lasted throughout the years. From humble beginnings in a vanished cartoon segment of suppressed holiday special, Fett endures. For some reason, Fett had his hooks in me and many other nerds and we wanted more.
Of course, when you look at his character now and over analyze the films (as we nerds are wont to do), it's a bit easier to see why Fett was so popular. What are Fett's selling points?
- Cool Design
He didn't get a lot of screentime, but what we couldn't decipher with our VCRs on "PAUSE" we did painstakingly pore over in the toys: Guns, Wrist gauntlet thingies, a jetpack, a helmet with visor and a cape? Sure, none of it really makes a lot of sense from a practical standpoint (jetpack + cape = burn ward), but to kids it was the best parts of all your favorite toys all tied into one thing. Plus you never saw his face - he could be anyone. Never underestimate the power of projection in children. Then when his whole motif was...adopted...by Cobra B.A.T.s so we could see mini-robo-Bobas shooting lasers? He cut a significant jib. Boba Fett looked cool and had the potential of being a complete badass. A complete badass...with a jetpack.
"Competency" in Star Wars villains is relative. While most Stormtroopers were missing their targets no matter how many lasers they fired, or how many planets weren't blown up by the Death Star, or how much rebel scum was able to easily evade invading forces on Hoth, Boba Fett had one task and he. got. shit. done. He tracked Solo for the Empire and then got his scruffy ass to Jabba. That takes care of that. Most antagonists in Star Wars are always botching simple tasks like looking for some droids, inspecting ships, or pulling out of hyperdrive at the adequate time. Not our guy - he proved able to capture our heroes and even got away with it (for a period of time). It's not a complete domination - but in a world of inept villainy, it leaves an impression.
- Doesn't Over Stay His Welcome
Before we got tired of him posing with his laser rifle or his (original) rasping voice became schtick, Fett shuffled off this cinematic coil. Not in the most graceful manner, but few people really come out looking good in Jedi. The point is - before we knew everything about him, or before he did anything to ruin the aura of coolness, he was gone. Yes, he came back in the extended universe - only due to fan demand - but for most of the people, that was the end of Boba Fett. He came, he saw, he got taken out by a blind man in a slapstick-y manner.
Boba Fett was seen by many as the coolest character in Star Wars. He had cool toys and mythic backstories in comics and other books, there was a mystique about him and his origins that people never really knew, wanted to know, but were content with mere conjecture. Hell, they even resurrected him in the extended universe just to sell more books and because people liked him just that much. But, again, all he did was show up, look cool and do one thing semi-competently before dying in a quasi-punk manner.
My Immodest Proposal is that, in the prequels, that role previously filled by Boba Fett...is now played by Darth Maul.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
I'm not saying Darth Maul is as cool as Boba Fett or whatever subjective discussion that will lead to. I'm saying, soon enough, Darth Maul will be serving the same function as Boba. The cool character from a nerdy franchise adorning all sorts of merchandise that is both an insider reference and yet one everyone knows him. Let's review the same three aspects:
- Looks Good
You can fault Lucas for many many many many many things in the prequels. Many things. But character design isn't one of them. They may be stupid or cookie cutter, but Lucas learned his lesson about merchandising and licensing well from the original trilogy and so he employed that marketing insight when designing these characters. Enter Darth Maul, the byproduct of Satan having sex with all of KISS - yes, even Peter Criss. Darth Maul looks great - he looks like...well, Evil. You don't know much about him on screen - I'm sure there's extended novels and comics and video games that show him growing up as a child and being sad. But all we know is that he is red as brimstone, dressed like a ninja and he wields the one weapon that's cooler than a lightsaber...TWO LIGHTSABERS. When it comes time for stencils, tattoos, hoodies, undies and all the rest - of all the new to prequel characters, Maul's visage is the one most likely to show up.
- Displays Competency
Again - it's all relative. All the other antagonists in Phantom Menace are offensive Asian caricatures and tinker toy robots that conduct hilarious side business with each other. They look like q-tips, but act like people - it's funny just writing about it! Then in comes Darth Maul, gets in a couple of fracases (fracum?) with the Jedi, competently holding his own, and manages to kill one of them. He showboats, sure, but his one job - fuck up the Jedi - is fairly accomplished by the end of the movie. And since Darth Sidious' plan kind of calls for him to die and for Obi Wan to train Anakin, I guess it still goes in the W column? That whole manipulation stuff doesn't make any sense and is hard to parse, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say that by killing Qui Gon he demonstrates an ability to get shit done. Dude straight up takes out Darkman and is almost going to do the same to Trainspotting...
- Dies Quickly
Until #3 rears its ugly head (No offense, Maul). So he shows up, gets 1...maybe 2?...lines, plays with Ra's Al Ghul in the desert, dances and prances like a Klub Kid with a new glow stick, plays grabass with the Brothers Jedi, kills one of the heroes, and then just as quickly dies. It's a little more instant karma than Boba Fett, but it's still the idea of leaving the audience wanting more. Who was he? Why did he look like the devil? And for most people, the answers don't lie in the extended universe of novels or comics or whatever. He came, he killed, he rests in pieces.
So Lucas succeeded in spite of himself in creating another possibly enduring character in his prequel nightmares using the exact same three point criteria. What makes the whole damn thing ironic is that Boba Fett is literally in the prequels. So Boba Fett (Prequels) is no longer Boba Fett (the icon from original trilogy).
What's more, in a move that seems at least partially dripping in massive resentment, Lucas got a little Lane Meyer with Boba Fett and said "Everybody wants Fett? I'll show what everybody wants!" So he "revealed" that all of the Stormtroopers were Boba Fett - since they are all clones of Jango Fett (Boba included). He retroactively undid everything that people liked about Boba Fett. He systematically approached those three points and attacked:
- Cool Design: The Clone Troopers uniforms are a melding of Stormtroopers' and Boba Fett's designs - watering down the cooler of the two products (Fett) while not making the Stormtroopers at all cool.
- Competent: So you know how I was making fun of Stormtroopers and using them as a counterweight to Fett's effectiveness? Yeah. So that's a wash when the people that surround him, making him look good, are also him. Also, this undercuts that whole "competent at job" stuff.
- Doesn't Overstay His Welcome: Well, Stormtroopers are in all of the movies, all of the time, fucking up shit and then getting roughed up by the Care Bear Bunch. The reports of Fett's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Lucas unwittingly repeated his recipe for a successful, appealing and enduring mysterious villain while - in the same series of movies - undid everything that made his original mysterious villain successful, appealing and enduring. As Lucas giveth, he taketh away.
But Boba Fett is still an enduring character, even if he is getting a bit played out. And maybe Darth Maul won't even be remembered, let alone jettisoned to cult status as his bounty hunter ancestor before him. Maybe the entire prequel will fade away into the mists of time transforming into legend and rumor. Who knows?
It's pretty impossible to figure out what characters will click with audiences and what will stay in the cultural consciousness through the years. I'm sure the Corporate Middle Managers that shat out Mac and Me focus tested the hell out of those aliens, but they don't show up on shirts or skateboards or anything - they only appear in people's nightmares. I'm sure everyone thought Ralph Malph was the breakout star of Happy Days until Fonzie "Ayyyyyed" his way into the hearts of millions.
I'm just saying, in about 10 years or so, if Darth Maul starts getting referenced on your favorite Holosuite Program or your kid's hoverboard has his face on it - don't be all that surprised. It's just a little bit of history repeating itself.