Two Samurai: The Mandalorian 1.4

In this episode, our intrepid bounty hunter attempts to find safe haven for his young ward, leading him to accept a job protecting a small farming village in exchange for lodging. It doesn’t work out as planned.

The Mandalorian seems like a man hungry for connection. He didn’t seem to quite fit in with his fellow Mandalorians, even though they aided him in the end. (It turns out that he’s adopted into the clan.) He was betrayed by his fellow bounty hunters–or I guess you could say he betrayed them by breaking the rules of the guild, but he saved a small child from torture and death, and they were motivated by greed in hunting him down, so it’s clear to me that they wronged him and not the other way around. But he was so quick to find a connection with the kid, and with Kuiil, and now with Cara Dune and the capable widow of the farming village (do we ever learn her name? I didn’t catch it). We learn that the Mandalorians gave him a community and a family when he had none, taking him in after the death of his parents, but the burden to remain separate and apart from others, to always keep his armor on and to never reveal his face, weighs heavily on him. Perhaps he was just too old to become a good Mandalorian, just like Anakin was too old to become a good Jedi, but it seems like he is increasingly wearied by those cultural obligations.

The structure of the episode’s main plot pulls heavily from the Samurai/Western roots of Star Wars, serving up a variant of the plot seen in Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven and, more recently, the “Bounty Hunters” episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The structure is obvious, but the episode keeps its focus largely on the Mandalorian and his foster child; the adventure protecting the farmers is just one step in their journey, as the Mandalorian considers finding a safe place for at least one of them.

Another influence appears to be Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. The pirate raiders who live in the woods have a general aesthetic and purpose that appears to be half-Marauder, half-orc. The planet inhabited by the farmers and raiders, with its temperate forests and calm waterways, evokes Endor. Even the farmers’ residences are at least slightly reminiscent of concept art for the Ewok abodes in Return of the Jedi.

The raiders in the episode appear to be Klatooinian, but it’s hard for me to shake the impression of visual and thematic connectivity to that old Ewok movie.

We’re now halfway through this season, and I’m beginning to wonder if we ever will get bigger answers about just who and what Baby Yoda is. It’s seeming increasingly unimportant to the story being told here, where Baby Yoda is part MacGuffin and part softening agent for the protagonist. I could easily see the next four episodes telling a story of continued flight before the Mandalorian finally tries to take the fight to those who want this child so badly.

Fairly weak Forces of Destiny

I watched Star Wars: Forces of Destiny this weekend, making me remarkably up-to-date for once on a Star Wars project that doesn’t involve a theatrical release. It’s a fun little concept, with one-off adventures focusing mostly on the heroic ladies of the Star Wars galaxy. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag.

I thought some episodes, particularly the ones involving Leia, were pretty engaging, but all in all they didn’t really show or tell anything vital. All style, no substance. It’s the nature of this micro-episode format, but I already have a more interesting point of comparison: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. Those super-short episodes still managed to have something substantial to say and were incredibly effective at packing in a lot even within bite-sized chunks. I suppose the comparison is not entirely fair, since Tartakovsky’s series had a long-form story being told across episodes, while Forces of Destiny is just a scattered collection of one-offs. But it does seem like the creators want the comparison to be made, with an animation style that apes the stylized visuals and minimalist animation of the preexisting property. Even here Forces of Destiny feels distinctly less than; the animation falls flat, more along the lines of an amateur Flash video than a true spiritual successor to Clone Wars, and many of the character models were just sort of ugly. I was especially unhappy with the smooshed-up look on Anakin Skywalker’s face.

In short, I wanted to like the show, and what I could like I did, but there was a lot that I was not a fan of. This is especially disappointing in contrast to the continually great Rebels. While I think it’s fantastic to give more screen time to women in genre fiction, including in Star Wars, I would point to Filoni’s work with The Clone Wars or Rebels, or the new movies coming out, or many of the new-canon books, as better examples. Women should be in the story to do things, not to simply highlight the fact that they are women; diversity should not be synonymous with tokenism.

My final concern is that while Star Wars has always been used to sell merchandising, Forces of Destiny appears to exist only as a catalyst for the resultant merchandising. Even the press release announcing the series premiere concludes as follows:

A new short will premiere online each day at 10 a.m. PT, culminating with their broadcast debut on Disney Channel, Sunday, July 9; books, apparel, bedding, and toys based on the series will arrive August 1

Maybe this concern is a little silly, given that Star Wars has always been commercial, but normally the franchise has been more than just a vehicle to sell stuff.

Oh, by the way, and as evidenced by my header image, IG-88 is briefly in the series, in “Bounty of Trouble.” IG-88 is shown to be…fairly incompetent here. Further support for my theory that the Empire bounty hunters are far from the best, just the closest and most desperate!

Maybe not the galaxy’s greatest

I’ve never really been active in any fan community. At best, I’ve been on the periphery. Suits me fine. But I am an observer, and from the periphery I’ve been observing the Star Wars fandom, especially through Twitter, more and more. The people I follow are people I like, with interesting things to say; they generally have warm, positive attitudes, which is impressive for an impersonal venue like Twitter. My little bubble blinded me to a lot of the gross, hateful elements of fandom, however.

My bubble’s been burst a little bit. I’ve watched from the periphery as fanboys flailed about in rage, insulted by the very idea that someone would publicly announce, in the context of an off-hand tweet, that they thought Boba Fett was boring. I have no role in that conversation, and I’m not going to involve myself there. It doesn’t affect me at all. But it did remind me of the toxicity and rigid adherence to nostalgia that fan communities so often become consumed by.

Again, I have nothing to say about that larger discussion. It has nothing to do with me, and it’s not my place. But it did make me reflect on my own engagement with Star Wars. While I try to critically engage any property, no matter how much I love it, at some point views do calcify. With something like Star Wars, where I’ve had exposure since a young age, it can be surprising to realize that my views have crystallized, sometimes in ways that would never have occurred to me.

I thought about Boba Fett in particular. I don’t love Fett, but I have (typically) thought he was a cool character. I started thinking about Fett and some of the other small, supporting characters I loved in The Empire Strikes Back, thinking about why I liked them, and trying to reexamine them from different angles.

Background characters from the film that I’ve been especially fond of are Admiral Piett, the bounty hunters, and General Veers. While I still like the characters, and I think they serve their roles well, I realized they may be less a collection of the galaxy’s most badass and more a collection of the galaxy’s…most simply bad. (Note that I’m evaluating the characters here based on the new canon, so things like Boba’s death-defying crawl from the Sarlacc are simply irrelevant to these versions of the characters).

databank_admiralpiett_01_169_18014135.jpegPiett’s an easy example of how my uncritical childhood fandom obscured flaws. I saw him as a survivor, someone who could course-correct and avoid the pompous ego of Admiral Ozzel. He seemed to have a healthy respect for Vader. And the fact that he made it to Return of the Jedi indicated (to child-me) that he was capable.

But really, Piett is a bumbling idiot. He gets promoted to Admiral by Vader not because of quality but because he happens to be the highest-ranking officer aboard the ship after Ozzel is killed. While it may be unfair to blame Piett for the many escaped rebel ships in the aftermath of the Hoth invasion, since he was left with what could be salvaged of Ozzel’s failed plan, he led a very ineffective search for the Millennium Falcon. And while it was Captain Needa’s crew that was fooled by Han’s quick flying, Piett did not uncover the deception. Nor did his fleet find Han–the bounty hunters he dismissed as scum did that job. And he fails to properly carry out Vader’s orders on Bespin: his troops fail to secure the prisoners, his technicians fail to droid-proof their sabotage of the Falcon, and his crew fails to seize the freighter before it makes its jump to hyperspace. Piett surely escapes death at Vader’s hands for the mounting failures only because the Dark Lord is distracted by his encounter with his son.

Then in Jedi, Piett dies, the whole of the Executor along with him, because he only recognizes the weakness to forward defenses in a reactionary fashion. He is emblematic of every other Imperial officer who fails to adequately assess the ability of the rebels until it is far too late.

He’s a decent military officer in the sense that he can comply with orders, he doesn’t seem to get a big ego (at first), and he manages to stay on Darth Vader’s good side. But he’s not a great officer, nor a clever tactician, nor even a challenging foe.

bountyhuntersAs with Piett, so with the bounty hunters. A couple of droids and a bunch of low-lifes in mismatched armor and bandages, the group does manage to at least look cool. But none of them do anything. I always viewed Boba Fett as a badass for two reasons: (1) the “no disintegrations” line, and (2) his capture of Solo. Not that his Return of the Jedi death by way of jetpack malfunction did much to help his image. But even the two reasons I’ve cited can be easily weakened. As many have pointed out, Darth Vader could be warning Fett, not because of lethal efficiency, but because the bounty hunter has a history of messy screw-ups and virtually-impossible-to-identify bounties. As for the second reason, and I’m surprised that I never realized this (or heard the theory circulated, not that I looked), but the only reason that Fett realized Solo’s trick and could find him amid the emptying garbage of the Star Destroyer is that Obi-Wan had pulled a similar disappearing trick on the back side of an asteroid during Boba’s formative years. Given that Obi-Wan’s escape soon after resulted in a sequence of events that left Boba’s father dead, the boy probably would have remembered it. Boba was not necessarily a skilled tracker; his prey just so happened to use the one trick that any prequel viewer would know he is very explicitly aware of.

The Clone Wars also establish Boba and his fellow bounty hunters as a lot of losers, for the most part. In “Death Trap,” Boba repeatedly fails at a covert mission to assassinate Mace Windu. Bossk, Boba, and their companions also screw up another attempt to take down Mace Windu in “R2 Come Home.” Bossk and Boba end up captured in the following episode. Bossk and Dengar fail to escort moving cargo in “Bounty,” and that same episode sees Boba outdone by Asajj Ventress. In short, they’re definitely not top-notch hunters like Cad Bane.

With a relative dearth of writing about the Empire bounty hunters in the new canon, we have not fully seen their stories developed. What there is remains mixed. For example, Boba is shown to be a brutal hunter when tracking down Luke in the Star Wars comics, although he fails to capture the boy in the ensuing confrontation.

On further reflection, I kind of like the idea that the bounty hunters are not aboard the Executor because they are the best, but instead simply because they could get there the fastest. Perhaps they’re just a bunch of desperate Outer Rim lowlifes who could hop into orbit around Hoth to get the mission almost immediately after the end of the battle because they were already in a nearby backwater sector.

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So that leaves General Veers for reexamination. What are his flaws?

Um, none. He’s an awesome bad guy. He successfully leads a massive Imperial land victory even after the Imperial Navy screw-up on approach. He obeys orders and keeps a cool head. He delivers. He’s great.

 

My kind of scum

Bounty hunters and other such miscreants have long ranked among my favorite Star Wars characters. Just for fun, and as a follow-up to my last post, I’m going to list my top five favorite Star Wars bounty hunters.

1. Cad Bane

cadbaneHe’s intelligent, cool, calm, and collected. He’s ruthless and effective. He plans jobs that actually work, and when things do sometimes fall through, he can make an escape. And he can stand up to Jedi in a fight. Not to mention he just has an awesome outfit that evokes Old West-style bounty hunters. Everything about Cad Bane is cool. Cad, Ahsoka, and Hondo Ohnaka are my favorite characters to be introduced by The Clone Wars TV show.

2.  Dengar

dengarDengar looks so pathetic in his first appearance. An ugly, scarred, weary, and washed-up human held together by bandages and spray-painted stormtrooper armor. He looks like tragedy personified. Dengar has always seemed like a character deserving an origin in film noir style.

Dengar did have a dark origin story in the Legends continuity. A former swoop racer who was severely injured in a race with Han Solo, Dengar reformed himself as a lethal assassin and bounty hunter with a burning desire for vengeance against the smuggler. Dead-eyed and dangerous, Dengar nonetheless was allowed a character arc that granted him love, empathy, and redemption. Dengar could be scary, but he was allowed growth in a way that most of the more archetypal bounty hunters never had.

In the new canon, Dengar seems a lot warmer character with a comic relief sense of humor and a great sense of loyalty to his team–or at least, to whichever team he’s currently contracted to. His flirty, playboy nature means he’s still a winner in my books.

3. Sugi

sugiSugi is an interesting sort of bounty hunter. She’s more a mercenary for hire than a flat-out bounty hunter in most of her depictions. She also has more heart than most of the bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe. Yes, she’s in it for the money, but she’s shown herself to be loyal to her squad, a good leader, and inclined to work for good causes (like protecting an innocent farming community or helping Wookiees to rescue Trandoshan prisoners).

While Sugi doesn’t have much screen time, I like the idea of a transparently noble bounty hunter. After all, collecting fugitives and criminals does not require one to be evil, cruel, or prone to excessive violence! It would be interesting to see more stories with Sugi–maybe even some ones where she actually does the bounty hunting her job description would suggest!

4. Boba Fett

bobafettquestionsOf course Boba Fett makes the list somewhere, right? He’s the bounty hunter who tracks down Han-freaking-Solo, after all. He’s disciplined, professional, and to the point. He gets the job done right and doesn’t waste time on words. He’s so dangerous that Darth Vader has to specifically warn him against disintegrations. And his inclusion in the Special Edition of A New Hope makes it seem like he’s long been someone Jabba has relied on.

But there are many reasons why Boba Fett ranks relatively low for me for a bounty hunter of such widespread fan renown. Principally, it was hard to take Boba Fett seriously when he died in such an embarrassingly stupid way in Return of the Jedi (even if he did later tear himself out of the Sarlacc in the Legends continuity).

Furthermore, his backstory as developed in Attack of the Clones was certainly underwhelming, and making him a clone of one of the greatest bounty hunters of all time–and a genetic match with basically all clone troopers–makes him far less special or significant. All of his accomplishments, at this point, must be compared to those of his father. But even before this backstory development, Boba Fett’s backstory has always been confusing, and his behavior and motivations have shifted from writer to writer. Sometimes he seems more noble, sometimes he seems like a psychopath. So many people have taken a turn at Boba Fett that his character had become quite muddled well before the continuity reboot. On top of that, he appeared in too many of the Star Wars video games–typically in some confrontation requiring you to defeat the allegedly mighty hunter. And as he is an heir to Mandalorian culture, he was rather burdened with the constantly changing, overly involved lore tied into that group. There was a time when it seemed that Mandalorians were everywhere, and they were fast becoming a superheroic band of always honorable, super-badass, nigh-unstable warriors. Amid that backdrop, I had both Mandalorian fatigue and Boba Fett fatigue.

Still, Boba Fett has been reformed into a formidable figure once more. With the new canon, all the backstory associated with Boba and the Mandalorians has been stripped away, leaving only Episode II. And The Clone Wars TV show actually used Young Boba to good effect, showing just what sort of violent and sociopathic figure would be formed if trained to be a bounty hunter by the top guy in the business basically since birth. The ongoing Marvel Star Wars comic series has also put Boba Fett to good use. He’s ruthless, casually violent, and quite effective.

As long as he’s used minimally in the new canon, and as long as they keep displaying him in a consistent manner, as a cold, competent badass, I’m on board with the new Boba Fett.

5. Calo Nord

Calo_Nord_profile.png

Calo is a fairly simple archetypal bounty hunter in Knights of the Old Republic, but he’s used very effectively. You first encounter him in a cantina, where he’s harrassed by some idiotic Rodian thugs. Calo gives them to the count of three before he calmly eradicates them. If you initiate contact with him, he gives you the same three-second count, and it’s clear enough what will happen if you push it. This moment alone establishes him as the force behind a looming confrontation to be feared. Calo is the top enforcer to crime boss Davik Kang, and when you visit Davik’s estate, you can find further testament to Calo’s abilities, including a trophy room complete with a rancor head–and a journal detailing how Calo nabbed the beast. He is seemingly killed in his first encounter with you, as part of a hangar ceiling collapses on top of him, but he proves to be a pernicious foe and a good initial rival. When he catches up with your character later on, it’s genuinely intimidating.

He’s a perfect Boba Fett analogue to challenge the protagonist. But because he is basically an echo of Fett, he’ll always be lesser.

Bonus: IG-88ig_88_cdd5cc52

IG-88 intrigues a lot of people, but at the end of the day it’s an assassin droid. There are plenty of those. They are programmed to kill. There is not much mystery built into a droid that simply fulfills its programming. And it’s not as quirky a concept as a renegade protocol droid, like 4-LOM (or C-3PX, or Triple-Zero). Plus, IG-88 was everywhere in the late nineties and early aughts–consequently, he was also destroyed a lot, for instance in comics and in the Shadows of the Empire video game. IG-88 gets a mention here because of just how wild his Legends backstory got in “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88,” by Kevin J. Anderson. In this backstory, IG-88 was actually a line of experimental assassin droids; one of the droids gained consciousness, killed the lab staff, and inserted his personality into a few duplicates. The IG-88 gang then attempted to foment a droid rebellion. The multiple apparent deaths of IG-88 actually all fit together after all, as each destroyed droid was a separate IG-88. In what is to me one of the goofiest moments in all of Star Wars, the primary (and last surviving) IG-88 infiltrated the second Death Star and uploaded his personality into the battle station, only to be destroyed before he could act further on his plans. It’s so weird, I just love it! Since nothing in the new canon explicitly contradicts most of “Therefore I Am,” I honestly still keep it as super-delightful headcanon.

Bounty Hunters!

I’ve always thought the bounty hunters presented in The Empire Strikes Back were so cool. Most of them were wrapped in heavy armor or obscuring layers. Two of them are apparently autonomous bounty hunter droids! They all looked weary and dangerous and mysterious. And, except for Boba Fett, the single introductory scene with Darth Vader is the only time that these bounty hunters appear in the film. It’s easy to quickly conjure up interesting potential stories about these characters and their exploits; so much intriguing character is visually communicated in a moment, and yet they largely remain blank slates.

As a kid, Tales of the Bounty Hunters was my favorite Star Wars anthology because it gave these characters some stories, some insight into their personalities. The “canon” status of those stories was gradually eroded; Greedo was old enough to confront Anakin in The Phantom Menace so not an overconfident young hotshot when he confronted Han Solo in the cantina, and Boba Fett was a clone of Jango so most certainly not a former lawman named Jaster Mereel. It hardly mattered, as even before the old EU became Legends these were legends about bad, dangerous men, the kind of wild stories and whispered rumors you could imagine being told about them.

Anyway. I mention the bounty hunters today because I’ve only just realized how much the characters changed between page and screen. The novelizations often diverged from the finished films, so I noted the discrepancy but did not see it as significant when Donald Glut described the gang as follows:

[A] particularly bizarre assortment of fortune hunters, including Bossk, whose soft, baggy face gawked at Vader with huge bloodshot orbs. Next to Bossk stood Zuckuss and Dengar, two human types, battle-scarred by innumerable, unspeakable adventures. A battered and tarnished chrome-colored droid named IG-88 was also with the group, standing next to the notorious Boba Fett. A human bounty hunter, Fett was known for his extremely ruthless methods. He was dressed in a weapon-covered, armored spacesuit, the kind worn by a group of evil warriors defeated by the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars. A few braided scalps completed his unsavory image.

Compare those descriptions to the actual appearance of the mercenaries:

bountyhunters

Not exactly the same thing.

I’ve mentioned that I love to leaf through Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, reading snippets of interviews or plot summaries from older drafts, and occasionally checking dialogue. I’d noticed in the past that even where something was suggested to be improvised on set, it was typically recorded in the screenplay, so I had assumed that it matched the film more or less one to one. I’ve been going through The Annotated Screenplays in my first attempt to read them sequentially, and I was surprised to see that the bounty hunter scene did not really match the film in description:

The group standing before Vader is a bizarre array of galactic fortune hunters: There is Bossk, a slimy, tentacled monster with two huge, bloodshot eyes in a soft baggy face; Zuckuss and Dengar, two battle-scarred, mangy human types; IG-88, a battered, tarnished chrome war droid; 4-LOM, a bounty hunter, and Boba Fett, a man in a weapon-covered armored spacesuit.

Besides the inclusion of 4-LOM, the screenplay basically matches the novelization rather than the film!

This prompted me to recognize a rather large gap in my knowledge regarding the production of the films. How were the bounty hunters designed? I knew that Boba Fett originally appeared in the Star Wars Holiday Special, and I’d seen the little cartoon in that program with Boba Fett in it, but that was it. The Annotated Screenplays include some discussion about the design of Boba Fett by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, but it’s limited to Boba Fett alone. Wookieepedia provided a little clarity: each of the articles for the bounty hunters has a brief description of the design development or portrayal of the characters, and some have cool concept art.  See Bossk, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, IG-88, and Dengar, and check the Legends tabs for a little more Behind the Scenes details. Still, I imagine that out there somewhere, perhaps scattered over a few different books and interviews and commentaries, is a more complete picture of the development of these characters. I just don’t know where!