TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Since George Lucas unveiled the original "Star Wars" movie in the 1970s, there have been eight additional films in the primary "Star Wars" narrative. There have also been several spinoffs following individual characters, both on film and in television. On TV, the most popular of these has been the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian," which has completed two successful seasons and last week just launched a spinoff series of its own based on a peripheral character from both the movies and "The Mandalorian," bounty hunter Boba Fett. This new TV series, "The Book Of Boba Fett," picks up where a teaser postscript at the end of last season's "Mandalorian" finale left off. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: In one of the final episodes of the brilliant AMC drama series "Breaking Bad," a supporting character named Saul Goodman, a shifty lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk, reveals his secret plan for survival. He'll adopt a new identity and says that, best case, if things work out, he'll be managing a Cinnabon in Omaha. And that's exactly what happened at the start of an equally wonderful spinoff series, "Better Call Saul," which took this peripheral character and made him the star of his own show.
That's also what Jon Favreau, the creator of "The Book Of Boba Fett," is doing with his new Disney+ fantasy series. Favreau directed the first "Iron Man" movie, the one that established the modern Marvel superhero universe, and he also created "The Mandalorian." So he's already worked that same magic for the "Star Wars" universe, as well. And with his new Boba Fett spinoff, he does it again, impressively.
You can get way, way deep into the weeds describing and dissecting this "Star Wars" stuff. After all, there's close to 50 years of on-screen history. But I'll try not to. All you need to know really is that Boba Fett is a bounty hunter who first showed up in "The Empire Strikes Back" and appeared to die in the next film, "Return Of The Jedi." Decades later, in a series of "Star Wars" movie prequels, Boba Fett's father was introduced, played by Temuera Morrison. On TV, Morrison now plays the role of the son, Boba Fett, first in "The Mandalorian" and now in this new series.
In "The Mandalorian," Boba and his fellow bounty hunter, Fennec, helped rescue Baby Yoda from its evil captors and reappeared in a teaser clip at the end of last season to kill another "Star Wars" villain, a descendant of Jabba the Hutt. I know, that seems pretty deep into the weeds already, but stay with me. These are the building blocks for "The Book Of Boba Fett."
The premiere episode was the only one shown to critics, but it's a good one. It's written by Favreau and is one of three episodes directed by Robert Rodriguez, who's really comfortable with action, humor and special effects. "The Book of Boba Fett" is loaded with all three. It explains in flashbacks how Boba escaped death long ago and also picks up the current storyline with Boba and Fennec trying to rule the city after killing its ruthless dictator.
Boba, played by Morrison hopes to establish a more benevolent rule. But his partner, Fennec, has other ideas. She's played by Ming-Na Wen, who already has played one martial arts expert in the ABC series Marvel's "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." and portrays an even tougher character here.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT")
TEMUERA MORRISON: (As Boba Fett) Jabba had many vessels. Got a lot of ground to cover if we are to keep this empire intact.
MING-NA WEN: (As Fennec Shand) I can make the rounds without you. Jabba rarely left his chambers.
MORRISON: (As Boba Fett) Jabba ruled with fear. I intend to rule with respect.
WEN: (As Fennec Shand) If I may.
MORRISON: (As Boba Fett) Speak freely.
WEN: (As Fennec Shand) In difficult times, fear is a sure bet.
BIANCULLI: The biggest name in "The Book Of Boba Fett" so far is guest star Jennifer Beals, who makes a small appearance in the premiere episode. But it's the story and the way it's told that really propels "The Book Of Boba Fett." The first 10 minutes contain no dialogue, which is a bold move, but it works. The characters are well-defined, the action is exciting and the special effects are as good as in any "Star Wars" movie. When Boba Fett squares off against a giant six-limbed lizard creature, that battle scene is better than anything in any "Godzilla" movie, old or new.
The music by Ludwig Goransson, who also provides music for "The Mandalorian," is majestically weird - an odd cross between a John Williams score and a spaghetti western. Many of the same writers and directors from "The Mandalorian" also are doing double duty for "The Book Of Boba Fett." And in my book, that means this latest "Star Wars" chapter is in really good hands.
GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed "The Book Of Boba Fett," which is streaming on Disney+. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Congressman Jamie Raskin. His new memoir is about simultaneously dealing with two traumatic events - his 25-year-old son's death by suicide and the attack on the Capitol. He was the lead manager of the second impeachment of Donald Trump. He's now on the select committee investigating the January 6 attack. I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. I'm Terry Gross.
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