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A Brief History of Boba Fett: Creator Joe Johnston on the Character’s Origins and Evolution

The filmmaker speaks with TheWrap about how Boba Fett came about, as we run down the character’s complete history

“The Book of Boba Fett” is Disney+’s latest live-action “Star Wars” series, following in the footsteps of the service’s breakout hit “The Mandalorian.” Like “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett” follows a bounty hunter in iconic armor, only this time the character wearing the armor is one well known to “Star Wars” fans and casual viewers alike – an imposing figure who first appeared in the franchise in 1978 and made his big screen debut in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.”

But if you aren’t sure of Boba Fett’s complicated origin, where he went after the original trilogy, and how he wound up with his own Disney+ series, fear not. Given the series’ less-than-linear progression, a level of confusion is understandable.

A brief disclaimer: this will be a look at Boba Fett’s film and television appearances and will forgo anytime he showed up in a comic book, novel, videogame, or toy set. This is mostly because much of this material has been relegated to “Legends” status outside the official canon and also because it’s just very confusing.

Mysterious Origins

Empire Strikes Back

Work on the character who eventually became Boba Fett began in 1978, less than a year after George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” opened theatrically and captured the zeitgeist. TheWrap spoke to Joe Johnston, who originally designed the character and went on to direct films like “The Rocketeer,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The design of Boba Fett at first wasn’t supposed to be a one-off but a fleet of “what George called super troopers.”

“They were like upgraded stormtroopers. They were supposed to have all these weapons and rocket packs and all this stuff. But it turned out that they didn’t quite have the budget for an army of super troopers. But we had the one suit. They had the prototype suit. George said, ‘Take the suit,’” Johnston explained. “It was a white bodysuit unlike this… The stormtroopers had a black bodysuit with the white plastic armor on top of it. This was a white body suit with the white plastic armor. So, I think that was originally an attempt to make them look different, if it was supposed to look like 6,000 super troopers running across the landscape.”

Lucas had a simple fix: take the suit that they had already built and turn it into something else. “He said, ‘Let’s make him a bounty hunter,’ but he wasn’t. George had already decided of course what he was going to be. Although there was nothing in the script about it at all,” Johnston said. The scene where Boba Fett is introduced in “The Empire Strikes Back,” where Darth Vader addresses a small group of bounty hunters, sending them after Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and the rest of the fleeing rebels? “There was none of that,” Johnston said.

After the decision was made to make him a standalone character, Lucas went back to the script. “That all came after the decision was made not to spend the money on an army of super troopers,” Johnston said. “At that point George went back and started writing him into the script. And it wasn’t called Boba Fett.”

By the end of 1978, Boba Fett would make his first appearance, as part of the inglorious “Star Wars Holiday Special,” which aired on November 17, 1978 and never again. If you’ve seen that version of the character, played by Canadian voice actor Don Francks (who would reprise his role for the now non-canon 1985 animated series “Droids”), you’ve probably noticed that while the design is very similar to what ended up in “The Empire Strikes Back,” his color (and the specifics of his design) differ greatly. The iconic color scheme we know and love was another Johnston creation.

At the time, Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects company founded by Lucas for the first “Star Wars” movie, was in the process of moving to Northern California from its Southern California outpost. The art department for “Empire Strikes Back” was, as Johnston states, “in a house, behind George’s house where he lived.” With the ILM team down south caught up in “Battlestar Galactica,” Johnston headed north to the new facility, since it was the only place he could spray paint and get messy. He still remembers the directions he was given: “George said, ‘If we’re going to make him a bounty hunter, just make him look unique, like he found this outfit and scrounged a few pieces. And it’s old and beat up. And don’t make it look like it’s a prototype suit for anything. It’s just sort of this outfit.’”

Johnston found a bunch of Floquil paints, usually used for painting miniature railroads. “They all had names like Santa Fe Orange and Burlington Northern Green, you know, stuff like that,” Johnston said. He used the paint straight out of the bottle, mixing them together to “get more interesting colors.” He painted the all-white prototype that had been developed. Of course, they needed to make more (Johnston estimates there were ultimately five or six versions of the suit made). “I really pitied those people, because I didn’t save any paint samples, I didn’t label anything. I mixed colors together and just sprayed it on. So they had to go and try to figure out how to match all those colors,” Johnston said.

All of the details of Fett’s costume were invented by Johnston – the wheat insignia on his chest, the braid of hair (later said to be Wookiee hair), the skull. “I made all that stuff up,” Johnston said. “Because I figured, let’s make him mysterious. Let’s not use anything we’ve seen before. And I had names for all that stuff. Most of them I’ve forgotten. But that wheat thing is called the Venom Vine. And on one of his shoulder pads he’s got, it’s like a skull of some creature. That’s all just out of nowhere.” After George told him to “make him look cool,” he was hands off. (Johnston thinks that he was either in the UK or busy working on the screenplay for “The Empire Strikes Back.”)

Even before he appeared in the Christmas special, Boba Fett made an appearance, in the flesh, at a local parade. On Sept. 24, 1978, Boba Fett (the actual costume that would appear in “The Empire Strikes Back”) walked in the San Anselmo Country Fair parade. Johnston remembers it well.

“That was Duwayne Dunham. Who was at the time an assistant editor on ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ But I think he later became an editor and director in his own right. I’d see him at the reunions,” Johnston said. “We dressed him up and he walks through it in the parade just as sort of an introduction to the character.” True to his mysterious origins, Boba Fett just showed up in a parade one day.

Fett appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back” and later in “Return of the Jedi,” where he is seen delivering the frozen slab of carbonite containing Han Solo to crime lord Jabba the Hutt. In both films he’s played by Jeremy Bulloch (who passed away last year) and voiced by Jason Wingreen. (Retroactively, Lucas added him to the “special edition” version of “Star Wars,” where he’s played by ILM animator Mark Austin.) In “Return of the Jedi” Boba Fett meets his fate when he is plunged into the Sarlacc pit, a toothsome maw in the Tattooine desert, to be “slowly digested for a thousand years.” Or so it seemed …

Prequel Fever

Star Wars Attack of the Clones

Around the same time that he inserted Boba Fett into “Star Wars,” Lucas began working on a new trilogy of films known as “the prequels.” Perhaps sensing Fett’s continued legacy as a cult character that fans were intrinsically drawn to, Lucas teased that Boba Fett would become a part of this new arc, which would chart young Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, but was fuzzy on the details. While Lucas planned on a storyline involving Anakin and Boba Fett being biological brothers (!), that never came to pass, although the character is still present in the newer films. The aura of mystery that made the character so impactful, however, would soon be gone.

In 2002’s “Attack of the Clones,” a young Boba Fett is revealed to be the “son” of bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who the Republic is using to produce an army of clone soldiers. Boba is an unaltered clone, closer biologically to an actual son to Jango. Boba is a young child in the film, played by actor Daniel Logan. When Jango is killed by Jedi Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Boba is seen mourning next to his dad’s Mandalorian helmet. “Attack of the Clones” also establishes that Boba Fett’s stylish spaceship the Slave I (now simply known in the Disney era as “Boba Fett’s Spaceship”) was once Jango’s.

Lucas had plans for Boba Fett to return in 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith” (the third and final film in the so-called prequel trilogy). Concept art exists for the character in “Revenge of the Sith,” but Boba Fett didn’t make the final cut. Supposedly Fett would have joined with Separatists (under Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku) and hunted down Windu for beheading his father. While this would have been a cool plot thread and added some much-needed emotion to “Revenge of the Sith,” it didn’t happen. Mace Windu was ultimately killed by the villainous Emperor. Ain’t that a Sith.

Animation and Beyond

Boba Fett Visions

In 2008, George Lucas launched “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a computer-animated series set around the time of the prequels. While the storyline involving Boba Fett (and indeed, the Mandalorians) is too complicated and unnecessarily knotty (and, if we’re being honest, sort of boring), it is worth mentioning that Daniel Logan, who played the character in “Attack of the Clones,” reprised his role. And that elements of the plot that Lucas had originally envisioned for the third film in the prequel trilogy would be deployed, namely his attempt to get revenge on Mace Windu. Ultimately, he turns out to be more of an antihero than a straight-up villain, and while he is sentenced to prison for the attempt, he vows to never forgive the Jedi master.

While Johnston would publicly suggest making a Boba Fett movie that he could potentially direct, he said that he had never worked out what the plot of his Boba Fett movie would have been. “I never really got much involved. I got busy with other things and I sort of left all that behind,” Johnston said.

In 2014, “Chronicle” director Josh Trank was approached by Lucasfilm to direct one of the standalone movies in the “Star Wars” franchise which at the time were known as “Star Wars Anthology” films (eventually “Star Wars Stories”). His movie was said to be a Boba Fett film. Right before he was supposed to go on stage at official fan convention Star Wars Celebration, Trank backed out. Publicly he blamed the flu. But in an interview with Polygon in 2020, he said, “I quit because I knew I was going to be fired if I didn’t quit.” The planned Boba Fett movie never came to fruition.

Of course, the character would finally return in live-action via the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian.” In the first season, the character is teased; a shadowy figure emerges wearing spurs just like Boba Fett (another design flourish Johnston was undoubtedly responsible for). In the second season, he was revealed full on – Morrison, who played Jango Fett in the prequels (and who provided Boba Fett’s voice for re-dubbed “special edition” versions of the original trilogy that Lucas tinkered with over the years) was back. He helps our hero, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) get out of some binds, and has his armor returned to him after being utilized by a backwoods Tatooine sheriff (played by Timothy Olyphant). By the end of the second season of “The Mandalorian” (during a buzzy post-credits scene), Boba Fett has returned to Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine. He kills Bib Fortuna, Jabba’s lackey, and takes his place on the throne, presumably to run Jabba’s vast criminal underworld. This is where we meet him at the start of “The Book of Boba Fett.”

One more note: earlier this year Boba Fett appeared in two animated series. He’s referred to in “The Bad Batch,” an animated series set around the same time as “The Clone Wars.” It is revealed that Omega, another unaltered clone (this one female), has a brother, whose codename is Alpha. Alpha is, of course, Boba Fett. Additionally, the character appeared in the endlessly charming anime short “Tatooine Rhapsody,” part of the exhilarating “Star Wars: Visions” anthology series. (Morrison voices the character in the English language audio track; Akio Kaneda in Japanese version.) Boba Fett has never looked so cute.    

As for the exhaustive examination of Boba Fett’s backstory in television and film, Johnston isn’t a fan. “I think they basically said too much,” Johnston said. He continued: “I always thought he should be this man of mystery, right? I never thought he should take his helmet off. I felt that his helmet was his face. as soon as he takes his helmet off and, ‘Oh, there’s an actor inside, okay.’ I just felt like an opportunity was missed to make him the kind of character that you never knew everything there was to know about him. But hey, there’s a lot of reasons why I’m not running the movie studios.”

Somewhat shockingly, Johnston said that he was never asked to direct an episode of “The Mandalorian” or, indeed, “The Book of Boba Fett.” (He said that he also wasn’t consulted on the Trank movie either, back when it was in development.) “Whether it was that I was too busy, or I was too crabby, we’ll never know,” Johnston said. “There is a difference between the original trilogy and what it is now. It’s made a transformation, and it’s still very successful. There’s a lot of interesting ideas in these films. But it’s not quite what the original trilogy was.”

While Johnston admits that he never anticipated the character having “this cult mystique,” he is curious about “The Book of Boba Fett.” Because, hey, no matter how much you learn about him or how much history he’s unnecessarily saddled with, he’s still one of the coolest (and certainly one of the coolest looking) “Star Wars” characters ever.

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