The acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise by Disney has led to solid TV series on Disney+. The Mandalorian set a standard that would be difficult for future series, such as Ahsoka and Kenobi to reach. The Book of Boba Fett was the first to face that challenge.
Boba Fett, the character, was first meant to appear in A New Hope as Jabba’s bodyguard, but the scene was cut for the initial 1977 release. The scene did get restored for the enhanced release, with a CGI Jabba superiposed over the human version. Fett’s first appearance was in the Star Wars Holiday Special in an animated segment. The bounty hunter’s first non-disavowed appearance was in The Empire Strikes Back, with Jeremy Bulloch playing the role. Fett didn’t have many speaking lines, but was a presence on screen. Fett returned in Return of the Jedi and met his match in the first Jedi trained since the end of the Clone Wars and his allies. Fett wound up rocketing into the belly of the Sarlacc, where he would be digested for a thousand years.
The prequel movies introduced Fett’s father, Jango. Jango Fett made his initial appearance in Attack of the Clones, being the base that the Kamoans used to create the Republic’s Clone Army. Jango and the clones were all portrayed by Temeura Morrison, with young Boba being played by Daniel Logan. Jango is able to fight a lone Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to a draw, but gets his head cut off by Mace Windu. Young Boba inherits Jango’s armour and gains a hatred against the Jedi.
The Book of Boba Fett begins with a flashback as Fett escapes the belly of the Sarlacc, an unknown amount of time after the end of Return of the Jedi. Exhausted after digging his way out of the Sarlacc and the sands of Tatooine, he is easy prey for Jawas who scavenge his armour. Left to die, Fett is discovered by Tuskan Raiders and taken prisoner, where he is held. In his present, Fett has his armour, as per the second season of The Mandalorian, and has taken over Jabba’s palace. His move to become the daimyo of the criminal syndicates in Mos Espa is opposed but three gangs that Jabba had under control. Worse, the mayor of the city, Mok Shaiz, is under the control of one of the gangs, the Pykes.
The series unfolds splitting screen time between Fett’s recovery and acceptance by the Tuskan Raiders and his moves to become the sole crime boss. He makes a deal with two Hutts, the Twins, to keep them away from Jabba’s former territory, and starts building up his own team. He already has Fennec Shand, former assassin, and through some deal making, recruits the Mos Espa street gang, the Mods, so called because they are into replacing body parts with cybernetics. Fett’s goal is to go straight, stop putting his life on the line for a fistful of credits. That puts him up against the other syndicates.
Fett’s main problem is that he is a bounty hunter, not a crime lord. He has contacts, but not the experience. He is more direct than his rivals and willing to give up a source of income, like spice, if it gets what he wants. While Shand questions the approach, Fett’s experiences, including his time with the Sand People, have shown him the benefits of working with others. It’s how the clones were trained during the Clone Wars, but Fett learned it naturally instead of through learning programs.
The series is part space western, part crime drama. Temeura Morrison returns to play Boba Fett. He has spent years portraying different versions of Jango Fett since Attack of the Clones. During the run of The Clone Wars, he played all the clones, giving them each a different feel. The audience could tell the difference between Rex, Commander Cody, and Fives. The only clone of Jango he hasn’t played is Boba. In each role, clone and Boba Fett alike, he brings out the humanity of the character. The Fett of the series turns out to be good with animals, which comes to play in the final episode of the season.
Casting, as always, is key. While Morrison carries the series as the title character, the supporting cast build the setting, giving it a sense of realism. David Pasquesi as Shaiz’s majordomo is fun to watch and Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand represents what Fett was. Bringing back characters from The Mandalorian who live on Tatooine made sense; they add to the idea that the Galaxy Far Far Away is larger with multiple stories happening all at once.
One drawback from the series is the potential for continuity lockout, a term normally applied to comics from Marvel and DC. Continuity lockout occurs when there is a reference to an event in another title from some time before, with the audience potentially not able to catch up. There were a couple of episodes focused more on the Mandalorian than on Fett which allowed for audiences to catch up on popular characters but may cause issues in a future season of the Mando’s series. There are some surprising casting decisions, too, though not unwelcome. Jennifer Beals plays Gars Fwip, owner of Sanctuary, a casino. Danny Trejo plays the Rancor keeper, who cares for his charge.
Part of the drawback comes from Dave Filoni’s love of continuity and characters from previous works in the franchise. Some appearances are just Easter eggs, little things for longer term fans to realize, like having Camie and Fixer, Luke’s friends from an earlier draft of A New Hope who appeared in the radio drama, appear in a seedy bar with speeder bike gangers. Some, like Cad Bane, a recurring bounty hunter character from The Clone Wars series, bring a history that is implied but not explained. For now, this isn’t a problem as The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars are both available on Disney+. The potential for continuity lockout to exist in the future is there.
Overall, the series invites audiences to keep watching. Between the flashbacks with Fett recovering amongst the Tusken Raiders and finding a new sense of purpose to his attempts to go straight and be a productive member of society on a planet where everything is fighting against him doing so, the series presents a story that engages the audience, drawing them in and rooting for a bounty hunter who was previously an antagonist for the heroes of the movies. Temuera Morrison’s Boba Fett is a complicated character, fighting his old desires and reputation to be accepted.
In the past fifteen years, Marvel has made strides with theatrical releases. Iron Man, released 2008, paved the way for a number of movies that are now part of The Avengers Initiative. However, during that time, superheroes on television have been the realm of DC, starting with Arrow in 2012. The Arrowverse, though, was separate from DC’s cinematic universe.
Disney’s acquistion of Marvel in 2009 would become a game changer. Disney has the money to spend to compete. Disney also has the money to buy the competition. The company’s acquisition of Fox and its subsidiaries took two years with the transition ending in 2019. However, before the acquisition, Fox managed to make one of the most comic book movies ever, Deadpool. The other most comic book movie ever is, of course, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, distributed by Universal Pictures. Once Disney had Fox’s assets, could Marvel Studios make a comic book TV series?
Enter Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Both characters have extensive history in the Marvel comics. Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, has been both hero and villain. She was once a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants under Magneto and later a member of the Avengers and its spin-off team, the Avengers West Coast. In both cases, she was with her twin brother, Pietro, aka Quicksilver. Wanda’s powers, her mutant ability to manipulate probability combined with witchcraft, put her as one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. The Vision is a synthezoid, a synthetic android with a Solar Gem that provides him sentience. He was built by the villainous sentient robot, Ultron, using the template of the original Human Torch android and was given the goal of destroying the Avengers. The Vision’s powers include superhuman strength and reflexes, a durable body shell, and the ability to control his density from superdense to intangible.
Wanda and Vision met as Avengers, fell in love, and got married, becoming one of the rare superhero couples, though the West Coast Avengers also had Hawkeye and Mockingbird. As a couple, they had two volumes of their own series, Vision and the Scarlet Witch, for a total of 16 issues combined. In the second volume, Wanda became pregnant with twins. However, her happiness didn’t last long. Vision was destroyed and rebuilt, now with chalk white skin and no emotions or memories. Wanda’s twins later started to disappear, leading to a string of nannies at the West Coast Avengers’ compound in California. After consulting with Agatha Harkness, it was determined that Wanda’s children weren’t real, created by her desires and her powers but with no substance when her attention was focused elsewhere.
Team superhero titles are soap operas, really.
All of the above leads to WandaVision, a nine episode series on Disney+ first available September 2021. WandaVision stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda, Paul Bettany as Vision, Kathryn Hahn as Agnes, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, Randall Park as Jimmy Woo, and Kat Dennings as Dr. Darcy Lewis. The first episode begins with the usual Marvel Studios bumper, but at the end, it switches to 1.33:1 aspect ratio instead of widescreen, black & white instead of colour, and mono instead of stereo. The episode itself is homage to sitcoms of the 50s, particularly The Dick van Dyke show, and shows the titular couple trying to live a mundane life in the sleepy town of Westfield. The effects reflect the era; no CGI for Wanda’s magic, just wires.
The second episode brings the show up to the 60s, in the style of Bewitched. However, little things start looking odd for Wanda, such as a red helicopter with a sword logo landing in her front yard. very odd, considering the show was in back and white until the final minutes when colour appeared. The colour remains for the third episode, now in the 70s and in the style of The Brady Bunch. Wanda has television’s fastest pregnancy, giving birth to twins at the end of the episode.
Episode four goes behind the scenes of Wanda’s show, with a look at what’s happening outside Westfield. A barrier surrounds the town in the shape of a hexagon. Agents from both the FBI, including Jimmy Woo, and SWORD, the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division, Monica Rambeau’s agency, are trying to figure out what is going on inside the hex. One of the scientists, Dr. Darcy Lewis, examines the wavelengths emitted and finds one worth tapping into. The wavelength requires and older TV, but once it’s on, Darcy is able to watch WandaVision.
Episode five returns into Wanda’s show, this time in the style of Family Ties from the 80s. As the episode title says, it’s, “A Very Special Episode”, with the twins aging up, twice. As with any very special epiusode from the 80s, a tragedy happens, and Wanda has to help her boys cope with the loss. The next episode leads into the 90s, with shows like The Wonder Years, and Wanda starting to notice that things aren’t going as expected. Episode seven leads to the 00s and reality television and the return of Wanda’s brother Pietro, who was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, Pietro is played by Evan Peters, the Quicksilver of the X-Men films.
The final two episodes pull all the strings together, with the eight episode ending in the reveal of the villain. The final episode has Wanda fighting for not just her life, but the life of the citizens of Westfield, Vision, and her twins, and, ultimately, her own sanity. The entire series is about Wanda and her grief over the loss of the people she loves, her parents, her brother, her husband, and her children, and learning more about her abilities. The sitcom reality she created was based on what she watched to escape reality as a child, and what she watched with Vision as they fell in love. But her fantasy held people prisoner, hurting them unknowingly while she grieved.
WandaVision shows the strengths of streaming. There is no need to add extra episode to suit the requirements of a network series of being a set episode length for twenty-two episodes. Each episode of WandaVision was the length it needed to be, and nine episodes was the right number to have. Without the restrictions, the writers could get everything they needed to get in, including era-appropriate ads, to get the surface plot and the underlying arc all worked in without stretching or squeezing.
Casting is also important. Olsen and Bettany had chemistry as Wanda and Vision. Without that chemistry, WandaVision would not have had the impact it had. The two portrayed the superheroic couple as a couple, with all the quirks couples have. Even as events started turning dark, the love between Wanda and Vision still shone through. The supporting cast was also key, especially in the town of Westfield, where the characters change by the era of the episode.
The plot takes its cue from the pages of both Vision and the Scarlet Witch and West Coast Avengers/Avengers West Coast. WandaVision is a far better approach to the ideas than what appeared in the comics, really. What helped is that the writing staff was all on the same page with WandaVision, while a change of writer from Steve Englehart to John Byrne led to the massive changes in Vision and to Wanda’s twins. Even given the differences from Marvel’s main 616 universe and the cinematic universe, WandaVision is the better story. Wanda has agency and growth. Vision’s fight with his rebuilt version comes down to philosophy and a discussion of the Ship of Theseus.
WandaVision, as an adaptation, has the task of taking a character arc from the late 80s and bringing it over to a cinematic universe that has been going in its own direction for over a decade while still being fresh. The result is a mini-series that has the twists of the comics while still taking advantage of the medium of television, especially its evolution since the 50s, and improving on the orignal ideas as present in the pages of the original comics.