There are people who owe Boba Fett an apology. And the list starts much earlier than you might suspect – from before he was even a tangible thing and repeating so many times.
His armor design is from a test that had been rejected for stormtrooper use. And how many other intergalactic mercenaries had to walk a small town parade with their boss? The. Holiday. Special! And his toy was scaled back for safety after a dream-making advertising promise of wicked mechanized battle action. What about only getting four lines before being killed off…by an ancient mouth in the sand?
It would have all destroyed a lesser character. But for an unforecastable mix of mystery and bad-assery, Boba Fett ran into each of these hurdles and not only carried on, but pretty much killed it? From the jump, his silent protagonist vibe, great kit, and iconic helmet was all anyone could think of, no matter what indignities came his way.
Since the original trilogy wrapped up in the early 1980s, Fett flourished in television series, video games, and the Expanded Universe. But we’re focusing, here, on his character rollout and how he overcame some hokey moments still reigning as Star Wars’ best badass.
A Hoth Stormtrooper
In pre-production on The Empire Strikes Back, visual effects art director Joe Johnston and concept artist Ralph McQuarrie were asked to develop an elite Stormtrooper concept that would appear, in bulk, in the Star Wars sequel. An all-white prototype of what we now know as Boba Fett was developed* for these “super troopers.” But! The build was too expensive to get replicated across an entire onscreen legion.
Instead of scrapping the whole design, Johnston told StarWars.com “…George said, ‘Instead of an army of super troopers, this is going to be a bounty hunter,’” Johnston says. “’He’s sort of a bad guy but he’s not on the Empire’s side and he’s not on the rebels’ side. … He’s a mercenary. He’ll do anything for money, and his outfit, the way he looks, should reflect that.’”
One minute, foiled by movie production bid specs, and the next? Resurrected by on-the-fly backstory spitballing.
Blessedly, the jetpack and knee darts would carry on. Transitioning the set from fresh, regulation white to something that would illustrate the battle-tested career as a gun-for-hire would send Johnston onto a series of layered re-paintings, faux damage, and dying the fabric parts a medium gray. To the joy of us all, footage of a 1978 screen test and gear explanation for this proto-Fett exists. All hail the librarians and archivists of companies like Lucasfilm!
“This is a rangefinder here. Is this what this is here?” Burtt asks someone off screen. “This is a dart throwing device here. Rather deadly.” “Have him turn around and get a shot of the, uh, jetpack.”
After walking through the secret booby traps of Boba Fett’s armor, a demo poncho was mocked up with a limp Star Wars beach towel. In the whiplash of glory and bummer, Fett came out ahead here; but the Clint Eastwood of space was humbled a little by a coconut-scented pool party prop.
A Folksy Rollout
Later that same summer, George Lucas wanted to have a Star Wars presence in the small northern-California town where he lived, San Anselmo. You can see footage of the event with Darth Vadar and unknown Boba Fett, both wearing the actual filming costumes, strolling down the parade route and signing autographs.
Dunham, once again being the only person on staff who fit into the suit, sweated his way through that walk as a franchise mascot. Even though the footage looks humble, all firsthand accounts say that Boba Fett defied the odds and came off as very, very rad.
But November 17, 1978 brought a blow that damaged more than a few characters – the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. While the headliners from A New Hope celebrated Life Day, Boba Fett officially debuted in an animated tangent. It is over an hour into a series of fever dreams that are somehow both stunning and dull, none of which are considered current canon.
The animated side story is fine, though! Not great, but not nearly as weird as the rest of the presentation and includes Darth Vadar saying about Boba Fett, “I can see why they call you the best bounty hunter in the galaxy.” A few minutes later, though, the mercenary’s plot fails and the too-chatty debut ends with Fett boosting away.
We’re going to call this a net win for Boba Fett. It was technically his premiere, Vadar got out the main messaging about the character, and he didn’t suffer nearly as much (prestige-wise) as everyone else in that holiday special weirdness. While we have access to the full show (and watched it for this story), it only aired once.
Urban Legend Mythos
In the merchandising whirlwind following the release of the first Star Wars movie (including the Holiday Special greenlight), Kenner went to town with planned action figures. By 1979, the company had announced a promotion for customers to send in four proofs of purchase and get, in return, an action figure that can best be described as totally badass. It was Boba Fett! And the bounty hunter’s jetpack would have a spring-powered firing rocket projectile, included in package. The ads showed how it would work, in very late-1970’s glory.
While American kids dutifully collected their cards and sent them in, the toy had to be changed. Substantially. Over a few months, a series of overlapping events and safety reviews determined that a spring loaded rocket mechanism (similar to one used in a Mattel Battlestar Galactica figure) was a choking hazard. Mattel’s had recently caused the death of a child.
Kenner would try different versions to solve the issue but eventually sent out a figure with the rocket secured firmly in the jetpack. Kids found out only when they got their toy in the mail and saw a note explaining the safety change, triggering a national epidemic of toy-related disappointment.
To the unconsolable fans, the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy got a toy more like a rumpled, helmeted airplane pilot with a backpack.
In a very Berenstain/Berenstein collective false memory, some kids later said that they had been sent the “cool one.” This is untrue, but exciting! All of the kitbashed, L-slot, and J-slot figures are accountable to Kenner employees and none were distributed to the public. The example in Rally’s collection is an L-slot version, one of 15 known graded examples.
Ecstasy and Nah-nah-Nah-nah
When The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, Boba Fett had (finally, for F’s sake!) taken the crown. For so many, this was his first appearance – wonderfully brooding, weaponized, aloof, and self-serving. Dan Brooks at StarWars.com says of one of Fett’s few lines, “[Fett] ‘What if he doesn’t survive? He’s worth a lot to me.’ No one else could talk to Darth Vader that way.”
In six minutes of screen time, Fett was the stone cold coolest. He had survived budget cuts, beach towel accessorizing, humid county parades, animated sidekick adventures, and toy neutering. It was a glory.
So when he dies, abruptly, in The Return of the Jedi, fans just chose to not believe it. Even C-3PO’s graphic description of, “…[in] the Pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc. In his belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering, as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.” We all just put our fingers in our ears and said nah-nah-nah-nah. Obviously, everyone else who went in there died, but not Fett!
After the original Star Wars trilogy, it was crystal clear that Boba Fett wouldn’t die, at least in our hearts. He was solidified as a vital character without the squishy back and forth that these pre-debut steps inflicted on him (and us). Instead, his role was tied into more and more of the Skywalker saga. The prequels integrate him into the literal DNA of the Empire, and Expanded Universe novels always carried the torch. The Disney+ Book of Boba Fett show is an example that, even when those moments… wobbled, this bounty hunter never seems to lose his prestige.
* There’s a quote floating around where McQuarrie tells a different version of this story: “I was sitting in a meeting with George, doodling on a piece of paper while taking notes. He was talking about Hoth, and I was thinking about a costume for that. When George saw this sketch, he said, ‘that would make a good bounty hunter. Develop it and make it a guy with all kinds of gadgets on his suit—rockets and so forth—to defend himself with.'” from The Art of Ralph McQuarrie (April 2007), which is out of print and couldn’t be referenced first-hand for this story. The most-current documentation on how this developed is included in this article.
Related Rally Assets
- “Stormtrooper Corps.” n.d. Wookieepedia. https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Stormtrooper_Corps.
- “Empire at 40 | Designing an Icon: Joe Johnston on the Journey to Create Boba Fett.” 2020. StarWars.com. May 18, 2020. https://www.starwars.com/news/empire-at-40-joe-johnston-boba-fett-interview.
- Barton, Rebekah. 2021. “Boba Fett’s First Appearance Wasn’t the ‘Holiday Special.’” Inside the Magic. March 23, 2021. https://insidethemagic.net/2021/03/boba-fett-first-appearance-rwb1/.
- Poteet, Michael. n.d. “Boba Fett Collectibles – Boba Fett Toys – Boba Fett Figure.” Accessed October 5, 2022. https://www.entertainmentearth.com/news/boba-fett-action-figure-history/.
- “Boba Fett and Battlestar Galactica – the Firing Missile Crisis.” n.d. Theswca.com. Accessed October 5, 2022. http://theswca.com/textf/toydeath.html.