Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Boba Fett Syndrome: Loving the Dispensable Character

Just what is it about Boba Fett that makes people
love him so much?
I kid you not, but I really did have the following conversation with my husband. We were spending the day doing a little shopping and picking out some much needed items such as t-shirts and, like always, my husband was looking for something cool, something that truly evoked who he was and what made him so geeky. And the choice was between a t-shirt emblazoned with a dastardly and devious Darth Vader or the more cool and collected Boba Fett.
"I'm getting this one," my husband said, holding up the pea-green Boba Fett t-shirt and displaying it as if he'd found a rare hidden treasure even though there were thirty more t-shirts on the shelf. 
"Why?" I for one had never cared for Boba Fett, let alone the whole Star Wars franchise. 
"Because it's cool!" 
I poked a finger at the shirt. "You do realize that he's nothing more than a dispensable character, who speaks no more than three lines during his whole time on screen, which amounts to about three minutes when you add all that screen time together?" 
"Yeah, but he's cool!" 
I stared at him like he was a deranged monkey. "He's not cool." 
"Yeah, he is." He got that preachy tone to his voice, as if he was ready to embark on a long-winded spiel as to why Boba Fett was cool and how could I not possibly see that. I cracked my neck and settled in for his lecture. 
"And what makes him so cool?" Yeah, I know, I shouldn't have baited him. I was just asking for it. 
And so it began. 
Boba Fett was a bounty hunter, had one of the coolest outfits in the whole of the six movies combined, and he had a mission. 
"But it was stupid how they killed him off," my husband grumbled. 
This always comes at the end of the Boba Fett lecture.
I walked away from that conversation somewhat enlightened, even though I didn't figure it out until later. Boba Fett is one of those characters who has an insane following of loyal fans. Even when MTV asked George Lucas back in 1997 what made Boba Fett popular, all he said was, "I don't know why. I'm mystified by it."

Does misery create audience
I half suspect this is why the Academy came up with Oscars for supporting roles (this is just my own speculation, though). Perhaps someone, one day, said, "Hey, you know there are all these minor characters that the audience loves but get no love from us, so why not throw them a bone?" Although he's not the main character who goes through a change, wouldn't City Slickers be a little lackluster without crusty Curly? Then there's the not overly large role of Anne Hathaway's Fantine in Les Misérables. She becomes a dispensable character, playing a short but important role in the fate of her daughter, Cosette. Or how about Dame Judy Dench's controversial Oscar win for Shakespeare in Love? Her 1999 award was awarded because of the whole eight minutes she spent on screen as Queen Elizabeth I. That's a whole five minutes more than Boba Fett's screen time.

But isn't that the way it goes with characters? We end up falling in love with the ones who die untimely deaths or rarely spend any time in the book or on the screen. I had to put my mind to the test and think about a character or two I may have fallen in love with, but in retrospect, only added a dash of something to the story. There are two recent ones that come to mind. (Bear with me, these two characters are nothing like Boba Fett or Queen Elizabeth.)

Ed from Tigers in Red Weather: Ed's narrative doesn't come until the very end of the book, but he is the most compelling character in this entire story. For the most part, the story is fairly lackluster and the plot suffers tremendously, but it's Ed's strange mind that pulls forth the most intriguing thread. If he'd been dealt with as a more important character, then I believe the story would've been stronger for it. And he's not the type of character who's likable. But he has so much potential. Like Boba Fett, you find yourself rooting for his evil and uncouth ways, but, alas, the writer fails to make good use of him. Perhaps that's why so many people flock to Boba Fett. They feel he had so much potential, but instead he died a stupid death before realizing what great things he could have done.

Jamie from The Kitchen House: Jamie is Belle's son and he's half white, half black in the slave system. He doesn't play a large part in the story, but again, it's that potential there that drew me to him. He would be the one to make it in a white world and just think of the choices he could make? Would they be positive ones or ones that would end up destroying him? Would he hide the truth about his bloodline? All I know, is that when I finished this novel, I wanted to follow Jamie into his future. But, from the feel of the novel, he's not important enough of a character to continue following.

And sometimes the explanation isn't how much potential a dispensable character can have. According to this MTV post, it could be something else, particularly when it comes to someone like Boba Fett:
❝It's more than just the armor . . . It's about the actions that he takes, why he takes them, and how that distinguishes him from more archetypal characters.❞
And it really is just that simple. He kicks ass, doesn't take names, and just wants to get paid for the job at the end of the day. Boba Fett is cool in his own way.

Yeah, he did die a stupid death.

If you want to read fans' opinions on the matter, here are some links for you to look at:

Do you have a Boba Fett character in your life? Who is it and why, to this day, can you not forget what makes he/she so great in the storyline?


  1. I don't even remember Boba Fett, isn't that funny? I've probably watched those movies dozens of times, but he never stuck for me. I could talk a lot about why Jar Jar Binks is one dispensable character we ALL agree should have been ... dispensed with.

    I'm having trouble thinking of specific examples, but I agree with you that sometimes minor characters are more grabby than major ones. I did have that happen to me with one of my own stories, and I know it's a common occurrence with other writers. I wonder if it's because you can make minor characters into very colorful caricatures. You can't really do that with major characters, who require nuance and depth. So you get Polonius, who in some ways is more "dispensable" technically but also maybe more memorable than Hamlet. He's a bit over-the-top. You can tell Shakespeare had a brilliant time writing him.

    It's a good question: I'm going to drive myself crazy trying to think of examples now!

    1. I wouldn't even remember Boba Fett existed if it wasn't for my husband pointing him out every time I watch those movies. That was the whole point of his existence in the first place! He had a very small role to fill and there was no reason for him to continue on. Heck, his name is never mentioned in the original three films.

      I didn't even think of Shakespeare, but I should have. I think the two characters that always stick out to me in Hamlet are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There was a whole other play and a film (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) based around these minor characters. Funny.

    2. Actually, Mary Mary, his name IS mentioned. When Han is about to be fed to the Sarlaac, Chewbacca roars a warning to him and Solo replies, clearly quite worried "Boba Fett?! Boba Fett?! Where?"

    3. Ah! You got me on that one, Sam! Thank you for pointing that out. And thanks for dropping by!

      I'm guessing you're a big fan of Mr. Fett's, right?

  2. I don't remember Boba Fett either (but my husband did!)

    "I wonder if it's because you can make minor characters into very colorful caricatures. You can't really do that with major characters, who require nuance and depth."

    Excellent observation, Steph. I had this problem with my first novel. My readers were more interested in the secondary characters than my MC.

    About memorable, but dispensable characters: they seem to do this a lot in movies about "big tragedies". For example Leo DiCaprio's Italian buddy in Titanic or the waiter in Poseidon. I recall some funny characters in Braveheart who also died (the Irish guy?) and how about Macaulay Culkin's character in My Girl? (does he qualify as dispensable?).

    Fun post!

    1. I'm not sure if Macaulay Culkin's character in My Girl qualifies or not. Probably, since he wasn't the main character, but just a side character who evoked a lot of emotion, kind of like Fantine in Les Miserables.

      I think very minor characters can become very colorful caricatures if a writer isn't careful. Perhaps this is how a lot of stereotyping has come about in the past. A certain race or religion is portrayed in such a way that people always fall back on that idea. Two that readily come to mind are Speedy Gonzales and Pepe le Pew. They make people believe that all Mexicans wear sombreros and that all French men are smelly, but crazy good lovers!

  3. Boba Fett ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    This is why his dad Jango Fett was the mold all clones where made after. After the clone war ended and the empire took control of everything they turned the clone troops into the storm troops. So you see Boba Fett has a very strong Star Wars history. Which is why he is not a "dispensable character". Star Wars is nothing with out Strom Troopers! Boba Fett is just misunderstood. He is the most bad ass assassin ever! Except when he gets killed. That was a stupid move George Lucas made.

  4. Mr. Nerd 9000, you make me laugh!

    I am going to disagree with you and say that, yes, Boba Fett was initially created to be a dispensable character. The later three Star Wars films you reference ONLY placed Boba Fett in the mix AFTER the first three films came out and a huge fan base spread for Boba Fett. Only then did Lucas go back and place Fett's father in the storyline and his young son, Boba. I personally believe Lucas would never have taken the time to create a storyline for Boba and Jango Fett if it wasn't for the strange and mysterious popularity of Boba from the first original films.

    Besides, what is there to misunderstand about Boba Fett. He came, served a purpose, and was killed off when his services were no longer needed. END OF LINE!!

    1. Oh, and by the way...Tron is just as boring to sit through as Star Wars!

      Now, END OF LINE ;)


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