Instead of going out with a bang, the galaxy's No. 1 bounty hunter went out with a burp. Or so it appeared at the time.
Released May 25, 1983, "Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi" was the last installment in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. It also seemed to mark the death of a now-classic villain, the masked Mandalorian Boba Fett.
Boba Fett had been introduced a few years prior, unveiled to the public at a parade in California. A spacefaring bounty hunter, the character was stoic, efficient and armed to the teeth. Hollywood westerns were a big influence on "Star Wars;" Boba Fett felt like a sci-fi callback to the Clint Eastwood gunslingers.
Faster than you can say "ichthyodont" (that's a large reptile-like creature that lived on the moon Panna Prime for those of you not so-well-versed in "Star Wars" speak), Boba Fett developed a cult following. Some of those hardcore fans weren't too happy about his fate in "Return of the Jedi," criticizing his "death" scene as anticlimactic.
Early in the movie, an equipment malfunction sends Boba Fett tumbling into the cavernous mouth of a sarlacc, one of the desert monsters found on planet Tatooine. You could argue the scene was played for laughs; after the creature swallows Boba Fett, it makes a belching noise.
But it's hard to keep great characters down. Even if you're a sarlacc.
Through 40-plus years of "Star Wars" prequels, sequels, spinoffs, novels and comics, audiences have learned a great deal about the once-mysterious Boba Fett.
"From a design standpoint, [Boba Fett] is the baby of two great minds: concept artist Ralph McQuarrie and art director-visual effects Joe Johnson," Frey says in an email.
You don't have to be a "Star Wars" nut to recognize the saga's Imperial Stormtroopers. Clad in ghostly white armor, these warriors made their debut in the movie that started it all, 1977's "Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope."
(Yes, we know that's not the film's original title. Please bear with us.)
A sequel called "Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back" soon entered development. Late in the 1970s, franchise creator George Lucas approached Johnson with a request: Upgrade the troopers.
He took the job to heart. Johnson and McQuarrie designed an alternate suit of "super trooper" armor that was sleeker and more threatening. Lucas loved it.
There was just one problem. Everyone agreed the prototype suit looked terrific, but the production didn't have enough money to mass-produce it for a legion of new Stormtroopers.
So instead of abandoning the outfit, the filmmakers repurposed it. "George Lucas liked the look so much that even though they couldn't afford to produce it in numbers large enough to make an army, he thought the design could be a bounty hunter," Frey says.
And lo, Boba Fett was born.
Boba On Parade
Technically, the character made his first public appearance in the San Anselmo County Fair Sept. 24, 1978, when film editor Dwayne Dunham strapped on the costume to help promote the "Star Wars" brand.
Nevertheless, "The Star Wars Holiday Special" is notable for formally introducing Boba Fett, who appears in a cartoon viewed by Chewbacca's son, Lumpawarrump (aka: "Lumpy"). Here, the antihero is voiced by Don Francks.
In the cartoon, Boba Fett and Darth Vader conspire to upend The Rebellion. Big, bad Darth gives the newcomer some instant street cred when he says, "I see why they call you the best bounty hunter in the galaxy."
"The Holiday Special has never been canon — though people still love it!" Frey says. "So much so that the animated short from it featuring Boba Fett is now available on Disney+ as 'The Story of the Faithful Wookiee.' There's also a Little Golden Book adaptation of the story."
Cold, Hard Cash
As planned, Fett returned in "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980). In the original cut of the movie, he was voiced by Jason Wingreen while Jeremy Bulloch served as his "suit actor." Note that the "Star Wars Special Editions" swap out Wingreen's voice with that of New Zealander Temuera Morrison. Stay tuned for more about him.
"Empire" is pretty coy about Boba's backstory; we learn this guy's a bounty hunter with an implied reputation for disintegrating folks. And that's about it.
The film pits Boba Fett against Harrison Ford's Han Solo, who'd run afoul of the slug-like crime lord Jabba the Hutt.
"Jabba... put out a bounty on Han Solo, and while many bounty hunters scrambled to collect the scoundrel-turned-rebel, Fett was the one to capture [him] — which also fulfilled the needs of the Empire," explains Frey.
By finding Solo, Boba Fett killed two birds with one stone. The Empire had placed its own bounty on Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon. Boba tracks the vessel and leads Vader right to it. Then, after Solo is frozen in carbonite, he's handed off to the bounty hunter.
We next see Boba Fett hanging out at Jabba's Tatooine lair in "Return of the Jedi." A fight ensues and the newly freed Solo unwittingly smacks Fett's signature jet pack, which sends him careening down the sarlacc's throat.
It wasn't the demise fans were looking for.
"In the case of Boba Fett's death, had I known he was going to turn into such a popular character, I probably would've made it a little more exciting," Lucas said on a "Return of the Jedi" DVD commentary. "He became such a favorite of everybody's that, for having such a small part, he had a very large presence."
Large presence, indeed.
"Initially, I think Boba Fett's appeal was that there were a lot of gaps that fans could fill in with their imaginations," Frey says. "He only had four lines of dialogue in the original trilogy. He was onscreen less than seven minutes, and for most of that, he just stood around and looked menacing, in armor that a lot of folks fell in love with. So, he always seemed like a mysterious badass."
Then along came the prequels. "Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones" (2002) is about an army of made-to-order troops who all happen to be clones of the great bounty hunter, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). Some of the Stormtroopers in the original movies came from this very stock.
"Part of Jango's compensation was that the cloners of Kamino would make him a genetic replica of himself with no growth acceleration to raise as his own," Frey says. Being Jango's adopted "son," and his biological duplicate, young Boba Fett (played by Daniel Logan) had a close bond with his caretaker.
He's left an orphan by Jedi Mace Windu, who beheads Jango during the movie's final battle. The young Boba Fett would go on to become a recurring character in animated "Clone Wars" media.
Spoiler alert: Boba Fett didn't die in that sarlacc pit after all.
He appears as a supporting character in Season 2 of "The Mandalorian," which tapped Morrison to play him. Morrison reprises his role for "The Book of Boba Fett," a new series dedicated to his journey.
"Thanks to 'The Mandalorian' and 'The Book of Boba Fett,' we get to see what became of him after he escaped the Sarlacc pit out on the Dune Sea. He became a very different man after that experience, someone less comfortable, it seems, with working as a bounty hunter," Frey says.
"We're still seeing that unfold, and the character's story gets richer and richer."