Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Friendo': Boba Fett's 1978 Debut

"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."
-George Lucas 
There have been many things said of 1978's The Star Wars Holiday Special. Author David Hofstede once called it 'the worst two hours of television ever', while actor Ralph Garman deemed it 'so bad that it actually comes around to good again, but passes it right up'. The special is the black sheep of the Star Wars franchise; the weird, overly touchy relative who only visited once.

That's not to say it's not a notable installment of the broader Star Wars mythos. Beyond featuring Carrie Fisher's drug-addled rendition of the Star Wars end theme (with lyrics) and Harvey Korman as an apron-adorned General Grievous prototype, the show was one of the first projects tackled by the great monster-maestro Stan Winston - his designs for Chewbacca's Wookiee family are debatably more terrifying than all his later extraterrestial monstrosities combined.
The Predator has nothing on Grandpa Attichitcuk.
The special also gives insight into life under the Empire like no piece of Star Wars media preceding or following it. In Palpatine's authoritarian dystopia, Stormtroopers are forced to watch Bea Arthur sitcoms once a day 'in the hope that [their] lives might be uplifted by the comparison and enriched with the gratitude of relief'; Darth Vader spends his time between movies walking up and down corridors and ordering curfews; and Death Star Troopers spend their shore leave browsing through pawn shops, in full regalia, oppressing Art Karney.

While the audience reaction to these revelations was, at best, mixed, most Star Wars enthusiasts agree that the best sequence of The Star Wars Holiday Special is the animated introduction of bounty hunter Boba Fett. Oh, hey, it's that guy!

If you stay sane up to the 51:02 minute mark, you get to see Boba Fett riding the Loch Ness Monster! Worth it.
The Boba Fett cartoon was created by the Toronto-based animation firm Nelvana Limited. Here in Canada we call Toronto 'The Big Smoke'. You guys, I'm serious.

"George wrote the story. It was called 'The Faithful Wookiee'. His outline was about nine pages, and then Rod Warren did a scene-by-scene break down, and we worked with that and created storyboards."
Clive Smith, SFX Magazine #67 (August 2000)

In the cartoon (which appears to be part Wookiee children's show, part underground Rebel news broadcast - the nature of the segment is never clearly explained), the Star Warriors recieve a transmission from the Millenium Falcon. The message reveals Han Solo hanging upside-down from the ceiling and Chewie piloting the ship away in distress. Luke, Artoo and Threepio take a Y-Wing and pursue the Falcon to a moon in the Jell-O system.

"Those are the kinds of things that we invented. We thought: 'How can we make this planet different and create something new? How does the ship hit the water? Is it just going to be a splash, or will it go right in?' That's when we came up with this idea that the water was like a thick jelly and the ships would just sit on the surface."
Clive Smith, SFX Magazine #67 (August 2000)
Luke's ship crashes in the Rasberry Jell-o Sea of Panna, and is immediately set upon by an alien serpent creature, whose skin is impervious to the young rebel's weaponry. He ejects the cockpit of the craft while the monster is busy having it's way with the rest of his Y-Wing. Those poor turbines!

Until, entering stage right...

Pictured: Boba Fett making nature his bitch. Take that, nature.
"There was a character description of who Boba Fett was supposed to be, which mentioned that he was a bounty hunter. When [Lucasfilm] sent up a cleaned up drawing of the character, he was all spiffy, and all mentions of him being a bounty hunter seemed to have slipped through the cracks. I went to the producer and said, 'We're really losing something here in terms of interest if we don't make this bounty hunter motif a little more prominent.' I suggested that they could scuff up his costume a little bit more (of course, when you actually see him in live-action, he's really beat up) and really play up the fact that he's an employee of Darth Vader. The highlight of it for me was the fact that we were able to have some input like that."
Frank Nissen, SFX Magazine #67 (August 2000)

Masterful juxtaposition between Luke's generosity and Boba's utter disdain for the eating habits of his steed. 'You are foolish to waste your kindness on this dumb creature - no lower lifeform is worth going hungry for, friend.' In English class we call this 'foreshadowing'.
Like a moustachioed forty year old inviting a niave blonde child into the back of his van, Boba convinces Luke that he knows where the Falcon has landed, and that he will take him there. Upon arriving at the Falcon, Luke falls victim to the same affliction as Han - paralysis by way of a magical Imperial sleeping amulet/bioweapon that only works on humans (as for why the MacGuffin Amulet didn't affect Fett, it's possible that the character wasn't originally supposed to be human under that helmet. That, or it's just a plot hole). Boba promptly makes use of his mechanical lasso, which is awesome.
Some exposition happens, and it turns out that the Empire sells cures for their anti-human bioweapons at the nearest corner store. Boba volunteers to go pick up some antidote and some Doritos, and Chewie insists on going with him and cramping his style. Boba is all 'whatever, I guess'.

One Nessie ride later, the two uneasy allies arrive at what could easily be the city from O'Bannon and Moebius' The Long Tomorrow.

"I worked with Frank in coming up with a graphic style. It was loosely based on Moebius, the French comic book artist. One of his series was called The Airtight Garage. I used to look at each of these comic book frames for hours. He had such an incredibly cinematic vision. He did these fantastic wide shots where your eye went exactly to where it was supposed to go. He did these wonderful 'spaghetti western' shots where it's an extreme wide shot but with an extreme close-up character in the foreground, creating a wonderful dichotomy of close up and distance. I suppose our film came out looking a little bit like Moebius."
Clive Smith, SFX Magazine #67 (August 2000)

Boba ditches Chewie next to a homeless guy and goes to the Quik-E-Mart for some instant antidote. While he's at it, he drops by a fancy ATM phonebooth and swipes his Frequent Caller's Card to contact Dark Lord of the Sith and frequent drinking buddy, James Earl. Back at the ship, however, the droids eavesdrop and discover the Bucket Brigade's nonsensical Imperial plot to infiltrate the rebel asteroid base.

Later, Boba and Chewie make good their escape on the back of the sea serpent, but are pursued by an Imperial gunboat. Boba takes a few halfhearted potshots, not wanting to betray the Imperials, but also needing to keep up appearances for the walking carpet. Chewie says '**** that ****' (loosely translated), takes Boba's gun, and turns the enemy skimmer into a miniature Death Star reenactment.

Assuming those Stormtroopers were clones, Chewbacca basically just killed Boba's dad three times. What the hell, man.
The two return to the Falcon and revive Luke and Han (who looks downright terrifying in animated form). Luke immediately starts singing Boba's praises - I can't blame him, dur hur - but this prompts the droids to let our farmboy hero know, in the least straightforward explanation they can possibly muster, that the guy with the bucket on his head is (spoiler alert!) an infamous bounty hunter and Darth Vader's best buddy. No, seriously.

And then Boba jets out of the Falcon's airlock for some reason.

"Now that you've figured out I'm the bad guy and I've got a gun pulled on all of you, it's time for me to go. See you in the sequel, fools!"
The cartoon wraps up with the gang shrugging off their experience and laughing about how racist they are to Chewbacca. Moral of the story: don't trust faceless people who smell bad, because they might help you out and then fly away (?!).

Also: Harrison Ford should sue.
For all its plot holes and ridiculousness, I love this cartoon. It's the most memorable feature of a 32 year old variety show that also had Wookiee pornography, so I guess that has to count for something. Not to mention it's the best introduction a character like Boba Fett could ask for. The story, although it drifts between fantastic and cringeworthy more frequently than the Special Editions, is an excellent bridge between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back - best of all, it enriches the brief encounter between Luke and Fett on Cloud City with an additional layer of meaning.

The Boba Fett cartoon is a lovable relic of retro Canadian animation and Star Wars-before-it-was-Star Wars storytelling, infused with Moebius and sandwiched in the center of pop culture's proverbial Ark of the Covenent. If that description isn't enough to bleach your memory of Diahann Carroll's Mermeia Holographic Wow solo, I don't know what will.

Happy Life Day, dear readers. Happy Life Day.

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