One of my favorite story arcs is the “Underdog Sports” structure. Except when it has actual sports in it–then it bores me to death. But, give me the underdog sports story in space or on a pirate ship or with a ragtag group of criminals, and I will become obsessed.
That’s what The Book of Boba Fett attempted. It looks like it should be an Underdog story, but it seriously missed the mark, and I think that’s why the show just didn’t work for me (or for a lot of other people).
What’s the Underdog Sports Structure?
In the Underdog Sports structure, you start with a loner, an outcast. They have no one backing them up. In fact, most of the people in any kind of authority hate them. But they’re really good at what they do. They just keep failing at it because everything in the world is against them.
Then, they join a group. They find a team. They become part of a crew. They stumble their way into a found family.
But since this person has issues for whatever reason–maybe they can’t trust anyone, maybe everyone they try to help dies and so they’re traumatized, maybe they’re arrogant and think they can do it on their own–they don’t actually work with the group that they’re now part of. And they keep failing.
Along the way, they learn how to belong to a team and how to work with others. They learn that they can trust others. They learn that it’s not their fault that everyone around them dies. They’re humbled and learn that they can’t do everything on their own.
So they finally join with their crew, try it again, and win. Through the power of friendship.
Just about all of my favorite stories follow this arc to some extent. Kaladin Stormblessed in Way of Kings. Ross Poldark in the show Poldark. (I’m currently binging it and obsessed.) Holden in The Expanse. Adora in She-Ra. Even Mando himself in The Mandalorian.
The Underdog Sports structure has a lot of points in common with the Hero’s Journey. They both have a refusal of the call to adventure (whether it’s refusing to go out and actually do the quest or a refusal to be part of a team). In many ways, the team acts as the mentor figure in the Underdog Sports arc (and sometimes there’s an actual coach/mentor figure as well). They both go through a transformation before they win (and sometimes become the mentor/coach themselves).
However, the Underdog Sports structure really hits that emotional character arc of going from “I’m going to do this thing on my own” to “I can’t do this without my crew.” The character always grows from being a loner to letting others help them, and there’s always this big moment at the end when they come together with others to win. Those are the emotional points that I look for in the Underdog Spots story.
Why Boba Fett Just Didn’t Work
(Warning: Here, there be spoilers!)
First, let’s review The Book of Boba Fett and its problems.
At the beginning, Fett starts off strong as an underdog. He should have died in the Sarlacc Pit, but he escaped against all odds. Then he’s captured by the Tusken raiders, and he should have died then too, but he somehow survives and ends up becoming part of their tribe. It’s clearly established early on that he is very good at what he does.
In fact, he’s so good at what he does that he’s good at everything else, too. Fett has no flaws.
When he’s offered the opportunity to become part of the Tusken tribe, he takes it without question and fits in perfectly. He then helps them and protects them from their enemies, making them stronger (which is a whole different issue with the white savior themes). When his tribe is killed and he leaves, he decides that he’s going to take over the Jabba’s empire and become the new leader and… make it a better place? He’s not trying to make money or anything, he just wants to lead. For some unknown reason. His motivation was very unclear. Or maybe I was just so bored that I spaced out and missed it.
Then he decides to take on the Pyke Syndicate and tells the local mayors not to get involved, and then the show turns into The Mandalorian up to the finale, which is supposed to be the cathartic scene of Fett’s team working together and finally winning except that it wasn’t earned in any way whatsoever because Fett never had to learn how to be part of a team. He didn’t have any flaw that he struggled with and overcame. He just decided that he was going to hold the territory, and he did. Every problem that arose, he had a convenient solution to.
That’s why the two or three episodes that didn’t even have Fett in them were fantastic. Not only did we get to see Grogu and Mando and Luke and Ahsoka, but those episodes actually had emotional character arcs! Mando had to decide whether to selfishly distract Grogu from his training or leave and let him follow his own path. Grogu had to decide whether to give up someone he loves and learn to become a Jedi or go back to his father figure, abandoning his training. There was tension and turmoil the entire time! Those episodes were fantastic, and the scenes where Grogu came back hit the mark perfectly because they earned it.
Yet Boba Fett had these huge scenes that absolutely flopped because they didn’t earn those emotional notes. It’s so disappointing because it should have been a fantastic show, and with just a few structural tweaks, it would have been.
How to Fix the Book of Boba Fett
So how could we fix this broken story? Let’s look at it…
Boba Fett is literally a loner. That’s his whole shtick. He’s a bounty hunter who doesn’t work with others. Full stop. He also has a lifetime of baggage to work through, but none of that affects him in The Book of Boba Fett when it should have.
The last time we ever saw Fett in the Star Wars universe, he had hunted down Han Solo to sell him to the Hutts before he met his demise in the Sarlacc Pit. Yet after a near-death experience and a brief stint of slavery, he decides that he wants to take over the Hutt’s territory and makes it a better place… just because?
Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. So let’s imagine The Book of Boba Fett if…
Instead of fridging the natives for plot convenience, once Fett is accepted into the Tusken tribe, he decides to leave in order to hunt down the Hutts and get the bounty that they owe him for bringing in Han or for nearly costing his life or whatever motivation you want along those lines. He may have learned to be part of a tribe with the Tuskens, but he’s still a bounty hunter, after all.
The Hutt Twins won’t pay him, so he decides to take down their empire. By himself. Because he’s a loner and thinks he’s that much of a badass, and we’ve already seen him do some really cool stuff, so we think maybe he can actually do it. And for a moment there, he kind of does…
Until he fails spectacularly. That’s when he meets Mando and saves Fennec Shand in his flashbacks from The Mandalorian crossover episodes, and he reluctantly teams up with Shand after seeing what she can do.
As they’re working together in the underground to take down the Hutt Twins, he sees what a shithole the territory is and how much Spice trade is hurting the people. Maybe he uncovers a plot tied to the Spice to take out his Tusken family, further motivating him to take them down.
As he and Shand are battling the Twins’ soldiers, Cad Bane comes in and assassinates the Twins and takes complete control for the Pyke Syndicate. While his Hutt problem is technically solved, they now have an even bigger problem to deal with.
Fett and Shand barely escape Cad Bane with their lives–perhaps Mando comes in to save them after hearing the commotion from Vizsla’s. (Just imagine that moment when Fett and Shand are about to die, and Mando flies in with his jet pack blasting everyone. It would be awesome.)
At this point, our heroes are at their absolute lowest. Fett has lost. He’s not going to get the bounty he’s owed, but it’s become so much more than that now. The Pyke Syndicate is after his found family, and he’s seen how much the people here are hurting. He feels like he can do something about it, and he doesn’t want to turn his back this time. He’s done with being a loner.
Fett has made connections with the locals, who want to fight back against the Pyke Syndicate’s and their Spice trade, but they’re untrained. Fett agrees to train them and help fortify their defenses. Instead of having a drawn-out training/fortification montage, we see a few clips for the opening of each episode that shows their progress. These clips remind us of the growing threat as well as takes the locals on an arc that shows them becoming ready. Then the rest of the episode would be devoted to Mando’s side quest. Because those episodes are beautiful, and nothing should change.
The finale would show Fett working along with the allies he has gathered and learned to work with as they take down the Pyke Syndicate. Towards the end of the battle, some of his Tusken friends would come in and turn the tide of the battle, pushing them into victory.
Together, they have accomplished what Fett couldn’t on his own–they’ve liberated the territory from both the Hutts and the Pyke Syndicate. They get rid of the Spice and all of the corrupt mayors. The locals rule themselves, and the Tuskens are safe. The locals try to make Fett their ruler, but he says no, he’s really not cut out for it, and it’s time to move on. He leaves to eat with his Tusken family one last time before the camera pans up to space to our other favorite family.
I’m missing a few of the smaller plot points, like Cobb Vanth and Freetown, but I’m really only focusing on workshopping Fett’s arc in this; those other subplots would still be woven in.
It still needs some work and tweaking, but I think that if the show had followed an arc closer to this and actually gave Fett some flaws that cause him problems and that he has to overcome, it would have been a much better show.
What do you think? How would you have changed The Book of Boba Fett to make it better? Or are you one of the few people that like the show as is? Leave a comment and give me your thoughts! I’d love to hear other perspectives.