Happy Birthday, Empire
In honor of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I’d like to contribute one of my most popular posts from days of yore.
I wish I could quit you, Lord Vader.
So, Darth Vader is looking for Luke Skywalker. He doesn’t have a chance of finding him (in spite of being able to sense his presence a galaxy away when the plot demands it), but he can, theoretically, find Luke’s friends Han and Leia (and Chewbacca, of course). Han, Leia, Chewbacca (and C-3PO, you know, the robot that Darth Vader built when he was 9 years old) are in Han’s ship the Millenium Falcon. The Millenium Falcon is a fast ship with many tricks up its proverbial sleeves, so it’s very difficult to catch. To catch the Millenium Falcon, Darth Vader can’t rely on his ill-informed, bumbling Imperial forces — he must turn to bounty hunters. “We don’t need that scum,” mutters Imperial Guy under his breath when he sees the dregs of the universe cluttering up his Star Destroyer.
So, the official Imperial stance on bounty hunters is: we don’t like you. So it seems that Vader has taken it upon himself to hire the bounty hunters himself, in spite of his officers’ disapproval. Who knows, maybe the bounty he’s offering is out of his own pocket. Point is, Vader has a much different opinion of bounty hunters than the Empire does.
Many bounty hunters apply for the job; only one can catch the wily Han Solo and friends. Scaly reptile in yellow flight-suit Bossk can’t hack it, half-droid-half-insect 4-LOM is a failure, stubby whatsit Zuckuss hasn’t a clue, renegade assassin droid IG-88 couldn’t find his ass with both hands, a map and a flashlight. Only master bounty hunter Boba Fett has what it takes to track down and capture Han Solo in his super-wily Millenium Falcon.
Here’s my question — what’s up with Darth Vader and Boba Fett?
But wait, we need to go back in time a little bit. In Episode II (Attack of the Clones), Jango Fett, Boba’s father (or, rather, his genetic donor) tries to kill Anakin Skywalker’s girlfriend Senator Padme Amidala. Obi-Wan Kenobi tracks Jango Fett across the galaxy, past the Rishii Maze, to Kamino, where he has a dramatic showdown with Jango Fett and his young son Boba. Later on, Jango and Boba show up to see Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan be eaten by animals in the Geonosian Execution Arena. The execution is interrupted by the arrival of Mace Windu and a hundred Jedis, who proceed to kick ass.
Bedlam ensues. In the fracas, Jango Fett tries to kill Mace Windu, but Mace Windu turns the tables on Jango Fett and beheads him. Boba Fett squats on the battle field, holding his father’s severed head, plans for revenge (or something) bubbling in his 9-year-old brain.
So. Here we have Boba Fett in the same arena as Anakin Skywalker, holding his dead father’s head, said head still being enclosed in its distinctive helmet. Boba Fett will one day wear that helmet, and the rest of Jango Fett’s armor, and also drive his father’s ship (the Slave I). So apparently Boba Fett wants very much to follow in his father’s footsteps. Okay, he paints the armor green — maybe he likes green, maybe that’s his big personal statement, maybe he and Jango argued for years about what color Boba’s armor was going to be (“Damn it son, we Fetts have always worn blue armor, it was good enough for my grandfather, it was good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me AND IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU!” “I hate you, father! And one day I’ll have my OWN armor! You’ll see!”) Anakin Skywalker must know that Jango Fett is the guy who tried to kill his girlfriend — if he doesn’t figure it out on his own, Obi-Wan must tell him at some point in his Jedi training.
So. Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader, and twenty years or so later he requires the services of a bounty hunter. He puts out a call and a handful of bounty hunters show up at his Star Destroyer. Boba Fett is among them. This gets no reaction from Darth Vader. He doesn’t say “Okay, guys, go find me the Millenium Falcon, except for you, Boba Fett, we’ve got unfinished business,” rather he goes the opposite way — he singles him out of the crowd as worthy of attention. Now, Boba Fett may or may not know that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, but Vader must know that this is the kid who’s father tried to kill Padme and who was beheaded by Mace Windu at the Jedi Battle of Geonosis.
Is this the first time Vader has seen Boba Fett since that fateful day in the dusty, droid-filled arena? What is going on in his mind? Is he thinking “holy shit, that’s that Boba Fett kid, I hope he doesn’t recognize my voice” or “poor kid, I got his father killed, I hope he doesn’t hold it against me,” or “Well, even though his dad tried to kill my girlfriend, the past is past and I need him now” or “well, my boss killed his dad, but his dad tried to kill my girlfriend, so I guess we’re kind of even,” or what?
I ask this because once everybody meets up in Bespin, Darth Vader treats Boba Fett with extraordinary respect. Lando Calrissian he double-crosses and back-stabs, his own officers he strangles to death for the slightest mistakes, but Boba Fett he gives every measure of dignity and thoughtfulness. “He’s no good to me dead,” snarls Boba Fett as Han Solo is lowered into the carbonite. Vader could, at that point, turn to Fett and bark “Hey, how ’bout I throw you in there instead, asshole? How dare you talk to me in that tone? Do you even know who I am?!” But no, Vader gives him stern, calm assurances that the bounty hunter’s prize will not be affected by the freezing process and gives him deferential clearance to leave Bespin unharmed.
Why? What does Darth Vader owe Boba Fett? What concern is it of his that Han Solo be delivered safely to Jabba the Hutt? Is he worried that Jabba is going to come after him? Surely a Sith Lord with a freaking fleet of Star Destroyers can defend himself against a fat slug who lives in a basement (hey, that’s not an insult, that’s just what the guy is). Is the connection between Vader and Fett a “guys who don’t take off their helmets” thing, some secret bond that only guys who don’t take off their helmets share? Does Vader have a crush on Fett, one that Fett won’t acknowledge but will exploit to his advantage if he can? Does Vader have a sentimental streak for bounty hunters, a romantic ideal, does he think of them as kinds of intergalactic pirates? Did young Anakin Skywalker dream of one day becoming a bounty hunter, did he lie awake at night reading tales of brave, reckless bounty hunters, with a flashlight under his covers after his mother Shmi turned out the lights? On the bridge of his Star Destroyer, under his glossy black helmet, is he secretly thinking “Bounty hunters! Holy freaking shit, I’m in the same room as bounty hunters!” his scarred, deformed heart pounding like a triphammer within its cybernetic ribcage.
Because there’s something going on there. Listen to the way Vader speaks to him: “He’s all yours — bounty hunter,” there’s a world of hurt weighted into those words, and what Vader obviously means is “He’s all yours, Boba Fett, don’t think I don’t know who you are because I do, and remember this day for the rest of your life because this is the day I didn’t kill you for being the son of the guy who tried to kill my girlfriend.” Or maybe he means “He’s all yours — and if you get back before morning we can have hot ‘guy in helmet’ sex.”
Come to think of it, if Vader paid the bounty on Han Solo, why is he allowing Boba Fett to take him away? Wait, are all the bounty hunters on Vader’s Star Destroyer working for Jabba the Hutt? Is Vader working with Jabba? When he couldn’t find Solo, did he call up Jabba and say “So, J-Slug, I need to find this Solo character, you know any good bounty hunters?” and Jabba said “That Solo asshole is mine, Vader,” and Vader said “Well, I know he’s near where I am, if you want to send me your best guys I think we can work something out,” and that way he can get Han, the Princess and Luke (and his robot C-3PO, of course) and have Jabba pay for it? Smart move, Vader, save the Empire a few credits.
(C-3PO gets blasted by a stormtrooper shortly after arriving on Bespin. I’d love to see the scene where the stormtrooper brings the shattered corpse of C-3PO to Vader and he says “Hey, where did you get this? I built this robot when I was 9 years old!” And then he sits down and cries until dinner. “What’s the matter with Lord Vader?” says a stormtrooper to his friend. “I don’t know,” is the reply. “I just showed him this crate of junk and now he’s bawling like a homesick 9-year-old.” “Give it to me, I’ll throw it away.” ” Good idea, thanks.”)
INT. VADER’S INNER SANCTUM — NIGHT
Vader sits meditating in his big black globe thing. BOBA FETT enters.
FETT. You wanted to see me, Lord Vader?
VADER. Yes. Did you, did you get to the Hutt’s place all right?
FETT. Yes, Lord Vader.
VADER. Good. And the bounty, you’re all taken care of?
FETT. All squared away, yes sir. Was there anything else?
VADER. You know, I, I recognized you.
FETT. Recognized me, Lord Vader?
VADER. Yes, earlier, I — I couldn’t say anything, not with the other bounty hunters there, but — I know you. We’ve met before.
FETT. We have?
VADER. Yes. Your armor used to be — blue, right?
FETT. Why, yes, yes, as a matter of fact — how did you know that?
VADER. It was your father’s.
FETT. Jango, yes, a good man he was, a simple man, just trying to make his way in the universe. Tsk –
VADER. Tell me, Mr. Fett –
FETT. Please, Lord Vader, you can call me Boba.
VADER. Boba. Boba. How many times I’ve dreamed of this moment.
VADER. Tell me — when you’re out there in your ship, hunting bounties — is it not terribly — lonely, Boba?
FETT. Well, I suppose so, I –
VADER. Do you not miss the company of others, Boba, do you not miss your, your father?
FETT. You — you knew my father?
VADER. Let me put it this way — I’m the only man in the Empire who knows what you look like under that helmet.
FETT. You saw my father’s face?
VADER. Oh, more often than you can possibly imagine. Would you — like to stay here, with me, tonight?
FETT. Well I — you mean, here? In this room? Are you saying what I think you’re saying?
VADER. What do you think I’m saying?
FETT. I think we both know what you’re saying.
VADER. Does that — shock you?
FETT. I — no, no, but I, I just like to know.
VADER. There’s a, let’s say, “bounty” in it for you. Interested?
FETT. Should I get undressed?
VADER. Yes. Yes. But — leave the helmet on.