I’m surprised it took me so long to come up with this because this is one of the only scenes I used to rewind to watch more than once, and I distinctly remember looking forward to it every time I watched Empire Strikes Back.
I’m talking about the scene with the bounty hunters.
Naturally, any scene with the Imperial fleet is one that I look forward to and enjoy thoroughly. So here we’ve got the Executor smashing asteroids with aplomb, we’ve got deck officers moving around doing interesting stuff, and then we’ve got the bridge. Oh, the glorious bridge of the Imperial flagship! I love it.
Star Wars gave filmgoers normal, everyday life among people who took space travel for granted. There were farmers, merchants, knights, priests–the standard population not only of mythology, folktale, and fiction, but also of our everyday lives. Star Wars took for granted that this was the way the galaxy worked, an old and worn out galaxy at war, and that’s what people loved. Speaking of galactic warfare, you know what else is associated with civil war? Westerns. The American West in the 19th century, with Civil War veterans heading toward the Rockies for freedom, treasure, etc. etc. Yes, Star Wars has plenty in common with westerns, and that is how we get to bounty hunters.
“We don’t need that scum,” Piett hisses, affronted by the riffraff on his bridge. Most of these guys are members of the bounty hunters’ guild — Bossk is the son of Cradossk, the head of the Guild in fact. Although they dress shabby in patched armor, they all have money to burn, money they earn by hunting down anyone with a price on their head and turning them over for profit. In Elmore Leonard’s classic The Bounty Hunters, the eponymous band get paid per Apache scalp they turn in, but you know they aren’t scrupulous and some of those scalps belong to Mexicans. No doubt these bounty hunters follow a similar shifty code . . .
Except for Boba Fett, of course. Boba Fett, the silent man in green armor who has entranced fanboys for decades and even his widely-criticized backstory hasn’t hurt his fanbase (much). Although some arguments are inevitable about just how much of a badass this guy actually is, it’s hard to deny the coolness factor to his iconic helmet and Batman-quality gizmos. I love Boba Fett as much as anybody, and in the original versions of the films, this was our first glimpse of the man. “As you wish,” he grates out in response to Vader’s demands.
But he’s not the only one there who is totally awesome. One of my favorite anthologies is Tales of the Bounty Hunters — which includes a sadly bittersweet episode 15 years after ROTJ with an aging Fett and his Slave II. These short stories give insights into the life of Dengar (the one with the white bandages), who was badly burned in a race with Han Solo and is out for revenge. IG-88, assassin droid, has actually duplicated himself four times and runs an empire-wide conspiracy to eliminate organic life. He’s the reason the probe droid self-destructed on Hoth — not to disguise the Empire’s intent but so that no organic would ever learn what the droids were planning! (All four IG-88s died before they could implement this plan.) Bossk, as I said, is the son of the head of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, and even more of his story comes to light in K.W. Jeter’s stunning Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy. My longtime favorite has been Zuckuss with his droid partner 4-LOM (I talked about them here).
I love every character in this scene. The way the camera peers up at them, putting the viewer alongside the trim Imperial officers with their rampant disgust of the filthy bounty hunters — not because they aren’t human, (because there is no canonical evidence for galactically widespread, government-endorsed species related bigotry,and I don’t thank Timothy Zahn for inventing it) but because they are the scum of the galaxy, mavericks who would presumably sell off their own close family members for the right number of credits. The silent bounty hunters, more like Vader than anyone else on the bridge because they too are separated from everyone by armor, their faces just as unreadable, are fascinating just as a picture. Boba Fett’s curious stance as spokesperson for the motley group. Their backstories, explored in the two canonical sources I just offered you, are fun to explore. And as always, Boba Fett’s mask is as iconic a part of the Trilogy as Vader’s. Man, I love these guys!