Boba Fett and the nature versus nurture argument

The only true means of uncovering a definitive answer to the age-old ‘nature versus nurture’ argument is through the use of human cloning. Setting aside the ethical dilemma for a moment, using clones would enable genetic copies of the same child to be raised in a variety of environments and conditions, to see whether they grew up different or the same.

As Attack of the Clones established back in 2002, Boba Fett is a perfect genetic copy of his father, the notorious bounty hunter Jango Fett. The latter served as the model on which the Republic’s clone army was based. On top of his financial payment, Fett asked for an unaltered clone to raise as his son. Since there appears to be little, if any, love in Jango – perhaps due to his own upbringing – his request can perhaps be viewed as selfish for wanting someone to admire and idolize him. Children will unconditionally look up to and love the parental figure they imprint on.

A baby’s entire reality is shaped by sensory stimuli, so a young Boba’s sole stimulus, besides the cold Kaminoans, would have been Jango’s oddly detached parenting style. Feeling a parent’s warmth and seeing their smile are the first ways a child learns to love and trust. Jango’s smiles are sparse and always inspired by violence, and it’s doubtful he’s ever hugged his son. For all that, Jango is Boba’s world.

During the battle in the Geonosian arena, he watched as his father was beheaded by Mace Windu. After the fighting spilled out into the surrounding desert, he crouches in amongst the aftermath and cradles his father’s helmet. What else could he do but continue with what he knew. The life of a bounty hunter is for Boba part defence mechanism, part self-fulfilling prophecy. Joseph Campbell speaks of death and rebirth in context to the hero’s journey as the ending of childhood, with its dependence on others, and the beginnings of adulthood. Boba experiences this both metaphorically and literally, with the death of his father, of whom he is a clone. In this moment, he witnesses the death of himself, and also the death of his childhood, and in both instances is reborn.

In the shadow of the father

In a franchise full of paternal archetypes, Jango stands out as being the blueprint of an army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. As The Clone Wars series went at lengths to establish, however, the clones weren’t simulacrum, but individuals. They wore their hair in different styles, sported tattoos or spoke with varying cadences. They were raised and trained as soldiers, and function with the camaraderie, loyalty and duty one would expect of any organised army. But they also recognised one another as brothers, with all the compassion and understanding of a loving family. From this perspective, it’s clear that nurture is the force that shapes us, with our environment and elder figures moulding our worldviews and personalities.

It’s fitting that Boba should appear again in The Clone Wars, posing as a fresh-faced clone cadet, no less, in a plan to kill Mace Windu in the season two episode ‘Death Trap’. Here we find him, in a crowd of boys with the exact same face. As the episode progresses, we see the separation between him and his fellow clones. Having taken down a trooper, the soldier says, “Don’t shoot, we’re brothers”, only for Boba to tell him that they’re not. Boba doesn’t see himself as a clone and is therefore entirely removed from the rest of them. Imagine, then, what it must have been like to see all those troopers walking around with his father’s face.

Determined though he is to be a bounty hunter, under the criminal tutelage of his father’s former associates, Aurra Sing and Bossk, Boba develops an affection for some of the clones caught up in his scheme. Of the two, Aurra is the one goading Boba deeper into the criminal underbelly. All he wanted was to avenge his father’s death, but when Aurra exposes Boba to the young cadets and endangers them, Boba is clearly ashamed and even apologises.

Alone in a crowd

In the follow-up episode, ‘R2 Come Home’, Aurra asks Boba to kill one of the Republic hostages they’ve taken to draw Mace Windu out. But Boba falters. Aurra scolds him for it, instilling and reinforcing behaviours that will come to define this fledgling bounty hunter.

Yet despite Aurra forcing him to do things he’s clearly not comfortable with, he very obviously cares for her. After all, that innate love and trust inherent in all children had to be directed somewhere. In the final episode of this three-part arc, ‘Lethal Trackdown’, Boba is emotionally conflicted and visibly torn when he thinks Aurra is going to be killed. But still he can’t bring himself to kill for killing’s sake. He’s not a murderer, he says, he just wants justice for his father. At the first chance of escape, Aurra abandons him and Boba is crushed. Asked for the location of the hostages, he angrily replies, “Why should I help anybody? I’ve got no one”.

All humans feel the need to form attachments, in babies this is an evolutionary survival instinct. Despite the behavioural modifications in the manufacture of the clones, they all still possess this same instinct. It is only imperial conditioning which removes the desire for emotional connections. Having surrounded himself with bounty hunters, Boba’s development is still putting stock in the nurture over nature argument. At this point in his cognitive development, Boba would be unconsciously questioning who he is and, just as importantly, who he wants to be.

With the gang

The next significant appearance of Boba, after the failed assassination attempt on Mace Windu, comes in the fourth series of The Clone Wars, where an undercover Obi-Wan Kenobi is locked in prison in the episode ‘Deception’. There we find Boba angrier, tougher and harder. He’s jaded and full of deadly charisma. Here he has Bossk to watch over him, more as a bodyguard than a surrogate father. Now Boba doesn’t need a parental figure. He’s becoming his own guiding force.

The fifth season episode ‘Bounty’ sees a teenaged Boba assuming a leadership position, heading up a gang of bounty hunters on an ambitious job to deliver and protect some precious cargo. Boba is the boss now and he has something to prove, resembling his father now more than ever. He’s even wearing a helmet. His voice is harsh, sentences clipped and more like his adult self. But while a capable fighter, there’s still a sliver of compassion in him. When the cargo is revealed as a young girl, his immediate reaction is to help her, before wanting to resume to job and get paid. Is this Boba’s nature taking over, or is it what’s demanded of him now he’s entrenched in the world of bounty hunting?

Though still a boy, Boba’s idea of where he feels he belongs is set in carbonite. All he knows is the pitiless world of bounty hunting and he will never find someone to show him another way. Like his fellow clones, he hasn’t been so much nurtured as made, hardened by cruelty and suffered a life with little, if any, love. If Star Wars does offer an answer to the nature versus nurture argument, it would seem that Boba is a product of his upbringing and role models. As, perhaps, we all are.

1 reply »

  1. Ah, such a tough question… Nature vs nurture. I think some is nature, from personal experience, but I think the majority is nurture, which is basically what you argue anyway. Good post and that picture of Boba with Jango’s helmet really struck a cord with me. I haven’t looked at it in a long time (because. Aotc) but it’s very haunting and stylistically beautiful at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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