Boba Fett and nature versus nurture

Perhaps the only way of achieving a definitive answer to the long-standing ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is through human cloning. Setting aside the ethical dilemma, using clones would enable genetic copies of the same child to be raised in myriad settings to see whether they grow up different or the same.

As Attack of the Clones (AOTC) established, Boba Fett is a perfect genetic copy of the bounty hunter Jango Fett. The latter served as the model on which the Republic’s entire clone army was based. On top of his financial payment, he asked for an unaltered clone to raise as his own. Having grown up as a Mandalorian foundling – a non-native child ushered into the fold – Jango’s formative years were filled with a stringent warrior’s dogma. As with any such doctrine, it shaped the adult he became, so while we first meet him a world apart from his adoptive clan, he carries their ideology with him. Both directly and through osmosis, he passed a blend of this ideology with bounty hunting onto his son. He makes no attempts to hide his work and unsavoury alliances from Boba, who is gleeful when they’re attempting to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi. Like father, like son, certainly, yet while Jango is often scheming and distant, Boba is passionate and his respect, love and admiration for his father shines through.

Like father, like son

Children innately and 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 entire framework – besides the cold Kaminoans – was Jango’s detached, trial by fire parenting style. Feeling a parent’s affection and seeing their smiles are the first ways a child learns to love and trust. From what we’ve seen, Jango offers nothing more than the occasional smirk and then only after thinking he’d killed Obi-Wan. It’s worth considering whether he ever showed intimacy to a son that was grown in a tank, never knew maternal warmth, and was introduced to violence from a young age. For all that, Jango is Boba’s world, a world that is destroyed.

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 crouched in amongst the aftermath and cradled his father’s helmet. 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 when Jango is killed. In this moment, he witnesses both the death of himself as his father’s clone and the death of his childhood. In both instances he is reborn.

In the shadow of the father

In a franchise full of paternal archetypes, Jango stands out as being the blueprint – read: the father – of an army of more than a million troopers. As The Clone Wars (TCW) series went at lengths to establish, however, the clones aren’t simulacrum, but individuals. 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 recognise one another as brothers, with the compassion and understanding of family. Born into this environment, the clones place the importance of brotherhood alongside their martial duties – attributes not shared by their wayward little sibling.

It’s fitting that Boba should appear again in TCW, posing as a fresh-faced clone cadet in a plan to kill Mace Windu in the season two episode ‘Death Trap’. Here we find him in a crowd of boys identical from the exterior but for their hair. Having taken down a trooper, the soldier says, “Don’t shoot, we’re brothers”, only for Boba to tell him that they’re not. The troopers may all be walking around with his father’s face, but to Boba they’re just copies, a reminder of his grief. As far as he’s concerned, he’s Jango’s only son, separate from the rest of the clones.

Alone in a crowd

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 a fondness for some of the young clones caught up in his scheme. Of these two new parental figures, Aurra is the one goading him deeper into the criminal underbelly. All he wanted was to avenge his father’s death, but when Aurra exposes him to the cadets and endangers them, he’s ashamed and even apologises. In the follow-up episode, ‘R2 Come Home’, Aurra asks Boba to kill one of the Republic hostages they’ve taken. But he falters.

Despite Aurra forcing him to do things he’s uncomfortable with, he clearly cares for her. After all, that innate love and trust inherent in all children had to be directed somewhere and in the absence of his father – and with perhaps a longing for a maternal influence – it shifted to her. In the final episode of this three-part arc, ‘Lethal Trackdown’, Boba is emotionally conflicted when he thinks Aurra is going to die. Yet he still can’t bring himself to kill her captor for killing’s sake. He’s not a murderer, he says, he just wants justice. At the first chance of escape, however, 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”. This betrayal comes at a crucial time in his cognitive development when he would be unconsciously questioning who he is and, just as importantly, who he wants to be. By the fourth season, he’s angrier, tougher and more combative, stuck in prison and forging his own destiny free of parental figures.  

With the gang

The fifth season episode ‘Bounty’ sees 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 more than ever. He’s even wearing a helmet, his voice harsh, the sentences clipped. But while a capable fighter, there’s still compassion within him. When the cargo is revealed as a young girl being sold into servitude, his immediate desire is to help her, before turning attention back to the job. Is this Boba’s nature taking over, choosing the payment over helping, or is it what’s demanded of him now that he’s so deeply entrenched in bounty hunting? Whatever the answer, this is the mode in which Boba lives his life going forward, growing colder, more ruthless, and carrying the anger, trauma and resentment of his father’s death with him.

From the little we’ve seen in canon, Jango Fett’s driving force and motivations are blurry at best. Although he was a Mandalorian foundling, he does not adhere to the same strict code as those that raised him. He may live to a creed, but it’s one more aligned with the criminal underworld, shooting associate Zam Wesell dead as she was about to reveal his name to the Jedi. He had little love for the Republic and was ambivalent in his assistance to the Separatists; Count Dooku was just his current employer. He is, as he tells Obi-Wan, “just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe”. While he was well paid for providing the genetic template for the Grand Army of the Republic, he is based either in his ship or an apartment on Kamino, raising the question of what all the credits are for. Rather than being financially motivated, his path instead appears to be one more of nihilism. Superficially, this is a similar path to Boba’s in The Empire Strikes Back, working for gangsters and the Empire with no qualms and little, if any, mercy or kindness. Yet in aiding the Empire, he is siding against the fallen Republic, against the Jedi, which killed his father.

Death and rebirth

It is only through his near death in Return of the Jedi that he can grow beyond these confines. By falling into the symbolic underworld of the sarlaac pit, he remerges for his second spiritual rebirth into a changed galaxy. The second series of The Mandalorian re-introduces Boba Fett into the canon as an older, harder version of the boy from TCW. However, here doesn’t appear as an armoured bounty hunter, but an archetypal vision of death with his cloak, hood and gaffi stick like a scythe on his back. But as his mantle is grey, not black, he becomes instead an avatar of rebirth. As colour theory explains, grey symbolises complexity, occupying the distance between black and white. Boba is more balanced, more attuned to his self, but still emerging from his rebirth in search of purpose and direction. 

He’s now the same age as his father when he died, and continues to carry that grief, still flying the ship he shared with his father and searching for his father’s old armour. He mentions Jango within minutes of meeting Din Djarin (four times, in fact). His sole motivation is to find the armour but, once back in beskar, battle-scarred but still very much functional, he says that he will aid Din in finding the captured Grogu. The reason, he says, is to pay for the debt of returning his armour. This suggests that, far from being nihilistic, he has his own guiding set of principles. They may not be the same that guide Din, but they provide direction and purpose nonetheless.

A new way forward

There may be a deeper reason for offering his help. Aside from connecting with the streak of compassion of his younger years, Boba could see something of himself and his father in Din and Grogu. Perhaps by helping, he can help himself. By the next episode, Boba has well and truly cast of the cloak of rebirth and re-painted his armour, honouring his father’s legacy, perhaps easing that grief, and if not resuming his former mantle, then finding a new direction forward, one that is entirely his own. Although he is the perfect genetic copy of his father, he is a much different man, forged in different times, suggesting that, in Boba’s case at least, nurture rather than nature is the force that guides and shapes the self.  

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