Are they dark and complex? Light and cheerful? Do they have in-depth backstories filled with powerful story arcs?
Or when you think of all these factors, do you draw a blank?
You just experienced The Boba Fett Effect – When a character’s aesthetics and notion of depth outweigh true characterization and importance in a story to the point of inspiring a widespread following.
We as people want some instant satisfaction in our characters. We’re visual creatures. These characters fulfill these basic needs to the point of seeming deeper than they really are.
I love Boba Fett just as much as the next Star Wars fan that grew up with George Lucas’ creation, but this is a character that really did nothing to engender the insane amounts of love he has gained. A few minutes on screen, a fantastic look, and a couple lines – in the end, Fett’s appearance and mystery is more powerful than any actual characterization.
But it’s a powerful formula! In the decades since The Most Dangerous Bounty Hunter in The Galaxy first appeared on screen (or television, got to love that Star Wars Christmas Special), there have been dozens of well-loved characters that have next to nothing about them besides their look and general aesthetic. These can be heroes or villains, but most often fall into the category of anti-hero.
So, what makes up The Boba Fett Effect? It’s a combination of a few factors, each of which should be strong enough to overcome any lack of depth and meaning. And if you love any of the characters that I mention, don’t be too offended! I have so much Boba Fett memorabilia, it’s embarrassing
This is the first attack in The Boba Fett Effect. When that character first walks (or flies, rides, swims, etc.) onscreen or onto the page, he or she has to make a real impact. The audience has to stop and say, “Hey, check out that guy!” Mostly, the character has to look bad ass. The Boba Fett Effect doesn’t really work with cute or primarily funny characters, but dashing and brave characters can be included.
While there is no set look for someone that falls into this category, there are a few staples. Battle-damaged armor, leather coats, heavy duty belts and straps, brooding hats, dark colors, and tattoos are the primary effects for humans. As for aliens and the supernatural, flames, claws, and big teeth are the ticket to success. Mostly, these elements play into classic notions of being rough and tough, while having a unique spin that makes the character easily recognizable.
Sure, these can be applied to a lot of great, well-rounded characters, but those in The Boba Fett Effect don’t really move past the looks. Dante from Devil May Cry isn’t much more than a haircut, overcoat, and big sword. Goku from Dragon Ball Z is big pointy hair with an orange outfit. Samus Aran from Metroid is a big-shouldered, bright-visored space adventurer who is (surprise!) a woman underneath all that. These looks are so classically cool that there isn’t much that people feel the need to explore.
Noteworthy Characters: The Xenomorph – Alien, The Predator, Dante – Devil May Cry, Link – The Legend of Zelda
The less the audience knows about the character, the better. Think about our titular bounty hunter. Did people really want to find out that Fett was a sad clone when he was a young boy? No, they fell in love with the silent, strong, faceless bounty hunter. Besides keeping details off the page or screen, this also means that your character probably doesn’t talk too much, or speaks very little about him- or herself.
Really, the idea of mystery making a character memorable can be traced back far before Fett. Video games are a prime example – Master Chief and Samus Aran just being a few examples. On film, you can see it in the unnamed protagonist of Yojimbo and The Man with No Name of The Dollars Trilogy. Go back even further and you eventually wind up with Zeus – big strong guy, lightning bolt weapon, very vague motivations. No wonder he was so popular in the ancient world.
To be fair, a majority of characters throughout all media are given little definition. But in the cases we are examining, their mystery is heightened to the point of being an essential part of the character. It sparks imagination and a desire to know more about the character. In the past, it was known as creating an expanded universe. Today, it’s called fan fiction! However, once the mystery is gone, the character often loses its shine.
Noteworthy Characters: Dracula, Master Chief – Halo, Cad Bane – Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Hush – Batman
A (Fake) Sense of History
Being mysterious doesn’t mean that he or she just popped out of thin air one day. Little hints must be present about where he or she came from: Fett has banged-up and well-worn armor, Marcus Fenix from Gears of War speaks a little about his time before the war, and The Balrog from The Lord of The Rings has scraps of information about where it came from. These all establish that these characters came from somewhere and have years of experience that give a sense of depth that makes the audience want to learn more.
Frankly, the creator probably never established a back story for most of these characters. Maybe J.R.R. Tolkien. He was crazy like that. Otherwise, you can probably bet that most of the work was done to create a sense of history, not actual history. And if sequels and prequels decide to give a backstory, it probably won’t go so well. Fett may be a more fully realized character, but that’s because the fans took it on themselves to create a story for him, which eventually made Lucas take action.
But it a sense of history is still vital. And it has to be well crafted. It’s easy to spot when a character’s history is a big blank page or a cheap cardboard cutout. That cutout needs to be made out of really high quality cardboard. Otherwise, the actions of the character ring false and everything begins to feel fake.
Noteworthy Characters: Marcus Fenix – Gears of War, The Man in Black and Jacob – Lost, Wolverine
If the costume makes the initial impact, the weapon seals the deal. These things inspire envy in fans and must have some defining moment. They can be either exaggerations of commonplace weapons (Machete’s machete!) or something altogether unique (Kratos’s Blades of Chaos!), but in either case, they make an impact.
Maybe the best example of all is Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber. This guy really isn’t much more than a cool tattooed face and a weapon, but the people love him! Of course, it also lets him have that great two-on-one fight with Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jin at the end of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It’s a perfect intersection between awesome weapon and great fight scene. It’s enough to cement Maul in a place of fanboy love with only one movie, a few lines, and an abrupt death.
Typically, you can tell that a character falls into this type when he or she loses that something special when separated from the weapon. Spider-Man can still be a great character without his web-shooters, but can you separate most of these from their own iconic weapon?
Noteworthy Characters: Kratos’s Blades of Chaos, Darth Maul’s Double-Bladed Lightsaber, The Cast of Street Fighter and Their Signature Moves, Goku and The Kamehameha
And that’s what I call The Boba Fett Effect! What do you think? Does this trend help or hurt media? Do you have a favorite character that falls into this category?