The White Saviour trope is common across sci fi and fantasy. It’s basically when a white character, usually male, arrives in a foreign locale and uses their superior intellect to liberate people of colour. These stories usually offer very little agency to said people of colour, with the possible exception of a side kick used either for comic relief, to help personalise the plight of the people, or in many cases, both. The Book of Boba Fett is not a White Saviour story, but that hasn’t stopped it from being labelled as one.
On the whole, Star Wars is pretty good at avoiding the White Saviour trope. The original leads were all white, but Luke, Han, and Leia all work with various aliens and never really save indigenous communities who are helpless without the White Man. In the modern trilogy, two of the leads (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) are people of colour too. It’s not perfect – Boyega was cut from the marketing in some territories, and Vietnamese-American actor Kelly Marie Tran had her role in the third film substantially reduced after heavy backlash to her presence in the second – but for all Star Wars’ flaws and tropes, the White Saviour isn’t one of them.
Related: Boba Fett's Crunchy Fight Scenes Set It Apart From The MandalorianCertainly, it’s a pitfall Star Wars has avoided far more than its pseudo-cousin Indiana Jones, at least. Of course, there are always debates around White Saviours. Few would argue against Dances With Wolves, Elysium, or Avatar being White Saviour stories, but many challenge whether The Matrix fits this definition, despite having several hallmarks. Dune, where a young white boy leads a group of indigenous people of colour to victory over their colonisers, is pretty blatantly a White Saviour story, but was also specifically written to critique and explore the trope. Does it get a pass for succumbing to the White Saviour knowingly, or does said knowledge make Dune’s tropes even worse?
A question for another day. While Dune attempts to question the White Saviour trope by exploring it, The Book of Boba Fett inverts it – yet it’s still being accused of it.
Boba Fett is played by Temuera Morrison, a New Zealander of Māori descent. He’s a person of colour, just as the Mandalorian played by Pedro Pascal is. This already reduces the White Saviour trope, but Boba Fett has been accused of being/labelled as (take your pick) ‘culturally white’, so Morrison’s heritage does not matter to some. It’s an odd idea – basically white guys related to Boba, or at least thought he was cool as shit, when he originally appeared in the movies. Because he had a helmet on, these guys assumed he was white, and because white guys are never wrong, that means they were right. Even though they weren’t.
Morrison’s skin colour is not just a get out of jail free card, though. Boba Fett deliberately looks at how the White Saviour story typically goes, and then takes it apart.
In the second episode, Boba Fett helps the Tusken Raiders with superior technology, namely his bike. This, an outsider astounding the indigenous people with something they are not intelligent or advanced enough to comprehend, is very much an obvious hallmark of the White Saviour, but identifying one feature is the most basic understanding of what this trope can mean.
The Tusken Raiders have long been viewed in Star Wars as, if not enemies, then nuisance antagonists. Boba working with them in partnership is already beyond what a lot of Star Wars heroes have done. Added to this, there is no heroic liberation – the typical endgame of the White Saviour – and it is contextualised by the story around it. In the previous episode, rather than remain in the lair he deposed Jabba of, Boba Fett takes to the street, wanting not to rule over this culture, but to engage with it. As far as a warlord who asks for fealty and bounty may be, he is respectful of the civilisation he finds himself in.
The White Saviour story is a loaded topic. Most people who claim Boba Fett is not – most people therefore, on my side – like to pour scorn on SJWs for daring to find politics in popular media. As someone who frequently finds and analyses politics in our popular media (I’d argue I’m currently doing that right now), it’s strange to be taking the side of the dismisser. In fact, more so than people missing the point of the White Saviour tropes in Boba Fett, it’s the people who fail to engage with them at all who display a complete lack of media literacy.
We need to have these discussions about the media we consume. This time, much like Dune always intended to, it seems as though Boba Fett lives inside the White Saviour trope in order to invert it. Hopefully the rest of the series can continue to deconstruct sci fi’s biggest flaws. And hopefully we’ll all notice when it does.
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