Us middle-aged dorks sure have it made these days. Just about everything we loved as kids is back, and stronger than ever. Let’s take STAR WARS for example. This weekend sees the release of a new film and just after I got to see Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back) at Chicago’s Days of the Dead . Despite the twenty-seven-year difference, the two films have been mentioned together a lot these days, with critics calling this latest installment “the best since Empire.” I can’t say if I agree with that yet as I won’t get to see it till Sunday, but totally understand why The Empire Strikes Back is used as a benchmark for STAR WARS greatness. It’s got a great story, the first appearance of Yoda, that amazing battle on Hoth, a twist ending concerning the relationship between Luke and Vader, defied movie standards by not having the good guys win, and featured one of the coolest bounty hunters in ANY galaxy, let alone one far, far away. It’s no wonder its a critical and fan favorite. It’s also no mystery why so many of us flocked Days of the Dead to celebrate the great Boba Fett and the man behind his mask.
For those of us who were kids back during the original trilogy, we’d been given a glimpse of the mighty Fett even before his theatrical debut. It started with a cartoon cameo in the infamous STAR WARS Holiday special (1978) before he’d find his way into our action figure carry cases. What made the Kenner STAR WARS Boba Fett figure so memorable for me, wasn’t just that we could get him before the movie came out but that it was the first toy I actually had to work for. I was nine years old and remember having to collect four action figure “proof of purchases” (circular symbols you’d cut off the backboards) to mail away for it. I’ll never forget the afternoon it finally arrived and his joining the rest of my collection for hours of play.
Nearly twenty years later, I’d have the privilege of meeting the real Boba Fett, Jeremy Bulloch, at the Chicago Comic Con, as it was called back then. It was the summer of ‘97 and my roommate and I went together. He was a fellow STAR WARS fanatic and we were both excited to meet Bulloch along with Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and David Prowse (Darth Vader). Unfortunately, we didn’t have much in the way of cash and made the mistake of spending what little we did bring at a booth selling black and white, 8×10 screen shots of the characters. Once we brought these stills to the actors, we were informed by their handler that they were only permitted to sign pictures purchased through them. Since we didn’t have any more money to do so, we were basically out of luck. Seeing our disappointment, all three actors agreed to take photos with us (using my friend’s camera) so we didn’t leave empty handed.
Now, after yet another twenty years have passed (this STAR WARS shit is really makin’ me feel old), one of those old photos would be coming with me to Days of the Dead.
Despite technically being a horror convention, there was a definite STAR WARS vibe going on with my fellow fanboys highly visible and in no short supply. I encountered one guy who shared a love of both the franchise, as well as patches, while focusing almost exclusively on Boba Fett. He proudly wore his collection and allowed me to video a discussion of it…
Another talented fan decided to mix up Fett with one of the new trilogy’s characters, BB-8. This custom droid was affectionately referred to as BB-Fett and its creator was a proud member of 501st Legion; a group of STAR WARS enthusiasts who not only cosplay but often do it for a good cause.
When I passed Bulloch’s booth, he had just settled in. Though the ravages of time erode all of us like invisible Sarlaccs, Bulloch seemed particularly fragile. The years, however, had done nothing to diminish his graciousness and both he and his wife, Maureen, were a pleasure to talk to. I told them all about my experience back in ’97 and they enjoyed seeing that old photo. I asked him to sign it for me and was just about to hand Maureen the $20 fee when Bulloch waved it off. I thought that was exceptionally kind of him. Contrary to his character, it’s not all about business with this guy!
The next day my son and I had a professional photo op with him wearing his Boba Fett costume. It was a LONG line and the guy managing it was clearly a STAR WARS fan, himself.
Another member of the 501 was an authentic looking Fett who walked around posing with us while we waited.
I enjoyed seeing him earlier when he was overseeing the crowd from the second floor. I smiled as I could totally picture him as the famous bounty hunter stalking his quarry.
The photo op itself went smoothly. They had a big prop of Han Solo in carbonite standing behind you and actually took two photographs; one with Bulloch wearing the helmet and one without (by the way, does anyone know where you can access the helmet shot?). The frail Bulloch seemed too small for the uniform which made me appreciate this opportunity all the more.
Boba Fett is still a popular character of the STAR WARS, though now beyond Bulloch. The prequel films brought his character in for a backstory we really didn’t want and there’s even talk of a standalone Fett film in the future. For my part, I’d prefer the character have remained a mystery. I’m content knowing that behind that cold, Mandolarian armor, is a really nice guy who cares about us fans.