For many viewers, "Star Wars" is synonymous with characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, embodiments of heroism and villainy whose actions have steered the course of the long-running fantasy series.
Then there are the "Star Wars" fans whose admiration runs a bit deeper, to the ranks of supporting characters whose screen time can be measured in mere minutes.
Take the case of Boba Fett, an armored mercenary introduced to most moviegoers in the 1980 "Star Wars" sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back." In that film, he appeared in only a few scenes, as an accessory to Vader's plot to lure Skywalker into a fateful showdown. Fett resurfaced in "Return of the Jedi" (1983), in which he met a quick and mortifying demise. (Or so it seemed.)
Even so, Fett enjoys a unique place in the collective psyche of "Star Wars" devotees. Now, after decades' worth of merchandise helped keep the Boba Fett cult alive, the character will be the protagonist of his own "Star Wars" tale. "The Book of Boba Fett," a seven-episode series debuting Wednesday on Disney Plus, charts a new course for him after the events of "Return of the Jedi."
To many, Fett's ascent illustrates how "Star Wars" has evolved over its history, telling more kinds of stories and giving more characters their moments in the spotlight — even if Fett's particular appeal is steeped in mystery.
"It isn't so much the things that Boba Fett does in the films — it's the things that Boba Fett has done," said Charles Soule, author of the current "Star Wars" comic book series.
Boba Fett owes his origins to a certain amount of accident and happenstance. After the runaway success of "Star Wars" in 1977, its writer and director, George Lucas, began preparing for a sequel. Among the characters he envisioned was a new, enhanced class of the Stormtroopers employed by the nefarious Empire.
Joe Johnston, the future filmmaker who was an art director on "The Empire Strikes Back," worked with concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to design the costumes for these super-troopers, creating a suit of armor and a helmet with a narrow eye visor.
Lucas scaled back Johnston's plans over budgetary concerns. "George said we couldn't afford an army of super-troopers, but we've got this new suit," Johnston recalled. "He said, 'Let's make him a bounty hunter.' OK, sounds cool."
At Lucas' direction, Johnston fine-tuned the new character. The bounty hunter's armor was given weathered colors and dents suggesting his past conflicts. Boba Fett was born.
Fett was seen sparingly in "The Empire Strikes Back," including a scene where he stands among a group of bounty hunters that Vader has assembled to hunt down the roguish Han Solo. Vader singles out Fett for a brief instruction: "No disintegrations." ("As you wish," Fett mutters in reply.)
In "Return of the Jedi," Solo accidentally triggered Fett's jetpack, sending Fett crashing into the side of a barge and then into the waiting mouth of a Sarlacc monster.
Soule said that compared with other "Star Wars" characters whose life stories have been filled in almost entirely by the movies, Fett still had many tantalizingly unexplored areas in his personal history.
"There are characters who we have seen a lot of, and it's hard to find the places where there's much capital still left," he said. "Then there are characters whose bank accounts haven't been drawn down very much. There's a lot of capital left in Boba Fett's account."