Bounty hunting in the world of Star Wars is indeed a "complicated profession." Werner Herzog's character says as much in trailers for the upcoming series The Mandalorian, and he's not wrong. The history of bounty hunters in the galaxy far, far away is also a little complicated, as those who choose that line of work are often mixed in with scoundrels, assassins, pirates, smugglers, and various other types of galactic criminals. Wanna buy some death sticks?
Before we get to know more about bounty hunters (and the art of bounty hunting itself) in The Mandalorian, we're going to go all the way back to the beginning of the Star Wars saga and look at the history of this dubious occupation. For sanity's sake, we're going to stick with the movies and shows, with one small exception. When did bounty hunters become such a rich part of the Star Wars tapestry? It happened right at the beginning, with the very first film in 1977.
BOUNTY HUNTERS IN THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY — FAVORITE DECORATIONS
Bounty hunters first appear in Star Wars thanks to everyone's favorite scoundrel, Han Solo. The first time the term appears in the series is in Tatooine's Mos Eisley cantina, shortly after Greedo points a blaster at Solo right as he's about to shuffle off to Docking Bay 94. Solo owes "Jabba" a lot of money and Greedo has come to collect, telling Solo that Jabba put a price on his head so large that every bounty hunter in the galaxy is going to be coming after him. Greedo thinks that he's lucky because he found him first, but he's not lucky at all — he doesn't survive the scene. Sorry about the mess.
Greedo (a Rodian) is not necessarily a bounty hunter only, as Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 3 reveals that he also dabbled in kidnapping and other criminal enterprises. He definitely works for Jabba, but he doesn't seem all that interested in taking Solo in alive. This is usually a defining trait in a bounty hunter, because their prizes are almost always no good to them dead. Even so, he's our introduction to Star Wars' galaxy of bounty hunters.
In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, we meet some real bounty hunters, characters who would go on to define the profession for us. This includes the most famous bounty hunter in Star Wars, Boba Fett. (Technically, Boba Fett made his debut in an animated cartoon as part of the Star Wars Holiday Special, which Lucasfilm pretends doesn't exist. He rides a creature of some kind and wields a rifle with a tuning fork stuck in the tip — a weapon that will appear in The Mandalorian. All this is before we meet him in live action, though.)
Bounty Hunters are a part of Empire before Boba Fett and Co. appear, though. Right at the start, when Han and Leia are bickering about Han leaving Hoth, Han says he was planning to stay with the Rebels, but "the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind." He's still being hunted, and it's not long before Darth Vader brings in a cadre of bounty hunters to help his inept bunch of Imperials capture the Millennium Falcon. Admiral Piett has the choice line here: "Bounty hunters … we don't need their scum."
He's quite wrong, they need all the help they can get. The roster of scum on display in this scene includes 4-LOM, Zuckuss, the toilet-paper-wrapped Dengar, a Trandoshan in a flight suit named Bossk, an assassin droid designated IG-88, and the Fettster. We don't find out how they were contacted or how they all got there, and aside from a growl from Bossk, Fett is the only one who talks. Vader's lines make it clear that he's worked with Fett before, as he is very firm on there being "no disintegrations."
Fett's the only one in the bunch who manages to follow Solo, tracking them to Bespin. He actually stands up to Vader, saying that Solo is no good to him dead, and that he's worth a lot to him — a core tenet of bounty hunting. They famously carbon-freeze Han, and Vader allows the Fettster to take him to Jabba the Hutt.
Boba Fett is back in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and if you look very closely, Dengar and Bossk are visible in Jabba's palace too. They're not the only bounty hunters there, though. Leia Organa is able to gain entry by pretending to be a member of the profession, going by the name Boushh. Many years later, in one of the Star Wars: Forces of Destiny shorts, we saw how Leia duped the real Boushh and stole the outfit. Despite Leia/Boushh being Jabba's kind of scum (fearless and inventive), the ruse dissolves quickly.
It's not long until Luke is on the scene, Solo is free, Jabba is dead, and the Fettster goes down the sarlacc drain in a most undignified manner. In the old expanded universe canon, Boba escaped, but his ultimate fate remains unclear in the new canon.
Boba shows up in all three of the "original" movies if you count his appearance alongside the CGI Jabba the Hutt in the Special Edition of A New Hope, but otherwise, that's pretty much all the bounty hunting we see in the original trilogy.
BOUNTY HUNTERS IN THE PREQUEL TRILOGY — AN ARMY OF YOU
When Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace hit the screen in 1999, we got a lot more from the scum and villainy of Tatooine (slavery is a thing, pod races are huge, junk dealers are awful, etc.) but not much of it included bounty hunting, aside from a very brief peek at a character named Aurra Sing. It was mostly Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones that brought the bounties back, and added much more to the Fettster lore.
Everyone welcome Fettster Senior, Boba's daddy Jango! Jango Fett (wearing a cleaner rendition of Boba's Mando armor) hits the Coruscant scene, hiring another bounty hunter (a shape-shifting Clawdite named Zam Wesell) to assassinate Senator Amidala. She fails, so Jango snuffs her before she can spill any secrets — Obi-Wan Kenobi goes on a journey into mystery to track him down and figure out what's what.
Turns out it's … a little complicated. Kenobi finds Jango on Kamino, where Jango's body and DNA are being used as a template for an army of clones. Jango (Temuera Morrison) tells Kenobi that he's just a simple man trying to make his way in the universe, and that he was hired for the clone job by "a man called Tyrannus." He got paid handsomely for his DNA, and we see an army of him being bred. He also asked for an "unaltered clone" for himself, and he raises this clone as a son. This son, of course, is Boba (Daniel Logan).
It's not long before Kenobi is fighting Jango — first on a landing pad, and then in space. Obi-Wan tracks him to Geonosis, where it is shown that Jango is working for Count Dooku. Whether or not he knows that the "Tyrannus" who hired him for the clone job and Count Dooku are the same person is still a matter for debate.
For some silly reason, Jango decides to get involved in the massive Jedi battle that erupts on Geonosis, and gets his head chopped off by Mace Windu. In a heartbreaking shot, little Boba holds Jango's helmet to his own head at the end of the scene.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith doesn't really feature any bounty hunters, but we weren't done with them in the prequel era ... they came to us in a different form.
BOUNTY HUNTERS IN ANIMATION — REPUBLIC CREDITS
When the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars blasted its way into our world, the profession got a massive infusion of life. The best bounty hunter in the galaxy (post-Jango, before Boba was fetch) was a Duros named Cad Bane (Corey Burton), who might be the most badass bounty hunter this side of Nar Shaddaa. Bane (with a hat, style, voice, and swagger that was made to resemble Lee Van Cleef) hits the series for the first time in the Season 1 closer "Hostage Crisis." Along with him are the aforementioned Aurra Sing (Jamie King), as well as an IG droid. IG-88 certainly wasn't the only dastardly droid who went in for bounty hunting, and Taika Waititi's IG-11 in The Mandalorian will further solidify that tradition.
Season 2 of the series went nuts with them, giving us more Cad Bane action right at the start, and then an episode aptly titled "Bounty Hunters" where we learned that sometimes these guys can be a force for good. A small village Felucia has hired some of them to protect them from the pirate Hondo Ohnaka (Jim Cummings), who is one of the best SW creations anywhere, a legend, a pirate, but not a bounty hunter. The gang includes a Zabrak named Sugi, a little alien in a droid suit named Seripas, and a Kyuzo named Embo. Big, flat-hatted Embo would recur several times on the show (on both sides of the law) and the other two have a cameo at the end of Season 3.
It doesn't end there, either, as Season 2 ends with a trio of episodes where the young Boba Fett (still Daniel Logan) is out for vengeance against Mace Windu. He's being mentored by Aurra Sing, and they also have Bossk along, who actually gets to talk a little.
Where we really get to know more about how the system of bounty hunting works at all is in Season 4. Cad Bane returns for an arc where Obi-Wan goes undercover as a bounty hunter named Rako Hardeen, and they all have to prove themselves to Count Dooku for a very special mission. The disguised Kenobi breaks out of the Republic prison that he just snuck into (Face/Off style, except not) with Bane and another hunter named Moralo Eval — little Fettster and Bossk are in the prison too, but they don't join in the fun this time.
The three of them soon end up on Serenno in "The Box," an episode that has a bursting bounty of bounty hunters. They're all there to compete for the same job (Embo is a notable entrant) and Dooku reads off quick little facts about all of them that send the mind racing with multiple kinds of different stories. Most importantly though, Cad Bane gets his hat back. Whew!
Season 4 isn't done with the bounty, though…not by a long shot. Former Sith crony Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) decides to try it out, and she takes a job with the young Fettster in the aptly titled "Bounty," where Bossk pops up yet again. Also in the mix is a young Dengar (Simon Pegg) and another hunter named Latts Razzi (Clare Grant). Once Ventress finds out the unsavory nature of the mission, she does the right thing and screws her team over. Boba ends up in a box.
It's not until the next episode ("Brothers") that we see Ventress and Razzi in a cantina, watching some kind of bounty hunting holo-program. When a former enemy of hers pops up on it, she decides that she's handling this one, and none of the other bounty hunters are going to get in her way.
Those are the biggest bounty hunter moments in the series, though Dave Filoni has since shown artwork from what would have been a final arc for Cad Bane. We would have seen the Fettster officially take the mantle of biggest badass around from Bane, and the art looked very western, and quite fantastic. While the Fett/Bane showdown is something that we'd all love to see, it is not one of the arcs that will be included when The Clone Wars makes its miraculous return for a seventh (and final) season.
Which means… Cad Bane could still be out there, theoretically, in the time period of The Mandalorian. Perhaps Filoni is intentionally saving material from that animated arc for the live-action series? A simple man trying to make his way in the universe can dream.
Star Wars Rebels was hot on pirates (Hondo returns) and smugglers (Vizago), but didn't feature bounty hunters all that much. Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) dabbled in it back in the day, alongside Ketsu Onyo (Gina Torres). The line between bounty hunter and criminal is dodgy here, but it doesn't much matter. Onyo ends up helping the Rebels eventually, and Sabine definitely preceded her in doing so — she's a main character, after all.
This means that Sabine (a true Mandalorian) is yet another example of Mandalorians (or people wearing Mandalorian armor) going in for the bounty hunter life. Though the old expanded universe told numerous stories about Jango and Boba being true Mandalorians, The Clone Wars turned that on its head when it had Mandalorian Prime Minister Almec disavow Jango, saying that he was not Mandalorian, and that he had no idea where he got that armor. He could have been lying — Almec was a liar, and an all-around lousy person.
Sabine, however, was true-born Mando. The hero of the new series (Pedro Pascal) is also a true Mando going by the trailers, so there must really be something about that armor and its array of tricks and gadgets that makes you want to hunt bounties.
BOUNTY HUNTERS NOW... AND BEYOND — THANKS, BAZINE
As of yet, the sequel trilogy has not been big on bounty hunters. We had our visit to Maz Kanata's castle in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and we saw all kinds of galactic reprobates. We didn't get confirmation that any of them go in for the complicated profession, but the closest that we probably get is First Order informant Bazine Netal (the woman in the black lipstick), and possibly the red-helmeted Captain Ithano. Solo: A Star Wars Story was similarly filled with crime syndicates and thieves, but the only real bounty hunter update we got was the news that Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) was responsible for killing Aurra Sing. If Therm Scissorpunch is a bounty hunter, then we didn't hear about it (we hope he is, though).
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may involve them to some degree. Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) is being described as "the leader of the Spice Runners of Kijimi" but maybe she does some bounty hunting on the side. She's got the outfit for it, that's for sure.
For all of their running and gunning in the movies and shows, there's still so much that we don't know. How do you call a bounty hunter if you want to employ one? Do they have agents? How are the jobs given out and assigned? Do they get benefits? Is there a plan on the table for bounty hunters to get health insurance, and is it cost-effective?
It is a complicated profession to be sure, and we're going to learn a lot more about it when The Mandalorian premieres on Disney+ starting on November 12. We need their scum, because they'll do any job… for the right price.