In the Star Wars galaxy, crime pays. In fact, it pays fairly well. Regardless of which government is in control of the galaxy, scum and villainy tend to thrive.
But even though Jabba the Hutt calls Boba Fett “my kind of scum,” the truth is, being a bounty hunter was a job that was apparently legal, no matter which of the revolving Star Wars governments happened to be in power.
So, are bounty hunters criminals, or not? Next to Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, are Boba Fett and Din Djarin actually upstanding citizens? When The Bad Batch hits Disney+ on May 4, 2021, we may finally get an answer, thanks to a specific Mandalorian bounty hunter tie-in.
Set to take place right after the events of Revenge of the Sith (roughly 19 BBY) one character who we met in 9 ABY (roughly 28 years after Sith) will play a pivotal role in the new show: Ming-Na Wen as The Mandalorian fan-favorite Fennec Shand.
When Shand, set to appear in Book of Boba Fett, shows up on Bad Batch, she will be 30 years younger than the woman we met in The Mandalorian. Aside from learning more about what Fennec Shand was like when she was younger, her inclusion in The Bad Batch can also help to clear-up the muddled mess of how the Bounty Hunters’ Guild seemed to survive three massive government changes through the Star Wars saga.
Is bounty hunting legal in Star Wars?
According to several canonical sources (mostly cited on Wookiepedia), The Bounty Hunters’ Guild was designed to regulate the legality of this particular profession, even though the larger governments changed all the time. Apparently, the BHG “worked alongside galactic governments and curated bounties for its members.”
If you want to talk about applying the canonicity of the BHG, The Mandalorian is the best example. Throughout both seasons of the show, Mando’s guild status is a running plot point. In fact, the only reason he returns with Baby Yoda to Nevarro is that Greef Karga promises to reinstate him into the guild.
For a casual fan, the need for Mando or Boba Fett or Fennec Shand to be part of an outer space bounty hunter union scans as a retcon. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Vader hires Bossk, Boba Fett, IG-88, Dengar, and Boba Fett to track down the Millennium Falcon, you don’t really get the sense that Vader found them on the bounty hunter version of Taskrabbit. You get the sense that Vader is badass and knows some shady people because he’s the Dark Lord of the Sith. Plus, in the (canonical) special edition of A New Hope, Boba Fett appears to be working for Jabba the Hutt, directly, who, any way you slice it is a crime boss.
Seemingly by definition, bounty hunters in Star Wars are freelancers. But, the Bounty Hunter’s Guild implies they have some kind of freelancers union to help them get work. Does Mando have healthcare from the Guild? What about childcare? That would have been handy!
That said, visual evidence suggests various bounty hunters operate outside of “the law.” For example, in Attack of the Clones, nobody talks about calling up the Bounty Hunters’ Guild while Obi-Wan Kenobi is looking for information about Jango Fett. When Anakin Skywalker tries to get some much-needed info about Zam Wesell (“tell us now!”) he doesn’t once mention something like “Hey, who is your contact in the Bounty Hunters’ Guild?”
In the prequels, Obi-Wan and others refer to Jango and his ilk as “bounty hunters,” but it feels like they really should just be saying “mercenaries” or “assassins.” Presumably, there is a “bounty” out on Padmé Amidala in 22 BBY, but it’s hard to imagine a government-sanctioned body like the BHG authorizing a legal bounty on a duly elected senator.
The obvious answer to all of this is that sometimes bounty hunters operated within guild rules, and sometimes they didn’t. In The Mandalorian, we saw how hard it was for Mando to live “off-the-grid,” which means it was probably even harder in the days of the Old Republic or the Empire.
In The Clone Wars episode “The Phantom Apprentice,” there’s a quick scene in which Maul tells a few other crime bosses to go “into hiding” for a little while. About ten years later in Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s pretty obvious that at least one of these criminal syndicates — specifically Dryden Vos’ Crimson Dawn — is operating openly. It also seems like the Empire not only tolerates Crimson Dawn, but might actually work with them and the Pykes, to regulate all sorts of resources.
The larger point is, the Empire seems to have it both ways in the decade following Revenge of the Sith. They both lay down the law (loyalty to the Emperor!) but also want to arrest smugglers who work for Jabba the Hutt. Infamously, Jabba is angry with Han Solo because he dropped a shipment of spice before getting boarded by Imperial officials. Han Solo was doing something illegal in the eyes of Imperial law, and Jabba was paying him to do it.
The larger takeaway here is that for reasons that may or may not be obvious, there is no “Smuggler’s Guild” that cooperates with the government. Being a smuggler, by definition, means you’re moving stuff you’re not supposed to move. The Hutts and Crimson Dawn had a lot of influence during the rule of the Empire, but it’s not like certain laws just changed. Smuggling spice was just as illegal in the days of the Old Republic as it was in Han’s time.
How The Bad Batch can fix the laws of Star Wars
Assuming the Bad Batch version of Fennec Shand is a bounty hunter (she might not be!), it will be interesting to see if she’s part of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild during the events of the show. If she is, then we might get some insight into how the profession of bounty hunting evolved during the events of the Galactic Civil War.
In theory, during the events of The Bad Batch, the control of the galaxy is in a very weird transition. For generations, you had the Old Republic, but now, for about two decades, the Empire will reign supreme. How do bounty hunters and mercenaries fit in it? Does the Bounty Hunter’s Guild thrive under the Empire? Or, do we see some seeds here that a lot of bounty hunters don’t actually like the Empire — even if they’re nothing they can do about it right now?
A mercenary from the Mandolorian era retroactively operating after The Clone Wars is very interesting. The fact that it’s Fennec Shand is even more interesting. The titular Bad Batch consists of modified Jango Fett clones. In Mando and The Book of Boba Fett, Fennec Shand’s closest ally is also a clone of Jango Fett. It creates another question about Shand. Just how much does she already know about Boba Fett by the time they’re working together in Mandalorian Season 2?
All the Star Wars animated shows contain links to the new live-action shows. But with The Bad Batch and Fennec Shand, those references might be more pivotal than we ever realized. By the time we get to The Book of Boba Fett and Mandalorian Season 3, The Bad Batch could potentially give us all the details on just how and why this whole bounty hunting thing changed so much.
The Bad Batch hits Disney+ on May 4, 2021.