JJ Dashnaw, the Emmy-nominated stunt coordinator on the Disney+ show “The Book of Boba Fett,” wasn’t a big fan of “Star Wars” before his work on the series. But, when you are inside the Boba Fett suit and riding a massive animatronic resembling a “rancor” creature, it’s hard not to dork out.
“I can’t even say how real this thing looked,” Dashnaw told Variety. “But it was fun getting to sit on top of it and figure out the beats. And riding this thing, I come from a rodeo background so it was just like riding a horse. Just trying to make Boba look cool.”
Dashnaw, whose job revolves around trying to “make Boba look cool,” worked with his stunt team extensively on the series to ensure that the show’s stunts were safe, practical and incredible. “The Book of Boba Fett” premiered Dec. of 2021 and followed the classic “Star Wars” bounty hunter from the original trilogy known as Boba Fett, played by Temuera Morrison. Presumed dead and stranded on the desert of Tatooine, Boba must bounce back and lead a crime empire in Mos Espa.
In the series finale, Boba and his team of misfits — including Pedro Pascal’s the Mandalorian — engage in a full-out war to defend their town. When things get hairy, Boba resorts to a drastic measure: bring out the rancor. The bounty hunter rides the massive and muscular creature to take an upper hand in the fight. On set, it’s really Dashnaw under the suit. And, yes, he quite literally rode the rancor.
“Basically, we sat on the head,” Dashnaw explained. “There was just a head that they made of it, but it’s the size of an elephant. So this thing was pretty big… It was almost like being on a bucking bull. A mechanical bucking bull. They had it all programmed to move and open his mouth and snarl. It was pretty cool.”
Riding the beast wasn’t the only difficulty in staging the finale’s epic battle, though. With bounty hunters flying around and explosions sending people flying, Dashnaw and his team relied heavily on carefully choreographed wire work.
“A little math goes into it, which is funny for me to say just because I’m not that great at math,” Dashnaw said. “It’s about getting the angles of your wire pulls that actually look not superhuman-y but real. And this is something that comes with years of experience and learning and seeing what works and doesn’t work. We wait until the camera is setup in a certain direction and figure out what’s going to look best and most realistic for that shot.”
A different sequence that was equally difficult to shoot was the train heist scene from the series’ second episode. The heist involves jumping from speeders, hand-to-hand fighting atop a speeding train and intense acrobatics.
“Sometimes the environment helps us,” Dashnaw explained. “Because there wasn’t a whole lot of move room up there, so you had to be aware of where you stepped. It looks real, as if we’re trying to keep our balance as we’re fighting because that’s actually what’s happening. It’s just being in the element and explaining to everyone and reminding them that, even though we’re standing still on this thing, we got to make sure that it looks as if we’re going 80 miles an hour trying to fight.”
While viewers may see a sequence such as the train scene as a load of visual effects carefully constructed to give the impression of danger, Dashnaw emphasizes that, in reality, his team’s stuntwork is at the forefront of any action sequence.
“I’d say between the effects and special effects and us, we had a very close relationship,” Dashnaw said. “We would see what worked out and what was useful to them, and what we can do and get away with. I always try to give as much real stuff on camera as possible. And they can always, if they need to, spruce it up and enhance it a little bit more. Most of the stuff that you watched on that day was real.”
At the end of the day, Dashnaw still remembers his time under the suit as Boba Fett as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I don’t always geek out at work and stuff, but it was fun,” Dashnaw said. “We get to dress up all the time. It’s like every day is Halloween at work. The costume that they put together was pretty cool. I felt like a superhero!”