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Sean's Entire Fast & Furious Backstory Explained

In 2005, the nascent Fast & Furious franchise already seemed to be running out of gas. Universal Pictures was apparently unsatisfied with the first sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, which grossed only a little more than the original film on nearly twice the budget, and Vin Diesel — one of the two leading men of the first Fast and the Furious – had already departed the franchise and had no plans to return. Universal executives now planned to use The Fast and the Furious as a label for cheaper, direct-to-video films, but screenwriter Chris Morgan pitched them a story idea that made them reconsider – transplanting the characters to Tokyo, where they would participate in the fresh and exciting drift racing scene.

The studio mandated that this new movie, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, feature all new characters and be set, at least in part, at a high school. Thus, a new protagonist, juvenile delinquent Sean Boswell, was born. Portrayed by Lucas Black, Sean only carried the torch of the Fast Saga for the one film, which was critically panned and underwhelmed at the box office. (He's returned for small roles in Furious 7 and the upcoming F9.) But while Sean may not have left an enormous stamp on the franchise, his own story in Tokyo Drift is actually pretty packed, as he essentially lives through a coming-of-age movie, a gangster movie, and a sports movie all at once.

Sean Boswell has been run out of every place he's ever lived

Growing up, Sean Boswell never stays in one place for very long. His parents divorce when he's three years old, and his father (Brian Goodman) — a US Navy officer — eventually leaves the country for a position in Tokyo, Japan. Back in the States, Sean and his mother (Lynda Boyd) move frequently, often due to young Sean's reckless or criminal behavior. Their roots are in Alabama, but by the time the audience first meets Sean at the start of Tokyo Drift, he's attending a high school in Arizona, his third town in only two years.

At 17, Sean is a loner, interested in only one thing — driving. We don't know where this love affair with cars begins — his father is also a gearhead, but he left long before he could've taught Sean much — but we do know that he takes to driving and street racing very quickly. Sean gets a speeding ticket on his first day as a licensed driver and handily wins his first race the day after that.

Sean finds a sense of calm and control in the act of driving, but it only makes his life more chaotic. His new passion results in two arrests on his record before Tokyo Drift even starts, but since he and his mother leave town after each of his screw-ups, Sean continually escapes long-term consequences for his actions and develops a total apathy to the destruction in his wake.

He wrecks a house in a spectacular street race

One afternoon after school, Sean finds himself conversing with his classmate, Cindy (Nikki Griffin), in the parking lot. Cindy's boyfriend, football star Clay (Zachery Ty Bryan), doesn't care for this and, after some teasing from Sean, throws a baseball through the window of Sean's prized and customized 1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Cindy, who clearly gets a kick out of playing with her boyfriend's insecurities, suggests that Clay and Sean settle their dispute in a street race, putting herself up as the prize.

The two drivers — Sean in his Monte Carlo, Clay in a much newer and more expensive Dodge Viper with Cindy riding shotgun — race through a construction site for an upscale suburban housing development before an audience of excited high schoolers. Falling behind in the race, Sean attempts to overcome interference by Clay's football teammates and his own difficulty cornering by taking a shortcut through one of the half-built houses. This puts him neck and neck with Clay and Cindy and helps him get to the finish line first, but Clay's aggressive driving ends up sending both cars out of control, and all three participants are injured.

A car crash, a busted-up face, and his third arrest in two years all fail to wipe the smug grin from Sean's face. Only learning that the police have crushed his Monte Carlo gets a rise out of him.

Sean is shipped off to Tokyo to avoid jail time

After the construction site debacle, the police threaten Sean with some serious charges that seem like they may finally put the brakes on his street racing career. However, Sean's mother manages to arrange one last reprieve by sending him off to Tokyo to live with his father. (The credits list Sean's dad as "Major Boswell," so that's what we'll call him, even though there's no such thing as a major in the US Navy. We also have our doubts that someone could be allowed this kind of improvised overseas probation, but seeing as this is a Fast & Furious movie, we're not going to think about it that hard.)

Major Boswell sets a few strict but simple rules for Sean to live by — go to school, come right home, and no driving. Sean resents his father as much as he resents rules in general, so he gets involved in the Tokyo street racing scene on his first full day in town. When Major Boswell learns that Sean has disobeyed him, he initially threatens to have him sent back to the US, where juvenile hall is waiting. Instead, the major decides to give Sean one last chance, and while the young racer then expands his nightlife significantly, the subject of Sean breaking their arrangement is never brought up again. And Sean soon acquires new worries even more immediate than juvenile hall.

Sean's first drift race is a disaster

Admittedly, Sean doesn't have to work very hard to find where the action is. The first person to try and befriend him at school is Twinkie (Shad "Bow Wow" Moss), an American Army brat who knows about a major race happening that very night. Twinkie takes Sean to a multi-level parking structure where young drivers race to the top, executing precise drifts to turn tight corners. There, he encounters another of his classmates, Neela (Nathalie Kelley), who he takes an immediate liking to. But once again, he butts heads with a jealous boyfriend. Neela is involved with Takashi (Brian Tee), who earned his nickname "D.K." (short for "Drift King") for being the best racer on the circuit.

Echoing the last time he competed with another driver for a woman's attention, the foolish and headstrong Sean challenges Takashi to a race. Eager for the chance to embarrass the boy, Takashi accepts. But there are two problems. Sean has neither a car to race with nor the first idea of how drifting works. Takashi's friend, the incredible Han (Sung Kang), solves the first problem, offering up his own highly modified Nissan Silvia S15 on a lark. The second, however, proves insurmountable, as Twinkie's cursory explanation of drifting is insufficient to keep Sean from humiliating himself and doing thousands of dollars' worth of damage to Han's Nissan.

Han, impossibly cool, has just three parting words for Sean: "Don't leave town."

Han takes Sean under his wing

Sean is now heavily in debt to Han, the suave, snack-loving gangster known as Han Seoul-Oh in later Fast & Furious films. Han runs a garage and has vaguely defined connections to organized crime, though Sean (along with the audience) is insulated from the details of his business. Sean only needs to concern himself with pickups and deliveries and answering the phone whenever Han calls. These are rules Sean has no trouble following, and he begins to share in Han's glamorous lifestyle, going so far as to move out of his father's apartment and into a bunk at Han's garage. Han is genuinely fond of Sean and has no hard feelings over the wrecked Nissan. In fact, Han sees the loss of one car as a bargain in exchange for getting to know someone's character. The two develop a close mentor/mentee relationship as Han teaches Sean that there's more to life than just racing.

Not that racing isn't still important. Granted, Sean has never had difficulty driving before, as more linear American street racing came very naturally to him. But Han agrees to teach Sean how to drift so that he can have a chance at a rematch against D.K. Takashi. Having to essentially start from scratch and really work at something seems to teach Sean some much-needed discipline. And the training pays off, as Sean wins his return race against D.K.'s lieutenant, Morimoto (Leonardo Nam).

Unable to run away, Sean finally makes some friends

It's easy to get the impression that it's been years since Sean was in any one place long enough to make friends and that he's long since given up on the idea of getting attached to people. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Sean is disinterested in talking to anyone since he assumes that he'll be sent back to the US before too long. 

But as his stay in Tokyo lasts longer than he imagined, Sean begins to make real connections to some of his peers, like Twinkie. Back in Arizona, Sean once turned a blind eye to another kid being bullied, but here, he makes a point of standing up for Twinkie when he's attacked at school by Morimoto. True, Twinkie berates Sean for his interference, but only a few months ago, it's unlikely that Sean would've even cared that someone was in trouble. Sean also spends time sharing in Twinkie's interests, accompanying him on one of his sales excursions on the streets of Tokyo.

Later, when Sean's feud with D.K. becomes a life-and-death struggle, Twinkie volunteers most of his earnings to help Sean settle a debt and resolve things peacefully. If not for this act of friendship, it's unlikely that Sean would've survived to the end of Tokyo Drift.

He learns to take things slow with Neela

Sean also steadily matures in his interactions with Neela, his classmate who has a complicated relationship with D.K. Takashi. Sean's early flirtations with Neela are presumptuous and are justly rebuffed, but soon, he begins to make the effort to actually get to know her on her own terms. They become real friends, all without Sean ever misrepresenting his romantic interest.

Sean and Neela bond over their shared love of cars and drift racing but also their mutual status as outsiders in Japanese society. Despite being born in Japan, Neela carries the stigma of being the child of an Australian immigrant who Takashi implies was a sex worker. After her mother's death, Neela is taken in by the Yakuza-affiliated Kamata family and raised alongside Takashi, but she's never treated as if she truly belongs. Even Takashi treats Neela more like a possession or, at best, someone who's deeply indebted to his family. Neela's story helps Sean to realize that he's willfully separated himself from other people, a habit that he leaves behind over the course of the film.

Sean and Neela's relationship doesn't go unnoticed by Takashi, who delivers Sean a beating and a final warning to stay away from his girlfriend. This is the last straw for Neela, who finds the courage to leave Takashi and takes shelter at Han's garage.

Sean gets caught in the middle of a gang war

By his own admission, one of the reasons Han likes keeping Sean around is to annoy his business partner, Takashi. While Takashi is the better connected of the two, the nephew of Yakuza boss Kamata (Sonny Chiba), Han is older and more shrewd. As it turns out, Han may even be using Sean to divert Takashi's attention from a far more serious betrayal — Han has been hiding some of his deals from Takashi, effectively stealing from the commission owed to Kamata and humiliating Takashi in the eyes of his uncle.

Takashi comes to Han's garage seeking revenge and is further enraged to see that Neela and Sean are both living there. The three of them flee the scene, Han in one car, Sean and Neela in another, and they're pursued individually by Takashi and his friend, Morimoto, through the streets of Shibuya. A deadly chase ensues, and when Takashi is neck and neck with Sean and Neela and attempts to nudge them off the road, Han drops back and puts his own car between them. This helps get Sean and Neela out of danger, but it puts him in the path of oncoming traffic as he is T-boned by another, uninvolved vehicle and is apparently killed in the ensuing explosion.

(Fast & Furious 6 retcons this crash from accident to attempted murder by identifying the driver as Deckard Shaw, retaliating for Han's role in defeating his brother, Owen.)

He bets his future on a dangerous downhill drift race

After Han's death, Sean no longer has any protection from Takashi, who still wants him dead. Sean's father offers to send him back to the United States to escape Takashi's vengeance, but Sean refuses. He feels responsible for the mess he's in, and his days of running away from his problems are over. Instead, he throws himself at the mercy of Takashi's uncle, Kamata, apologizing in person for Han's deception and offering a non-violent resolution to his conflict with Takashi — a "loser leaves town" race. The absurd suggestion seems to amuse Kamata, and the challenge is accepted.

With his own car damaged in the Shibuya chase and the rest of Han's drivable cars seized by the police, Sean once again finds himself without a ride for his race against the Drift King. All that's left in Han's garage is the wreck of the Nissan that Sean used in his ill-fated drift racing debut. Sean, Twinkie, and the rest of Han's pit crew join forces with Sean's father to combine the high-performance parts from Han's Nissan with the chassis of a vintage Mustang that the major has been working on, creating a new ride that's both American and Japanese.

In a perilous high-speed, drift-heavy contest down a precarious winding mountainside road, Sean crosses the finish line first, winning his and Neela's freedom and the title of Drift King.

Dom Toretto promises Sean justice for Han

At the end of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Sean is paid a visit by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who challenges him to a race in honor of their mutual close friend, Han. However, Furious 7 (which takes place immediately after Tokyo Drift but was shot about a decade later) expands this encounter to reveal that this isn't just a friendly visit. As it turns out, Dom is on the trail of Han's killer, Deckard Shaw.

Now that the Fast & Furious timeline has caught up with Tokyo Drift, Lucas Black is expected to appear more regularly in the series. He was originally slated to appear in The Fate of the Furious, but he will instead return in 2021's F9, where he, Twinkie, and fellow Han garage alumnus Earl (Jason Tobin) will apparently be joining the Toretto gang for some barbecue and strapping a rocket to Pontiac Fiero.

While Sean Boswell is certainly no Dominic Toretto and the shifting timeline of the series means that Lucas Black is now over a decade older than his character, recent positive critical reevaluations of Tokyo Drift may signal that Sean's return is not entirely unwelcome. And, after all, if neither murdering a beloved crew member nor even death itself has proven enough to exclude someone from the Furious family, why should being the lead in Tokyo Drift?