By Jake Doberenz
The first live-action Star Wars show, The Mandalorian, debuted on Disney+ last November and has mostly received positive reviews. The show follows a Mandalorian, who is nicknamed “Mando” at first, in his bounty hunter endeavors and then in his journey to protect The Child, a cute 50-year-old baby alien dubbed by the Internet as “Baby Yoda.” But beyond becoming prime meme fodder, the show offers an example of a community in exile who demonstrates both duty to one another but also duty to the world.
From what little the show reveals about the ways of the Mandalorians in this period of Star Wars lore, there are several hints that this community has a strong bond and interesting ideologies. What’s so fascinating is that this tight-knit community is not a political unit, nor a family, nor even inhabitants of the same planet of origin. According to this show, Mandalorians are a people without a home. While in The Clone Wars series, Mandalorians lived on Mandalore, now they are without a planet. We learn in the last episode that the big bad Moff Gideon helped with the destruction of Mandalore—some sort of Great Purge took place which wiped out the vast majority of the people. Now, the Mandalorians lived in secret tunnels underground on the planet Nevarro. They are people without a home, exiles in a land that isn’t theirs, in a world that fears them. They are called “the Tribe.”
How do people cope in exile, away from their home, with many of the markers of their culture and identity stripped away? While there are many potential paths, the Mandalorians seem to have chosen to be like the Israelites. When the Jews were forced into exile by the Babylonians they adapted, keeping what distinctions they could during the relocation and assimilation (Miller and Hayes, 494-5). To keep their religion alive, the Jewish people, no longer with a temple, turned to meeting places for their worship and education, later becoming known as “synagogues.” Their language was probably largely eroded, but they kept the narratives of their community—probably spending a good deal of time compiling and writing what became the Hebrew Scriptures. Similarly, the Mandalorians continued to wear their signature helmets and armor, though they remain in hiding, there numbers few, their influence zero. They get their signature beskar metal now from trade, not from their own mines. This is far from the glory of their days on Mandalore, where they ruled multiple planets—but they make do.
Besides keeping rituals, another important piece for keeping a community alive amidst exile is strong relational bonding. It is only relatively recently in the history of the world that civilizations have elevated the individual’s importance. Ancient peoples were mostly collectivist. Joseph Hellerman describes the collectivist Mediterranean world in The Ancient Church as Family: “For most persons, the health and survival of the group(s) to which they belonged took precedence over their own personal advancement and well-being. …one’s personal identity was strongly embedded in the group to which one belonged” (214). David deSilva in Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity notes that in many of the collectivist groups, cooperation, trust, unity, and patience reflect your relationship with the group but are not necessarily virtues extended toward outsiders (166-173).
For a small group, a group-oriented approach where each member is integral assures the group’s survival. We see this most evidently in episode three, “The Sin.” When Din receives his payment for dropping off the Child, he goes into the Mandalorian hideout. There, a Mandalorian credited as Heavy Infantry chastises him for working with the enemy—the Empire, who purged their planet. The Armorer calms them down by appealing to their shared culture. She declares that “when one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore, he is both hunter and prey. How can one be a coward if one chooses this way of life?” She continues asking rhetorical questions that appeal to what’s important in their culture: “Have you ever removed your helmet? Has it ever been removed by others?” Din answers “no” to both. The Armorer replies with what becomes a mantra of the Mandalorians: “This is the way.”
The masked Mandalorians are bonded by obligation to follow this “way.” It appears they are deontologically motivated; they make behavioral choices based on “duty.” And this duty means protecting their group. We observe this by the end of “The Sin,” when Din steals the Child back and is confronted by a guild of bounty hunters. The Mandalorians come out of hiding and fight to protect Din and the Child, risking their lives and forfeiting their previously hidden base of operations. During this battle, the “Heavy Infantry” and Din heal their previous strife by exchanging the Mandalorian creed: “This is the way.” As a Men’s Health article sums up “as brute as they are, and as cut-throat as their reputation may be, these people are still bonded in a very strong way—and clearly, live by a universal code that they all adhere to.” This is their way.
The religious obligation for maintaining the “way,” continuing traditions, and for protecting each other despite differences all do a fine job keeping the Mandalorian culture alive in “exile.” Though beyond a concern for the group’s survival, the Mandalorians also remarkably value those outside the group who are in need. We get a taste of this from Din’s flashbacks in the last episode where he, as a young kid who loses his parents, is rescued by the Mandalorians and adopted into their culture as a “foundling” (This is why he feels motivated to set aside extra beskar for future foundlings in the first and third episodes). It is made more explicit in the last episode, “The Redemption.” The Armorer says Din has the option to raise the Child himself as a foundling (would the helmet fit over his big ears?) or return him to his people; it is his personal duty to protect the child. Anything else is unethical. He accepts the duty and the Armorer says they are a clan of two. While group-oriented people are mostly concerned only with their own group, the Mandalorians demonstrate a strong internal bond and a strong ethic to help others outside the group.
Especially since the Child has powers of the Jedi, an ancient enemy of the Mandalorians, the story is incredibly reminiscent of Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” It also has parallels with Jesus’ famous Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. About the meaning of the parable, Amy-Jill Levine notes, “The lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus reframes the question. …The issue for Jesus is not the ‘who,’ but the ‘what,’ not the identity but the action. The lawyer is unable even to voice the hated name ‘Samaritan.’ He can only say, ‘The one doing mercy for him.’” In other words the enemy has a human face—even if it’s under a foreboding beskar mask. When hunters like the Mandalorians, with strong inner bonds, can care about others.
Behind the masks and guns and jetpacks, the Mandalorians are people who feel they have a duty to make the world a better place. If this Disney+ show calls us to anything, it is to a balance (a major theme in Star Wars). We have obligations to our groups—nations, churches, social clubs—that compel us to help one another in the group, when we feel we are lone “exiles” in a culture against us. But we also have duties in the world to fight evil, to right wrongs, to think outside our immediate circles, and to save the galaxy. Hopefully our communities, like the Mandalorian tribe, understand that we have a duty to do right in the world. Ideally, our community will even come to our aid in this quest.
This is the way.
Jake Doberenz is a graduate student in the Master of Theological Studies program at Oklahoma Christian University. Though he’s still waiting for a book deal for his completed middle grade superhero novel, he also publishes plays and writes short stories to pass the time while working as a College & Career minister. He blogs at www.jakedoberenz.com about Christianity, culture, and creativity, and is known to produce marginally funny and sometimes intelligent tweets on Twitter (@JDoberenz).
deSilva, David A. Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.
Hellerman, Joseph. The Ancient Church as Family. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.
Miller, James Maxwell, and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.