Biblical Themes in “The Mandalorian”
In the Star Wars Universe, the Mandalorians are proud people who have had their homelands burned, their leadership broken, their tribes scattered, their wealth stolen, and their strength exploited. Despite the massive cultural trauma that they have experienced, the Mandalorians have never given up, have never faded into obscurity, and have remained steadfastly committed to their values and ideology. Does this sound like any people group on Earth that we know?
LET’S GET YOU UP TO HYPERSPEED…
Star Wars fans were first introduced to the Mandalorian people through a bounty hunter named Boba Fett, in The Empire Strikes Back. His first appearance was alongside other bounty hunters, or ‘scum’ according to one Imperial officer, that Darth Vader had assembled to track down the Millennium Falcon. As Darth Vader paces across the line-up to deliver his instructions, he pauses in front of Boba Fett and turns, pointing his finger at his face saying “no disintegrations.” Uh okay! This Boba Fett guy must have a reputation in order for Darth Vader to single him out like that. As far as we know at this point in the film, Boba Fett could have been the same bounty hunter that Han Solo claimed he ran into on a planet called Ord Mantell. Regardless, we get the picture: with armor that looks like it has seen a few battles, Boba Fett seems to be the one bounty hunter you do not want coming after you.
The rest of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi never really explain who Boba Fett is. We are left thinking he is one of the bad guys, because he was working with the bad guys to stop the good guys. However, that did not stop Star Wars fans from thinking one thing about Boba Fett: he is cool! His screen exit occurs after he falls into some sand monster’s mouth, and not until Attack of the Clones do we see Boba Fett again. In that movie, we learn that Boba Fett is the son of and clone of a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. We also discover that Jango Fett has been used as the template for a brand new army of clonetroopers to be used by the Republic. These clones even brandish armor that looks like the armor Jango Fett has.
During the climax of Attack of the Clones, Jango Fett squares off against the Jedi Master Mace Windu and does not come out ahead. As it turns out, you can bring a knife to a gunfight, especially if your knife is a lightsaber and the other guy’s gun shoots lasers that you can deflect. The death of Jango Fett shocks two onlookers, Count Dooku and young Boba Fett. After the battle ends, we see Boba Fett pick up his father’s helmet, and that is it. That is all the audience is told on film about Boba and the Mandalorians in general.
It is not until the animated television program The Clone Wars do we finally learn something about the Mandalorian people. We discover that their homeworld, Mandalore, has been caught up in the conflict between the Republic and the Confederacy. There are those who wish to side with the Republic, those who wish to join the Confederacy, and those who wish to assert Mandalore’s neutrality and long-standing independence as a free world.
The Mandalorian people also harbor a general distrust of the Republic, or rather the Jedi who serve it, because thousands of years ago the Jedi Order and the Mandalorians went to war. The war eventually resulted in the ravaging of Mandalore itself, turning it into a wasteland, such that the planet’s inhabitants live in domed cities.
By the end of The Clone Wars, the planet finds itself besieged by forces inside and out. Although the Republic winds up winning (by defeating the ‘bad Mandalorians’ who had imposed their rule), we know that the Republic is about to become the Empire, and it is the Empire that later subjugates Mandalore. For the next two decades or so between Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi, we learn in The Mandalorian that the Empire outright broke the Mandalorian people during an event called “the Great Purge.” For all intents and purposes, this was a catastrophic event for the Mandalorian people. Their society was shattered, and their tribes were scattered. Their precious resource — beskar —used for their armaments, was plundered by the Empire.
As I asked at the opening of this article, does this sound like any people group on Earth we know? Pretty much any people group impacted by colonial powers during the Age of Exploration (or should we say Age of Exploitation?), any people group impacted by a total war, and any people group impacted by genocide. As a Christian pastor and avid Bible-reader, I tend to naturally theologize everything because that is simply how my brain works. As a history nerd and fervent fan of Star Wars, I immediately saw the narrative similarities between Jews and Mandalorians.
In this article, I hope to explore some biblical themes I have picked up on in watching The Mandalorian. It should be pointed out that Jon Favreau (the creator of the show) is of Jewish descent and heritage, and so the biblical similarities between the Mandalorians and the Jews may be intentional. The best art imitates reality, after all.
TO BE A MANDALORIAN
But Ruth said, “Do not plead with me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16 (NASB)
In the Bible, the Jews are referred to as God’s chosen people, the exemplary society that God will use and shape in order to influence the rest of the world. The necessary condition of being Jewish is to enter into the covenant that God made with Moses. Preceding covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all consummated in the covenant with Moses. There are three ways you can enter into this covenant; the first is by birth, the second is by volition, and the third is by adoption. Although I am simplifying the nuances of what it means to be Jewish, it is possible to be a Jew by heritage and/or a Jew by religion.
We discover in the first season that Din Djarin — the title character of The Mandalorian — was a “foundling,” one who was adopted. Apparently it was customary for Mandalorians to collect children who were made orphans by war, as this is what happened when Din was rescued by Mandalorians after his village was attacked by droids during the Clone Wars. But even those born Mandalorian or adopted by Mandalorians still have to profess their creed before they can be truly called Mandalorian. In biblical terms, Din was a Gentile (a non-Jewish person), who was adopted, but later professed the Mandalorian Creed.
One well known character from the Bible who is similar to Din is Ruth. Like Din, Ruth has lost some family and does not have anything tying her down, save her relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi. Although Ruth was a Moabite, and thus a Gentile, she chose to be more than mere family to Naomi, she chose to be a part of Naomi’s people and to worship her God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Later on Ruth also chose to marry an Israelite, thus becoming one for all intents and purposes.
In the episode “The Tragedy” from season 2 of The Mandalorian, we see the importance of Mandalorian identity come up again after Boba Fett tracks down Din and demands that his armor (that Din had acquired earlier in the season) be given back to him. Din is willing to return the armor, but is skeptical of Boba Fett’s claim. Din even asks if Boba Fett has “taken the Creed” — signifying that he is in fact a Mandalorian — which would give him immediate rights to reclaim the armor. Boba Fett responds that he has not taken the Creed, and in fact owes his allegiance to no one (which in the spirit of the Mandalorian people definitely qualifies him, but I digress).
At the end of “The Tragedy” episode, Boba Fett is brandishing his armor and reveals that it was coded to him. More than this, Boba also reveals to Din that his “father” Jango Fett was a foundling that later fought in the Mandalorian Civil War. And so even though Boba Fett has not taken the Creed, he proves to Din that he is very much Mandalorian by heritage.
Like the Jews, the Mandalorians strike a healthy balance between how inclusive and exclusive they are. In one sense, anyone can be adopted or simply join by taking the Creed. In another sense, to remain a Mandalorian requires your faithfulness to Mandalorian values. Although, more on this in the next section!
THIS IS THE WAY
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~ Isaiah 30:21
No doubt even if you were not a fan or watcher of the show, you came across plenty of “this is the Way” memes, or heard “this is the Way” in your conference calls, in addition to all things “baby Yoda.” But for fans and watchers of the show, none of the characters really explain why “this is the Way” is said in the first place. Clearly it is a phrase that is important to the Mandalorians, probably as important as “may the Force be with you” is to the Jedi at least. But what does it mean? The word “way” in biblical Hebrew is derek, and is often used when referring to a road or pathway, but the religious connotation is far deeper. Consider Psalm 25:4–11 (NASB), which reads:
4 Make me know Your ways, Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.
6 Remember, Lord, Your compassion and Your faithfulness,
For they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoings;
Remember me according to Your faithfulness,
For Your goodness’ sake, Lord.
8 The Lord is good and upright;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are faithfulness and truth
To those who comply with His covenant and His testimonies.
11 For the sake of Your name, Lord,
Forgive my wrongdoing, for it is great.
This passage, as well as many others, are all referring to a biblical concept known as “the Way of the Lord.” Although, to explain what the Way of the Lord is I’ll need to explain another concept first. You do not need to be religious to see all of the injustice in the world, the hate, the violence, the suffering, the corruption, etc. Why do you suspect these things come about? Well, the Bible’s theory as to why the world is broken is related to another concept called “sin.” We sin whenever we do the wrong thing, or fail to do the right thing. Because all of us sin, everything we do (either individually or collectively) will wind up oppressing, exploiting, hurting, or marginalizing somebody or something else. And thus, we can overcome the sin in the world by following the Way of the Lord.
The Way of the Lord can be summed up as this: take care of the Earth, and take care of each other. We can do this by seeing the Earth the way the Lord sees it, as a good home he built for us; and by seeing each other the way the Lord sees us, as His children, whom He loves. Of course, another Jew summarized the Way of the Lord best (Matthew 22:36–40, NASB):
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5)
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18)
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In the episode “The Sin” from the first season of The Mandalorian, the so-called Armorer (who is presumably the tribal leader of the tribe Din Djarin is a part of) says, “When one chooses to walk the Way of the Mandalore, you are both hunter and prey. How can one be a coward if one chooses this way of life?” Afterwards, whenever she said “this is the Way,” it was immediately echoed by everyone else in her presence. The show has yet to reveal to us what precisely the Way of the Mandalore is, but other Star Wars media tell us that “Mandalore” is a title. The Mandalorians have a martial culture that sees the warrior-class at the top of the social hierarchy. So whoever the Mandalore is, that person is “the king of the hill” basically, and their rule can be challenged by force. The honorary weapon that comes with this title is the Darksaber, which fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels had seen before.
Part of the Mandalorian mythos is that the first Mandalore led an invasion of the planet in order to exterminate the dominant species, the mythosaurs, and thus made the planet habitable (which is why the skull of the mythosaur is their cultural symbol). The first Mandalorian tribe was known as the Crusaders, and they rampaged across the galaxy, finding new worlds to conquer and settle. It is no wonder they came into conflict with the Jedi Order!
The Way of the Lord and the Way of Mandalore are not at all similar in substance, but they are very similar in style. Like Moses for the Jews, Mandalore was the father of Mandalorian society, and through his practices established the norms and values that their society lives by.
THE REDEMPTION OF THE REMNANT
“Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 23:3–4 (NASB)
One of the biblical themes that many commentators were quick to pick up on when The Mandalorian debuted was that the Mandalorian people had experienced a diaspora as a result of the Great Purge. The fact that the Galactic Empire has been seen as “space Nazis” in pop culture, and they “cleansed” the Mandalorian people, and melted down their beskar, and then branded the beskar with the Imperial insignia… this was perhaps the most poignant parallel between the Mandalorians and Jews. In the Bible (and in real history), these events strike a chord with the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the resulting Exile (the deportation of Jewish people to Babylon that began in 597 BC), as well as the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
The scattering of the Mandalorian people across the galaxy, and their decision to live in “coverts” (secret communities), resembles the Remnant of Israel that God would tend while the Jewish people were in Exile. If in fact Jon Favreau is going to closely follow the biblical story as inspiration for The Mandalorian, then what may come in season 3 or the future of the show might be a “gathering” of the Mandalorians and the rise of a new Mandalore. The biblical interpretation of this would be the coming Messiah as foretold by Jeremiah (and many other prophets), as the 23rd chapter continues:
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
6 In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will live securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The Lord Our Righteousness.’”
As to who the new Mandalore might be is an open question. Before Disney acquired LucasFilm, the previous continuity saw Boba Fett become the next Mandalore. While that is a possibility, Rebels saw Bo-Katan claim that title when another character passed the Darksaber to her. Given that Moff Gideon is in the possession of the Darksaber, and Bo-Katan has made it her mission to reclaim it, we can only assume that the redemption of the Mandalorian people is in the cards for The Mandalorian.
How Din Djarin might fit into this is an open question, but he may play a vital role in the “gathering” to come, perhaps by brokering a deal between his covert and Bo-Katan’s Death Watch covert. However, Din does not consider Bo-Katan to be a “true Mandalorian” because she walks around with her helmet off, which supposedly is NOT the Way of the Mandalore. In the episode “The Heiress” from season 2, Bo-Katan scoffs at Din Djarin and says he is a “Child of the Watch” — an overly-zealous sect of the Mandalorian people. We see this in the current paradigm of Jewish practice, as Haredi Judaism is considered ultra-orthodox compared to Reform Judaism.
The differences of belief between Din and Bo-Katan reinforce the previous biblical themes I pointed out: that the Mandalorians are as inclusive as they are exclusive; as it pertains to their exclusivity, following the Way of the Mandalore can be seen as a benchmark of one’s commitment to being a Mandalorian. What would perhaps be an interesting twist in The Mandalorian is if Din became a Jedi Knight at some point while fostering Grogu (aka “Baby Yoda”). This of course would make Din an extremely interesting character, as his newfound loyalties and relationships would require him to set aside his identity as a bounty hunter. In doing so, perhaps Din would become an even truer Mandalorian in the process —a noble warrior who fights the good fight.
THIS IS THE WAY.