The first season of The Mandalorian accomplished many things in its eight-episode run when it premiered in 2019. As the first flagship show to launch with Disney+, it lived up to its expectations by accomplishing three things: (1. establishing a world and mythos with new characters in the Star Wars universe (2. Introducing a character that became a pop culture phenomenon and (3. Easing the tension and toxicity overall with Star Wars fandom while bringing in new fans (though like the dark side you can never completely rid fandom of toxicity). The show also garnered a slew of Emmy nominations and wins, including Production Design, Music, and Cinematography.
Season one was not without criticism, specifically labeling some episodes as “filler” or too many side quests and not focusing on the overarching story and there was concern that the second season would get caught up in the same story beats. However, this type of serialized storytelling is not new to Star Wars (I submit to you The Clone Wars and Rebels). Certain episodes seem like they are insignificant but end up paying off later (sometimes even seasons later). But The Mandalorian is even more unique from the animated shows: it presents itself as one long story with chapters (the episodes are actually called “Chapters”).
In the end, season two exceeded expectations from the very first episode and now has closed one part of Mando and Grogu’s story. Looking at these first two seasons, there are common themes from Star Wars playing out but there are also new themes that leave room for further exploration in future seasons. Over the next few blog posts, I will discuss three themes that I feel The Mandalorian has either introduced to the Star Wars canon or has brought richer context to complement the films and novels.
Fair warning: The word “Mandalorian” will appear many times in this post.
I would say this is the main theme of The Mandalorian, even though most people would not necessarily pick up on this until the second season. Throughout the first season, you start learning the rules of the Mandalorians on the show, mainly that they cannot take their helmet off. This rule prompted debate among Star Wars fans who saw this as being contradictory to what we know from The Clone Wars and Rebels, having seen Mandalorians take their helmet off many times. Clearly, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni (who is Executive Producer across all three shows) had a plan by establishing this rule. And it begins to pay off in season two with a set of encounters and conversations between characters.
Mando and Cobb Vanth: In the first episode of season two, Chapter 9: The Marshal, we meet Marshal Cobb Vanth. Vanth is a character from the Aftermath Trilogy who acquires Boba Fett’s armor. When Mando first meets Cobb, he is wearing Fett’s armor and Mando thinks he has finally found someone who can lead him to a Jedi. This is instantly shattered when Vanth takes off his helmet and you can see Mando’s incredulous face, even if you can’t see his face. Vanth makes it clear to him, and us that he isn’t actually a Mandalorian (which Mando already knows with conviction). He tells Cobb to surrender the armor or have it removed before they get interrupted by the episode’s antagonist; however, by the end of the episode, Mando comes to respect Vanth and his efforts to protect the citizens of his town and works with him to defeat the Krayt dragon. It is not said, but you get a sense that Mando feels that Vanth has earned the right to wear the armor of a Mandalorian. But he still takes it in the end.
Mando and Bo Katan: When Mando comes into contact with actual Mandalorians in Chapter 11: The Heiress and they take their helmets off, he tries to invoke the same creed…and gets shut down. Bo Katan recognizes Mando’s conviction with being a “Child of the Watch.” It is not clear if this is Death Watch (of which Bo Katan was a member) and they evolved to be more extreme than their Clone Wars form or if it is another group. This encounter hits Mando differently and, in a beautiful shot, he watches Bo and her team jet from a ship they’ve destroyed. It is in this scene that, for the first time in the series, Mando truly seems alone. It is in this episode that his perspective starts to shift on what it means to be Mandalorian and our hero is presented with an alternate view of his truth.
Mando and Boba Fett: While taking Grogu to the Seeing Stone on Tython, Mando comes face to face with Boba Fett, who has come for his father’s armor. Mando once again tries to gatekeep Mandalorian culture and challenges Boba by asking him if he “took the Creed?” Boba says he gives his allegiance to no one and the armor belonged to his father. But, as The Mandalorian tends to do before diving deep into these conflicts, the two are interrupted by a greater threat. Later, Fett shows Mando his lineage and that Jango is a foundling who earned his armor and his legacy. This was a fan service add-on that confirmed Jango was Mandalorian for people who were upset that the only “Mandalorians” showed in the films at the time were not actually Mandalorian. It also allows Mando and Fett to work together without having to bring this debate up between the two of them for the rest of the season, but it does pave the way for conflicts with other Mandalorians.
Mando and Migs Mayfeld: Even with the season of a live-action Bo Katan and Ahsoka, a Thrawn name drop, and the return of Luke Skywalker, the show still managed to bring surprises in unexpected ways. In the penultimate episode of the season, we get the return of Migs Mayfeld from Chapter 6: The Prisoner (an episode I really liked but apparently is not a fan favorite…whatever). Mayfeld is needed to find the location of Moff Gideon’s cruiser and thus is released into the custody of the newly deputized Cara Dune. When Mando has to infiltrate a secret Imperial base, he is forced into changing into trooper armor. Mayfeld seems a little more reserve and less showy but still manages to poke at Mando, again, for not showing his face. In Chapter 6, his observations were more for laughs but, in Chapter 15: The Believer, they are foreshadowing what’s to come.
Seems to me like your rules start to change when you get desperate…You said you couldn’t take your helmet off, and now you got a stormtrooper one on, so what’s the rule?
Is it that you can’t take off your Mando helmet, or you can’t show your face? ‘Cause there is a difference.
Everybody’s got their lines they don’t cross until things get messy.Migs Mayfeld, Chapter 15: The Believer
Mando does not respond or acknowledge Mayfeld’s comments but you can tell that weighs on him and, later in the episode, he takes off his helmet to get the information he needs to find Grogu. And he keeps his helmet off for approximately six minutes in one of the most intense scenes in the whole series that also involves an unsympathetic Imperial Officer and Mayfeld. It’s a long way from the character in season one who only took his helmet off once in front of IG-11 because he was dying (and IG was not a living being). The rules are the rules: unless it involves Grogu, who has become Mando’s adopted son. We will see if this progresses in future seasons with Grogu, temporarily, out of the picture.
Bo Katan and Boba Fett: In the finale, Chapter 16: The Rescue, we learn that Mando is not the only one that has a set way of who they view as Mandalorian. Bo Katan and Koska Reeves, with whom Mando and Fett seek out to help defeat Gideon and his Imperial faction, have some thoughts about Boba Fett. First, Bo Katan immediately dismisses Mando’s plea for help, citing that some Mandalorians serve a “higher purpose” than being just bounty hunters. Ouch.
Things get even more personal when Bo calls Boba a disgrace to his armor, to which Boba responds that the armor belonged to his father. “You mean your donor…” Bo Katan retorts, taking a shot at Boba for being a clone and having recognized his voice. Boba being a clone doesn’t seem to affect Mando’s regard for him and things seem to soften between Bo and Boba as the episode progresses but Bo has her own convictions about Mandalorian culture. It should also be noted that Boba does not even seem to consider himself a Mandalorian. His armor is just his last connection to his father, which makes it just as sacred and invaluable.
Bo Katan and Mando (encore): Armor is a big part of Mandalorian culture and history but another important part of the lore is the Darksaber. In Chapter 8: Redemption, we see the Darksaber for the first time in live-action. Season two ended with no explanation of how the weapon switched hands from Bo Katan to Gideon, but I feel like that is a part of her own hard-lined stance when Mando tries to hand her the saber after beating Gideon in a fight. Gideon, gleeful, explains to Mando that Bo Katan cannot just take the weapon but has to win it in battle because the saber “doesn’t have power, the story does.” This is a turn from the arc in Rebels which ends with Sabine handing the saber over to Bo Katan. Perhaps it is because she did not win it in battle the first time that she was not able to fully reunite Mandalore. Either way, she has her own convictions and has to decide if she is willing to battle Mando for the saber or can move on from the old ways.
The character of Mando aka Din Djarin, has come a long way from the “Mandalore isn’t a place, it’s a Creed” stance from the first season to potentially helping to rebuild Mandalore…the same place he believes to be “cursed.” He has not only removed his helmet but has also removed it in front of people who are still alive (including a Jedi). He didn’t even know what the Darksaber was and now he wields it and might be the leader of Mandalore. There is still a lot to explore in season three and more character growth, not just from the title character, but Bo Katan and perhaps other members of the Watch. And it seems like we are officially getting a season three of The Mandalorian as there was some confusion on whether the newly announced The Book of Boba Fett was season three.
What does it mean to be a part of a people, culture, or place? Is it a birthright or is it a shared set of beliefs? Star Wars is at its best when it explores themes that we can apply so seamlessly to our own world. And The Mandalorian feels like it is scratching the surface of what’s to come.