Fairfax, VA. Season 3 of The Mandalorian finished a few months ago, and next month, Disney+ will release Ahsoka. Though the titular characters intersect occasionally, they offer radically different visions of religious life. Ahsoka is a type of the millennial “deconstructing” her faith: disillusioned with the Jedi Order, she strikes out on her own, forming a religion of one. However, when Din Djarin, aka Mando, is presented with the opportunity to apostatize, he remains true to his faith. This humble fidelity is treated with a surprising amount of admiration and respect, considering Disney is usually trumpeting “be yourself” and “follow your dreams.”
Season 3 begins with Mando under severe penance from the Armorer, a priestly figure, for removing his helmet, a violation of a foundational religious rule of the Mandalorians. To cleanse himself and recommit to walking “the Way,” he must bathe in the “living waters” of Mandalore. He is accompanied on this quest by Bo-Katan Kryze, who assists him even though she openly doubts the holiness and even existence of the “living waters.”
Last season, we met Bo-Katan Kryze and her helmet-removing, progressive Mandalorians. Din Djarin thinks them apostates, while they call him and his covert “zealots,” obsessed with restoring “The Old Way.” This meeting shocked viewers as much as Din Djarin himself. Turns out, there are other Mandalorians, and our hero is a traditionalist. After this encounter, some speculated that Mando would go “the way of the creedless Unitarianians, steadily shedding his beliefs one by one.”
However, Din Djarin’s exposure does not weaken his faith; instead, his commitment makes Bo-Katan question her dismissal of him as a “zealot.” While the issue of helmet-wearing struck some as “a little weird,” it is a symbolically rich image. On the one hand, this taboo in a galaxy far, far away reminds us that some rules and rituals in our own lives—like making a certain hand motion or showing reverence to blessed bread—might be meaningful to the faithful even though they remain strange or inexplicable to an outsider.
But even more than that, helmet-wearing effaces the individual. He is a Mandalorian first and Din Djarin second. By contrast, Bo-Katan removes her helmet and introduces herself as a royal descendent, emphasizing her uniqueness rather than her identity as one of many Mandalorians. She follows her own truth, her own path, but he submits himself to The Creed. Even when his penance seems impossible, he does not complain. Bo-Katan mocks him for it, but Din Djarin continues to show The Creed deference even when it seems confusing, unfair, or unreasonable.
Faith, the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), drives Din Djarin, and his witness challenges the liberal Bo-Katan. She assumes that the waters are all corrupted on Mandalore, but by following Din Djarin, she learns that Mandalore is habitable, and the living waters remain. She believed the Mythosaur to be merely a folktale of Mandalorian legend, but then she sees it with her own eyes while rescuing Din Djarin. She believed the ancient Way of the Mandalore to be outdated but finds that the community of conservative Mandalorians are worthy of respect and even emulation.
This theme of faith versus scientism and skepticism goes back to the very first Star Wars. At an Imperial board meeting, Admiral Motti crows that the Death Star “is now the ultimate power in the universe,” even greater than the Force: “Don’t try to frighten us with your Sorcerer’s ways Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebel’s hidden fortre…” He is cut off by Vader’s Force choke and the iconic line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
The bureaucratic, scientific politicking of Star Wars often is in tension with the mystical and spiritual, whether between Senators and Jedi or Admirals and Sith. The Force was George Lucas’s Buddhist-inflected religious pastiche, but The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau, born of Jewish and Catholic parents, has drawn on Judeo-Christian influences for the Way of the Mandalore. In both cases, they nail the tension of religious people in a technologically advanced age. Even when planets can be blown up and deserts farmed by droids, the necessity of the Force and the Way remains.
While all big budget productions concern good vs. evil and fighting for the greater good, The Mandalorian is unusual in focusing on a minority, structured religion. No Avenger ever performed penance. They lacked the institution to demand it and the humility to accept it. They are just a collection of heroes who unite over common interests and enemies, but they relinquish none of their individuality.
However, Din Djarin’s sacrificial, communal life has proven compelling and popular, even as many people’s real lives increasingly lack the commitments that make sacrifice normal and meaningful, like children, religion, or marriage. Perhaps such commitments are easier to admire in a fictional galaxy. However, there is a subset of people that are swimming against the modern norms of à la carte spirituality and self-centeredness. They are instead joining the most traditional and institutional forms of Christianity, like Eastern Orthodoxy and Traditional Latin Mass Catholic Churches, and finding meaning in the ritual, in the reverence, in the submission to something bigger and greater. They are finding the freedom of accepting limitations.
This tension of submission versus self-expression is dramatized in Season 3 Episode 6, “Guns for Hire,” as Din Djarin and Bo-Katan are tasked with hunting rogue droids. In an homage to Blade Runner, we watch as seemingly compliant droids suddenly break ranks, and chase scenes through neon-lit streets ensue. In Blade Runner, the replicant Deckard hunted other replicants who also appeared human, but in The Mandalorian, this dynamic is reversed. Metal droids are chased by metal-clad humans with droid-like uniformity and efficiency.
Contra Tyrell Corporation, the Mandalorians might have the motto “Less Human than Human.” To outsiders, they look interchangeable, mercenaries little different from the droids they hunt.
Their adherence to the Creed seems almost robotic with the constant repetitions of “This is the Way,” and their loyalty to their faith. Yet, Din Djarin’s struggles to keep his faith show when he says to Bo-Katan, “Without the Creed, what are we?” And the humanity of his covert shows when he asks for their help in rescuing Nevarro.
Paz Vizla, Mando’s erstwhile rival, responds to the request for aid by offering the objection every modern individualist would have: “I saw many die to save the life of this one tiny foundling. And now we are asked to sacrifice yet again. The question we should be asking ourselves is why?” Then, instead of giving the argument we might expect—mentioning the land they will get, the glory of victory—he simply replies: “Because we are Mandalorians!” Because this is the Way they have chosen, their Creed helps them transcend selfish and shallow concerns to achieve something noble and meaningful.
Unlike programmed droids, Mandalorians can waver, but they are bolstered by their institutions, their commitments, and their fellow soldiers. His speech is moving for those of us who have made vows to keep saying “I believe” or “I love you,” even when it feels like we’ve given so much and still more is asked. The question we may ask ourselves is why? And sometimes, the answer is not what is in it for us, it is simply because we are Christians, because we are spouses, because we are parents. Losing your life in something bigger and in that finding it: This is the Way.
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