The Mandalorian: Creeds in a Chaotic World
This is the way.
Can it be done? Can one write a spoiler-free article about Star Wars first real success since the release of Rogue One? Well, we're gonna try. After all, the show raises an interesting question: why was The Mandalorian so much better than the sequel trilogy, despite a similar aesthetic, scripting, and obsession with iconic faces. I mean, talk about annoying celebrity cameos - did we really need to see Brian Posehn and Bill Burr in roles that could've gone to fresh faces? And don't think I didn't see you there, Apollo Creed (aka Carl Weathers).
Really, though, what is it that makes The Mandalorian so compelling?
Sure, there's a lot to be said for its storytelling style. The Mandalorian does a great job of "showing" the action rather than simply having characters feed the audience details (though that does happen from time to time). Sure, the art is fantastic. Sure, the film reimagines the cowboy-narrative for a 21st century audience. At its core, though, The Mandalorian is not about action or art or pioneering...it's about creed.
You know the line, say it with me: "This is the way."
Fans everywhere bonded with the enigmatic figure of "Mando" (see, no spoilers, as promised) from the very first episode. That might not seem so remarkable, but let's not forget that Mando is a masked character unfamiliar to most audiences. Consider fans' investment in Mando compared with the average stormtrooper, a similarly masked character who George Lucas immolated hundreds of times on-screen over the course of Star Wars. Nobody leans forward in their seat when it looks like a stormtrooper might bite it.
The Mandalorian, though, takes an important cue from flicks like V for Vendetta and Batman Begins: A mask can reveal a character's identity as well as conceal it. The mask of V reveals his commitment to anarchism. The mask of Batman reveals his commitment to punishing injustice. And the mask of Mando reveals...well, what exactly?
Here's a line from the show that I find rather suggestive:
"When one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore, you are both hunter and prey."
These lines sound pretty impressive when rasped by a masked mandalorian blacksmith, but they are deceptively simple. What creature is both hunter and prey? Any living creature. Consider how our entire planet, ruled by human beings who have created works of nearly incomprehensible sophistication, is now held hostage by a microscopic virus. We considered ourselves apex hunters; but rediscovered in 2020 that we were also prey. To embrace walking as both hunter and prey, then, isn't to embrace some bizarre mystical journey into the self.
It's embracing life itself.
Yet the mandalorian way doesn't appear to be one of unrestrained violence or senseless hedonism. Instead, it is one bound by honor, asceticism, and care for the future. Mandalorians do not remove their helmet in front of other living creatures. Mandalorians look after those they find helpless. Mandalorians should die in the work whereby they earned their living. This is the way.
Such a simple set of ideas, yet so captivating onscreen.
The 21st century couch-sitter is starved for a creed, and The Mandalorian delivers. Consider that. In the past, Star Wars won love and acclaim for its great story of a farmboy and a princess who turned out to be siblings - which is to say they turned out to be just the same. The cult of Star Wars was born from a world swept up into the story of how through commitment to goodness, mercy, and friendship a person could stand against the forces of darkness and save the Galaxy.
Now, no such epic victory is required. In fact, as we saw with the sequel trilogy, audiences are even distrustful of such a narrative. Today, the hero western audiences find themselves able to believe in doesn't save the Galaxy or begin an epic rebellion against tyranny. He's simpler than that.
The hero we seek today is a lone warrior who can take a punch. He doesn't say much because there isn't much to say. Yet he keeps sight of his code and never stops fighting whatever the odds may be. And, when presented the chance, he risks his all to preserve those who will face the future.
Creeds are risky things. Following a creed can lead a person into terrible situations. The Way of the Mandalore often leads The Mandalorian's hero into some pretty unpleasant places. The immense pull that the show has with fans, however, suggests that creeds may well be something we cannot live without. In the real world, we are none of us mandalorians, but we are all in need of a creed.
And that is the way.