But in a recent episode, the stoic bounty hunter faced perhaps his most formidable enemy: pluralism.
For the uninitiated, “The Mandalorian” is a live-action series that explores an outer edge of the ever-expanding “Star Wars” galaxy. In the second season, now airing on Disney +, the main character – named Din Djarin – is on the hunt for other Mandalorians, a diaspora in exile from their home planet.
Raised by a religious cult, Djarin suddenly discovers other Mandalorians who – gasp! – follow different beliefs, or maybe no belief at all. He greets this new fact with the enthusiasm of a man who has handed over a ham sandwich to a bris.
Judging by Google, many people are curious about the mysterious “Way of the Mandalore,” the credo shared by Djarin and his sect. The question, “What is the Mandalorian religion?” Has always been in fashion since the show premiered last year.
‘Star Wars’ featured religious themes from the start
This is not the first time that “Star Wars” has interfered with religion. George Lucas, the creator of the franchise, said he wanted to introduce young Americans to spiritual teachings through “new myths.” “I wanted to get young people to start asking questions about the mystery,” he said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Interstellar Saga explored Eastern traditions, primarily Buddhism and Taoism, just as many “spiritual, but not religious” dabblers did the same. At the turn of the millennium, “Star Wars” caught the McMindfulness craze – 1999’s “The Phantom Menace” opens with two Jedi talking about the benefits of meditation.
And now, with “The Mandalorian,” we see the “Star Wars” universe borrowing from another contemporary feature of religion: the battle between conservative orthodox and liberal.
Until recently, the show kept the most explicit details about the Mandalorian religion secret. We know the Mandalorians see themselves as both hunters and prey, never take off their helmets in front of other people, and swear to always protect each other in blaster combat. And the weapon thing.
(There is more about the Mandalorians in other “Star Wars” series.)
Since being rescued as a war orphan, Djarin has been educated in “the Way”, which he believes to be unique and shared by all. But, in a recent episode titled “The Heiress,” he is shocked to meet other Mandalorians who casually take off their helmets, breaking a great taboo.
These new Mandalorians laugh at Djarin’s conservative practices and tell him that he is in fact part of a small sect of religious fanatics called “The Death Watch”.
In other words, there is not just one way; there are ways.
Watching Djarin’s shock and confusion at this bad news was like seeing a fundamentalist student protected in his first theology class at a liberal arts college. Mind. Breath.
The moment may mark a turning point for Djarin. One writer compared him to a young Amish “finally on his intergalactic Rumspringa”. Another said it should cause a “huge spiritual crisis”.
“The Mandalorian” echoes the history of American religion
It is not difficult to see parallels with our own world. A lost young man finds identity, community and mission in a violent, counter-cultural sect. He knows nothing of the diversity of his faith and despises those who differ.
Then pluralism – a fancy word for our ability to live together amid differences – makes him slam his shiny helmet.
In the “Mandalorian”, Djarin insists weakly: “There is only one Way. The Way of the Mandalore ”, then lights his rocket backpack and takes off.
But not for long, we wait.
We are not so good at pluralism ourselves.
In some ways, the clash of religious views in “The Mandalorian” echoes the history of American religion in recent decades. As believers fight over LGBTQ rights, religious freedom, and biblical interpretations, the pews have become more polarized and common ground harder to find.
Some experts see the floods of xenophobia and tribalism and predict a poor future for peaceful coexistence.
They have a point.
In the United States, for example, new data from the FBI shows that hate crimes jumped in 2019 to their highest level in more than a decade. Most of these incidents were motivated by racial or ethnic prejudice and 20% by religious prejudice, according to the FBI.
Because this is Hollywood, it seems inevitable that the Mandalorian will end up following the path of the Unbelieving Oneness, gradually losing his beliefs one by one.
It would be nice if that didn’t happen. It is much more interesting to watch someone struggle with their beliefs than to let go of them. What if Djarin remained faithful to his Way and the others to theirs, without either side trying to convert or to coerce the other?
We could use more models of how different people can coexist without common beliefs, even if they come from a galaxy far, far away.