But in a recent episode, the stoic bounty hunter faced perhaps his most fearsome enemy: pluralism.
For the uninitiated, “The Mandalorian” is a live-action series exploring the outer edge of the ever-growing “Star Wars” galaxy. In season two, now airing on Disney +, the main character – named Din Djarin – is looking 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 faiths or maybe no religion at all. He greets this new fact with the enthusiasm of a man who handed over a ham sandwich by a breeze.
A Mandalorian credo, “weapons are part of my religion,” is also underway now. (Is it bad? It works badly.)
The answers to this question have so far been sparse. But a recent episode contained a major revelation.
‘Star Wars’ has had religious themes since its inception
In the 70s and 80s, the interstellar saga explored Eastern traditions, mainly Buddhism and Taoism, just as many “spiritual but not religious” doblers did the same. At the turn of the millennium, “Star Wars” captured 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 struggle between orthodox conservatives and liberals.
Until recently, the show kept the most explicit details about the Mandalorian religion under cover. We know that the Mandalorians consider themselves both hunters and prey, never removing helmets in front of other people and promising to always protect each other in a blaster fight. And weapons stuff.
(There’s more about Mandalorians in other “Star Wars” series.)
Since he was rescued as a war orphan, Djarin has been schooled in “The Road”, which he believes is singular and shared by all. But in a recent episode called “The Heiress,” he is shocked to meet other mandalors who casually remove their helmets and break a major taboo.
These new Mandalorians mock Djarin’s conservative practice and tell him that he is actually part of a small sect of religious zealots called the “Guard of Death.”
In other words, there is not just one way; there are ways.
Seeing Djarin’s shock and confusion over this unwelcome news was like seeing a protected fundamentalist novice in his first theology class at a liberal arts university. Mind. Blown.
‘The Mandalorian’ repeats the history of American religion
It is not difficult to see some parallels with our own world. A lost young man finds an identity, a society and a mission in a violent, countercultural sect. He knows nothing of the diversity of his faith and mocks those who differ.
Then pluralism – a beautiful word for our ability to live together in the midst of differences – tastes him over his shining helmet.
In “The Mandalorian,” Djarin faintly insists, “There is only one way. The Mandalore Road,” then turns on his rocket backpack and flies away.
But not for long, we expect.
We are not so good at pluralism ourselves.
In some ways, the clash of religious views in “The Mandalorian” repeats the history of American religion over the past few decades. As believers quarrel over LGBTQ rights, religious freedom, and biblical interpretation, pews have become more polarized, common ground harder to find.
Some experts see the prevailing tides of xenophobia and tribalism and predict a bad future for peaceful coexistence.
They have a point.
Because this is Hollywood, it seems inevitable that the Mandalorian will eventually go the way of the believing Unitarians and steadily stumble upon his faith one by one.
It would be nice if it did not happen. It is much more interesting to see someone struggle with their faith instead of giving up on them. What if Djarin remained true to his way and the others to theirs, without either party trying to convert or force the other.
We could use several models for how different people can coexist without common beliefs, even if they come from a galaxy far, far away.