Be aware this post contains spoilers for series one and two of The Mandalorian.
The Mandalorian is a series on Disney + with roots both in the Star Wars Universe and the classic Westerns of the 20th century. Like the Lone Ranger, Shane, The High Plains Drifter, Kung Fu (which has to be mentioned alongside the problematic nature of the casting of the lead actor) and many others, the lead character is a male, alone, and known by a name which increases the mystery surrounding him. People refer to the lead character not by his given name of Din Djarin but as either “The” Mandalorian (as if he were the only one) or Mando. Since he always wears a mask, which he has not removed in the presence of others since childhood, he is the ultimate cypher, a representation of masculinity which others can project onto, but which shows almost nothing of his humanity.
Into the life of the Mandalorian comes a child – he is originally contracted to capture The Child and deliver it to a customer. As a bounty hunter he is expected to have no interest in what his customer wants, simply to carry out his contract. The Mandalorian belongs to what is portrayed as a strict sect, a religious group who have survived persecution, and now hide themselves away. They support themselves by bounty hunting, and there is a strong sense of the good of the many outweighing moral considerations of whether those he is hunting are guilty or innocent. However in meeting The Child for the first time Mando becomes conflicted. An orphan himself, perhaps the vulnerability of The Child speaks to him, or perhaps he can empathize with its fear and suffering, as he witnessed war, death and destruction himself before being adopted into the Mandalorian community.
I did not ask to be born
Whatever the motivation Mando breaks the rules of the guild of bounty hunters, and endangers his own community to rescue The Child. As he is a cypher for isolated masculinity so Grogu (as we later learn The Child is called) can be seen to represent a universal child. It (I am unsure we can assign gender to The Child) is weak, vulnerable, in need of care, unaware of danger, rules, and right and wrong. It is shown in a combination cot/pram emphasizing that this is an infant. Mando rescues The Child, and in an instant becomes responsible to it, he moves from loner to parent, with all the attendant responsibilities.
Not once does The Madalorian blame the child for his choices, demand that The Child recompense him with love, expect The Child to praise him or behave in certain ways because of Mandos choices. How often are children told of the choices of parents as if they were responsible? Children are expected to behave certain ways, make certain choices, have this career, marry this person, or type of person, because of the choices parents have made. The Mandalorian accepts that The Child did not ask to be rescued, that it is his choice to have The Child in his life. Later the leader of his community, The Armorer, tells him he must be as a father to The Child, until it can be returned to its own people, Mando does not object or complain. He knows the responsibility for the child comes from his own actions and choices.
Your way is your own to find
As already mentioned The Mandalorian was adopted, after his parents were killed by The Empire of the Star Wars films, episodes 3-6. His culture has a tradition of foundlings, none mandalorian born children who are adopted into, and brought up in the way of the Mandalore. His sect of the survivors of the attacks on the home planet of Mandalore is described in terms reminiscent of some evangelical Christians today, adherents of a very strict interpretation of the Way of Mandalore, old fashioned and somewhat rule bound.
“Children of the Watch are a cult of religious zealots that broke away from Mandalorian society. Their goal was to reestablish the ancient way.”
We do not have to look far to see the impact on children of their parents believing that adherence to their beliefs are more important than the needs of the child. Particularly for LGBTQ people the choice is so often presented between family and authenticity. You can follow your own path, or your parents, but not both. This leaves children, whether adult or not, with an almost impossible position, of dividing themselves, or repressing who they really are.
Mando, instinctively it seems, understands this, that his belief system and way of being are his, and they may not work for The Child, who has different needs. Your child being gay, or bi, or trans, or lesbian, or non binary, is not a choice they make to reject your belief system. It is simply who they are, the choice is whether to accept that we are responsible for how we respond if their authentic self is different to the path we hoped for them. This reaches its conclusion in the final episode of the show, where The Child needs The Mandalorians’ acceptance to be able to move onto the next stage of their life. Grogu can only become their authentic self because Mando accepts that they have different paths to authenticity.
What lies behind the mask
One of the rules of the sect of Mandalore that the eponymous hero belongs to is that his mask must never be removed in front of others. Many parents wear a mask of parenting, for many reasons, forged from their own experiences and a combination of biopsychosocial factors. What goes into the mask marked parent is unique to each of us, and often we need the shortcuts that wearing a mask brings. But it is vital that we acknowledge we are also human beings, and in denying this, in trying to be only parent, so much harm can be done. It can be a fine line between imposing our humanity on our children – expecting them to parent and nurture us, and being willing to remove the mask and be a human making contact with another. In the final episode Mando removes his mask twice, once to rescue Grogu, and once, to say good bye – to connect fully with his child, as Grogu is ready to walk his own path.
Masks can protect, they can disguise, they can hide, and sometimes they can become a barrier we keep ourselves behind, fearing the vulnerability of removing the mask. Mando is not afraid to step beyond the structures of his spiritual and cultural beliefs and be human in order to connect with The Child – his child.
There is a lot of discussion about toxic masculinity, for me The Mandalorian is such an important show because it shows positive masculinity and positive parenting/fatherhood. In many ways the struggle for all parents is how to balance the child’s need to discover who they are, as a separate and unique individual, and the parents need to be true to who they are. If we can come up with a perhaps simplistic defintion of good parenting, perhaps itis nurturing and equipping a child until it is ready to walk its own path, just as the Mandalorian does.