After two seasons, Din Djarin has finally decided that he needs to take a bath. In its first two episodes, season 3 of The Mandalorian is highlighting something that is easy to overlook in all the Star Wars razzle-dazzle. Din Djarin, the Mandalorian, is a deeply religious dude with a very religious problem: He broke his weird cult’s rules and removed his helmet in front of others. And now he must atone for it by “bathing in the Living Waters beneath the mines of Mandalore.”
When you stop to think about it, it’s kind of weird that The Mandalorian is, thus far, about one guy’s efforts to be Cultist of the Year. It’s not clear until the show’s second season, but the Mandalorians as portrayed in the show aren’t necessarily representative of all Mandalorians, but a sort of religious fundamentalist cult that hearkens back to the earliest days of the now-ruined planet of Mandalore.
The first season shows Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), the hero of The Mandalorian, adopted by this cult as a child after his village is razed, indoctrinated into their weird religion that involves, I don’t know, hunting increasingly challenging bounties in exchange for increasingly sick armor? It’s very video game-y. While that season shifted to focus on Din’s Lone Wolf and Cub-esque relationship with Grogu, things took a turn in the second season (and, inexplicably, in The Book of Boba Fett) as the show introduces other Mandalorians who are not into the same creed as Din, and then also shows Din regretting his decision to send Grogu to Luke Skywalker’s Jedi college and inviting him to learn the ways of his religious order.
On the one hand, Star Wars already has a weird and morally dubious religion in the Jedi Order. While it is conceivably good and interesting that there are multiple religions that creators are interested in in this fictional universe, so much of the Mandalorian creed Din follows is poorly explained. We can infer that Din feels loyalty to his sect after they rescued him from certain death, but why does anyone else practice this faith? Why are any of the other Mandalorians in this cult? What do they talk to each other about?
This is before you even start to parse all of the rules we do know about. Like the helmet thing: If they can’t take their helmets off in front of others, is sex off the table? If that’s the case, how do they make more Mandalorians? Do they only take in orphans? Do they abduct strong candidates? Or is it more of a gig you apply for? And why would you apply? Din is not a born Mandalorian, and as he was raised by the cult, he believes all Mandalorians live this way — no one tells him he’s full of shit until he meets Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), who has little patience for his weird cult.
To those who have the temerity to suggest I may be overthinking this: This is motherfucking Star Wars. We’re only here because people have been overthinking shit for 50 goddamn years. These are questions that ostensibly have answers in an extended universe that’s constantly being written and rewritten, just outside the boundaries of what we’re seeing. The Mandalorian has a terminal case of Lore Brain, a syndrome where a series is written in a way that doesn’t just expect the viewer to do their homework and be up on the fictional history of its world, but also treats scenes as new wiki entries in that history, further complicating said history without bothering to sit down and tell a story. Din Djarin has failed his creed, yes — but why does it matter to him that much? Why did he ultimately come to accept the path he was raised in, and what does it do for him specifically? Why would he do anything to be back in its good graces, and why is he dead set on bringing Grogu along with him? How is he even processing the knowledge of other Mandalorians living in what, to him, is apostasy?
This is an annoying number of questions, but they’re indicative of the fertile ground The Mandalorian is playing in. All of these questions are stories, and it’s frustrating to see the show’s writers so uninterested in telling them. The Mandalorian has proven itself capable of standing on its own without feeling like it was burdened by Star Wars history; now it’s in danger of being the navel-gazy, self-concerned affair that bystanders might believe it to be. It is a well-regarded hit in an era where Star Wars is struggling to find what’s next, curiously bogging itself down with what came before. It would be refreshing — and far more sustainable — if the series’ writers were more interested in probing its characters more deeply than the world that their stories are set in. One feeds into the other; without both, the story languishes.
Instead the creators of The Mandalorian have chosen to cobble together the lore spun out of Star Wars’ (very good!) animated series into a show that was initially appealing for the blank slate it offered, a Western on the edge of a galaxy far away.
But sure, Mando. Have your bath.