MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, December 6th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re really glad you are!
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.
The streaming era has given audiences lots of diverse, targeted viewing options. But there’s one area it’s still curiously deficient. Except for a few sleeper hits, it hasn’t offered much by way of family viewing. I’m talking about shows that are complex enough to entertain both parents and older children, not just kids’ programming that adults have to suffer through. The Mandalorian on Disney Plus brilliantly fills that gap.
CLIP: What’s your highest bounty. Not much. 5000. That won’t even cover fuel these days. There is one job. Let’s see the puck. No puck. Face to face. Direct commission. Deep pocket. Underworld? All I know is no chain code. Do you want the chit or not?
Any fan of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns will recognize their influence on this stand-alone Star Wars story. It takes place five years after events in Return of the Jedi. The fall of the Empire has inevitably left chaos in its wake. Out on the lawless frontiers of the New Republic, we meet a lone bounty hunter known only as Mando. That’s a moniker taken from the name of his people: The Mandalorian.
Like any gunslinger worth his salt, we don’t know much about Mando save that he’s the quickest draw in the galaxy. In fact, he’s so mysterious, four episodes in, we have yet to glimpse his face, which remains hidden beneath his tribal helmet.
CLIP: Greef Karga said you were coming. What else did he say? He said you were the best in the parsec. Freeze. Drop your weapons. No, no, no. Sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm. This is Dr. Pershing. Please excuse his lack of decorum. His enthusiasm outweighs his discretion. Please lower your blaster. Have them lower theirs first. We have you four to one. I like those odds.
But in classic cowboy fashion, Mando’s tough exterior hides a deeper morality. In this case, it’s grounded in his Mandalore faith. When Mando finds out the 50-year-old person he’s been hired to capture is actually a Yoda-like toddler, he honors the code of the Mandalorian over the code of the bounty hunter and risks his life to save the child.
CLIP: You need to drop your rifle. I’m a Mandalorian, weapons are part of my religion. Then you are not getting your parts back.
The Force has always represented a vaguely Eastern grab-bag of religious traditions. But it’s proven flexible enough to become more personal in the latest films. And the spiritual story arc of Star Wars is that of a largely secular world experiencing a religious awakening thanks to the fervent belief of a few. George Lucas understood that including this explicit faith element in his fantasy played an integral part in its success.
He said in a 1999 interview, “I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct—that there is a greater mystery out there.” He went on, “I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system…I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, ‘Is there a God or is there not a God?’—that is for me the worst thing that can happen.”
Now I quote that not to suggest that Lucas intended for viewers to see Christian themes in Star Wars. But to make it clear that he understood that a story with a sense of God—a sense of something providential and eternal—is a powerful draw.
The Mandalorian explores the spiritual aspect of Star Wars further by showing a competing religion for the first time.
Like the Jedi, martial arts aren’t just a way of life for the Mandalore, but a way of belief. Mando makes it clear that to not follow the strict dress codes of his faith would mean abandoning it. His conversations with other members of his tribe suggest his people are more a religious minority than an ethnic one.
CLIP: When one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore you are both hunter and prey. How can one be a coward if one chooses this way of life? Have you ever removed your helmet? No. Has it ever been removed by others? Never. This is the way. This is the way. This is the way.
How will this fringe religion stack up against what has been set up as the true faith of the galaxy far, far away? Will the miraculous displays of power by the character the internet has dubbed “Baby Yoda” challenge Mando’s belief system? Will it foster doubt in the hero about the rules-based religion he grew up in? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better launching point to discuss weighty faith topics with older kids.
Two weeks ago, a research firm announced that The Mandalorian is now the most in-demand television series in the world. That means across all platforms, including all major broadcast and cable networks.
It seems Lucas’s approach of family friendly high stakes in deep space, with a strong sense of the mystery of spiritual things, is still a winning formula.