With the new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, many people who may only know Star Wars from the big-screen movies may be wondering what in the world a Mandalorian is. Unfortunately, The Mandalorian doesn’t go into depth about the background of Mandalorians and it’s doubtful that it ever will. However, the series is adding onto both the story and culture of Mandalorians, so people who may not have background knowledge on this group of people are missing out. This article will provide some background from Star Wars Legends and Canon to help give context to The Mandalorian.
So a poignant first question is: where does The Mandalorian take place in the Star Wars timeline? The Mandalorian takes place somewhere around 9 ABY; so between Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi. This is an interesting time gap because there have yet to be many stories filling it. It’s also an integral time for the Mandalorian culture. But, to really understand why that is, we need some history on the Mandalorian people.
History of the Mandalorians
Note, the information in this section is now considered part of “Legends” and is not part of the ongoing Canon. However, the rest of the information listed in this article is considered Canon.
To really understand the Mandalorian race, we need to start from the beginning. The original Mandalorian species were the Taung, a gray-skinned simian species that first occurred on the planet Coruscant. Another species, the Zhell, fought the Taung over resources and eventually drove the Taung off-planet to Roon where they remained for millennia. Eventually, a leader arose, Mandalore the First, and led the Taung to conquer a new planet which they subsequently called Mandalore, in honor of their leader. As such, the Taung began calling themselves Mandalorians. With this new title, they began a campaign of conquering neighboring planets. As these crusaders increased their territory and brought new species and cultures under their reign, the Taung began to allow other species to assimilate into their culture, transforming what it meant to be a Mandalorian. Much like the Sith species which eventually gave rise to the Sith Order, the term Mandalorian eventually began to refer to a culture rather than just a species.
The expansion was eventually halted when the Mandalorians made it to the Inner Rim of the galaxy where they were brought into conflict with both the Jedi Order and the Old Republic. The Mandalorians had never encountered force-users like the Jedi before. Ever adaptive and extremely prideful, they created new technology to directly overcome the enigmatic powers of the Jedi. The armor Mandalorians are known for could withstand blows from a lightsaber and they diversified their weapons beyond just blasters since lightsabers could deflect blaster bolts. With this new technology, the Mandalorians began to hold their own against Jedi Knights.
Mandalorian Civil War
The last great struggle between the Mandalorians and the Jedi occurred on Mandalore itself. The war caused a cataclysmic event to devastate the planet, leaving behind a scorched world covered in a lifeless, white desert. This event marked the end of Mandalorian expansion and led to an era of reconstruction which preoccupied the warrior race for a time. Eventually, a new conflict broke out between the Mandalorian people themselves, evolving into the Mandalorian Civil War. In essence, the war was fought between two competing ideas circulating within Mandalorian society: a desire to return to a warrior past, leading to the formation of Death Watch, and a streak of pacifism led by Satine Kryze and the New Mandalorians. Satine was at the head of rebuilding Mandalore following the war that devastated the planet and, with her hatred for violence, ushered Mandalore into a time of strict pacifism. The Mandalorian way of life was drastically changed.
Satine fought for Mandalore’s neutrality during the Clone Wars, but Satine’s government was overthrown with the revival of the Mandalorian culture. With the help of Death Watch, Darth Maul, leader of an underworld alliance known as the Shadow Collective, reigned over Mandalore for a time. Understandably, the Republic laid siege on this new government controlling Mandalore and liberated the planet. However, shortly after, the Republic transformed into the Galactic Empire and Mandalore wilted under Imperial Rule. Around 9 ABY, shortly after A New Hope, Sabine Wren rallied her people and freed Mandalore from Imperial rule.
It’s around this point where The Mandalorian takes place. In fact, in episode three, the characters talk about a purge that occurred on Mandalore. With the take-over of Mandalore by the Galactic Empire, we can presume that the Empire expunged all resistance on Mandalore, forcing any resistors to either submit or go into hiding if they didn’t want to die. Understandably, this is possibly what some stead-fast Mandalorians did—they left Mandalore to preserve and continue to practice their cultural traditions. The collection of Mandalorians seen in the show are potentially those who chose to retreat to the Outer Rim to avoid death.
But, due to some of the snarky comments that Mayfield and his gang make in episode 6 about all the Mandalorians being dead despite being the greatest warriors in the galaxy, we can assume that not many Mandalorians were able to escape Imperial rule and many died because of it. So the ragtag group The Mandalorian was a part of may be some of the last true Mandalorians alive in the galaxy.
However, due to Sabine’s workings, Mandalore has been free of Imperial rule for a few years by the time the show takes place. If this is the case, then why are The Mandalorian and his fellow warriors still living in exile? Have they not gotten the memo? They are on the far fringes of the galaxy after all. We also know very little about Mandalore’s fate after the series finale of Star Wars Rebels. It could be that Mandalore is still embroiled in political conflict following liberation. Perhaps the new government is a pacifist one, reluctant to take part in galactic affairs and continuing to resist the warrior way. Or, Mandalore has fallen under a new regime that makes it unsafe for exiled warriors to return to. With very little true Mandalorians alive, Mandalore may no longer be controlled by Mandalorians. Either way, hopefully, The Mandalorian will fill in more gaps.
So far, The Mandalorian has given us tidbits of Mandalorian culture and tradition that may only make sense to Mandalorian fans. One such piece of information is the fact that Mando is a Foundling. In Mandalorian culture, a Foundling is a term used to indicate an outsider orphan who was brought up and inducted into Mandalorian culture. With the Mandalorians’ history of taking in other species and individuals outside their culture, it’s not surprising that The Mandalorian is a Foundling and that this fact doesn’t harbor him ill will from other Mandalorians.
In episode two, Kuiil watches The Mandalorian fail at riding a Bluurg. He mentions that this should be easy for The Mandalorian because his ancestors rode Mythosaurs. This is a sly add-in. Mythosaurs were a creature native to Mandalore. These beasts were enormous in size and dominated the food web until the Mandalorians arrived. Because the Mandalorians were known for riding these enormous beasts into battle, the Mythosaur skull became the universal symbol of the Mandalorian clans. In fact, the skull we see hanging over The Armorer’s workshop is a Mythosaur skull.
Combat is the cornerstone of Mandalorian culture. It defines their collective identity along with their individual identities and spirit. They live by a strict code of honor and disputes are often settled by one-on-one combat, concluding at the death of one of the combatants. The phrase “this is the way,” mentioned a few times in The Mandalorian, seems to give a nod to this strict moral code.
Mandalorian culture is clan-based and pyramidal. At the top, the Mandalore rules. Below the Mandalore, Mandalorian society is separated into major Houses which are then further separated into Clans. Houses are considered political factions while the Clans that work under these Houses are usually made up of families. For example, Sabine Wren was of Clan Wren and House Vizsla. Now, it would be interesting to find out if the Mandalorians seen in the show are of a specific Clan or House, but I have a feeling we may never know.
The Mandalorian isn’t a series that stands on its own; it has created a story arcing around a character whose people have a long and tumultuous history. But the show doesn’t explicitly reveal this background. Instead, we get hints and snippets here and there. But The Mandalorian also does something great: it adds to Mandalorian tradition. Mandalorians have been around for a long time and their traditions have changed over the centuries. The Mandalorian does well submerging itself in these time-wrought traditions while adding on to this ever-evolving group of people. Hopefully, we’ll see more revealed about what has happened to the Mandalorian people in this gap of time.