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Is There a Jew Under the Mandalorian’s Mask?

Disney Plus’s new flagship show raises questions about its mysterious hero

Charlotte Gartenberg
November 14, 2019
Francois Duhamel
The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) in Lucasfilm's The MandalorianFrancois Duhamel
Francois Duhamel
The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) in Lucasfilm's The MandalorianFrancois Duhamel

When Disney debuted its new streaming service earlier this week, nerds across the country rejoiced: The app, called Disney Plus, featured an embarrassment of entertainment riches, but, most importantly, it featured a new show set in the Star Wars universe, which Disney now controls.

Called The Mandalorian, the show follows the race of bounty-hunters made famous by the series’ iconic hero, Boba Fett. And even though there’s only one episode available so far, I have a wild theory: The Mandalorian, I think, may very well be Jewish.

Consider the following evidence: According to the Star Wars movies, animated shows, and novels, the Mandalorian is an ancient race that predates even the Old Republic. This near mythic people is known for a tendency to zealousness in their beliefs and, simultaneously, an impressive ability to adapt. In a time too distant to remember, they were warriors, consolidating their tribes and establishing their own kingdom on the promised planet of Mandalore. This eventually put them at odds with their nemeses: the Jedi.

Finding themselves at war with those who command the Force, the Mandalorians were forced to innovate. The canny Mandalorians invented new weapons, shields, and fighting techniques to combat the superior forces surrounding them. But even this start-up nation in a galaxy far away couldn’t withstand the might of the Jedi, which brought about the destruction of Mandalore, the genocide of many of its people, and the dispersal of most of the survivors into exile. Those who remained in Mandalore—now a ruined desert-scape—were forced to live in sealed, dome cities to protect themselves from the harsh environment wrought by antagonism and animosity. We might call these communities “settlements,” nestled among an angry and inhospitable landscape.

Unfortunately, small and embattled as it already was, Mandalore was soon plunged into civil war. A few of those who had returned from exile pronounced themselves New Mandalorians. Renouncing their brethren’s extreme attachment to their warlike past, they pronounced themselves pacifists and dedicated themselves to art and education. They soon got more than they wished for when Emperor Palpatine and his forces occupied their planet, committing another genocide and once again sending the Mandalorians into exile. Still, this tiny and war-torn people persisted.

So, to sum up: The Mandolorians are a race of people repeatedly almost decimated by genocide who now live scattered across the galaxy. These rootless cosmopolitans sometimes blend into their new societies. More often, however, they’re forced to support themselves by turning to professions their societies despise. Here, bounty hunting plays proxy for money lending.

So how Jewish is the latest iteration of the Mandalorian saga? It’s hard to tell, mainly because the show’s star, Pedro Pascal, spent the entire first episode wearing his people’s signature mask. Still, signs of a larger historical drama at play abounded: The Mandalorian, our war-torn underdog, has flashbacks of what seems like him being ripped from his mother’s arms, a sort of space version of Schindler’s List. When he walks into a cantina, he’s regarded as part-pariah, part-curiosity, part-necessary evil. When Kuill, played by Nick Nolte, takes the Mandalorian under his wing, he is quick to inform him that he has “never met a Mandalorian,” only “read the stories” about the strange race. And yarmulke-wearing Jews who are accustomed to hearing people wonder what the deal is with their funny hat might recognize a familiar question from Mythrol—Horatio Sanz in blue make up. He pesters the Mandalorian, asking the bounty-hunter if “it’s true that you guys never take off your helmets.”

As I watched the first episode, I even detected a hint of national narrative in the show’s McGuffin, something called Beskar steel that seems to have originated from Mandalore and which the show’s masked hero seems keen to, as the shadowy character played by Werner Herzog puts it, “have back in the hands of a Mandalorian.”

Even if this analysis reads too much into the text, even if future episodes deliver very little by way of national narratives about a resourceful people struggling for redemption, it’s at least nice for us Jewish Star Wars fans to no longer be reduced to a Watto.

Charlotte Gartenberg is a writer and translator living in New York City. Her Twitter handle is @CharGar.