Nathan Abrams wonders if Disney’s creation is a member of the tribe.
‘Is There a Jew Under the Mandalorian’s Mask?’ Charlotte Gartenberg asked in The Tablet. She wrote this as the show debuted. There is certainly a great deal of mystery to the bounty hunter at the centre of Disney’s new Star Wars derived drama and while I doubt that he is actually Jewish, the show certainly draws upon a series of Jewish stereotypes. Now that season two has ended, we have enough evidence to judge.
Typically, Jews do not feature much as bounty hunters. If anything, in history, they may very well have been the bounty rather than the hunter.
And the notion of Jews in outer space is usually only excavated for humour. Jews could only mimic astronauts and hence were out of place in outer space. Consider Mel Brook’s Spaceballs. There has been an Argentinian film called Jews in Space, but this was nothing about Yiddische astronauts.
The Star Wars Jewniverse
Star Wars has been mined for its Jewish meaning, but we have been missing Jews hiding in plain sight. The original Star Wars trilogy featured a Jewish actor playing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) whose name is Hebrew for ‘knowledge’. And Yoda is a blend of the biblical Methuselah but who talks like a Yiddish alter kaka.
We can also claim Carrie Fisher by lineage so that makes Leia Organa, wait for it, a Jewish Alderaanian Princess. And they all reappear in the more recent trilogy, rebooted by J.J. Abrams (no relation).
Natalie Portman starred as Queen Amidalah and Padme in George Lucas’ The Phantom Menace (1999) and there were complaints that the representation of Watto, the slaveowner, was based on anti-Jewish stereotypes.
One might consider that J.J. Abrams’ involvement in the more recent trilogy has resurrected its subsurface Jewishness. Han Solo and Leia reappear and, on the other side of the force, it’s hard not to believe that Adam Driver, as Ben Solo (nom de guerre, Kylo Ren), in The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019) isn’t Jewish. He is the son of Leia and Han, after all.
Anyway, back to The Mandalorian. The show follows its title character as he travels from planet to planet fighting injustice but also to protect the young foundling in his charge, known simply as ‘The Child’ but which is popularly referred to as ‘Baby Yoda’ (whom we later learn is called Grogu).
The Mandalorian is referred to simply as Mando. He was born Din Djarin but this name is rarely if ever used.
Gartenberg amasses 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.’
Mandalore was eventually destroyed, its people the victims of genocide, and the survivors scattered 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.’
Gartenberg adds: ‘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.’
In sum, she says, ‘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.’
The discussion has continued on reddit:
A Wandering Jewish Nomad
The whole storyline has elements of the story of Moses, of protecting foundlings and orphans. And if Baby Yoda is in some way related to the adult Yoda, then he is Jewish.
Certainly, the way in which the Mandalorian is characterised does have a certain ring about it. He is a nomadic warrior, a wandering Jew, whose homeland has been destroyed. He wanders from world to world, fixing problems, in a form of tikkun olam.
While he is, initially, a mercenary for hire, his paternal instincts overcome him. Rather than abandon the baby foundling whom he has been hired to find and deliver to Imperial forces, he takes him under his wing and protects him, saving him from what is suggested to be Nazi-style medical experimentation, even though it costs him both money and endangers him. Beneath the mask is a mensch.
The Mandalorian, though, is presented as a religious fanatic. He adheres almost blindly to his race’s creed never to remove his mask (although he does in one episode revealing a distinctly non-Jewish appearance). This injunction certainly echoes that of Jewish men never uncovering their heads and of married women covering their hair.
The Mandalorian follows the path set out in this creed because, as he recites, ‘This is the way’. ‘Some of us serve a higher purpose’, a fellow Mandalorian says. (This reminds me of Hebrew National’s slogan, ‘We answer to a higher authority’.) He rarely strays, if ever, off the derech.
His fanaticism is highlighted when he meets some fellow Mandalorians who have liberalised in their following of the creed and do remove their masks. So, in terms of Mandalorianism, he is the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredi, while they are the Reformers. The Mandalorian we learn has been religiously indoctrinated by a tribe of religious zealots known as ‘The Watch’, a religious cult that looks away from Mandalorian society and wants to establish ‘the ancient way’. Sound familiar?
Although Jedis are enemies of the Mandalorians, I have always thought of them as quasi-Jewish. This is not simply because of Yoda’s attributes outlined above but because they’re down with the Force, serve a Higher Power and purpose, beyond material and imperial interest.
It is not surprising that there is so much embedded Jewishness in this series. Jon Favreau developed the series and has done some of the writing. In the first series, Jewish director Taika Waititi plays a kill droid (very un-Jewish) but is destroyed and reprogrammed as a nurse droid (more Jewish). Waititi also directs an episode. Maybe it is an act of Jewish revenge on Walt Disney’s reputation.
Throwing a spanner in the works, is the name of The Mandalorian’s nemesis who wishes to kidnap Grogu, Moff Gideon. This imperial officer, unfortunately, takes the name of a biblical judge and one can only wonder about the thinking behind that.
The Mandalorian is currently streaming on Disney+.
All photos: Youtube, Wikipedia, Disney, Lucasfilms
In S03E02, we can add that, to do teshuva, Mando goes to Mandalore, to bathe himself in the Mandalorian Mikve, the “Living Waters”
[…] may seem like a stretch, but the Judaism-Mandalorian comparison has been made plenty of times before. So we shouldn’t ignore it […]