Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Mandalorian Question - Good, Bad, or Ugly?

     The Mandalorians are the Klingons of the Star Wars universe. This is a comparison bound to infuriate Fandalorians (their name for them) and Klingon lovers both. Still, it's an apt description in my opinion. The Mandalorians are the most warlike and honor-obsessed people in the Star Wars universe.

    The first mention of the Mandalorians was a reference to Boba Fett's armor on his action figure. His armor belonged to a race of warriors defeated by the Jedi during the Clone Wars. Later, the Mandalorians would be expanded on in Marvel comics.

    We wouldn't get a real look at what the Mandalorians were like, however, until Tales of the Jedi. There, we saw their king, Mandalore, teamed up with Dark Jedi to try and take down the Republic. The Mandalorians were mean, cool-looking, and dangerous. Sadly, they were also little more than elite cannon fodder for the Sith.

Why is it the bad guys always have the best costumes?
     Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2 gave us a big view of their culture with the character of Canderous Ordo (later Mandalore). Canderous described a race which didn't believe in civilians and considered war to be the highest pursuit any race could seek.

Bioware deserves credit for the visual story-telling of making Mandalorians look like beer-swilling bikers who could actually throw down.

    For a brief time, Jango Fett was said to be the last Mandalorian with his death on Geonosis signalling the end of their culture.
I suppose this qualifies as defeated by the Jedi during the Clone Wars. I just didn't think it would be in the first ten minutes.

    It wasn't until Karen Traviss, though, we got works from the perspective of the Mandalorians. Karen Traviss created a language for the race, expanded on their values, and created our first fully detailed picture of the species. Karen Traviss made Mandalorians a race obsessed with family every bit as much as warfare.

    While I never interacted with her enough to be called her friend, I had more than a few conversations with Karen Traviss. She's a nice woman with a number of fascinating thoughts about religion and warfare. I was there when forums erupted into one of its most shameful flame wars over whether or not her figures given in the short-story, Odds, were accurate. When Karen Traviss stopped participating in online conversations, I considered it a loss to fandom.

    Still, it wasn't until The Clone Wars episode The Mandalore Plot,which introduced the Duchess Satine, that Karen Traviss left Star Wars. The Mandalore Plot is widely believed to be one of the biggest continuity snarls in the history of Star Wars, retconning whole swaths of expanded universe history. It also committed the ultimate sin according to Fandalorians. An act so terrible, so heinous, so vile, that it scarcely can be mentioned.

    It made the Mandalorians pacifists.

Not what fans were expecting when they were told they'd be visiting Mandalore.

    Fan reaction to the New Mandalorians, as they were called, was decidedly luke-warm. The kindest feeling towards them was that they were a short period of Mandalorian history which was followed by their resumption of their warlike ways. According to the Expanded Universe, Boba Fett (having escaped his grizzly fate in Return of the Jedi), eventually takes them over as Mandalore and gets a happily ever after. You know, despite the fact he's the guy who lead to Han being tortured and imprisoned in carbonite.

    The Clone Wars didn't stop there, though. The pacifist Mandalorians were contrasted against Death Watch, a brutal gang of killers which had appeared in Star Wars fiction before. Death Watch was a war-obsessed bunch of conquerors who thought the pacifist Mandalorians were a disgrace to their race. They were all about resuming the war against the Republic, wearing battle-armor, and the honor of being a killer. In short, they were everything that your typical fan thought a Mandalorian should be.

Real Mandalorians! They have armor...and kill people!
    Oh yes, there's also the fact Death Watch seems partially based on the Nazi party. Their haircuts, the fact they're all blond and blue-eyed Aryans, and their arguments being phrased in such a way as to make call-backs to Hitler's idealogy. It's quite possibly the greatest middle finger to a section of fandom since Alan Moore made his comments on Rorshach being a murderous lunatic.

    I am no great fan of Duchess Satine, who is little more than an adult Padme. Worse, I think the New Mandalorians come off as warmed-over Naboo who are, themselves, nothing more than warmed-over Alderaanians. It's one thing to have a planet of royalists who are Pro-Democracy and Peace. It's another thing entirely to have three of them as the only meaningful non-corrupt politicians in the Old Republic.

    Still, I've got to say that I actually think George Lucas may have been onto something in creating the New Mandalorians. Say what you will about George but he's always been consistent that admiring the bad guys is something he doesn't like, even when it's personally profitable to him. He canceled the sequel to TIE Fighter, went out of his way to hammer home Anakin Skywalker was a pathetic human being, and probably made Boba Fett die in the humiliating way he did in order to counteract his growing fandom.

    I have no doubt it was intentional for George Lucas to portray the Death Watch as the inheritors of the real Mandalorian legacy. While one might suggest it's hypocritical for George Lucas to be pro-peace in a franchise called Star Wars, there's something to be said for being one of the few voices in media to pretend war isn't a glamorous thing by itself. People die, good people, all the time in conflicts. Even the battle against the Nazis, Imperial Japanese, and Italian fascists resulted in countless innocent deaths at the Allies' hands.

    The Mandalorians, at heart, have always been about glorifying war. Jedi have always been their direct opposite, in that respect. Yoda commented that wars do not make one great and a major theme of the original trilogy was the war ultimately won by an act of love between a father and son. George Lucas also isn't the first person to highlight the flaws of the Mandalorian's belief system, either.

    "I'm not a warrior, I'm a soldier. There's a difference. Warriors attack and conquer, they prey on the weak. Soldiers defend and protect the innocent—usually from warriors."

    ―Carth Onasi to Canderous Ordo.

    Knights of the Old Republic contained a substantial subplot detailing Canderous Ordo being forced to confront the fact the Mandalorians weren't nearly as honorable or glorious as he thought. The moment the Mandalorians were defeated in so-called honorable combat by Revan, the majority of them turned to common banditry and murder. They were bullies, rather than heroes, and preferred to prey on the weak. Canderous wasn't alone in buying into the warrior's code of seeking glorious battle for its own sake but he was in the decided minority.

    This subplot is continued in Knights of the Old Republic 2 where we find out Canderous has assumed the position of Mandalore. Revan has charged Mandalore with the position of defending the galaxy, most specifically the Republic, from the Sith Empire. Sadly, by the time of The Old Republic, the Pro-Sith faction has defeated the Republic loyalists and we know the Sith and Mandalorians won't fight against one another until the New Sith Wars (stuff that is probably incomprehensible to you unless you're a die-hard Star Wars fanboy like me).

    It becomes an interesting narrative that the Mandalorians obsessed with war and conquest will invariably find themselves allying with the Dark Lords of the Sith. The Sith make no pretensions there's anything honorable about what they do but war is of the Dark Side, at least as George Lucas sees it. You can defend and protect as a Jedi Knight but seeking to kill is always something done as a last resort. The only way the Mandalorians managed to escape this, even for a time, is by becoming pacifists.

     While I have no doubt that any future installments of the Mandalorians will feature them in their armor, fighting Jedi and genuinely being a nuisance, I hope fans don't completely forget about Satine's Mandalorians. It's okay to like the bad guys. I'm a huge fan of the Sith and the Empire, but I think it's important for reminders that glorifying battle runs the risk of forgetting that every conflict should be fought for something and only after every other avenue has been tried. I'd also love to see a Satine-influenced Mandalorian who is willing to fight...for peace.


  1. Lucas really isn't good at storytelling unless he has someone better to rip off from, in Star Wars case it was Kurosawa and Hidden Fortress.

    The prequels really did make a lot of characters and institutions out to be well, not so great. Anakin turned out to be an easily manipulated idiot. The Jedi Council turned out to be blind and so stuck up on tradition that they were out flanked by two people. The Old Republic wasn't such a great place to live since it had factions looking to break away from it. Heck, the Old Republic seemed to go out of its way to piss off the Trade Federation by taxing their trade routes.

    1. I think George Lucas is extremely good at imagination and producing but has the problem of sorting through good ideas and bad ideas. When partnered with Spielberg and Ford, he created the amazingly good Indiana Jones series. Without Ford and Spielberg, he created the extremely fun (but not nearly as good) edutainment series, "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles." He just needs someone to tell him what's good and bad.

    2. The point with the Jedi Council and the Old Republic is that they were a decaying society. Lucas was intentionally making them stupid to point out why and how they fell and why voting for Palpatine and supporting the purge of the Jedi was a feasible idea in the eyes of the populace. Lucas was trying to explain how and why the Imperial regime in the Original Trilogy existed, and why many people either supported it or were ambivalent to it by the time the movies start.