What makes a Mandalorian a Mandalorian?
It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly important on The Mandalorian (shocking, I know), especially as our titular lead (Din Djarin, aka “Mando”) continues in his quest to find other members of his people. Mandalorians who, as we learned in the most recent episode called “The Heiress,” are very different from his own clan.
As the episode reveals, Din’s stoic ways and reverence for his armor (to the point of never revealing his face) are not typical of all Mandalorians. Rather, his tribe is a splinter group that adheres to the ways of the “Children of the Watch,” described as a “cult of religious zealots” that sought to reestablish the Way of the Mandalore (the oft-quoted, “This is the way” that Din and his fellows like to throw around).
The difference between Din’s way of life and that of Bo-Katan Kryze (a character from the Clone Wars and Rebels shows making her live-action debut) actually helps resolve one of the lingering questions of the series — why Din’s catchphrases and helmet habit haven’t been seen before on any of the many Mandalorians previously in the Star Wars universe.
Splinter sects of Mandalorians are shockingly common among the armored warriors, though, both on-screen in Star Wars canon and behind the scenes. Bo-Katan Kryze, the new character who reveals to Din that his Mandalorian traditions are not typical of all of the culture, would know, as someone who had been part of several of those splinter groups.
So what is a Mandalorian? It depends. A Mandalorian, at the simplest level, is someone from the planet Mandalore — the home world where both the Mandalorian people and the Mandalorian culture originate. Din, by this definition, isn’t a native Mandalorian — as flashbacks from the first season showed, he was found as a child by members of his new tribe, adopted, and raised in their ways.
There’s also the New Mandalorians, a group of pacifists who ruled over the planet after a civil war, who withdrew from their culture’s ways of war and tried to establish a more peaceful society. There’s the Death Watch, a rival group of Mandalorians who clung to their old warrior ways, allied themselves with Darth Maul, took over the planet, and suffered a schism (among other things — The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series offer a better look at the war for Mandalore). It’s not quite clear whether the Death Watch and the Children of the Watch are affiliated, but the names and affinity to Mandalorian history would certainly imply a connection. All of those factions are “Mandalorians,” too.
By the end of the episode, the fight over whether Din’s or Kryze’s way of being a Mandalorian is “right” is rendered moot — the two sides realize, through the crucible of combat, that both are “real” Mandalorians, even if their aims and traditions differ.
But the question of what truly makes a Mandalorian is one that likely will come up again. The show has already seen Din clash over non-Mandalorian ownership of his people’s iconic armor earlier this season, and it teased the return of that armor’s original owner — Boba Fett, who, much like Timothy Olyphant’s Cobb Vanth, is not actually a member of the Mandalorian race or culture.
And whether you hold by Din’s view of what a Mandalorian is, Kryze’s, or any of the other various factions, one thing is clear: it’s about more than just wearing the right suit of armor.