“Judged by any metric — safety, prosperity, trade opportunity, peace — compare imperial rule to what is happening now. Look outside: Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death, and chaos.”
The reference to imperial rule aside, one can easily imagine these words being uttered within our current political context. Throw in some B-roll of looters and arsonists and wrap it up with a pledge to uphold “law and order” and you’ve got yourself a political ad.
Of course, it’s worth noting that these words were uttered by Werner Herzog’s decidedly villainous character — known simply as “The Client” — in season one of The Mandalorian, Disney’s live-action Star Wars TV show that is back for a second season.
The Client is a former imperial agent, a son of the Empire, who has placed a bounty on “the Child” — dubbed by the internet as Baby Yoda — for what we can only assume to be some sort of terrible experiment. Whatever it is, it’s likely a last gasp for reclaiming galactic power after the Emperor’s demise over Endor — at the expense of a vulnerable child.
The Empire, of course, was an oppressive regime, squeezing the rights and freedom out of the galaxy’s diverse citizenry. George Lucas’ inspiration for the Empire was none other than the administration of President Richard Nixon. It’s not hard to imagine Nixon — the original “law and order” president — agreeing with Herzog’s assessment. The trade-off is clear: security is purchased at the cost of freedom. Peace is enforced by the business end of a blaster. Or a Death Star.
Does he have a point? After all, this is a show about bounty hunters. Aside from the often-referenced “code,” they seem to all be out for themselves, trading violence for power, taking what they can through strength and cunning. It’s exactly this kind of extrajudicial violence that a strong, central government might protect its citizens from. Or at least, certain citizens.
And yet, that’s not the lesson of The Mandalorian. Far from it. The show’s protagonist — the Mandalorian — is helping protect and contribute to a community of other Mandalorians, a once-mighty people who have been cast out of their homeland, reduced to living in squalor and on scraps. (Does this sound familiar in the midst of history’s greatest refugee crisis?) For those versed in Star Wars lore, you know that it was the Empire itself that destroyed Mandalore, that oppressed and marginalized a people deemed inferior and threatening.
Rather than the peace and prosperity promised by the law, the Mandalorians face only death and destruction in the shadows. Indeed, it seems as though the death and chaos Herzog’s character laments are latent fruits of the law and order regime he misses.
That same regime has no trouble exploiting children. A story arc from Star Wars Rebels foreshadows The Mandalorian. In it, Force-sensitive children are sought after by the Empire and stolen from their families. Their rights are denied; they are treated as mere means to an unknown end — exactly in the way we see the remnants of the Empire pursuing Baby Yoda.
Whatever the end game, this vulnerable Child is no more than a pawn. And the Imperial troops — so troubled by the lack of civilized order — have no trouble at all exploiting this Child for their own purposes.
Set on the outskirts of the known Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian is meant to feel like the Wild West. And despite a lack of political order, there is a clear moral order: there is a sense of right, wrong, and justice. And, ironically, this moral order is most apparent in the man who chases down galactic citizens for money: the Mandalorian.
By the conclusion of the first season, we know that our protagonist is shaken by the depths of depravity to which his profession has plunged him. His conscience and his own personal history make him recoil at the thought of exploiting a child. In Baby Yoda, he doesn’t see power to harness — though certainly the Child has some use of the Force — but a life to protect.
The man that should represent literal extrajudicial lawlessness serves to remind us that people are inherently good and worth saving. Standing up for those who are vulnerable, who have been deemed unworthy or less than human by the prevailing system is a noble and worthwhile cause — even in the face of insurmountable odds; even when standing with the vulnerable means standing against the law and order of the system.
This kind of courage is not so unlike the nonviolent Jesus Christ who sided with the vulnerable — who became vulnerable, himself — and who wasn’t afraid to look injustice in the eye of the Roman Empire and allow himself to be killed as a result.
Let’s not forget that the Imperial remnant shows up at the climax of season one to enforce that would-be peace with seemingly every weapon left in the Empire.
Season two of The Mandalorian sees our hero embark on a new quest. The Mandalorian has decidedly sided with the vulnerable: Baby Yoda. Having made enemies in the process of saving an innocent life, he has resisted the fear-mongering rhetoric from those who turn to force to establish law and order. He’s resisted the allure of power and money, too — it’s unclear just how soon he’ll be able to cash in on future bounties. Instead, he’s committed to reunite Baby Yoda with his people.
That’s where The Mandalorian picks up in season two. But these lessons from a galaxy far, far away have implications in a community very close to home.