This Star Wars article contains mild spoilers for The Mandalorian.
In the first Star Wars live-action series, The Mandalorian, a lone gunslinger becomes the latest legend of the galaxy far, far away and a nightmare for fugitives in the Outer Rim planets. Pedro Pascal plays the titular Mandalorian, a masked bounty hunter with a mysterious identity we’ve yet to discover. As we learn early on in the show, the legacy of his people follows him on his mission.
Mando is part of a Mandalorian tribe, which includes an Armorer who coincidentally looks a lot like a Mand’alor, traditionally the leader and toughest warrior of the clan. Their rallying symbol is the skull of a mythosaur, a giant sea creature that once served as a mount for the ancient Mandalorians (perhaps a reference to the dinosaur Boba Fett rode in his first appearance in The Star Wars Holiday Special), and a symbol of just how far back the history of this iconic people goes.
With The Mandalorian exploring the many facets of Mandalorian history, we thought it would be a good time to talk about the basics of who these people are in Star Wars canon and how they’re connected to Boba Fett and Mando.
Origins and the Mandalorian Wars
As one might guess from their formidable armor, the Mandalorians began as a group built around conquering others. From their homeworld of Mandalore near the outer reaches of the galaxy, they expanded to many other star systems. One of the most famous of these is Concord Dawn, a name which has survived several different continuity shuffles. These conquered planets became the Mandalore sector. While the Mandalorians also took over other worlds outside of it, this sector was their base of power for most of galactic history.
Among their enemies were the Jedi, whose Force abilities were a match for the Mandalorians’ specialized armor. In response, the Mandalorians modified their standard armor to include beskar steel, which can deflect blows from a lightsaber, and diversified their arsenal away from blasters. Since Jedi are trained to deflect blaster shots, other weapons were more likely to take them by surprise.
Mandalorians had a code of honor unique to themselves, mostly based around martial traditions. Single combat could be used to settle disputes, and facing strong opponents was considered the most noble possible path in life. They were as comfortable with hand-to-hand combat as with blasters. The Darksaber, a custom lightsaber created by Mand’alor Tarre Vizsla, a Mandalorian Jedi, would later become a signature weapon in the hands of the planet’s leadership in the time of the Empire.
Jango Fett, Boba’s father, claimed to have been born on Concord Dawn, but even in canon, this is considered a possible lie from an untrustworthy man. We know Boba Fett was a clone created on Kamino, so his Mandalorian lineage is even more questionable since the Prequels.
The Clone Wars
Mandalorian aggression grew so perilous that their war against the Jedi and other rivals devastated their planet. Mandalore became an apocalyptic wasteland, with some of the most powerful Mandalorian clans scattering to other planets. A new faction, the New Mandalorians, arose with the specific goal of pivoting their society to total pacifism to prevent further damage. This faction, lead by Duchess Satine Kryse and supported by the Republic via Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, eventually took control of planet.
Kryze transformed the dead wastes of Mandalore into shining, homogenous cities. Meanwhile, under cover of the Clone Wars, another Mandalorian faction was rising. Death Watch, founded by Pre Vizsla, descendant of the old Mand’alor, was intent on returning to the more violent practices of the previous Mandalorians. At the end of a messy conflict involving both the Jedi and the Sith, ex-Death Watch soldier Bo-Katan Kryze took the throne. Mandalore was, again, destabilized.
This era of Mandalorian history was completely rewritten for The Clone Wars animated series. Although both were ostensibly part of the pre-Disney canon, the television show took priority over what had been previously established in the Legends timeline — primarily that the Mandalorians had fought alongside the Separatists against the Republic during the Clone Wars. Unsurprisingly, the retconned pacifist New Mandalorians established in The Clone Wars were, for a short time, a new and controversial idea in Star Wars fandom.
The Dark Times
When the Empire rose to power, they found a willing ally and puppet leader in Mandalorian super commando Gar Saxon, who was named Imperial Viceroy of Mandalore. For a time, the planet was totally under Imperial control.
Fortunately, Rebel weapons expert Sabine Wren, an estranged member of a Mandalorian clan who hadn’t bowed to the Empire, defeated Saxon in combat. Doing so wasn’t just a personal victory, but a symbolic claiming of the Mandalorian legacy.
In the same year the Rebels destroyed the first Death Star, another Mandalorian civil war began. In part due to Sabine, the Imperial-allied leaders were overthrown and Bo-Katan Kryze, the late Duchess Satine’s sister, returned to power.
During the Galactic Civil War, the most famous Mandalorian was undoubtedly Boba Fett. A high-profile bounty hunter, he was set on the trail of Luke Skywalker and other Rebel heroes several times during the war, including one explosive confrontation with the young Rebel and future Jedi in Obi-Wan’s hut on Tatooine.
Boba Fett’s clone upbringing didn’t have much of a connection with the culture of the Mandalore system. In fact, since the earliest days of the Expanded Universe, Boba’s Mandalorian background was called into question. At one point in the Legends timeline, it was suggested that “Boba Fett” was the new identity of an exiled Mandalorian named Jaster Mereel, who had committed treason against his people.
This second identity was later retconned in Attack of the Clones, of course. No matter his origin, the effectiveness and striking silhouette of Boba Fett’s armor made him synonymous with the Mandalorian tradition of warriors equipped to face down Jedi. That armor might also be strong enough to help Boba survive in the sarlacc pit…
The Mandalorian takes place five years after Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance has become the New Republic and has ousted the remnants of the Empire from most of the galaxy. Only Imperial warlords and smaller cells of the Emperor’s forces remain, and mostly in the Outer Rim where the New Republic doesn’t yet have enough pull.
In episode 3, we learn that the Empire has “shattered” Mandalore and its people fell victim to a “Great Purge” just like the Jedi did. This is why the Mandalorians on the show are forced to live underground, and only one of their members ever leave their lair at a time, so as to not draw attention to the larger group.
Like in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, these underground Mandalorians have their own ideas of right and wrong. In this case, it’s codified as the Way of the Mand’alor. While the status of their Manda’lor is unknown, the Armorer has authority over the other Mandalorians, and at one point reminds them of one of the tenets of their culture: it’s critical to never remove the helmet or have it removed by others. “This is the Way,” she reminds them.
Mandalorians are mostly — but not always — human. People of any species can technically be part of the culture if they follow its tenets. We’ve seen only human Mandalorians so far, but in the Legends timeline, they varied greatly. Since she has horns on her helmet, it’s possible the Armorer is a Zabrak — or just likes the intimidation factor of the horns.
It remains to be seen if this warrior race will ever be able to regroup and grow its numbers — the foundlings they protect and raise as Mandalorians may be their last hope — but now that this tribe is out in the open after the climax of episode 3, who knows what might be next for the group. Hopefully, the show will continue to explore more about this culture and perhaps even open a path for them to return to Mandalore.