The Mandalorian takes place some time after the fall of the Empire, in the outer reaches of the galaxy, which evades the authority of the New Republic. As we witness the beginning of the show, we see the setting similar to that of a western movie. A bar with thugs, and the hero, the Mandalorian warrior, a bounty hunter, enters the bar, murders a few thugs in self-defence, and collects his bounty. So far, everything is familiar, except for the fact that all this happens in a Star Wars universe, which makes a chilling impression on the viewer. The Western movies, for example films by Sergio Leone, are mostly inhabited by vigilante bounty hunters who hunt down their prey and the criminals who run away from the law. The bounty hunter, portrayed in the most classical manner by Clint Eastwood, is a vigilante who operates in the service of the law, but at the same time he repeatedly breaks it, in order to uphold it. For example, in Leone’s film For A Few Dollars More we see Clint Eastwood’s character threatening ordinary civilians and practically taking the law in his own hands.
In The Mandalorian, at a closer inspection, in the character of the bounty hunter Mando, we do not see a typical western movie hero since he does not work for the law, which is practically non-existent, but for the Guild of bounty hunters who answer to no one but their own code. The only “law” in this universe are “mercenaries and war lords” as the leader of the Guild says. We see the remnants of the Empire as one of the main “players”, embodied in all-too recognizable Stormtroopers, and Mando decides to work with them on a handsomly payed mission. Werner Herzog’s character, The Client, is obviously one of the war lords who belongs to the remnants of the Empire. All in all, this is a Hobbesian state of nature, with a war of all against all, and we can observe the main characteristics of it – the competition for scarce resources, the desire for glory and honor.
The main difference between the heroes of the Western movies and the Mandalorian is that although the bounty hunters in the westerns practically operate in the state of nature, there is some kind of law, usually embodied in the person of a sheriff. It does not matter that Clint Eastwood in For A Few Dollars More practically eliminates the importance of the sheriff when he says that “this town needs a new sheriff”, symbolically throwing his badge away, what matters is that there is at least a concept of the law. In The Mandalorian there is no such thing. The storyline of the TV show is further complicated by the fact that the Mandalorians suffered an onslaught from the hands of the Empire, and are now few in numbers. The main character Mando, works for them as a hired bounty hunter at one point. This creates a rift between the Mandalorians, who operate under the strict warrior code and the law of the tribe, embodied in words: “This is the way.”
Mando, similarly to the characters from the superhero comics, suffered a trauma as a child, witnessing the onslaught of the Empire, and this happens to be the driving force behind his actions. Mando is more similar to the superheroes like Batman, than to the heroes of the Western movies, but even the superheroes from the comics operate in a context of lawful institutions, which they try to protect, breaking the laws in the process, not unlike the Western movie heroes. In The Mandalorian we are embarking on a completely new territory, the one with no laws made by men. One may be tempted to compare the show to Mad Max, but the careful blending of the Western genre and the existence of organized groups like the remnants of the Empire, the Guild, the Tribe etc., make the situation a lot more organized than the one in Mad Max.
Mando accepts the pay for his successful mission, in the form of steel which is used to make the Mandalorian armour, Beskar, intimately connected to the tradition of Mandalorians and their way of life. Mando says at one point: “I am a Mandalorian. Weapons are part of my religion”, and we can see a mythology emerging, a particular way of life, the way of the tribe. When the Mandalorian breaks the Guild code by taking away his bounty, he is hunted by other Guild members – Mandalorians come to his aid. In this scene, we see two laws – the law of the Guild, a professional organization, and the law of blood, the law of the tribe. This tension shows the main places of allegiance in the show. On the one hand, there is an allegiance based on personal interests, on the other, there is an allegiance mantained by tradition and blood bonds.
When the Empire fell, the new order emerged, as we can see from fragment commentaries, but this order does not reach all corners of the galaxy. There are still some, who operate in the perpetual state of war, and in the profession of bounty hunting, this lawlesness takes its full form. The title card at the beginning of For A Few Dollars More explains this all too well: “Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why bounty killers appeared.” We can observe the struggle for pure survival; at one moment Mando makes a remark that the job which was offered to him won’t even “cover the fuel these days”. The competition for scarce resources is an important element, but the quest for success, in Hobbes’ words, honor and glory, is even more important. We may ask ourselves, is this western TV show set in space much more different than our own world?