Faithlessness In the Age of Beskar

The following article contains discussions of faith and Christianity as a framework for understanding Chapter 15 of The Mandalorian: “The Believer.” It does not, however, expect all readers to have or believe the same faith. If discussions of faith are triggering or uncomfortable for the reader, said reader should check out other articles available at clashingsabers.net, such as:

I consider myself a man of some amount of faith.  The size of that faith might waffle from day to day but it remains there, nonetheless.  I know what it is to ride high in the favor of God and what it is to crawl on hands and knees through the valley of the shadow of death.  And there have been no shortage of nights asking questions about what happens when my faith wavers and stumbles.  

In Chapter 15 “The Believer,” we watch as at least two characters struggle with adherence to their belief systems: Din Djarin, the Mandalorian, and Migs Mayfield, the criminal last seen aboard the Bothan-Five after double crossing Djarin.  Now the two are working together to find the location of Moff Gideon in order to rescue young Grogu, formerly known as Baby Yoda.  But in the midst of this, Djarin and Mayfield must both come to terms with what they have said compared to what they have done, and reckon with the consequences thereof.

Djarin has declared that, as a member of his tribe of Mandalorians (the Watch), no living thing must be permitted to see his face once he has put the helmet on.  This was used in season one to demonstrate his evolution as a character; he resisted removing his helmet in IG-11’s presence because he had, subconsciously, begun to treat IG as a living being.  IG reminded him of his non-living status, and Djarin assented to having his helmet removed to receive life-saving medical treatment.  In season two, we have seen Djarin tip his helmet up to have some water while in Grogu’s presence.  His face may not be fully, or even partially, visible, but it is noticeable that Djarin is leaning towards a change in his rule set.  

But Chapter 15 hits harder. The Imperial terminal, which holds the location of Gideon’s ship, can only be accessed by a facial scan.  Mayfield panics and fears he cannot activate it, leading him to believe the mission has failed and they should abandon this attempt.  Djarin, however, steps up to take control of the situation.  He walks over to the terminal and removes his helmet in order for the machine to scan his face.  While Djarin does his best to hide his face from those around him, we as the audience know that this is a massive risk on Djarin’s part: the terminal is located in the mess hall, populated with half a dozen Imperials, all looking at him.  

Djarin’s risk is well-understood: without the facial scan, he cannot find and save little Grogu, the foundling that looks to Djarin as a father.  But the consequences are not yet apparent: what happens to a Mandalorian of the Watch when he indeed removes his helmet and is seen by others?  What does a violation of the Way mean to Djarin and what does it mean to others in the Watch?  And, if he cannot adhere to this tenant of the Way, what does that do to his devotion overall?

Djarin is not the only character suffering with a crisis of worldview.  Mayfield states plainly, earlier on in the episode, that the Empire and Republic are not terribly different from one another and that he has no problem with giving up on personal morals or standards for the sake of personal safety and wellbeing. It doesn’t matter to him so long as he can sleep at night.  However, when he is confronted by an ISB agent who wants to toast the heroic actions of Mayfield and Djarin (after having saved the last Imperial transport of the day from pirates, albeit while Mayfield and Djarin were hijacking the transport in question itself…), Mayfield cannot hold back bringing up Operation Cinder, a cataclysmic order from the deceased Emperor Palpatine to, simply put, reduce Core World populations to cinders; wanton destruction; utter annihilation.  He poses the question to the ISB agent whether anyone, those who performed in the operation, those that died in the operation, or those that died at the hands of those performing the operation, were better off than they would have been otherwise?  The ISB agent responds that people don’t truly want freedom; what they actually want is order.  Therefore, no matter what level of death and destruction the Empire may cause, such pain would be trivialized by the inefficiencies and lack of order that the New Republic allegedly caused; the Empire’s order would triumph over the New Republic’s chaos-inflicting “freedom.”  Mayfield, realizing the absurdity of the argument that ordered slavery is preferable to chaotic living, decides once and for all that the evil of the Empire is inexcusable and shoots the ISB agent where he sits.  

Both characters have made their worldview clear. Djarin cannot be seen without his helmet and Mayfield cannot condone or condemn any operating government since all government is equally wretched.  Both are put in a position that challenges their suppositions. Without a facial scan, Djarin loses Grogu forever and without stopping the Empire, more meaningless deaths will occur and spread throughout the galaxy. Yet, both make the decision that some things must be overcome and change internally in order to achieve something new.  

This shows the character growth and ways in which they become interesting characters.  But after the episode was over, my nine year-old turned to me and said, “What will happen to the Mandalorian now that he broke a rule?”  What he was really asking was what are the consequences these men will face as a result of their actions and the betrayal of their core ideals and values?  While Mayfield’s actions certainly jeopardized his life (shooting Imperials inside an Imperial base doesn’t seem like something your life insurance representatives would endorse, after all), Djarin’s actions jeopardize his own faith and religious-standing.  What does it mean for the believer to violate his tenants and what does that do to the rest of the tenants he holds? In other words, can Djarin withstand the loss of fidelity to the Way and remain a Mandalorian or has he betrayed the family that saved his life years ago by betraying their mandates?

“The challenge of faith is a constant balancing act between the things you know you should be doing and the things that you actually do,” Romans 7:15-20.  When we fail in our own expectations by doing the things we know we should not do, what happens to us?  Sometimes, those of us in the Christian faith tend to feel that when we break fellowship with God by our actions (sometimes referred to as ‘sin’), it starts to affect the way we see ourselves as well as God.  Also, when terrible things happen to us, it likewise affects the way we see God.  “Why didn’t God move in the way I wanted when I prayed so hard and so earnestly that He would?  Why wouldn’t he listen to me?”  Our faith is so easily and constantly challenged because we know the things God expects of us, yet our daily lives fail to bear that out.  This is the type of failure Djarin is experiencing. By violating the clearest and simplest code of the Way, it challenges his adherence to all the rest of the code as well as his personal standing within the Watch.  And while we cannot identify any sort of worshipped-entity within the Watch (that is, there is no god of the Watch, as far as we know), the Watch still bears clear hallmarks of a religious organization: strict adherence to self-imposed tenants without governmental oversight, personal development in accordance with those tenants, found-family with those who participate in such observance, and service to a cause greater than one’s self through the actions of that adherence.  All the Watch lacks seems to be a divine focal entity… and maybe a weekend lock-in youth activity.  Or maybe a carwash.  

Does the code of the Way have any room for the sort of malfeasance Djarin is guilty of?  There is no way around the fact that Djarin has broken the tenant to keep his face hidden from all living creatures.  Djarin may never have had to worry about this sort of problem beforehand, but he now has something interfering with his devotion. Grogu.  He risks his devotion to the Way for the sake of finding and rescuing Grogu.  Whether it costs him his life, his own family, or his position in Mandalorian culture, Djarin puts it all on the line so he does not lose sight of the safety of the Child.  While his actions and motivations appear noble to us the audience, we do not know whether his religion would have the grace to allow such motivation to serve as rationale for his violation.  Christ-followers can rely on the fact that “God is love” and that the most important things to Him are loving Him and caring for other people (Matthew 22:36-39).  If ever a Christ-follower wants to know the best course of action, they must simply measure it against, “Does it demonstrate love for God?  Does it demonstrate a love for other people?”  But Mandalorians of the Watch do not appear to have such a simple structure.  When our observed tenants do not have an underlying principle such as “love God and love other people,” the tenants themselves are the only authority and can only bear the weight assigned to them by the observers of those tenants.  There is then no independent power or authority to them, merely what someone has assigned those tenants to have.  

I know what it is like to struggle with your faith when it comes in sharp contrast to harsh reality, to question whether the promises of God actually apply to you personally, and to question what those promises actually are.  However, my faith is not in something man-made or temporal.  It comes from a personal relationship with the divine through many years of questions and patiently waiting for answers.  It comes from studying thousand-year old texts and asking people much smarter than me why things are the way they are.  But does Djarin have that?  Does he have the opportunity and freedom to ask, “Why?”  Can he seek forgiveness from a culture devoted to the glory of war and triumph?  Or has he become lost again, still just a child, hiding from scary monsters, hoping someone might find and rescue pitiable Din again?

Djarin now comes to a moment where he must decide what sort of weight he wants to give his own faith and creed.  Is there room in the Watch for such a violation as he has committed?  Or has he broken the faith enough that he must be cast from the faith itself?  Does he have to consider himself in exile of the faith or is there room in the Way for forgiveness and grace?

We do not yet know the answer to that. Heartbreakingly, neither does Din.

Drew Brett
@TheDrewBrett

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