The Mandalorian Is the Star Wars Hero We All Needed This Year

The best part of The Mandalorian is that its main character can take a hit.

It’s not a trait often seen in Star Wars. The heroes of the original trilogy are protected from harm by the infamously terrible aim of the stormtroopers they encounter. The heroes of the prequel trilogy guarded themselves via superb reflexes and laser swords, which offered fail-safe protection against all blaster fire until the moment they didn’t. For as many people as are seen wearing armor in this universe, it has never seemed to do very much. Until now.

Din Djarin is a quick draw, a crack shot, and an impressive improviser of creative violence when the situation calls for it, but mostly he’s a tank. Once he receives his beskar armor in the show’s third episode, his primary skill becomes his ability to absorb punishment. The series does a good job making it clear that the blaster bolts bouncing off him are not incidental. He feels them. They shake him, stop him in his tracks, are something that has to be endured. But that he can endure them sets him apart from nearly everyone else we’ve seen.

Among the show’s many pleasures—and I enjoy the series, and think there are many—this is the one that most manages to surprise. The instincts honed from years of watching Star Wars don’t turn off so easily. It feels novel when the first shot of each encounter cracks off of him. There’s still the thrill of a small victory when he outdraws some threat before it can fire at him, even though we ought to know by now that it doesn’t really matter. No, he’s not entirely invincible, but he can block sabers light and dark with his arms and take giant droid punches to the faceplate and get swallowed by an acid-spitting krayt dragon and fly out moments later dripping with ooze but otherwise A-OK.

I didn’t expect to be so taken with this quality of his. I have a personal proclivity for scrappers, for rogues, for the types of character who make it their business not to get hit. Ninjas over samurai. Nightcrawler over Colossus. Take points out of Strength and Constitution and put them into Dexterity and Intelligence and, if I’m feeling frisky, Charisma. This is something more than a simple affinity; it feels truer to myself to be this way, to play this way. Which is odd, because it’s not really true. Not anymore.

I am six-foot, three-inches tall and weigh not quite 200 pounds, hopefully. I am not gigantic, but I am large. I head for the back row in every group shot because I have taken zero group shots with NBA teams. Sometimes when I see those photos I am genuinely surprised at how much bigger than everyone else I look. But that’s still not my self-conception, though I have been living in this body ever since I broadened out past beanpole-dom somewhere around my senior year of high school with the last gasp of my adolescent growth. Instead, a part of my mind is—like everyone’s, I suppose—stuck in the four years before that happened.

My best friend back home was and is a giant: six-foot five-inches tall when slouched, which he always was; twice as broad as me; dense and solid, a boulder of a teenager and now a man. Next to him, no matter how much I grew, I was always Inigo Montoya, always John Stockton. I was taller but slighter than the other two people in our core group, and so my role was to be the small one, the fast one. I have always appreciated the wisdom of the joke that ends, “I don’t have to outrun it; I just have to outrun you.” I once sucker-punched one of those guys, escaped out the door, and made it five houses down the block before I realized he had collapsed, wheezing with asthma, in the neighbor’s yard. That was my defense mechanism. That’s who I was. I did not charge in, blasters blazing. I ran away, often while yelling “Run away!” like Monty Python’s King Arthur.

This mischaracterization would likely have graver consequences if society really had broken down last year, which, as we all know, would have turned life into an exact replica of an open-world RPG. (I certainly would have lower Charisma in that scenario.) But it still feels as though it matters. The versions of myself that I have created inform who I am, the same way you might notice a detail in only some photographs of yourself and decide that it is in fact a part of who you are. I am changed by these reflections.

And so, at least part of my mental definition of success has always been built around anticipating, avoiding, and counteracting what troubles might arise in my life. This has historically been easy for me; I am a (tall) white male with a college degree. (In terms of attributes, we can call this Luck.) But when I can’t, I don’t know how to react. I am a worrier who tends to be prepared, and as such it feels like failure to take the hit. To not see it coming and get out of the way. To not have time to lower my expectations or to soften the blow with jokes or to put myself in a position to pretend, even if just to myself, that it didn’t matter that much anyway.

I have been reasonably well-cushioned from the blows of 2020 and its long afterlife, but they have still been blows. After long enough doing them, the processes of freelancing and job-hunting and parenting a three-year-old at home this whole time all feel like shouting into the same sort of void. Part of their impact has been the existence of so many impacts at all, the way enough blaster bolts can stop Mando in his tracks even as they do no real harm.

It took months for me to realize that there was something extra—on top of, you know, everything—throwing my stress levels out of whack. The input and the output weren’t balancing; there was bonus anxiety in there that wasn’t being accounted for. It took seeing The Mandalorian again in the late fall to open my mind to this possibility, two loose connections sparking as they passed near each other. Here was something I had never seen in Star Wars. Here was something I had never considered in my life.

Now it takes a deliberate effort to remind myself that the existence of problems is not, in and of itself, a problem. That having more than one problem at a time does not mean there’s some inherent multiplicative effect. That there is not always an ideal, pain-minimizing, efficiency-maximizing plan for whatever the circumstances are. Figuring this out didn’t magically make it disappear, but it does help some to envision all of this as something that can be absorbed and endured, rather than twisted around and avoided. It is a small help to work to change the mindset with which these problems are encountered, but also a holistic one. What else is there to do? Sometimes life requires a different sort of character. Sometimes the best thing to do is suit up as the tank so you can take the hits and keep going.

Eric Betts writes about books, sports, movies, video games, culture, and Waffle House, though not necessarily in that order.


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