The Star Wars Track at Dragon Con opened their 2023 panel series at 7:00 pm Thursday evening in Marriott A706 with a discussion of what has become one of the most fascinating and complex dimensions of the entire franchise: Mandalorians. Before the track organizers could put out their signage, members formed a queue that ran back to the hotel lobby. John Ficker, Emma Swanson, James Clarke, and Kyle Bennett led the packed room through an overview of Mandalorian history and culture. A discussion of this culture and its place in the fannish universe speaks to creative energy that has forged the breadth and depth of the franchise itself.
Mandalorian culture and history cuts across the history of the long-running franchise from a galaxy far, far away, with a genesis found in the character of Boba Fett, who first appeared in the franchise’s infamous holiday special and then in several of the franchise’s films. Based originally upon Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for a “Super Trooper,” and assembled by Joe Johnston, the character’s brief appearances inspired the creation of an entire universe that grew as stories about his people and their past began to appear across novels, video games, animated, and live action series production.
Mandalorians are not a race; ethnic and racial ties do not bind this culture together. What does is creed and commitment. This “multi-species semi-nomadic” culture is one predicated first and foremost upon martial values, and the tragedy of the Mandalorians lies in the inherent challenges created by such belief systems. Ambition, the quest for power, and fierce loyalty mixed to create a history filled with factional strife and conflict. Like the ancient Greeks, if Mandalorians lacked a common enemy, they fought among themselves. Unique to the Star Wars universe, Bennett explained, Mandalorian history is driven by political divisions which, over time, literally led to the destruction of their world and the scattering of the remnants of their people.
In cultures like this, objects associated with the ruler have great meaning and impact. Originally the “Mandalore” or ruler was recognized by his helm, known as the “Mask of Mandalore.” With time, that symbol of power and authority shifted to the Dark Saber. Created by Tor Vizsla, both Mandalorian and Jedi, this weapon, and the quest for the power it represented, led to great sadness and destruction. As Swanson pointed out, those who seek it usually go bad, and the results are all too often tragic. Bo Katan’s experience with the saber is the classic example.
A key creative force in the development of this culture was Karen Traviss. Between 2004 and 2009, Traviss published nearly twenty works (short stories, novels, articles, and essays) fleshing out the Mandalorians, their history, and the connective tissue between this culture and the larger franchise universe (especially the Fetts and Clones). Traviss, influenced by the work of JRR Tolkien, understood the importance of language to the creation of a fully realized world. As a result, she created the Mandalorian language known as “Mando’a.” Beyond Traviss’s work, the panel recommended that those interested in learning more should also consult the “Open Seasons” and “Kotor” comic series.
One of the final questions during the Q&A asked the panelists to reflect on the phenomenon of an entire culture growing out of the relatively brief appearance of a single bounty hunter. Their answer: mystery. Boba Fett, the bounty hunter/lone gunman, clad in that unique armor and who let his actions speak for him, managed to outsmart Han Solo. Who was this man? Where did he come from, and what about that armor and weaponry? Answering those questions across both “Legends” and “New Canon” has given us the rich and fascinating world of the Mandalorians.