“Chapter 4” of The Mandalorian reveals the complex emotions at work inside the laconic bounty hunter. It also serves to raise some troubling questions about this mysterious tribe of warriors and their bizarre religion. While we’re all waiting to discover the true identity of Baby Yoda, the Disney Plus is slowly pulling back the traumatic layers of our hero’s backstory.
The latest episode, subtitled “Sanctuary,” finds the Mandalorian and his old comrade, Cara Dune (Gina Carano), tasked with defending a remote farmstead from a group of raiders. The catch is that this particular batch of brigands has gotten a hold of an Imperial AT-ST. The climactic battle is gorgeous to watch, with the chicken-walker made all the more menacing with hatches that glow like evil red eyes in the darkness. The action more or less plays out just the way you expect it to, with Cara taking the monster down and the Mandalorian rushing in to deliver the killing blow.
Meanwhile, the real surprise of “Sanctuary” is how much information the audience is given about the strange tenets of the main character’s religion.
Early on in the series, we learned that weapons, as well as distinctive and personalized sets of armor, are part of the Mandalorian religion. We also know that a Mandalorian can’t remove their helmet in front of anyone — not even another Mandalorian. That’s what made the scuffle in front of the Armorer, and the main character’s eventual reconciliation with the other members of his clan, so powerful in episode three.
In episode 4, we see the Mandalorian remove his helmet for the first time. But, he’s careful to do it only once he’s alone, and the camera never shows his face. We also learn that the Mandalorian hasn’t removed his helmet in front of anyone since he was a child. He’s been forced to hide his identity, and he’s been happy to oblige, for his entire life. And what happens if he does remove his helmet in front of someone else? He tells Cara that he will never be allowed to put it on again.
This is a subtle throwback. In traditional westerns, the male hero is often hounded by a history of crime that he just can’t shake. Sometimes he’s weighed down by a responsibility to uphold the law. Whether it’s a black hat or a white one, the main character just can’t seem to find a way to take it off long enough to form a personal connection. In The Mandalorian, however, the main character’s very identify is bound to the literal mask that he wears on his face. If it comes off, even once, there’s no going back.
What’s so unusual here is that this is all a huge departure from previous portrayals of Mandalorians in the Star Wars canon. In recent cartoons, including Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, Mandalorians take off their helmets all the time. Characters like Sabine Wren and Gar Saxon are recognizable not just by their distinctive arms and armor, but by their facial features and their wild hair color.
So what changed? It’s hard to say at this point. We know that prior to the events of the original trilogy there was a schism among the Mandalorian people, with some choosing to side with the empire and some choosing not to. But how they as a people became hunted, hidden, and always on the run is anyone’s guess. Filling in that backstory will likely occupy a good chunk of this first season of The Mandalorian.
The explanation should also feature prominently in the final season of The Clone Wars, where the Mandalorians were central to that series’ plot. The premiere is scheduled for February 2020.