(Note: this article contains spoilers from the second season of The Mandalorian, including spoilers from the season finale.)
A man of few words, suddenly responsible for a child of incalculable worth? A man who finds himself letting go of the life he once imagined, in exchange for a life protecting a child who possesses powers he cannot understand?
This man could be the Mandalorian, from the latest spinoff of the Star Wars universe…or he could be St. Joseph. This is the beauty of “Catholic art” – it does not have to be explicitly Catholic in order to highlight themes of truth, goodness, and beauty. Literature and art that draws our hearts back to contemplation of the Gospels is truly “Catholic” by nature. I have previously explored Catholic themes in Star Wars, and I have been delighted to find that The Mandalorian is no exception.
Of course, as a former bounty hunter with a questionable sense of morals, the character of the Mandalorian is not a perfect parallel to St. Joseph. Nevertheless, this character embodies themes of spiritual paternity. Contemplating the way that paternity is showed through the actions of “Mando” can help us better recognize the fortitude of the silent but strong real man, St. Joseph.
Actions not Words
One of the most striking features of St. Joseph in the Gospels is that he does not speak a single word, yet his actions speak loudly for him. Joseph is a man of action. Whenever God asks something of him, he immediately springs into action. Take Mary into his home as his wife? No problem. Flee with Mary and the child to Egypt? Of course. Once St. Joseph knows the right thing to do, he does not ask questions – he just does it, regardless of the danger or the cost to himself.
The focus of the most recent season of The Mandalorian is on the solid bond between Mando and the Child. Other characters even comment on the strength of their attachment. In the first season, the Mandalorian is a reluctant guardian to the Child. In the second season, paternal love—that seeks to strengthen and protect—has completely transformed the Mandalorian. In the final scene of the season, the tearful gaze between the Child and him is a complete departure from the behavior we see at the beginning of the series. The Mandalorian is no longer motivated by money or reputation or allegiance to a code. He is motivated by love.
That paternal love leads the Mandalorian into numerous dangerous, potentially deadly situations. These kinds of daring acts are nothing new for Mando. What is new, though, is his total disregard for money, power, privilege, etc. Faced with the possibility of keeping the dark saber and claiming leadership over Mandalore in the final episode of the season, he easily rejects that in favor of securing the safety of the Child. His actions are motivated by selfless, unconditional love. Just like St. Joseph.
Humility and Selflessness
In the first season of The Mandalorian, Mando had a reputation for being effective and ruthless. He clung to the image of what he had been taught a Mandalorian should be, and he refused to bend. His reputation, it might be argued, was a point of pride for him. When people wanted to get the job done, they called Mando.
In the early episodes of last season, we also saw someone completely free of attachment to others (and not in a healthy way). He was motivated by his own well-being and allegiance to a particular code of honor (which was not always very honorable). By the end of the second season, though, he is completely changed. All that he does, he does for the safety of the Child. He is not afraid to admit to his limitations in providing what the Child needs (which is why he spends the season searching for a Jedi who can train this little one). And, ultimately, he desires what is best for the Child. When Luke Skywalker tells him, in the final moments of the finale, that the Child will not come with Luke unless he has Mando’s permission, a heartbroken Mando does not hesitate to encourage his beloved little one to go and train in the ways of the Force.
The degree of Mando’s humility and selflessness is shown most fully in the final scene of the season, when Mando removes his helmet, so that the Child is able to stroke his face. Not ever removing his helmet was a point of pride in the first season. But for the sake of reassuring the Child with a fatherly gaze of love at their parting? He did not hesitate to show his beloved little one his face. And, although attachment to this child that was not truly his must have caused him a good deal of pain, he willingly bore it, so that the Child would not suffer alone. This is what a father does – he willingly suffers for his children.
Especially in reading the readings at the end of Advent, I am struck by the humility and selflessness of St. Joseph. Betrothed to a woman who was highly esteemed for her virtue, he could have clung to his own honorable reputation by divorcing her quietly when she appeared to be disgraced. And faced with the possibility of only raising one child—a child that was not his own—he could have broken the betrothal in favor of marrying a woman who would bear his child. Joseph did neither of these. Surely, in taking Mary into his home, he risked his own disgrace. And surely, there were times when his heart ached with the realization that he would never have his own biological son.
And yet…Joseph was a father. He willingly bore whatever humility and suffering was necessary for the sake of the most important child to ever live—the one who is truly the Child. His paternal love for Jesus kept Jesus safe, unharmed, and secure in love and attachment to a human foster father.
The look of utter love on the face of Mando in the final scene of this season of The Mandalorian is one that I will be taking to prayer this Christmas. Wonder mixed with joy, intense sorrow, and longing? I am sure that it was similar to the gaze of Joseph at that first Christmas.
image: Willrow Hood / Shutterstock.com