The Mandalorian: A Mini-Study in Character Transformation

Character growth is an important part of a well-told story. Readers and viewers like to see a character change within the framework of the character’s personality, nature, and behavior. The Mandalorian, Din Djarin, (aka Mando), superbly played by Pablo Pascal, exemplifies character growth during the course of Seasons 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian. He’s on a hero’s journey and that journey is changing him.

When Mando reveals his face, his action isn’t capricious nor confusing. He makes a sacrifice of his deepest belief each time he is in the crucible of a dilemma. Sacrifice is an aspect of character change, a heroic action. The Mandalorian Creed bars him from showing his face in sight of another living being, but his situation with Grogu challenges Mando’s belief in the Way. Outside of Mando removing his helmet when he’s alone to do ordinary things like eat, as he does in Season 1, Episode 4 (Chapter 4) Sanctuary, Mando sacrifices a piece of his belief in the Mandalorian Creed each time he removes his helmet and shows his face in order to save Grogu. 

There are three important moments in Seasons 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian when Mando is forced by circumstances to uncover his face. 

Moment 1 occurs in Season 1, Episode 8 (Chapter 8), Redemption, when Mando, stalwart in his belief in the Mandalorian Creed, and near death with a fatal brain injury, at first refuses to let the droid IG11 remove his helmet to save his life. IG11 isn’t a living being, thus Mando allows the droid to remove his helmet and heal his brain injury. IG11 provided a solid resolution to Mando’s dilemma, and by the end of that episode, Mando loses his hatred of droids. There it is—character change.

Moment 2 occurs in Season 2, Episode 4 (Chapter 12), The Siege, after Moff Gideon’s Dark Troopers take Grogu (aka Baby Yoda, aka the Child), Mando gathers a team and they set out to rescue Grogu, but first they need the location code of Moff Gideon’s ship and the only way to get it is to infiltrate a secret Imperial remnant base, a mining hub, run by ex-ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) and access the computer containing the location codes of Imperial starships. 

With the help of New Republic Marshall Cara Dune, Mando recruits his old enemy, the felon Mayfield, an ex-Imperial sharpshooter serving time on a prison planet.

 Accessing the location code database requires a face scan. Neither ex-rebel shocktrooper, Cara Dune, nor Guild assassin Fennec Shan, wanted by the ISB, nor Boba Fett, who expects his face would be recognized, can risk it. Mando volunteers to accompany Mayfield, both of them disguised as Imperial guards, to deliver highly volatile rhydonium to the base and get their chance at accessing the computer.

Once they make it to the base and are able to get to the computer, Mayfield sees an officer he once served under and fears being recognized. He refuses to enter the room. Determined to get the location code, Mando says he’ll do it. Mayfield reminds him his face will be scanned, but Mando will take any risk to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon. 

He attempts the scan with the Imperial helmet on, and it fails. He then removes the helmet, exposing his face, and is successfully scanned. He gets the location code, but you could see his discomfort. When an officer confronts him, he has no choice but to face him. Once again, circumstance force him to break the Creed.

Moment 3, Season 2, Episode 8 (Chapter 16), The Rescue. Mando rescues Grogu from Moff Gideon and the time has come to deliver Grogu to a Jedi Master. He and Grogu are about to be separated, perhaps forever. For Mando, it’s like a father giving up his son. This was a heart-wrenching moment. Grogu wants to see the face of the man who has kept him safe against the odds and Mando, without hesitation, takes off his helmet and lets Grogu see him for the first time.

These three transformative moments mark an important turn in Mando’s character, and result from at least two previous “setup” sequences.

In Season 2, Episode 3, (Chapter 11), The Heiress, Bo Katan tells Mando he’s a Child of the Watch. She explains that the Mandalorians who raised him practice an extreme version of their tradition and are a radical sect. For the first time Mando learns that the Creed isn’t the alpha and omega of Mandalorian life. He rejects what Bo Katan tells him, but he can’t un-hear her words.

In Season 2, Episode 7, (Chapter 15), The Believer, Mando has his belief in the Mandalorian Creed further challenged by Mayfield, who accuses Mando of not being consistent with the Creed he professes to follow, pointing out Mando easily changes the rule when he’s desperate, and stating there’s a difference—either Mando can’t take his helmet off or can’t show his face. Either way, Mando walks a fine line, and between what Bo Katan told him and Mayfield’s cynicism, he’s got something to think about.

In the world of story, there is no growth without some form of sacrifice–psychological, physical, or spiritual, and sacrifice is painful. Having responsibility for Grogu and finding himself between a rock and a hard place in his determination to protect the Child, who is a son to him, Mando is forced to reassess his belief in the Mandalorian Creed and every time he reveals his face it’s done at a cost to that belief. By the time he shows his face to Grogu, he has undergone a definite psychological change in his perspective. 

The Mandalorian bounty hunter we meet in the first episode is a changed man by the end of Season 2. He’s suffered near-death, he’s found himself being a father to and protector of a powerful alien baby, he’s tasked with returning that baby to a Jedi Master, and he’s experienced significant challenge to his core belief in the Mandalorian Way.

We see his psychological change in these two seasons and can expect that Mando’s hero’s journey will transform him—which is what a hero’s journey does to the individual–and why stories like The Mandalorian fascinate us and are wonderful to enjoy and vicariously experience.

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