At first I was merely enthralled with the craftsmanship of The Mandalorian. It only took three minutes before I was completely hooked and determined to soak this Star Wars meets old Hollywood western in all its brilliant glory. None of the praise had been exaggerated in the slightest.
And then I had to watch it again. And there’s a chance I watched it a third time as well. And then I re-watched my favorite parts and will watch them again later this evening, I’m sure.
What is it that keeps me coming back? I mean obviously the set design and grittiness of the costumes and the fantastic writing all have made their marks. But that isn’t all, is it? I started to think that maybe there was something underneath all of it that was speaking to me beyond entertainment. And as I sat down to type it out, it hit me like a ton of bricks. But first, some backstory.
A long time ago, in an article far far away, a fellow ScreenFish writer and I went head to head in a battle of the Robin Hoods. Of course now there are even more versions and I honestly don’t remember a lot of the article or why his version was better than mine (if it even was, right Jacob?). But there was one point that stood out to me and has followed me around years later.
Is it ever ok to break the rules?
For the record, I don’t find this to be a fair question. I try not to deal in absolutes (10 points to whomever knows that reference) because there are always going to be varying degrees of context. Therefore this isn’t a straight yes/no question for me. But for argument’s sake, back then I took the “no” position, my main reason being that once one rule is broken, it becomes a slippery slope…then it’s two rules, then three. Then there is the question of who gets to determine that the rule is unjust? Not to mention what kind of example are we setting for others? People then bring in the argument for civil disobedience but often they are misunderstanding or misapplying the intent (at least in my experience). Rule breaking is a messy affair, and I don’t see how it is possible to project the varying degrees of impact both presently and in the future those decisions could make. So at what risk do we break the rules?
(Moving out of backstory and into SPOILERS in case I’m not the last person to watch The Mandalorian)
When Mando goes back for the child in chapter 3, he ain’t just breaking one little rule. Not only had he delivered on and received payment for his commission, he’s essentially re-stealing what he had stolen in the first place. He breaks relationship, he breaks faith and trust, he puts his entire covert at risk. And we know for what…but why? Out of all the jobs where he stuck to the rules and didn’t ask questions, why this job? Why this time?
Admittedly that’s more rhetorical than anything, because I’m sitting here wondering why in the past I was so not ok with a rule-breaking Robin Hood, and now I sit here cheering on a rule-breaking bounty hunter. I’m ok with Mando risking the security of the only family he has known for the safety of a little stranger. I’m ok with him risking the lives of others in order to give “the child” an opportunity to live.
I mean yes, it’s a tv show. It’s entertainment. It’s providing an emotional outlet that also allows us to escape the stress and fear and dare I say it – the rules – of our daily lives. But good films and television take us beyond escapism and guide us through self-discovery – subverting our preconceived notions and assumptions. Something in me feels the rightness of Mando’s actions as he sets aside all he has worked toward for the good of the vulnerable.
Maybe it isn’t a yes/no question. Maybe it even isn’t a why question – because after all, the why is going to be different in each unique scenario. Maybe a better question is how? How do we break the rules? Mando went in guns blazing, fire shooting from his arm, and literally blasting his way off of a planet. I’m going to say with a strong sense of certainty that that isn’t an option for us. So what is?
As a Christian, I am familiar with the ministry and context of Jesus in the New Testament. He challenged unjust restrictions and laws, questioned the authority of corrupted leadership, and encouraged an alternate approach of peace as opposed to violent rebellion. But there was always a subtlety in these actions. He used story and metaphor to explain the why. Instead of defiance, he used questions to challenge the assumptions of the religious leaders. He set the example of an alternative society but creating a new form of community and building something special from the inside out. And by doing it that way, it wasn’t that he was breaking the rules, but rewriting them from within.
When I look at it that way, my questions are answered. Here’s to rewriting rules instead of just breaking them.