Digging in Deeper: Ephesians 2:8-9

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

The latest season of one of the most popular streaming series out there finally answered one of the most burning questions it has heretofore completely ignored: How do you eat with a helmet on? The answer: You don’t. With The Mandalorian’s third season having finally given us an answer to this, I’m not sure what else there is for them to do. At just over the halfway point in the season, though, the ride has been pretty entertaining. Let’s talk about what has worked, what hasn’t, and an interesting intersection with the Christian worldview.

Disney is going through a bit of a rough patch. Their earnings are down. The last CEO got fired. The guy who retired before him and said he would never come back has been convinced out of retirement in order to right the ship. Disney+ subscriptions are down. Viewership in general is declining. The parks aren’t making as much money. The company is working on shaving $5 billion worth of expenses including a full $3 billion in content creation. Layoffs are going to start sweeping through the corporation soon. Marvel properties are getting pushed back and the sheer amount of content is being pared. But for a couple of exceptions, Star Wars properties are largely being mothballed. Thankfully, The Mandalorian is one of these exceptions.

The Mandalorian first premiered with the original release of the behemoth streaming service in November 2019. It immediately became one of the most popular streaming series out there. Baby Yoda merchandise started flying off the shelves. It still is. The western vibe and gritty, but clean, tone made for terrifically fun family watching. Yet when lightning strikes, it rarely hits the same spot a second time. Disney tried to capitalize on the momentum with the release of The Book of Boba Fett, but other than the later episodes that transformed the series into The Mandalorian season 2.5, it fell flat. Even the second season of the Mandalorian itself saw a drop off from its initial viewership. It’s thrilling conclusion, though, left most fans eagerly anticipating the third season.

So far, I would count the third season a success. Yes, the series has lost its western vibe that made it so popular in its initial run. And, yes, the series suffers a bit from a lack of a big-picture story arc. But the writing and acting and directing are all still pretty good for the most part. This season has taken viewers much further into the Mandalorian religious worldview. Although there were hints of it in the second season, we have learned that there were multiple different sects among the Mandalorian people. Some are more conservative in their adherence to the traditional creeds and practices that first defined the group, while some are more progressive. These groups have not always played nice with one another and their internal disunity seems to have been what allowed the people as a whole to be shattered and scattered across the galaxy. The overall narrative of this third season seems to be to explore in more depth and detail the different groups with an eye toward reuniting them (an important step toward which was seemingly taken in the most recent episode).

One of the strengths of the series in the first season was that while there was undoubtedly an overarching story connecting all the episodes together, each one could fairly well stand on its own two feet. Some of that has been brought into this third season. Unfortunately for new viewers, though, the story has developed so much that many episodes will leave you with more questions than answers unless you’ve watched the whole series. This season has also suffered some from a lack of direction. While it appears the final three episodes are going to pick up the pace quite a bit, the effort to give time for new characters to be developed has felt plodding at times. For instance, an entire episode was given to developing one villain who appears to be an Empire plant in the New Republic’s governing bureaucracy. The whole story of that episode ran long and was a bit boring. It seems to have served no purpose other than to establish that, yep, she’s a villain. It could have been summarized in a few quick scenes which would have given more time to Mando and Grogu in their adventures.

That’s another place this season has lost the luster of the original run a bit. The chemistry between Mando and Grogu is what made the whole thing work. Mando’s grittiness combined with Grogu’s innocence made for a lot of fun and humor against the otherwise bleak background. It just worked. This season hasn’t given nearly enough attention to that as it has sought to expand the world to open up more storytelling avenues in the future. The introduction of space pirates this season has also served as little more than a convenient way to get the Mandalorians as a people to come out of hiding and to move toward reunification. Far from being menacing, though, the pirates came off as pretty silly.

Still, though, in spite of some growing pains, the series is still one of the best Star Wars series out there. And, given that we are likely several years from another Star Wars title hitting the big screen, combined with the cutbacks Disney is making across the board, it’s all that fans can hope for right now.

The thing that has perhaps most caught my attention in this season has been the closer look at the Mandalorian religion. At the end of the second season, Mando admitted to the Armorer, the leader of his particular sect, that he had removed his helmet in the presence of another person. According to their understanding of “the Way,” that is the single gravest sin a follower can commit. He was excommunicated from the group because of it. It was a pretty sad moment because the Mandalorian creed and community were two of the things by which he had most defined himself, and the circumstances surrounding his removing his helmet were pretty understandable.

He is not, however, left without hope. If he goes to bathe in the sacred waters beneath the mines of Mandalore, the Mandalorians’ home planet, he will be redeemed and welcomed back into the fold. In other words, his redemption (and, yes, they really do use that word) is found in a baptism. The Christian symbolism fairly well jumps off the screen. The only problem is that as far as anyone knows, the planet was left completely uninhabitable after some past conflict, and those waters are gone. In other words, while redemption is possible in theory, it is impossible in practice, so he is stuck separated from his community permanently.

Our faithful Mando is not one to give up so easily, though. He contacts an ally, Bo-Katan, who was first introduced to the Star Wars universe in the Star Wars: Rebels animated series a few years ago. Like Ahsoka Tano (who is soon to get her own streaming series), Bo-Katan was brought to life in the second season to the great delight of fans. Bo-Katan is from the family that once ruled over all of Mandalore. She knows where the sacred waters are, and after a series of requisite adventures, leads Mando there where he bathes (i.e., wades in and dunks himself). Upon bringing news and proof of his actions back to the Armorer, he is restored to fellowship with the group.

The whole religious element this season has been really interesting to watch unfold, especially when they have used language that really doesn’t appear in many places outside the Christian worldview. Anytime the world is talking about redemption, we should probably pay attention. In this case, though, the path to redemption offered to the followers of this particular sect of the Mandalorian religion is a rather depressing one. Yes, Mando managed to find the sacred waters beneath the mines, but absent that, there was no chance at redemption for him. In fact, when he raised the prospect of the impossibility of redemption according to the dictates of the creed due to the sacred waters’ being gone thanks to the destruction that was visited upon Mandalore, all the Armorer said in response was, “This is the Way.”

While I appreciate the radical commitment required by the Mandalorian creed – Jesus Himself was clearer than anyone else in the New Testament about the necessity of counting the costs of following Him because of the high demands He places on His followers – a religious worldview that has no practical means of redemption is a sad one indeed. In a larger sense, though, the Mandalorian creed presented in the series is rooted entirely in a path of self-righteousness, of self-justification. If you can do the things necessary to meet with the creed’s high demands, you are in. If not, you are out. It’s that simple. And while that kind of simplicity can be very comforting and attractive to many, it is ultimately hopeless. It is hopeless and necessarily divisive because not everyone will be able to keep it.

What we are offered in Christ is an entirely better way. Our inability to consistently walk a path of righteousness is perhaps the single most well-documented thing in human history. By that I mean sin has been recorded as being part and parcel with human activity since they started recording it and even before that. Getting right with God and stick true to the real Way was never something we were going to manage on our own. God gave us all the help we needed, but we wouldn’t take it. We wouldn’t follow the path He laid out for us. Sin kept getting in the way. Where we were unable, though, God proved Himself more than able. He sent His one and only Son to die in our place, thereby opening the Way up to all who were willing to walk it through Him.

Now, instead of having to go on some grand quest that may very well render some interested applicants permanently incapable of redemption, we can simply go to Christ, place our faith in Him, and receive the gift of redemption and the eternal life that comes with it. The whole thing is a gift of grace obtained through faith. This gift can be hard for us to receive because doing so first requires us to admit and own up to our utter inability to obtain it on our own. But once we do, once we adjust our lives in light of reality, life is there waiting for us to receive it. As the Mandalorians would say, “This is the Way.” And it is a very good way indeed. Enjoy the series – I highly recommend it – but know that it offers only a shadow of a much greater truth. Make sure you are living it.

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