Disney+’s The Mandalorian is a side story within the larger Star Wars universe. This continues Star Wars’ trend of including a diverse cast, along with Latinx characters. Including Latinx actors like Oscar Issac (American-Guatemalan), Lupita Nyong'o (Kenyan-Mexican), Diego Luna (Mexican), Benicio del Toro (Puerto Rican), and now, Pedro Pascal (Chilean). Pascal plays Din Djarin/The Mandalorian, often referred to as "Mando." Latinx people are underrepresented in the science fiction genre, and overall in both television and film. According to the United States Census Bureau, there were 60.6 million Latinos in the United States (2020). Additionally, that same study noted that 18.5% of the nation’s population is Latinx. With that being said, Latinx representation on television is also underrepresented as speaking roles of Latinx characters in 2015 was only 5.1%. I use The Mandalorian to explore Latinx representation through Latinidad (Latinx cultural values) and U.S./Mexico border studies within the broader Star Wars franchise.
"Mando" is a migrant bounty hunter on the run, traveling and escaping from planet to planet seeking safety. The character is a science fiction version of a bandit and outlaw, which is a common Latinx stereotype in media. From the start of the season, “Mando” is hunting various bounties in a scrappy set of armor and exudes machismo throughout the series through his demeanor. He is a quiet and stoic character. As he collects bounties, he earns various forms of currency that he later uses to upgrade his armor. He goes to the Mandalorian armorer, who converts this currency into armor. This idea of traveling to various planets to collect bounties can also be tied to the border as many immigrants travel to a new country in order to have a better life. In addition, the process of making armor becomes somewhat of a religious experience from entering the armory. These scenes of the show highlight the Latinx cultural value, espiritualismo (spiritualism). While the armorer is making “Mando’s” armor, the title character kneels and reflects on how he became a Mandalorian tribe member.
Another example of espirtualismo comes from the phrase that each of the Mandalorian tribe members says, "this is the way." This example can be tied to espirtualismo even further, as those Latinx who are Catholic use phrases like, “peace be with you.” Moreover, "this is the way" is also a connector and bridge between each Mandalorian tribe member. It is a verbal symbol that showcases familismo or a kinship they all have with each other. Additionally, this Mandalorian tribe swore never to remove their helmets or let others remove it. This goes back to the Mandalorian's past and how many Mandalorian tribe members were killed by the Galactic Empire. This is known as the Great Purge. From this day forward, Mandalorian tribe members operated in secrecy and grew a stronger connection to one another. The Great Purge is another connector towards the border and Latinx culture, as immigrants are continually being detained, apprehended, mistreated, and deported. Many Latinx immigrants who are undocumented face abuse and violent discrimination from our government and other people, and at times have to operate in secrecy due to their undocumented status.
The Mandalorian does eventually become unmasked by the robot bounty hunter, IG-11. “Mando” is badly injured, and IG-11 assists the Mandalorian. During the process, “Mando” is refusing to remove his mask and tells IG-11 how he took an oath, and no living thing has ever seen him without his mask. IG-11 reminds him he is not a living thing. This scene showcases various examples of Latinidad intersecting at once. “Mando” is showcasing caballerismo (chivalry) and respeto (respect) to his tribe and oath, espirtualismo, and familismo as he is not trying to betray his tribe and their traditions. Finally, once the helmet is removed, “Mando’s” visual marker of Latinidad is fully shown through Pascal’s appearance. A Star Wars title character is fully shown as being a Latino; while they never use these racialized terms, it is clear that this Mandalorian character is Latinx.
Throughout the season, there are other symbolic references to the border as many of the scenes are taking place in desert-like terrain, including episode 2, as the Mandalorian encounters the Jawas. The Jawas can be seen as an intersection of junk collectors or pawnshop owners. In addition, they are also symbolically reminiscent of coyotes, which are people who assist migrants on their travel but with a price. The Jawas steal parts from the Mandalorian's ship, and in order to get the parts he needs, the Jawas bargain a deal with him. The Mandalorian must obtain an egg from a Mudhorn. He is able to get the egg with the help of the child and they return to the Jawas to get their parts back to travel yet again. Similar to how a migrant must pay a coyote to help travel to their destination, the Mandalorian does the same by trading the egg for parts of his ship to travel once again.
Moreover, the villainous Galactic Empire and Imperial Army are symbolically related to the law enforcement of the border, such as border patrol or immigration and customs enforcement (ICE), as these characters are frequently in pursuit of the Mandalorian and the child. Yet, in episode 6, the audience meets another crew of mercenaries that try to imprison the Mandalorian after betraying him during a mission. While the imprisonment was not long for the Mandalorian, this is still a symbolic representation of the border as many migrants are imprisoned due to their lack of citizenship. Citizenship might not be a problem for the Mandalorian, but the use of imprisonment of a Latinx character in the series is definitely worth noting.
Finally, episode 4 is called “Sanctuary” and is about the Mandalorian and the child finding an area to hide from the Guild and Imperial troops. The Mandalorian lands on the planet Sorgan and meets Cara Dune, a mercenary who is also in hiding. Sorgan is symbolic of border studies as it is reflective of sanctuary cities or safe cities. Sanctuary cities are cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents as a way to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
While The Mandalorian is not an outright Latinx science fiction show, it does highlight various markers of Latinidad and references to border and immigration-related topics. It is excellent to see Latinx representation highlighted on such a popular franchise and series, but the Latinx community's need for representation is still present. It is with great hope that Latinx representation continues to move forward and that Latinx scholars continue to explore Latinidad in popular culture and the science fiction genre. With the second season of The Mandalorian quickly approaching, it will be interesting to see if Latinidad and the border themes continue. If this is the case, this is something I hope to explore even further down the road.
Thought provoking post
As with plcphd's great post on Tuesday, you develop useful insights on the real world cultural resonances around Mando, around cultural and racial representations. I do agree with you both that these extend the recent Star Wars trend of more diverse casting, whether for characters 'behind the mask' or seen, but equally I think this demonstrates a more sensitive blend of intertextual references (to the Western, or Seven Samurai in 'The Sanctuary'), with awareness of the need to revise our cultural repertoires to avoid othering or exoticisation that arguably problematised some earlier constructions of difference in the Saga.
The Bounty Hunter figure seems more than just a bandit or outlaw. By giving him a code, he partakes of a more narratively rich, more niche, but perhaps just as cliché Latinx representation: the unreliable, reformed outlaw. Mando's guild membership is both real and a discardable patina of reform from his outlaw days. In this he seems closer to the native informants/enforcers/imperial allies Benicio plays in both Traffic and Sicario.
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