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    the Mandalorian Din Djarin meets Grogu

    Behold the Mandalorian

    Meekness and Masculinity in Star Wars

    By Josh Seligman

    June 17, 2021
    • JP

      It would have been interesting to include in this article, and in any address of the criticisms of Van Niel’s piece, a look at the female Mandalorians.

    Can masculinity be good? This is the question with which priest Noah Van Niel subtitles his recent article in Plough. I find an unexpected angle on this question in two father–son relationships in the Star Wars saga that illustrate meekness as a healthy model for manhood.

    Meekness is at the heart of The Mandalorian, the newest live-action Star Wars television series (spoilers ahead). The story follows Din Djarin, a bounty hunter hired to capture a child with mysterious powers. However, upon encountering “the Child” (whose real name is Grogu, although some viewers call him “Baby Yoda”), Djarin immediately bonds with him. When he realizes that his employers wish to harm Grogu, Djarin risks his security and life to protect the Child. Eventually, he receives instructions from a mentor to deliver Grogu to safety among the Jedi.

    In the course of completing this task, Djarin reluctantly transforms into a single father. The show depicts the daily grind of Djarin providing for Grogu, entrusting him to others’ care while earning their provisions, or establishing boundaries, as when he stops Grogu from naughtily eating the eggs of alien creatures.

    Djarin isn’t gentle with everyone he encounters, though. Belonging to a class of warriors among the Mandalorian people, he earns his living as a mercenary and often has no mercy on his enemies. Nonetheless, over time, fatherhood changes him. This is especially clear when Djarin, whose sect’s customs forbid him from revealing his face to other people, removes his helmet in order to protect and connect with Grogu. The closer he comes to Grogu, the more tender – and human – he becomes.

    Djarin’s gradual transformation stands out in a show more violent and gritty than other Star Wars content. But it is consistent with the meekness displayed by Luke Skywalker, the saga’s primary hero, whose decisive act toward his father witnesses to an alternative to hatred and violence.

    In one of the final scenes of Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine has arranged a duel between Luke and Darth Vader. Although Luke emerges as the more powerful warrior, in the end, he lays down his laser sword, refusing to kill his father. Here the meekness is reversed from that in The Mandalorian: the son becomes meek toward the father. Luke’s sacrifice is more extreme than Djarin’s because Luke loves not just one he has vowed to protect, but, on one level, his enemy.

    Enraged, Palpatine begins electrocuting Luke with Force lightning from his fingertips. In response, Vader himself lays down his life: rather than retaining his position as dark lord, he protects his son by lifting Palpatine and throwing him into a pit. In the process, Vader is fatally wounded, but he has rescued Luke and defeated the leader of the oppressive Galactic Empire. Before Vader dies, he asks Luke to take his mask off so that he may look on his son, as he says, “with my own eyes.” Luke’s meekness saves Vader by restoring their relationship and Vader’s humanity.

    the Mandalorian Din Djarin meets Grogu

    Still taken from Season 1 Chapter 1 of The Mandalorian

    Much has been written about the central roles of myth and spirituality in the Star Wars universe; the meekness of Djarin and Luke have been compared to the humility exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians understand as the Son of God who empties himself of his heavenly power to become a human for the salvation of the world.

    Beyond his divine strength, as a human, Jesus is strong in word and deed: he works as a builder and challenges religious leaders who do not live according to their own laws. Such strength is bridled with gentle compassion. Overturning social conventions, Jesus restores dignity to people on the edges, such as women, children, the sick, and sinners. He touches the untouchable and welcomes outcasts. He teaches his followers to do the same, and to love not only each other but even their enemies because all people are beloved of God.

    Everything Jesus does is in service to God the Father and others, even to the very end. Threatened by his teachings and their reception, religious leaders conspire to put him to death. “Behold the man!” Pontius Pilate says, presenting before the crowd the King of the Jews , crowned humiliatingly with thorns and wearing a purple robe. They respond, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

    But even this, Christians believe, is a part of Jesus’ plan; he knows that only by voluntarily offering his life can he conquer sin and death, rising from the dead three days later and rescuing captives from hell along the way. Like Djarin, Jesus is a warrior, and like Luke’s, his victory comes through self-sacrifice – except that rather than wearing impenetrable beskar armor or wielding a lightsaber, Jesus conquers evil through the cross, which an ancient Christian hymn calls “the weapon of peace.”

    In his article seeking a healthy model of masculinity, Van Niel also points to Jesus, “God made man,” encouraging men to emulate Jesus’ “manly virtues” of compassion, humility, and purpose.

    Plough has subsequently published critical responses to Van Niel’s article. The main questions do not concern Van Niel’s defining and opposing toxic masculinity or encouraging men to be compassionate, humble, and purposeful – which the readers appear to agree with – but what it is that makes those virtues manly.

    “What distinguishes Van Niel’s view of positive masculinity from a positive femininity?” writes one reader. “What outlook and behaviors, if any, are specifically ‘masculine’?” writes another.

    I wonder if Star Wars can help here. Djarin is clearly a manly character: his armor, combat skills, and dutifulness align with traditional understandings of masculinity, which are often associated with the archetypal roles of hunter and warrior. At the same time, when Djarin is with Grogu, he is gentle, using his strength and skill to serve the vulnerable child in his care.

    Like Djarin and Vader removing their helmets to see their children face to face, and like the Son of God humbling himself to save us, men practicing meekness relate to others not from a position of superiority or domination but of equality and generosity. 

    In other words, the fierce hunter-warrior becomes a loving father; his power combines with the aforementioned virtues of compassion, humility, and purpose. I believe that this strength expressed in gentle love – which I understand as meekness – displays a healthy model of masculinity.

    But again, what makes such meekness masculine? Indeed, women too can be strong, and they are; thus, they can also express their strength in love.

    However, historically, most men have inherited status and privilege that women have not, and on average, men are understood to possess greater physical strength than women. Thus, men often have the unique choice between either abusing such power (resulting in toxic masculinity) or channeling it for the good of others (resulting in healthy masculinity). Like Djarin and Vader removing their helmets to see their children face to face, and like the Son of God humbling himself to save us, men practicing meekness relate to others not from a position of superiority or domination but of equality and generosity.

    Because such meekness involves voluntarily laying aside the privilege and pride that can come with manhood, cultivating the virtue may be more challenging for men than women. At the same time, contemporary Western society tends to prize strength while overlooking gentleness, regardless of gender. The call to meekness is not for men alone. When Jesus taught “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” he was speaking to men and women, both of whom must use their strength, in whatever form they have it, to conquer only evil and not other people; to bless and embolden others, not to diminish them.

    Rather than abolishing power, Jesus teaches how to wield it rightly: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    To cite the Mandalorian creed, “this is the way” for all who seek the kingdom of God. Like Djarin committing his life to help Grogu, and Luke refusing to fight his father, Jesus triumphs over evil and saves the world through meekness. Jesus is the ultimate hero from whom men can learn how to be men as God intends, using their power in loving service.

    Contributed By

    Josh Seligman is the founding editor of Foreshadow, an online Christian literary magazine, and co-host of its podcast, Forecast. He works as a freelance proofreader, editor, and writer and lives with his wife in northwest England.

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