THE MANDALORIAN and Dangerous Origins
Modern technology has given us more ways than ever before to discover the stories, the rituals, and the characters that make up our mythologies. The technology of the written word vastly changed the ways that myths were passed from one generation to the next, thus transforming the myths themselves. Anyone engaged in regularly streaming the latest binge-worthy television series or playing popular video games will quickly find themselves face-to-face with modern mythological expressions and explicit mythic narratives from our ancient past.
It is thought-provoking to see how, over the course of history, mythology has slowly developed into a domain favored largely by children. The same evolution can be seen with fairy tales. Perhaps it’s the deceivingly simple “face” of so many myths that cause them to be offered for the still-maturing. Of course, we recognize that what we initially encounter with myths is no face at all, but a mask. As Joseph Campbell suggested, behind these masks are the most transcendent, mysterious, and divine ideas that humankind has fathomed.
While a rich exposure to myth in one’s childhood offers a base for the later exploration of nuance in a world filled with complexities and psychological mysteries, Campbell also offered a stern warning about allowing these myths to only become playthings for children. In the first volume of his Masks of God series, Primitive Mythology, he states:
Clearly, mythology is no toy for children. Nor is it a matter of archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modern men of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations.
Primitive Mythology, p. 27
Modern mythology-heavy media, such as Disney+’s The Mandalorian (a series born from the Star Wars universe), have gained popularity with adults and children alike. Superhero films of the past decade have shared the same wide audiences, appealing to moviegoers from the ages of nine to ninety. The Mandalorian, however, has managed to draw viewers into a more complex vision of the mythological, not only relying on the hero and his journey, but casting a web of archetypes that play together in a mythic symphony. Perhaps the mythological nature of the show, and its success, should not be surprising as its creator John Favreau has spoken at length about the influence of Campbell on his work and particularly on this show.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it takes place five years after Episode VI in the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi. The narrative centers around a devout warrior and bounty hunter named Din Djarin that follows a mystic tradition. This Mandalorian is hired by dark forces to retrieve a seemingly orphaned child, named Grogu. After finding him, our hero goes on the run to protect the child from the forces that initially hired him and return the child instead to those who recognize his true lineage. Even in this brief description, the narrative drips with mythic motifs.
In the conclusion of the second season, a character is introduced from the origins of Star Wars. This creative decision has caused its own wars among devotees to the show, many of whom feel it should continue to move within its own path and avoid what some see as unnecessary emotional returns to its deepest roots. This phenomenon is interesting as it occurs in many different and diverse expressions of the human experience. Returning to one’s origins can sometimes be traumatic, producing pain or conflict which one would rather avoid. Entire segments of our mental healthcare system are devoted to recovering from the wounds experienced in our origin stories. Origins, and the stories that encompass them, are beloved by many, and despised by so many others. Salvation and damnation are often both found in our initiatory practices and in our mythologies. The repercussions can be severe for us; as Campbell insinuated, our myths can be dangerous. They can move mobs and civilizations. They can wound the guilty and the innocent. However, it would be unreasonable to believe that they can only be guarded by elites in the ivory towers of academia — an area in which I often work.
Campbell’s warning above also addresses the dangers of fencing off myth into the courtyards of universities and libraries, rendering it toothless and irrelevant. Seeing the mythic consequences of The Mandalorian debated on Twitter and Reddit might seem like a bad idea to some — a waste of time and technology. However, it is worth noting that this might just be evidence of myth being taken seriously by a mass culture that may have no other avenue into deeper discussions of the mythological. Pop culture powerhouses like Disney are easy to dismiss and criticize for their historic sanitization of fairy tales and reductive approach to myth. However, they also provide a gateway into deeper explorations of the mythic for those just beginning to look at their own origin stories, regardless of education or age.
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