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THE MANDALORIAN and Dangerous Origins

BY John Bucher January 10, 2021

The Child and the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) in Lucasfilm’s THE MANDALORIAN, season 2, exclusively on Disney+. ©2020 Lucasfilm Limited &™. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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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. 

The Dispute of Minerva and Neptune (c. 1689 or 1706) by René-Antoine Houasse, depicting the founding myth of Athens.

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.

Yours, John Bucher John BucherJohn Bucher is a renowned strategist, communicator, and cultural mythologist based out of Hollywood, California. Disruptor named him one of the top 25 influencers in Virtual Reality in 2018. He is the author of six books including the best-selling Storytelling for Virtual Reality, and has worked with companies including HBO, DC Comics, The History Channel, A24 Films, The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation and served as a consultant and writer for numerous film, television, and Virtual Reality projects. John has spoken on 5 continents about using the power of story to reframe how products, individuals, organizations, cultures, and nations are viewed. Learn more.

Monthly Gift

Toward a Natural History of the Gods and Heroes (eSingle)

Our gift to you this month is a short e-single from Primitive Mythology. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

Where The Hero with a Thousand Faces looks at the universal themes of myths and dreams, in the four books of his great Masks of God series Joseph Campbell explores the ways in which those themes have varied across the ages and between cultures. Yet in this full-throated introduction, Campbell establishes his basic thesis: that although humanity’s myths are many, their source is “always the same.”

News & Updates



New World Library and Joseph Campbell Foundation are excited to to announce the release on December 29, 2020 of Primitive Mythology, the first title in a new hardcover edition of The Masks of God series. The first volume in Joseph Campbell’s monumental four-volume Masks of God series, originally published in 1959 and now revised with up-to-date science and new illustrations in this Collected Works of Joseph Campbell edition.

“[T]he mask in a primitive festival is revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical being that it represents — even though everyone knows that a man made the mask and that a man is wearing it. The one wearing it, furthermore, is identified with the god during the time of the ritual of which the mask is a part. He does not merely represent the god; he is the god.”
– Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology


This Week in Mythological Events

Origins of two faith traditions are honored on January 10: Rinzai Buddhists observe the Linji Memorial while Christians celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

Coming of age is also the theme in the Japanese celebration of Seijin-no-hi, January 11.

As the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Makara, millions of Hindus will take part in the harvest festival Makar Sankranti (January 14).

On the same date, Orthodox Christians celebrate New Year’s Day according to the Julian calendar.

Featured Audio

Weekly Quote

It’s one thing to get the old structure of the hero myth, but now they are pitching it out into the void, into space, where it’s possible to let the imagination go. You’re not bound to historical fact. You get bound to history, and then you lose the spirit. That’s the problem with the Bible; everything gets to be historical instead of spiritually activated.

Featured Video

Campbell in Culture

New Edition of Alan Watts Book Points to Campbell’s Influence

Featured Work

The Masks of God™ Volume 1: Primitive Mythology

In this first volume of The Masks of God, the world’s preeminent mythologist explores and illuminates the wellsprings of myth. Showing his exemplary combination of scholarly depth and popular enthusiasm, Joseph Campbell looks at the expressions of religious awe in early humans and their echoes in the rites of surviving primal tribes. Campbell shows how myth has informed our understanding of the world, seen and unseen, throughout time. As he explores and shares archetypal mythic images and practices, he also points to how these concepts inform our personal lives. Upon completing the monumental Masks of God series, Campbell found that his work affirmed “the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology, but also in its spiritual history.” He likened this unity to a symphony in which various parts create a “great movement.” Perhaps more than ever before, Campbell’s insight is not only illuminating but also inspiring.

Book Club

It’s only fitting that we launch the new year with this vivid, aching, hopeful book, The One Hundred Nights of Hero. This modern retelling of an ancient tale wades between the Now and Then with both ease and danger, gravity and humor. The mythic themes author Isabel Greenberg draws upon may launch with One Thousand and One Nights, but they span all corners of folklore and the human condition – most notably, love and sacrifice.”

– Gabrielle Basha
JCF Communications Coordinator

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