June 12, 2020


Out of Apathy: The Transcendence of Morality in The Mandalorian (K. B. Hoyle, 12/10/19, Christ and Pop Culture)

But the idea of non-essentiality is a lie, as no one is ever nonessential. If we view ourselves this way, it can be easy to believe that our actions don't impact anything or anyone outside our immediate sphere. Right and wrong become a matter of daily survival--choices that would have great impact if we were anyone of "importance" feel truly subjective. There is a futility to life on the edges and the graying of morality that accompanies it. Those of us regular folk feel this futility in our supposed inability to impact major, national, or world events. It feels futile to watch things like a Kurdish genocide play out on TV--or even a national election. When we believe the lie that we don't matter, then we may be tempted into morally gray areas, too. We may seek only our good, preserve and protect only our own, act in ways, pray in ways, think in ways apathetic to the world around us. What will, or can, snap us out of this apathy?

For the Mandalorian, it comes in the form of a baby.

The Mandalorian follows a traditional formula. Once upon a time there was a Mandalorian bounty hunter. Every day he collected bounties and turned them in for profit. One day, his bounty was a child, and when he saw the child, everything changed...

When Baby Yoda drops into his lap as a bounty, we get the idea that this child is more traditionally "essential," but we are not told why any more than the Mandalorian is. In this regard, what becomes the most important thing about our title character's life is very unlike any of the other Star Wars stories in that we don't know what it is that makes the catalyst or the story that surrounds it special. Our non-traditional, non-essential antihero must decide to move from moral apathy to moral integrity without any special knowledge of the child-catalyst to propel him to do so, and this is so important for the sort of story they are telling. In episode three, at the formulaic turn, we see a heart change, a conviction. The Mandalorian has his conscience pricked by some innate sense that it is not right to give over a child to death, and it is because of this that he moves out of moral apathy into sacrificial action, betraying himself for the sake of another for (we're given to believe) the first time ever.

By his actions, he acknowledges that right and wrong are not subjective to his personal needs and his Mandalorian religion, but that they transcend both. He places another life ahead of his own for no real reason we know of other than a sense of moral compulsion.

And taking this step out of moral apathy has a compounding effect. Protecting one life in episode three leads to the protection of a community in episode four. We see how, as C. S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, "Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance." An active decision to acknowledge the transcendence of right and wrong moves the Mandalorian into community, into relationship with others. His obedience to a new moral standard will be tested again and again, as we see not only in episode four, but also in episode five where--when he steps back into the moral gray to earn some money--he suffers betrayal, enmity, isolation, and nearly loses the child he has chosen to protect.

The culture wars are a rout.
Posted by at June 12, 2020 7:50 AM