With the breakout success of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, I’ve seen more than a few folks asking “What even is a Mandalorian? Is it a race? A follower of a certain religion? Are you born a Mandalorian, or do you become one?”
The answer to all of these questions is…Yes. That is…depending on when on the greater Star Wars timeline you ask your question.
When Mandalorian Was a Race
A longer time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a race of beings called the Taung. They were initially residents of the planet Coruscant before they were driven from that planet by war. They spent some time on an Outer Rim planet called Roon before migrating to and conquering the planet they would name Mandalore after the Taung male who lead the effort: Mandalore the First.
Mandalore, or Mand’alor in the Taung’s native langauge, would go on to serve as a title for the leader of all Mandalorians.
The Taung make their first appearance in Star Wars canon in the Tales of the Jedi comics from Dark Horse as the Mandalorian race. They were not called “Taung” until a 2005 article in Star Wars Insider magazine entitled “The History of the Mandalorians.”
The Taung began accepting other species as Mandalorian around the time of the Great Sith Wars and the Mandalorian Wars as the number of Taung dwindled in the conflict. According to Wookiepedia:
This willing acceptance of beings from other species forever changed what it meant to be a Mandalorian, moving the word from simply another name for the Taung to an encompassing term for a single shared culture uniting many different beings.
In addition to aspects of their culture, the Taung are survived in modern Mandalorians by their armor–most specifically the distinctive helmet design. The shape resembles the facial features of a Taung including an angled brow line and a pointed chin.
Mandalorian as an Inclusive Culture
Species from all over the galaxy committed to the Mandalorian way of life embodied by the Resol’nare or Six Actions:
- Wearing Mandalorian armor
- Speaking Mando’a, the official Mandalorian language with origins with the Taung
- Defending oneself and family
- Raising any children in the Mandalorian way
- Contributing to general Mandalorian welfare
- Responding to the call of the Mand’alor
We’ve seen elements of Mando’s adherence to the Resol’nare over the course of the four episodes of The Mandalorian; most notably the rules regarding wearing his armor and his donating of portions of his bounties to the Foundlings (general welfare). The Resol’nare might well be “the way” referred to in the oft repeated “This is the way” of episode 3.
Many Mandalorians will not have ever even set foot on the planet Mandalore, but it remains to be seen if this is Mando’s case. During the brief flashbacks we’ve seen of his during his armor’s forging, we’re treated to scenes from the Clone Wars of which his parents appear to be casualties. The Siege of Mandalore was among the final battles of the Clone Wars, so it is at least possible that our Mando was raised on Mandalore.
We do get a clue in episode 4 of The Mandalorian when Mando is questioned by Omera regarding his helmet. He explains that he hasn’t shown his face to anyone since he was a child, saying further:
“I was happy that they took me in. My parents were killed and the Mandalorians took care of me.”S1E4, “Sanctuary”
So our boy Mando was not always a Mandalorian; that much is canonical fact. He became one. Mandalorians these days are made. It wasn’t always this way, but the Taung’s desire to preserve their culture despite their decline has opened the door for practically any species to become Mandalorian.
We have so much yet to learn about Mandalorians! Part of me really wants The Mandalorian to dig deep and present all sorts of amazing Mandalorian lore, and part of me totally digs the mystery that the lack of lore creates.
We’re certain to learn more about “the purge” I’d guess…but will we ever hear anything about the current Mand’alor? Will he or she put out a call that Mando and his crew have to respond to?
That feels a bit “bigger” than what The Mandalorian as a show is shooting for, but who knows?!
tl;dr: Mandalorian used to be a race of humanoids, but has evolved into an inclusive culture and religion of sorts.