In 1980, Star Wars audiences were first introduced to the idea of Mandalorians by way of the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. He was an instant fan favorite. However, only those who were invested enough to be members of the official Star Wars fan club newsletter, Bantha Tracks, would have known Fett was from Mandalore (or was said to be at the time, at least). In 1979, Lucasfilm had released a tantalizing tidbit about Boba Fett to their most dedicated fans. In an interesting peek behind the curtain at how fluid Mandalore’s backstory was, Bantha Tracks described its people as “Imperial Shocktroopers” from a bygone era. The phrase “Mandalorian” wouldn’t show up until the Dark Horse comics, now part of Lucasfilm’s Legends line.
From this paper-thin premise, Mandalorians evolved from evil warriors to one of the most complex societies in the Star Wars galaxy. They successfully carved out a vast network of 1000 worlds across multiple star systems. Mandalorians bound themselves together as a multi-species cultural bound together by a code of honor. Such an eclectic mix transformed Mandalorian politics into one divided up into clan-based factions. But despite constant in-fighting, the Mandalorians managed to successfully fight an ancient war of attrition against the Jedi, all without comparable Force abilities. Their mysterious origin, their advanced Jedi-specific war technology, and their outsider status in the war between the Galactic Republic and the Empire make the people of Mandalore one the most interesting wild cards at Lucasfilm’s disposal.
All of Mandalore’s web of allegiances and double-crosses came to a head in the final arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which wrapped up, appropriately enough, on May the 4th on Disney+. Opposing clans battling for the heart of their culture teamed up with either a former Jedi, in the form of Ahsoka Tano, or a former Sith, Maul. The siege of Mandalore was the culmination of centuries of bad blood, suspicion, and fair-weather friendship. It was a path the ancestors of Mandalore would have recoiled from. Perhaps with good reason. For by exploiting the war between the Jedi and the Sith for their own gains — sometimes with the best of intentions — Mandalore also invited in their utter destruction.
ANCIENT JEDI KILLERS
From their first step onto the stage of fictional history, Mandalorians have been at war. They battled amongst themselves on their native Mandalore. Eventually, their warrior society looked to conquer other star systems and the Mandalorian Crusaders were born. For centuries, Mandalorian Space was ravaged by constant battle. Planets like Krownest fell and became the seats of powerful clans, their original histories forgotten. Other planets like Concord were quite literally shattered by the strain of the fight. But eventually, every warpath finds its end. For the Crusaders, the path ended at the doorstep of the Jedi Order.
Lucasfilm has yet to canonize where Mandalorians and Jedi Knights first laid eyes on one another, though characters have referred to multiple historical clashes between the two groups dating back over a millennium. Regardless of the exact series of events, the Crusaders were initially taken by surprise when their enemy utilized powers that were beyond the scope of Mandalorian understanding. Through trial-and-error and overwhelming numbers, the Mandalorians tailored their tools and tactics to defeating Force-users. The forged their armor of beskar, a rare metal that can deflect a lightsaber blow. To keep distance between their troops and death by lightsaber, Mandalorians deployed with a variety of ranged weaponry. Homing missiles made of explosives and beskar, flamethrowers, grappling hooks, sonic repulsers, electro-whips, and poison darts were all standard equipment. There was also the infamous disintegrator ray, which The Mandalorian showcased. A recent Star Wars comic even gave a nod to Legends weapons, with Obi-Wan warning a young Anakin that slugthrowers (traditional bullets) are difficult for a Jedi to deflect, as the heat of a lightsaber would melt the projectile and spew hot metal droplets everywhere.
Once a Jedi got within melee range, Mandalorian art indicates the Crusaders were equipped with some type of sword. In order to withstand clashing with a lightsaber, it stands to reason the swords were a specialized type of beskar, perhaps infused kyber, though that has not yet been confirmed within the lore.
Of course, the Mandalorians did not always kill their Jedi foe. In the penultimate episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Bo-Katan dredged up an ancient piece of Mandalorian technology to keep Maul imprisoned. While the container was visually similar to carbonite freezing chambers, the coffin-like device was created specifically to transport captured Force-wielders. Bo-Katan referred to it as a relic of a bygone time. The containment interior bears a striking resemblance to the Sith technology on Malachor that was responsible for vaporizing every Force-user within its range. While Mandalore did ally with the Sith in Legends, this is the first hint of a potential ancient alliance within the new canon. The Force-wielder prison was also covered in Mandalorian cubist art, with a prominent character holding what looks to be a lightsaber in the center.
WAR. WAR NEVER CHANGES.
By the time of The Clone Wars, innumerable centuries of war had left a devastating mark on Mandalore’s people. As a Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi helped protect the future Duchess of Mandalore — Satine Kryze — during a brutal civil war between different clans. The death toll was so high that even the Mandalorians were unable to stomach it, leading to the rise of the pacifist New Mandalorians. With their home planet reduced to inhospitable desert, the New Mandalorians ruled from inside their bio-cube megacities under the reign of Duchess Satine for over a decade. But old habits die hard, and civil war would once again come to Mandalore.
In the second season of The Clone Wars, things came to a head when the defeated faction of the Mandalorians known as Death Watch made a deal with Count Dooku to depose Duchess Satine and restore Mandalore to its former warrior glory. Led by Pre Vizsla of Clan Vizsla from the Mandalorian forest moon of Concordia, Death Watch staged an unsuccessful coup that was thwarted by Master Kenobi. That narrative arc was the first time audiences saw the black-bladed Darksaber, an ancient relic of Clan Vizsla and a symbol of patriotism to all Mandalorians.
After their defeat, Death Watch was exiled and there they may have stayed had they not come across the path of Darth Maul and Savage Oppress. Underestimating his ability to control the situation, Pre Vizsla bonded with the Dathomirian brothers over their shared hatred for Obi-Wan Kenobi. He and his second in command Bo-Katan Kryze believed they could use Maul’s hatred to successfully take control of Mandalore and end the unnatural pacificist rule. They were half-correct. With Darth Maul and Savage Oppress as their allies, Death Watch succeeded in a bloodless coup by making it appear as if Death Watch was heroically putting down criminal elements where Duchess Satine’s regime had failed. Unfortunately, as soon as they won, Darth Maul turned on Pre Vizsla, decapitating him in a duel and taking the Darksaber for his own. Horrified, Bo-Katan denounced Maul. Death Watch was split, with those who joined Bo-Katan returning to the title of Nite Owls. Bo-Katan’s belated defection was made all the more painful when Maul murdered her sister, Duchess Satine.
The ongoing war would keep right on rolling along. When Darth Maul lost his duel with Darth Sidious and was captured, Mandalore’s Prime Minister Almec orchestrated Maul’s escape. As the installed puppet leader of Mandalore, Almec needed Maul in order to maintain his power base. In the final season of The Clone Wars, the combined forces of Bo-Katan and the Galactic Republic laid siege to Mandalore, deposing Almec and capturing Darth Maul. While it looked as if Bo-Katan Kryze would assume leadership as Regent, but it was not to be. Within hours of the end of the Mandalorian siege, Order 66 was activated. With so many Clonetroopers already on Mandalore, the planet fell to the Empire. The details have yet to be hashed out, but one of Darth Maul’s loyal and ruthless Mandalorian guards ended up as the new Governor of Mandalore. Gar Saxon would rule his people for several decades as a proxy for the Emperor, trusted enough to make unilateral decisions on behalf of Palpatine has his “Hand.”
By the time of Star Wars Rebels, many Mandalorians had grown restless under the thumb of Gar Saxon and the Empire. After discovering the Darksaber on Mandalore, Sabine and the rest of the crew of the Ghost traveled to the House seat of Clan Wren. Sabine hoped the reappearance of the ancient relic might restore hope to her people and help foment rebellion against the Imperial loyalist clans. In a quickly shuffling game of allegiances, Clan Wren’s matriarch Ursa — Sabine’s mother — turned her own child in for treason to Clan Saxon. When Gar Saxon ordered the whole clan executed for guilt by association, Sabine saved her mother’s life. In return, Ursa Wren shot and killed Gar Saxon as he attempted to murder Sabine. With a massive vacuum in power suddenly opening up, Mandalore was once again thrown into civil war. This time it would end with Bo-Katan’s forces showing up at the opportune moment to tip the balance in favor of the Rebels. With the Imperial forces routed, Sabine offered up the Darksaber to Lady Bo-Katan Kryze, who became the Mand’alor — the leader of all Mandalorians, uniting them as one clan for the first time in centuries.
From there, the timeline of Mandalore goes dark for a decade. The stage fades to black in 1 BBY with Mandalore under Bo-Katan’s rule. When the lights come back up in 9 ABY, it is to the world inhabited by The Mandalorian. Somewhere in those intervening years, Emperor Palpatine retaliated against Mandalore in an event known as the Great Purge. Based on similar purges of the Jedi Order and the Witches of Dathomir, other groups Palpatine saw as a threat to his power, one might conclude nearly all Mandalorians were slaughtered in the cataclysm. With the advent of the Death Star during the same time period, it’s possible a previous Imperial superweapon designed to disintegrate Mandalorian armor may have been upgraded for maximum destruction. As of this writing, it is unknown if Bo-Katan Kryze or her nephew Korkie Kryze survived. What we do know is at some point, the Darksaber changed hands once again, ending up in the possession of Moff Gideon.
A LIGHTSABER BY ANY OTHER NAME CUTS JUST AS DEEP
There are several constant threads woven throughout Mandalorian history. An abiding distrust of the Jedi, an intense pride in their battle tactics and weapons ingenuity, and the Darksaber. That these three things are intricately connected is not a coincidence. The Darksaber has its origins in an aberration: a Mandalorian Jedi.
According to Mandalorian legend, over a thousand years before the events of Star Wars Rebels, a boy named Tarre Vizsla was born. He would become the first — and as of this writing, only — Jedi from Mandalore. At some point, Tarre created the Darksaber, a one-of-a-kind weapon through unknown means. Mandalorian history glossed over the next part of Tarre Vizsla’s story, which saw him as the leader of all Mandalorians: the Mand’alor. Uniting his people as one clan, Tarre Vizsla ushered in an age of prosperity. Upon his death, the Jedi Order took the Darksaber to Coruscant where it remained until the fall of the Old Republic. At that time, Clan Vizsla broke into the Jedi Temple and stole the Darksaber back. Its return once again heralded an age of unification for the vast array of Mandalorian people. Tarre Vizsla is remembered through art on Mandalore, including a massive sculpture in his likeness.
The problem with the legend of Tarre Vizsla is how fractured it is. There is a tantalizing story hiding just beneath the surface. When not in the midst of a Galactic War, the Jedi Order typically recruited from the cradle. Nearly all younglings joined up before they were capable of forming memories. In the time of the Galactic Republic, blood tests in hospitals to test for midichlorian counts were typical, with the list of Force-sensitive infants kept in a Holocron at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant for safe-keeping. Recent comics have hinted that in ancient days, Jedi might not have exactly asked permission before inducting younglings into the Order.
Contrast that uncomfortable knowledge with the concept of the foundlings in The Mandalorian. In Mandalorian culture, the safety of children is paramount. It is dishonorable to abandon a child in need. Foundlings are to be guarded at all costs until they can either be returned to their parents or become a Mandalorian by proxy. The idea that Clan Vizsla would offer up their son to their ancient enemy — the Jedi — stretches credulity. This leaves the possibility that Tarre Vizsla did not join the ranks of the Jedi willingly, whether he knew it or not.
Viewed through that lens, the latter part of Tarre Vizsla’s life makes more sense. The final test for any Jedi youngling was to build their own lightsaber. Those who pass graduated to the rank of Padawan; those that fail were sent to the Tower of Reconciliation to join another area of service to the Order. That Tarre Vizsla created the Darksaber shows he had the skill and raw power. But Jedi don’t defect. They certainly don’t show up on their home planet wielding a lightsaber radiating with glow of the void. It would seem at some point Tarre Vizsla grew disillusioned with his Jedi brethren. Based on the Jedi confiscating the Darksaber upon Tarre’s death and locking it in the Jedi Temple for centuries, it would appear he did not leave under congenial terms. But what kind of weapon would the Jedi fear so much that they would hide it under a lock and key? Again, The Mandalorian may provide a clue. Throughout the series, the rare metal beskar is closely tied to Mandalorian culture. Able to withstand a blow from a lightsaber, it’s no wonder Palpatine had it all confiscated and melted down. But the bars of beskar have a familiar hue: obsidian with whorls of white. Is it possible Tarre Vizsla managed to fuse his kyber crystal with beskar? If so, that might explain why characters keep calling it a “powerful” weapon, as well as its instability. As of this writing, the Darksaber is the only lightsaber that reacts to the emotional state of its wielder, flickering and becoming more erratic in response to fear and anger.
All that alone would make Tarre Vizsla the most interesting Jedi in history. But with Lucasfilm priming the pump to reintroduce fan-favorite Revan back into canon, Tarre Vizsla becomes a possible vehicle for Revan’s return. In Legends, the Jedi Revan was deeply tied to Mandalore. It would be a natural evolution to simply have the man be Mandalorian. The narrative parallels between the two men overlay nicely. Revan began life as a Jedi who asked too many questions and wanted to know too many things. He fell from grace, abandoning the Jedi and eventually succumbing to the Dark Side. As Darth Revan, he fought the Jedi on behalf of the Sith Emperor, before being redeemed in his final moments. A small reconfiguration could easily turn Revan’s story into one of discovering a complex betrayal and subsequent casting off of is Jedi title for that of his homeworld. Perhaps while being manipulated by the Sith Emperor, who may or may not have been Palpatine this entire time. Regardless, audiences haven’t seen the last of Tarre Vizsla and the origins of the Darksaber.
THE FUTURE OF MANDALORE
As Lucasfilm moves into the next phase of Star Wars storytelling, what twists are in store for the Mandalorians? How does culture survive something called the Great Purge? The Mandalorian shows an interesting road ahead. With their people hunted even in the chaos after Palpatine’s “death,” oral traditions have taken on crucial meaning. The strict code of conduct (masks must never be taken off, only one Mandalorian can be seen aboveground at once), the formal ritualism of beskar armor production, the knee-jerk distrust and mythologicalization of the Jedi, and the broad policy of accepting any orphan as one of their own blend survivalist pragmatism with thousands of years of culture.
The real question becomes how indicative of Mandalore as a whole are the clan from The Mandalorian? Mando himself was rescued by Death Watch as a child. Is The Armoror an extremist survivor from that warrior group? Are their strict rules widespread or contained simply to this faction? The answers are still months away, but fans can look forward to knowing how in the wide, war-weary galaxy this ancient society of survivors fits in.