At first glance, Jon Favreau's The Mandalorian appears to be a guns-blazing western set in Star Wars terrain. And make no mistake, for the most part, it is, ruminating over the bounty hunter landscape in the wake of The Return of the Jedi with the titular character hunting a mysterious prize.
But rather than just being a relentless action story revolving wholly around explosions and heists, the premiere episode continues an enduring theme in the universe George Lucas created a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
This is the theme of parenthood and lineage, which has been baked into the franchise for decades, starting with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. We first observed this with Luke Skywalker craving to follow in his hotshot father's footsteps as a pilot, and feeling like he missed out on life by also not knowing his mom. As time progressed, we'd also encounter this too with Anakin, whose lack of a father and experiencing the death of his mom helped fashion a dark destiny. In both cases alone, you can see how at-risk Force-sensitives could go astray without the right parents guiding them.
It's also been seen with Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as she waged war on the Empire for costing her both of her parents. But it also goes deeper than just missions of revenge: we saw how bad parenting from Palpatine turned Anakin into Darth Vader; Snoke's tutelage warped Ben Solo into Kylo Ren following parental neglect, and also how Boba Fett transformed into a killer to replace Jango in Attack of the Clones. Last but not least, in the new trilogy Rey's journey has been about her trying to discover more about her parents as well, thinking they're what made her the next Chosen One. So, exactly how does legacy and dynasty tie into The Mandalorian?
The mercenary played by Pedro Pascal is also a victim of a tragedy as a child, with a flashback showing members of his Mandalorian tribe being killed. It's all-out war as they're assaulted, seemingly depicting some of his family being shot down. He's even hidden in a scene evoking Rey being tucked away in The Force Awakens, and clearly this created PTSD that the hunter would live with for years to come.
It's why he has this code when he comes to the Mandalorian forge to melt the Beskar metal. He has the block turned into a shoulder pad with the forger revealing the excess will be used (and presumably sold) to aid "foundlings." It seems foundlings are orphans and/or runaways, and the hunter makes it clear he's very happy with this as he was a foundling too in the wake of this genocide. We don't know if it was enacted by the Empire or Rebels, but the killings imprinted on him since and put him on his path to collecting shady figures for money.
Through this act of benevolence, he's already adopted the role of a shadowy father-figure, wanting to ensure help is offered to kids like him. Most likely, his generosity and overall philanthropy is for them to not follow his path. He doesn't need any emotional connection to them, but this is his way of looking out for them from afar as a reluctant guardian, akin to old Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine looking after Luke. It even jogs memories of Qui-Gon Jinn looking out for Obi and Ani; Leia looking out for Rey, and the twisted Rule of Two the Sith have with the Master acting as a father.
Those may be more direct roles than the Mandalorian, who keeps his distance, but he's clearly an unofficial dad here. This comes full-circle at the end when he finds a toddler belonging to Yoda's species on his big mission. Rather than let IG-11 kill the baby, the hunter puts the droid down and as the descriptions for the next two episodes reveal, he'll be going on the lam with it. But the very end of this episode hints it's more than an asset to him.
He puts his finger out and the baby does the same, striking up a bond and giving a sentimental air to the otherwise cutthroat soldier. Rather than keeping it alive to collect more money, we can tell he feels the pain and loss of being an orphan and relates to the 50-year-old kid. He sees himself in this foundling and that's why he wants to keep it safe in a cold, cruel galaxy where too many kids get lost in the darkness once their families are taken out of the equation.
Created by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi, Werner Herzog and Nick Nolte. The first episode is streaming now on Disney+.