In 1949, Joseph Campbell published a book titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he discusses the myths of old and offers what he believes to be the synthesis of all great tales—the Monomyth, or The Hero’s Journey. According to Campbell, every story is defined by the protagonist’s trek through a “region of supernatural wonder”, a journey marked by 12 stages, beginning with the “ordinary world” and concluding with the “return with the elixir”. Applying this template to The Mandalorian reveals that its standoffs, shootouts, and explosions are undergirded by the drama of fatherhood. Din Djarin’s story tells us that it takes a hero to be a father, and a father to be a hero.
The Ordinary World and the Call to Adventure
Like most stories, The Mandalorian begins in the hero’s “ordinary world”. There, we meet Din Djarin, a cold-hearted bounty hunter clad entirely in steel, a remnant of the once-mighty Mandalore.
Before he ever utters a word, we witness our hero dispatch a gang of ruffians to approach a gilled man wanted for embezzlement. His target begs for mercy and offers a bribe, but Din Djarin is hopelessly unmoved. In a voice as steely as the blaster on his waist, he tells the man, “I can bring you in warm, or I can bring you in cold.” Upon returning to the bounty hunters’ guild, he hands over the criminal for a hefty pocket of change and immediately demands his next assignment.
This is his status quo, his ordinary world. A hardened professional, he jumps from planet to planet, restless to kill or capture for a price. No time to be had when there are bounties to claim, no room for emotion when on the hunt. There is so clearly a void in our hero’s life, and he wades against it with money and violence. This does not last.
On a highly lucrative mission, Din Djarin’s tracking fob leads him to a pod the size of a medicine ball and, in it, an alien toddler, cooing away.
The bounty droid he has partnered with promptly steps forward with murderous intent—it has been assigned by its contractors to terminate the asset. With the slightest hint of hesitation, Din Djarin shoots down the droid, and the cooing continues. This time, our hero steps forward. He stares, seemingly in wonder. Before him is the “call to adventure”, an invitation to step away from his ordinary world and onto a mysterious path, cutting through a “region of supernatural wonder”. Almost subconsciously, driven by some deeper instinct, he extends his finger towards the child. It responds in kind, and the journey begins. Fatherhood calls.
The Refusal, Mentor, and Threshold
According to Campbell, it is typical for a hero to initially refuse the call to adventure, and it is in this stage of the journey—the “refusal”—that their fears are communicated. Frodo refuses the trek to Mordor thinking it is beyond his hobbit self; the Mandalorian refuses fatherhood knowing he is poorly armed against its rigors. He rejects his slip of emotion and begins to return to the guild with his bounty secured.
However, he soon discovers that his ship has been stripped by Jawas, rendered immobile. With little choice, he turns to the only familiar face on the planet: Kuiil, who had earlier guided him through the region’s terrain.
Little does he know, this is whom Campbell would label the “mentor”, whose role it is to provide the hero with the insight they require to “cross the threshold”.
When Kuiil learns of our hero’s situation, he takes Din Djarin to the Jawas where it is negotiated that the stolen parts will be returned for a Mudhorn egg. Once the parts have been reclaimed, Kuiil once again offers his help and repairs the ship as if it were his own.
When it comes time to part ways, Din Djarin gratefully offers a portion of the bounty he is owed, but Kuiil firmly refuses. His kindness need not be reimbursed. As the mentor takes his leave, he tells our hero, “Good luck with the child. May it survive and bring you a handsome reward.”
And so the Mandalorian is left with a lesson in selflessness—a fundamental tenet of fatherhood. Kuiil’s parting words cannot be read at face value for he is hinting at the beauty in nurturing another. The handsome reward is not a bounty to be claimed.
All the same, the Mandalorian returns to the guild and hands over the child for a camtono of beskar. Back to business. He finds his next job, starts his ship, and punches in the coordinates. He then notices that the top of his lever—a steel ball—has been screwed off. Din Djarin realizes it must have been the child, and the seed of kindness deep within him begins to stir. Silent contemplation ensues. Then, with speed and determination, our hero powers down his ship and “crosses the threshold”. Bounties can wait. Fatherhood calls.
Trials and Tribulations
Upon crossing the threshold, every hero is met with “trials and tribulations”. This forms the meat of their story—the labors of Hercules, Harry’s war with Voldemort, Othello’s psychological turmoil.
For the Mandalorian, his trials concern fatherhood, the first of which tests what may be a father’s most basic function: protect at all costs.
After Din Djarin rescues the child from what would have likely been a gruesome fate, the bounty hunters’ guild surrounds him; Din Djarin must pay for his flagrant breach of contract. As they stand on the deserted street, the tension quickly grows thick, trigger fingers itching. Before he lets his men loose, the guild’s ringleader gives Din Djarin a chance to walk away unscathed. He tells him, “You put the bounty down, and perhaps I’ll let you pass.”
This should be tempting, but our hero is not who he once was. He has someone to protect. He walks to the side, feigns surrender, then begins a vicious firefight though he is hopelessly outnumbered. Just when all seems lost, his fellow Mandalorians enter the fray, allowing Din Djarin to escape with the child.
Then, out in the cosmos, come the less dramatic ordeals. Keeping the child from the ship’s controls, having it stay in one place, figuring out what it should and shouldn’t eat—the everyday struggles of being a parent.
Through these mundane moments, the Mandalorian’s kindness and patience grow, his bond with Grogu strengthens, and he delves deeper into fatherhood until he approaches its “innermost cave”, explained by Campbell to be where the hero is forced to contend with the personal intricacies of his journey.
The Innermost Cave
On a mission gone wrong, the child is captured by Imperial remnants led by the villain Moff Gideon. Din Djarin and his allies quickly jump to its rescue, and with Kuiil’s sacrifice, they succeed. Before they can make their getaway, our hero is critically injured by an explosion and left bleeding out of his helmet. This is not an issue for Din Djarin—his time as a father has prepared him for death. But he is not yet ready to betray himself.
As his allies look for an escape into the underground vents, a fellow bounty hunter attempts to remove his helmet to treat his wound. Instinctively, Din Djarin stops her. He cannot have his face seen by any living thing—it goes against the Mandalorian creed, the teachings of which saved him as an orphan. The innermost cave forces him to understand that he is yet an individual, and that even a father has beliefs of his own to protect, a life to see to its end. Though his death will undoubtedly jeopardize the child, there are nevertheless vows he must keep. Accepting this to be his end, he implores his allies to leave him behind.
When everyone has left, a droid arrives to nurse our hero back to health. As soon as it reaches for his helmet, Din Djarin points his blaster to its head and threatens to shoot. The droid responds with a simple truth: “I am not a living thing.” Unable to argue, Din Djarin reluctantly accepts its help. Once he is healed, he follows the others underground and is reunited with the child—a happy ending, albeit temporary. The “supreme ordeal” awaits.
The Supreme Ordeal
Following his run-in with Moff Gideon, it becomes Din Djarin’s mission to return the child to its kind. This eventually brings him to Ahsoka Tano, a Jedi who reveals the child to be named Grogu, and directs the two to the Seeing Stone on the planet Tython. There, Grogu can communicate through the Force to hopefully reach a Jedi willing to be his master.
Within minutes of arriving at the stone, trouble ensues; Gideon’s forces rain down on our hero, and Grogu is taken captive once more. Din Djarin calls his trusty allies, but the plan this time is not as simple—they have no idea where Moff Gideon has taken Grogu. To know, they must access a terminal on an Imperial base, disguised as Imperial troopers.
Din Djarin arrives at the terminal by the skin of his teeth, but it is there he faces his supreme ordeal: the terminal can only be accessed with a scan of the user’s face. Din Djarin must remove his helmet in the presence of breathing, living Imperial troopers.
This is a dilemma. The innermost cave and his brush with death proved that the Mandalorian creed is sacred to our hero. He would rather die than betray his faith, so what could hope to trump its significance? What is there that could bend this resolve, tempered since childhood? The supreme ordeal pits Din Djarin against himself, the Mandalorian against the father.
But our hero does not waver. The creed is sacred, but Grogu is everything. With the same determination with which he crossed the threshold, Din Djarin removes his helmet, and the Mandalorian bows before a father’s love.
Din Djarin’s resolve grants him Gideon’s location where a ferocious battle is waged. Up against the bleeding edge of military tech, our heroes come dangerously close to defeat, but with unexpected help from the Jedi Luke Skywalker, Grogu is saved. There is much to be celebrated, but the conclusion of our hero’s journey falls on an unexpectedly melancholic note.
The Final Stages
Campbell explains that the final stages of the journey begin with the “reward”, in which the hero attains the fruits of their struggle. Once they have enjoyed a moment of respite, they recommit to their journey and embark on the “road back” to their ordinary world. Somewhere along the way, they face a final test and their triumph leads to their “resurrection”—they are transformed or born anew.
For Din Djarin, these stages are not so chronological nor are they to be savored. Moff Gideon’s defeat means Grogu is safe, but the “reward” is something more, something harder to accept. In front of Din Djarin and Grogu stands Luke Skywalker, a Jedi Master. This is who they have been searching for. Suddenly, the next two stages of our hero’s journey merge into one as Din Djarin understands that the road back for Grogu is not with him. Grogu belongs with the Jedi.
When Luke Skywalker beckons Grogu to come, the child stands still and looks towards his father. Din Djarin tells the Jedi, “He doesn’t want to go with you.” He wants this to be true.
The Jedi corrects him, “He wants your permission.”
He continues, “He is strong with the Force, but talent without training is nothing. I will give my life to protect the child, but he will not be safe until he masters his abilities.”
This is all a father needs to hear. It tears Din Djarin apart, but he lifts Grogu into his arms and carries him as slowly as he can to the Jedi, buying time for someone to change their mind. As Din Djarin struggles to say goodbye, Grogu touches his helmet, and asks to see who is under the armor—a pointless request. Grogu is safe. He will have a home. The mission is complete. There is no reason for Din Djarin to break the creed a second time. But for Grogu, anything. For Grogu, the world. In a defining moment of tenderness, our hero lifts his helmet and reveals his face, wracked with pain only a father can know. With this, he tells his child, “All right, pal. It’s time to go.”
When Grogu whines, pleading to stay, Din Djarin replies, “Don’t be afraid,” in a voice not half as brave as he would like it to be. The shakiness in his voice, however, is proof of his “resurrection”, and the tears in his eyes say the hardened professional is no more. The void is gone. Din Djarin now has someone to live for—to feel for.
In a whirlwind of emotions, our hero arrives at the final stage of his journey: “the return with the elixir”. The curtains close as the Mandalorian watches Grogu leave his side, nursing an ache greater than that of bullet wounds. Our hero has come a long way, and discovered a warmth within himself he never knew he had. All that is left is for him to return to his world a better man, privy to the beauty in nurturing another.
Fathers Are Heroes
In the introduction to the 2004 edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Clarissa Pinkola Estés explains what she believes to be the “underlayment of mythos”, that stories are a figment of the soul and its love. She writes:
“Most persons who have been through hell of various kinds—war, massacre, assault, torture, profound sorrows, will tell that, even though they still feel sick with the weight of it all, and perhaps also ill with regrets of one kind or another—they are nevertheless learning how to swim strong to reach the able raft of the soul… And most who have been so deeply harmed will tell you that, all the while they are swimming, they feel their own soul is rowing toward them with the strongest, deepest of strokes that can only come from One who loves without limits.”
Estés points to what makes The Mandalorian so compelling. The “supernatural wonders” of the story is not the Force or hyperspace. It is love without limits, the journey it takes to foster this love and the transformation it entails. This is why the most dramatic scene of the show is also the most mundane. Removing a helmet brings us to tears because it captures Din Djarin’s swim towards the raft. Against the pull of the void, he trudges towards his soul, driven by a father’s love, emboldened as the ego withers away.
And this is precisely what makes Din Djarin’s journey that of a hero. Fatherhood draws from an individual, no matter how broken or closed off, their latent powers, and ignites a flame they never knew they could harbor. It drives them headfirst into the greatest of dangers for someone smaller and entirely helpless, fostering a kindness that need not be repaid. The Mandalorian says that it is through fatherhood one attains the qualities of a hero: strength, courage, selflessness, unwavering resolve. Handsome rewards indeed.