The students emerged from the rain on Wednesday evening as they entered Corbett Family Hall.
They sat down for a discussion on the consequences of sin and the cycle of life, as well as heroes, myths and beliefs. The details of the conversation were all based on episodes of the Disney+ “Space Western” series “The Mandalorian.” The discussion was intercut with dramatic clips of the show projected onto the screen.
The series, which is set in the “Star Wars” universe and originally premiered in late 2019, is the subject of a one-credit course called “Unmasking The Way: Theology of and For The Mandalorian.” The show centers on a titular bounty hunter, still cloaked in armor, and his pursuit to protect a child who fans nicknamed “Baby Yoda”.
Prof. Kevin Sandberg, CSC, assistant professor at the Center for University Advising and priest-in-residence at St. Edward’s Hall, teaches the class.
Sandberg said the inspiration for the course came during the pandemic.
“Everyone wore a mask, and there were hidden things about people that you wanted to know and wanted to disclose. And the mask struck me as a barrier to that as much as it was a barrier to disease,” Sandberg said. “At the same time I started seeing ‘The Mandalorian’ and I, like a lot of people, fell in love with Baby Yoda as he was then called and I recognize that there was this immediate connection between this child innocent and this man who, all his adult life, had been masked.
Luke Blazek, a sophomore at Pangborn Hall, said he identifies as a “huge ‘Star Wars’ fan”. Blazek said he took the course because having watched the series more than once before the course, he felt there was something more to the series.
“The level of complexity involved in the show; there’s so much more than your basic TV show and so I’ve always felt like there’s so much more to ‘The Mandalorian,'” Blazek said. “When I came across a course like this, it seemed to me that it formally dissected the hidden elements of the show and then brought them to light…there were a lot of theological themes.”
In addition to watching the first two seasons of “The Mandalorian” and its spin-off series “The Book of Boba Fett,” students in the class read CS Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces,” a retelling of the ancient Cupid mythos. and Psyche. Later, they will read “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor, a short story that asks questions about salvation and divine grace.
Kameron Hussey, a sophomore at Welsh Family Hall, said she’s always been interested in how theology connects to the wider world, but unlike Blazke, Hussey said she never seen the series before enrolling in this class.
“I never attributed ‘Star Wars’ to anything religious, so I thought [the class] would be a good opportunity to find connections within a new form of culture that I’m not too familiar with, but I think it provides a lot of good information,” Hussey said.
Although “The Mandalorian” may seem like a strange avenue for theological conversations, many have explicit religious themes identified and applauded in the series. Sandberg said he felt the same way, drawing parallels to key concepts in the Christian religion.
“What struck me as theological early on was that an innocent child was to be slaughtered and otherwise saved and rescued from the clutches of evil, that is, the story of the nativity of Jesus” , Sandberg said. He also identified a battle between good and evil in the series.
“You can see it in ‘Harry Potter.’ [Good and evil] becomes the ground on which the battle between Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort is executed. And similarly with Baby Yoda, he becomes a vehicle for evil to reassert itself,” Sandberg added. “The potential for good that is in The Mandalorian, for example, must be activated to prevent that evil from happening.”
These themes are even more explicit in the names of the series episodesSandberg said.
“If you look at the episode titles of ‘The Mandalorian,’ they are full of religious imagery: the child, the sin, the sanctuary, the redemption,” he said.
During the course’s ten meetings, students will prepare a storyboard project, in which they will present their storyboards for the next episode of The Mandalorian.
Sandberg hopes the class can go beyond an academic pursuit for the correct answer.
“A lot of students want to have the right answer. But this is not the correct answer. It’s ultimately about ‘what am I going to do with my life in such a clash of forces like good and evil?’ “, did he declare.
Sandberg said the University teaches students to be a force for good, in line with Pr. Edward Sorin’s famous letter but may fail in teaching this lesson.
“No one defines good and I think it behooves the faculty particularly, but also from a religious perspective, to point out that where we end up fighting for good is when it collides to evil, and we forget how much evil there is in the world until we cross [events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine]”Sandberg said. “And certainly isn’t that something that’s written big into the narrative of ‘Star Wars’?