After the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Darksaber and the meaning behind leadership over Mandalorians. The Darksaber is a symbol of leadership for the Mandalorian people, if you have ownership of the weapon you have the strength to rule. But what comes with this burden of strength and how should ownership come to be? That seems to be the big question.
When The New Mandalorians rule with pacifist ideals, Pre Vizsla the leader of Death Watch and owner of The Darksaber, aims to retake Mandalore and return it to its warrior ways. He accomplishes this with the aid of Maul, but Vizsla wants to maintain strength over all so he imprisons him. In retaliation, Maul wants to prove his strength. Almec tells him if he defeats Vizsla in combat then by the honor customs of their ancient laws, Maul would hold leadership over the people. Maul defeats Vizsla, and before Maul ends his life, Vizsla repeats what Maul says before their duel, a line I want to focus on,
“Only the strongest shall rule”
What makes someone the strongest to rule? Winning a duel to claim the Darksaber and lead seems all that’s required at first, but I believe there’s more related to challenging “the way” and tying into their value of strength in different ways.
From the beginning, we’ve seen tradition challenged. While Death Watch aims to uphold their ancient warrior ways and Maul wins the duel, Bo Katan and others deny his leadership as “no outsider shall rule”. Even though Maul proved his physical strength, Bo emphasizes her belief that Maul not being Mandalorian will divide the people. Strength in unification is important to her; her challenging the custom shows that.
“Maul used it to divide and conquer our people. You can wield it to do the opposite.”
Sabine also challenges the traditional way. When she finds the Darksaber, she does not win it in a duel she just takes it. Many see this as the primary reason for future events because it’s where the chain breaks. Despite this, a lot of Sabine’s journey reflects the customary value of strength.
For Sabine, the Darksaber is a reminder of her past, her mistakes. The hurt she put her people through and the actions that hurt her. With it, she must acknowledge her trauma and face her past and family.
“I just don’t want everything that comes with it.”
“You mean your family?”
“I’m a disgrace to them, Ezra. A Traitor.”
“But that’s not true.”
“To them it is, you don’t know. No one does.”
Unaware of the Empire’s intentions, Sabine created a weapon they used against her people. When she destroyed it and spoke out against The Empire, her family still joined them out of fear. Sabine was left alone to face her sins, but in her training with the Darksaber she shows her strength as she acknowledges her trauma, the pain she held in for so long, and afterwards, goes back to face everything.
Sabine also proves her physical strength in a duel with Gar Saxon. She wins and asks him to yield, but Saxon says he’ll never yield and that she’ll have to kill him. Sabine responds, “That may be the Mandalorian way, but it’s not my way. Not anymore.”.
While Sabine demonstrates a lot of strength and does follow the customs of her people, she is still willing to challenge them based on her personal values. The end follows that path as Ursa strays from the traditional way by killing Saxon when he puts her daughter’s life at risk. As Kanan says, “Are your customs more important than the life of your daughter?”. They challenge the customs to preserve their values and what they see as best for the future.
“Perahs Mandalore needs chaos if it is to become strong once again. And so that we may find a leader worthy of our people.”
In Rebels, from the moment The Darksaber is introduced, emphasis is placed on how the physical fighting is not the most important aspect especially at a time like this when Mandalorians are divided because of The Empire. As Fenn Rau says,
“The combat training is not as important as what that blade represents.”
Sabine continues to prioritize this. When her mother says that the Darksaber is only a symbol, Sabine says, “Yeah, a symbol that’s united all Mandalorians in the past.” While there are diversions from tradition, we still see Sabine’s strength and determination to help her people. She doesn’t see herself as Mandalore’s leader, but she’s still determined to find a “strong leader” who can help her people.
“No this was about my family. I’m not Mandalore’s leader. But I’ll find the person who is.”
Now, we reach a moment that had people confused when watching the Season Two finale of The Mandalorian. In Rebels, Sabine passes the Darksaber to Bo Katan without a duel. But when Din attempts to do this in The Mandalorian, Bo does not follow through and Gideon places an emphasis on it needing to happen the traditional way.
After winning a duel, Din takes Gideon and the Darksaber to the bridge where Bo Katan is. Gideon informs Din that the Darksaber is his and Bo should kill him to take it for herself. Din says he yields and offers Bo the saber, but Gideon tells him it must be won in a duel saying she can’t take it because,
“The Darksaber doesn’t have power. the story does.”
So what has the story told us? We’ve seen a duel is key to gaining the Darksaber according to traditional Mandalorian customs, but we’ve also seen tradition challenged and strength valued in different ways. Mandalorians have been through so much and it all impacts the way things go and the choices made.
The first time Sabine offers Bo Katan, the Darksaber she doesn’t take it. Bo has every chance to tell Sabine that she won’t accept the saber because she has not earned it in combat, but she doesn’t. It’s not her strength in a fight that holds her back, but rather her strength of leadership. “I’m not her sister.” While Satine didn’t follow their warrior ways, Bo still saw value in Satine’s ruling strength. “I had my chance to rule and I failed.” Bo was unable to maintain a leadership position. When she refused to follow Palpatine, she wasn’t able to keep her people united. They became divided as some Mandalorians joined the Empire while others scattered. Because of this, Bo struggles with whether she’ll be capable of unifying Mandalorians under her leadership.
While we see Bo in action, her true strength in these episodes comes from the words of wisdom she passes onto others and her drive to keep people united.
“It’s time to prove your loyalty. Not just to your family but to all of Mandalore.”
The Empire reconstructs Sabine’s weapon, so she has to face that part of her past. Mandalorians threaten Sabine because of her past actions. Instead of letting violence break out, Sabine takes ownership of her actions, acknowledging not only what she did but her determination to fix things. Bo amplifies Sabine’s words, emphasizing the importance of fighting the Empire instead of each other and how Sabine can help.
When Sabine takes her pain out on the Empire turning the weapon against them, Bo reminds her that they shouldn’t act like them,
“Will the future of Mandalore be one of honor or cowardice. Hope Or fear? The choice is yours.”
With Bo’s guidance, Sabine chooses to destroy the weapon, not allowing herself to fall prey to winning with fear. Sabine overcomes her past by facing it and choosing a path that is not one dictated by the Empire but by her and her people.
While from the beginning, Sabine hears of Bo’s legacy and dedication, seeing Bo’s wisdom she passes onto everyone, her determination to keep Mandalorians united, and her thoughtfulness in choices for the people showcases her strength as a leader. Sabine sees the ruler she has been seeking. Even though Sabine does not duel with Bo Katan, Sabine values other qualities of strength, and she believes these will help the people most.
“Once upon a time these plains were covered with grass, but I never saw it.”
Sabine sees the destruction caused by the wars of her people. She understands the importance of a Mandalorain’s strength in combat, but she also sees just how important it is for a leader to be able unify the people to prevent further destruction. Sabine recognizes what happened with her family choosing the Empire out of fear even after she spoke out. While she’s strong, faced her past, and values the future of her people, she believes she is not the person who’ll be able to unify and stop fear of the Empire from dividing them. She recognizes Bo as capable of doing that. She is the strong leader she seeks.
Sabine is able to assure Bo of the wisdom and guidance she saw her pass on. Bo is shown that Sabine and others believe in her beyond her sister’s legacy and that she is just as capable, allowing her to accept her claim.
Despite some possibly disagreeing with the way Bo took ownership of the Darksaber, we see Mandos who accept her claim and value strength of character beyond the duel. Once the Great Purge occurs, however, everything changes.
When Bo Katan is offered the Darksaber in The Mandalorian years later, she now not only doubts her own leadership skills, but she has also lost the Darksaber. Gideon focuses on turning them against each other and taking advantage of the division that already exists amongst Mandalorians. Bo doesn’t attack Din showing her personal values are still important, but feelings of weakness and pressure to prove herself, put her in a challenging place.
“Without that blade, she’s a pretender to the throne.”
With so much failure and destruction, and since she didn’t prove herself in the customary way, it’s easy for Bo Katan feel unworthy. When she worked around traditions emphasizing other layers of strength, she was unable to maintain leadership, and once again after how much they lost, those factors of strength could have more weight.
Before Season 2, Giancarlo Esposito who plays Moff Gideon talked about the Darksaber. In one statement, he mentions how we’d get to see its place in a modern collapsed world. From the beginning of the show, I believed The Purge caused Mandalorians to hold onto their ancient customs, clinging to what remains and what cultural foundation they can sustain. This is reflected with the Darksaber as Gideon emphasizes the customary way.
If Bo continues to push to rule, things will either end the traditional way with a duel or Din may continue to forge his own path, focusing on how he’s seen her strength through helping Mandalorians and helping him. The obstacle is Bo’s self-doubt. Din who comes from a background that emphasizes retaining the ancient way is breaking away from it, while Bo who we’ve seen break away from tradition is falling back on it.
If Din is accepted as ruler and Bo either loses or accepts his strength to lead, he’ll face his own challenges. Similar to Sabine’s ownership causing her to face her past, Din now must acknowledge his with The Watch. With Grogu no longer there, Din has to focus on himself and what he’s learned. Having The Darksaber will heighten this as, he is by custom, ruler of people who could be divided once they learn he comes from a group that broke away from Mandalorian society. But in the end, after all of the destruction Mandalorians have endured, and as Din continues to question the way, evolution will occur.
I believe evolution will come through not needing to be the one to overcome all. Like Maul and Saxon demonstrated, what good is it if that physical strength won’t be used in return to lead in a way that strengthens all? The goal should be not just uniting the Mandalorians, but also taking their values into account like Sabine, Bo, and Ursa, challenging the customs because of what they believe is best. Din was always loyal to the way of The Watch, but recently has been challenging customs based on his personal values like taking care of a foundling like Grogu. The values he upholds through Grogu can parallel what he can do in the future of all Mandalorians.
The Darksaber can hold many meanings and burdens depending on the individual. Mandalorians value strength and we’ve seen this beyond combat. Through different situations strength is tested. From strength to face one’s past, acknowledging one’s strength beyond a legacy or path dictated by someone, or facing failures.
So who is the strongest to rule? I believe this is the individual who not only wins a duel, but all internal strength beyond just the physical is also valued and acknowledged. The individual proves they’re willing to use that strength of character for all Mandalorians. They need to not let fear dictate their path and unite everyone. The Darksaber is a symbol of unification so in owning it the individual needs to uphold that.
Mandalorians should focus on the values and customs they think are best for the future of the group. If they continue the traditional Darksaber custom of dueling for leadership, they need to not forget that outcome could cause division.
It comes back to valuing an individual’s strength while using that strength for others. As Bo says, “Mandalorians are stronger together”, each individual has their own strength and it’s valued, but together they will triumph “for Mandalore”.