A Brief History of Carbonite in the STAR WARS Universe

“Oh, they’ve encased him in carbonite. He should be quite well protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is.” – C-3PO, The Empire Strikes Back

It was with those chilling words that the world was introduced to the strange and terrifying form of high-tech science fiction imprisonment in a galaxy far, far away. After checking out 27 minutes of footage from Disney’s new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, in which Carbonite serves a small but important (and fun) role, we thought it was high time for a primer on the strange substance that has played a huge part in galactic history and looks like it’s making a return.

What is Carbonite?
Han Solo encased in Carbonite in Empire


It all depends on what you’ve read. In the post-Disney Star Wars canon, not much is known about Carbonite. We do know that it is a liquid that can, like many liquids, be turned into a solid if frozen and that can, when combined with other gases, be used to transport people or goods. One of the best known ways it can be processed is with Tibanna gas, which you might remember Luke Skywalker using to battle his father. It can be found around the planet Bespin, which might be why this was the first place we ever saw a Carbon Freezing plant. In the now non-canon Legends stories, Carbonite could be sourced in the Empress Tetra system, which had an abundance of mines filled with the precious entity, creating a mining stronghold in the galactic region.

You can learn a little more about how Carbonite is formed and contained by looking at the old pre-Disney descriptions of the Carbonite blocks and the rectangular metal frames in which they were housed. In old Star Wars books, the frames were shown to include life sign monitors to check on their inhabitants, power connectors, Repulsorlift projectors, Carbonite Flux monitors, and an element to thaw the Carbonite when needed. Though it’s a naturally occurring substance, Carbonite had a near-mystical position in the galaxy as one of the few substances that could imprison Jedi due to the density of the metal alloy and the calming immersion of being Carbon-frozen. If you’re a fan of the game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, you’ll know it didn’t always work.

What does this tell us about The Mandalorian?
The Mandalorian lurking around a corner


In the footage, we saw that the Mandalorian has a portfolio of bounties in Carbonite on his ship, as well as his very own portable Carbonite freezing machine. It tells us a few key things about the Mandalorian and the world he lives in. During The Empire Strikes Back, the original Mandalorian Boba Fett is worried that his bounty won’t survive; Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian clearly shares none of those worries. This is a brave new world where Carbonite freezing is totally accepted and the Mandalorian is an expert.

As for who he might be working with, we know that he is hired by the Bounty Hunter’s Guild, but Carbonite has been used by the Empire, the galactic criminal underworld, and even Jedi. But even though the Mandalorian’s dealings with Carbonite don’t align him with one side or the other, Star Wars fans may foremost associate the giant slabs with the Hutt family, who enjoyed displaying the bounties as trophies. Could we see one of Jabba’s relatives return? They’ve made appearances in the Star Wars animated shows so don’t count it out.

Where have we seen Carbonite before? 
Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars


The most obvious answer to this is when Han Solo was frozen in Carbonite during The Empire Strikes Back as a test for Darth Vader, who wanted to freeze his poor little son Luke. It was a terrifying turn of events that left many fans thinking that Solo was no more and led to the iconic grim ending that has made the film such a beloved part of the original trilogy. But we have seen Carbonite at multiple other times throughout the Star Wars mythos, especially if we look back at the non-canon Legends stories. (For now, we’ll stick to the main canon stuff.)

One of the most interesting uses of Carbonite that we’d love to see come up in The Mandalorian (and which easily could, seeing as the hero has his own Carbon Freezer), took place during the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “The Citadel.” The episode has a similar plot to the Clone Wars comic Shipyards of Doom, centering on Anakin, Obi-Wan, and some Clone Troopers freezing themselves in Carbonite in order to sneak into the titular Citadel without their life signs being detected.

There were also multiple uses of the substance as a weapon; certain droids could shoot Carbonite to freeze entire groups of enemies, and there have been suggestions of guns and other hard artillery made of the substance. Stranger still is the treatment of people trapped inside Carbonite as pieces of art. Such was hinted at in Empire and expanded on in Legends, and it’s the exact kind of fun detail that the expanded universe was made for. Could the Mandalorian have to look for work outside the guild and deal in some illegal Carbonite art?

Why is this cool?
Carl Weathers in The Mandalorian


First off, it’s a nice nod to the wider world of Star Wars. Not only is it a direct connection to Boba Fett, but it immediately tells us about the world the Mandalorian lives in. Though it might be a post-Empire world that is filled with outlaws and criminals, there’s enough regulation and organization within the bounty hunter community that it’s easy to have what was once a high-tech, experimental piece of equipment on your ship.

The presence of Carbonite on the series also gives us an insight into our lead. He’s ruthless and doesn’t think twice about getting the job done… at least for now. Whether we’ll get to see more of the super cool (pun fully intended) substance as the show goes on is yet to be seen, but it was a great little moment that got our Star Wars fan pulses racing.

The Mandalorian hits Disney+ on November 12th and will continue weekly till Dec 27.

Featured Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

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