These past few weeks have been no walk in the park for those of us who consistently worry about the state of democracy in America. When the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol—in what could be described as one of the weakest attempts to maintain power in our nation’s history—it taught us a lesson about the correlation between manhood and power. They strolled about unobstructed, playing pretend in their military cosplays. They wielded weapons that did nothing but announce insecurity and ineptitude. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “Do these men actually feel powerful? Is this one of the tenets that manhood is built upon?” After all, it is no accident that some of our biggest fantasy sagas promote the same values. An aura of arrogance and entitlement, an incessant quest for power, and of course, a weapon that proves that you’re a “true warrior.”
Star Wars’ latest triumph, The Mandalorian, is no exception. It’s tempting to giggle and gush over Daddy Mando and little Grogu; likewise to squeal about the appearance of one of my favorite Jedi, Ashoka Tano. But what interested me most about Mando’s journey this season was the introduction of two concepts: more Mandalorians and the Darksaber. Season one spoke to fans quite clearly about “The Way” of the Mandalorians. Season two intensified the storyline by making Mando’s quest for community quite urgent. It also put him in the middle of a power struggle between the Mandalorians and one of the Empire’s most calculating villains, Moff Gideon.
In order to rescue Grogu from Gideon’s clutches, Mando joins a ragtag team of other Mandalorians. This includes “The Heiress,” Bo-Katan Kryze, whose only request is that she be the one to defeat Moff Gideon. Such a request becomes clear when Mando brings a defeated Gideon back to the crew after battling him separately. He now holds the Darksaber. The Empirical antagonist appears cruelly giddy that Mando becomes the “true owner” of his weapon; all along, Bo-Katan desired just that. She cannot be the true owner of it unless she defeats Mando herself.
The implication over the history of the Darksaber, as well as Bo-Katan’s mission to claim it for herself, has become a frequent trope within the fantasy genre. The concept of the weapon that grants its wielder ultimate power, or perhaps the illusion of it, is not novel. In fact, it’s thousands of years old and goes back to one of my favorite legends: King Arthur and Excalibur. Arthur is a young squire when Excalibur selects him as its owner, literally pulling the sword from the stone. He avoids the history of violence, entitlement, and mannish brutality assumed mandatory to prove oneself as worthy of wielding such a weapon; this makes him an anomaly.
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Swords have quite a long and pointed history as a symbol of manhood. (For example, kneeling before a sword when knighted.) And fantasy fandoms, oddly gate-kept by men, absolutely lose their minds over women pursuing knighthood. Much less being worthy of owning Excalibur, making them the uncontested leader of law and land. Thankfully, books such as Tracy Deonn’s New York Times bestseller Legendborn allow us to cleanse our palettes of such sexist ideals.
This could also explain why no woman ever owns of the Elder Wand, the weapon of ultimate power designed for the Harry Potter series. One of the most fascinating results to ever come from a frame story, the Elder Wand is spoken upon in hushed legend. The rumor of it renders its wielder “drunk with power,” making it a cautionary tale of how greed, blind hatred, and ambition only lead to the destruction of men in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.
When it is revealed the Elder Wand is not only real, but last belonged to none other than Albus Dumbledore, readers of the series are made to draw their own conclusions. How did Dumbledore establish his legacy, but also take great care to avoid actually being in positions of power? He appeared “humbly satisfied” as the Headmaster of Hogwarts. While many great things can be said about the man designed to be the “sage” of the Harry Potter saga, the existence of the Elder Wand calls into question which was truly powerful: the man or the weapon. Additionally, in one of her very rare moments of genuine wit, J.K. Rowling writes as an aside for The Tale of the Three Brothers that, “No witch has never claimed to own the Elder Wand. Make of that what you will.” Fantasy continues to press the buttons of critical thinking, calling into question which is greater: the bravery to pursue absolute power or the wisdom to avoid it.
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Power by combat continues to thrive as Harry Potter’s fascist fiend, Lord Voldemort, murders and maims to become the Elder Wand’s true owner. Harry befells Voldemort, who overestimates the courage of his Death Eater, Draco Malfoy, in his task to murder Dumbledore, and miscalculates how the chain of commanding the Elder Wand truly works. In a fantastical twist befitting any Chosen One trope, Harry proves the true owner of the Elder Wand. This, along with other items (the Deathly Hallows), make him the Master of Death. What is supposed to be a mark of maturity on Harry’s part is him returning the Elder Wand to Dumbledore’s grave.
It’s reminiscent of Excalibur returning to the Stone upon the death of King Arthur. While we cannot hold young boys (and 17 is still quite young!) to the standards of a 150-year-old man, one cannot help but wonder the good could Harry Potter could have done if he had chosen to wield the Elder Wand as an Excalibur of sorts. A weapon forged in violence now fortified for peace.
We don’t yet know what Mando will do with the Darksaber. And fantasy lovers across the board can only expect more battles and bloodshed to follow in its wake. Whether it falls into the hands of Bo-Katan or another, we can only hope its wielder decides that peace is more rewarding than power. And that working towards equality over entitlement is what separates men and Mandalorians.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures / Lucasfilm