Via Archaeodeath, I’ve explored the material cultures, built environments and landscapes of multiple fictional universes, particular television shows and films. Focusing particularly on mortuary and commemorative practices, this is a profitable means of discussing archaeological themes regarding human past societies through the lens of fiction and how our ideas about the human past are shaped and influenced by interaction with these fictional worlds and vice versa.
Via TikTok, I’ve extended such discussions, focusing on the first two series of the Star Wars Universe how The Mandalorian. Calling itself a ‘Space Western’, we follow the adventures of Din Djarin and his companion Grogu as they seek to escape the assassins of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild and then seek out the Jedi, combating the imperial remnant forces of Moff Gideon along the way.
I’m open to requests for further videos, and there are indeed many more potential themes with the show that overlap with archaeological research themes. Still, I’ve decided to pursue 12 dimensions of the archaeology of the show. For while there are indeed historical Western frontier themes throughout, there are also overt allusions to prehistoric, ancient (particularly Roman) and early medieval European societies in the material cultures and environments of the story.
Part 1: A ‘Dark Age’ World
I introduce the recursive relationship between past societies and popular culture, including the frontier world of the Outer Rim. I argue that the show in general evokes popular perceptions of early medieval Europe following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
Part 2: Mandalorian ‘Barbarian’ Warrior Culture
I then argued that the Mandalorian ‘warrior culture’ in which ‘weapons are part of [their] religion’ echoes not only the Western frontier stereotype, but also the romanticised visions of the early medieval past recorded in medieval poetry and literature. This is particularly mediated by beskar steel used for exceptional weapons but prominently for their armour. It is also reflected in the quasi-religious role of the shaman-smith: The Armourer. Heirlooms and their recycling and gifting are integral themes.
Part 3: Nevarro as Pompeii
This is the third discussion of the Late Antique/early medieval nature of the world of The Mandalorian, I focus on the volcanic activity on Nevarro. The unnamed main city is very much inspired by the ruins of Pompeii. This extends from the sense of antiquity of the city to the specific survival of an ancient arch on the main approach to the market. Moreover, marking Greef Karga’s restitution of civic administration, a new arch is constructed.
Part 4: Human-Animal Relationships
Parts 1-3 explicitly reflected on Late Antique/early medieval themes, but then I moved onto more broader issues linking archaeology and anthropology from prehistory to the present day as portrayed in the Star Wars universe.
Using the Tuskens of Tatooine as a case study, I discuss the human-animal relationships. For the Tuskens, these are threefold: massiffs, banthas and also the krayt dragons. The first two are domesticates – guards and steeds – whilst the dragons are managed to a degree in their predator behaviours. The Tuskens are thus an extra-terrestrial Indigenous people as the ‘first peoples’ of Tatooine, reflecting many themes and issues in discussing indigeneity on Earth today and their relationships with the natural world.
Part 5: Traditional Farming Societies
Moving on from desert nomads, I here discuss the Magnificent Seven episode in which Djarin and Dune defend villagers – krill farmers – against bandits. They exist as peasants on the sparsely occupied planet of Sorgan. Assisted by droids, the community live in wooden thatched round houses set in clearings within heavy forest and in a riverine environment. As such, the farmers of Sorgan are a mashup of many non-Western agricultural societies (and thus avoids too many cringeworthy stereotypes of any single Indigenous tradition). The emphasis on irrigation is very positive and interesting, so often missing from most representations of Indigenous communities and worthy of reflection. They are shown as self-reliant and, with help, win the battle themselves against the bandits and their re-deployed AT-ST. I focused in particular on the representation of ditches as barriers and obstacles in their landscape and as integral to their victory. The AT-ST is another example of a post-imperial ‘Dark Age’ world in which roaming warbands utilise ex-imperial mech when available.
Part 6: The Force Henge on Tython
Din Djarin is directed by Ahsoka Tano to take Grogu to Tython where there are ruins of an ancient Jedi temple. This transpires to be an open-air hilltop megalithic monument and in this video I make six points about its form and function, including its runic inscription upon the central spherical structure. In this form, it is as much a ‘Vendel/Viking’-era early medieval monument as it is a mashup between early Neolithic dolmens and late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age stone circles. Other non-European (Buddhist?) traditions might inspire the hilltop-shrine topography. Present-day alternative/fringe understandings of prehistoric megaliths as harnessing ‘energy’ are influential ideas behind this representation too. Most strikingly, they refer to the ‘temple’ as a ‘henge’ (Bobo to Fennic) . A Tolkien-inspired element is also overt, as the central stone is comparable to Tolkien’s description of the Stone of Erech.
Part 7: Walls, Fences and Barriers
Linked to my particular research interests at present, and complementing part 5, I address walls as social, economic, political, ideological components of the fictional worlds of the Star Wars universe. Focusing on the forest planet of Corvus, I explore the walls of the palace and walls of the city as ways of keeping villagers and other threats out (including Ahsoka Tano) but also as mechanisms for controlling those within: walling out and walling in simultaneously. I address how these walls are exploited and abused by the oppressive regime of the Governor, reflecting themes of feudal control in urban spaces inspired by medieval (and specifically Far Eastern) mural identities in the popular imagination. I also note how they have forgotten about how ditches would have been integral to their operation! Again, the show embodies representations and misrepresentations of the human past through its mural dimensions.
Part 8: Scavengers – Jawas and their Material Culture
Having addressed the desert nomads of Tatooine – the Tuskens – and the bandits on Sorgan using an AT-ST – we return to address scavengers’ material culture using the case study of Jawas. Found on Tatooine, Nevarro and Arvala-7, I consider how the jawas embody disparaging stereotypes about tinkerers and travellers as well as having their own distinctive customs, transport, material culture and language.
Part 9: Recycling and Chop Fields
In a mechanised galaxy, as well as industrial and settlement, there is an emphasis not only on scavenging but upon systematic industrial-scale recycling. We see this best in the representation of the New Republic’s penal use of recycling in the Karthon Chop Fields. Robots are the security guards for ex-imperial and others on this prison planet facility. Again, this reflects on archaeological themes of recycling in the human past from prehistory through to the present.
Part 10: The Horror of Helmets
In this episode I expand on part 2 in discussing the horror and uncanny qualities of helmets, using the examples of the abandoned Mandalorian helmets in the sewer system of Nevarro once the covert has been overrun, and the impaling of helmets (presumably still containing their heads) in the streets of Tatooine. What better way to articulate devastating regime-change than to display heads and helmets (in the case of Tatooine) or the utter loss yet hopes of restitution for the Mandalorians? This chimes closely with archaeological debates regarding the display of skulls and trophies in past societies to honour and venerate ancestors but also to display political authority and ideological hegeomony.
Part 11: Artisans vs Industry
Building on the discussions of scavenging and industrial production, I address the power of artisans in The Mandalorian. As well as The Armourer for the Mandalorians, we have Quill the Ugnaught as an artisan within a broader Outer Rim ‘frontier’ world. Meanwhile, industrial production is shown elsewhere in the galaxy has having persistent, tenacious and significant environmental impacts on their planets and their constituent populations, including the ocean moon of Trask, Corvus, Morak and two unnamed further planets. Therefore, there exists a clear contrast between the frontier and romanticising artisanal activity of making, repairing and adapting, and the dystopia of industrial production and exploitative colonisation within the more populous parts of the galaxy.
Part 12: Death: Kuill’s Grave
Here, in the final part, I reflect on the frontiersman associations of the simple stone-covered grave of Kruill the Ugnaught: the only funerary monument represented within the two seasons of The Mandalorian aired to date. A classic representation of a ‘frontier’ grave, his distinctive helmet and googles anthropmorphise it a lonely isolated marker for his remains. There is no funeral: Din Djarin buries him alone. A sad but appropriate way to conclude my 12-part Archaeodeath series.