‘The Mandalorian’ third season begins with a pilgrimage — and that’s just the beginning

The first episode of “The Mandalorian” Season Three primes the show for another narrative arc that wrestles with identity, religion, justice and family.

Courtesy of Disney+.

(Religion Unplugged) — The title of the first episode of “The Mandalorian” Season Three says it all, really.

Chapter 17, “The Apostate,” primes the show for another narrative arc that wrestles with identity, religion, justice and family. This time, those conflicts take place through Mandalore, the destroyed homeworld of the Mandalorian people.

Din Djarin, everybody’s favorite adoptive father, is in search of redemption and restoration with his family while he wrestles with his duty and legacy. Mandalorian Bo-Katan Kryze, the skeptic to Din’s believer and often his competition, wrestles with her own ideas about legacy and the beliefs she was once taught.

Grogu, meanwhile, is as cute as ever.

The first two seasons of “The Mandalorian” wrestle with Din’s strict creed, which forbids him from removing his helmet in front of other living beings. Din was raised as a Mandalorian in the fundamentalist warrior clan “Children of the Watch,” and this tenet is exclusive to them.

All other Mandalorians are free to remove their helmets, and many consider the Children of the Watch a cult.

Din’s met a good number of these Mandalorians, usually because of business related to his new fatherhood, and the realization that this practice is not regarded as universal truth has invited a great deal of questions about his personal beliefs. The bond Din shares with his adopted son only amplifies those doubts.

He’s removed his helmet a total of three times throughout the series so far: once so a droid could save his life (though that one didn’t technically count, since the droid isn’t a living being), once to infiltrate an Imperial base to save Grogu and once to say goodbye to him before he left to train with Luke Skywalker.

Members of Din’s clan are now aware he’s removed his helmet — by choice, which is worse than having it removed by force — and as such, he’s been essentially excommunicated.

It isn’t clear whether he feels guilt for these choices or if his personal beliefs have changed. He doesn’t appear to feel particularly guilty or personally repentant, but he doesn’t want to lose the community that saved and raised him.

So this season, Din is seeking hard-wrought penance — achieved only through a pilgrimage to his homeworld.

Din’s creed offers forgiveness, but the only way to renewed purity is by bathing in the Living Waters below the planet’s mines.

This kind of ritual may sound familiar, as Din’s religion isn’t the only one with a reverence for the purifying power of water. Beyond traditional Christian baptism, many religions emphasize water in ritual or special events.

It’s a practice likely based on that of the Jewish “mikvah,” a bath connected to natural water that’s used for ritual bathing. A mikvah can be used to achieve purity — notably for sexual activity and women’s monthly cycles — or to represent transition in life.

Bo-Katan, once a member of the planet’s royal family, describes visiting the baths for her coming-of-age in ceremony; she just doesn’t believe in the religious significance of the waters the way Din does.

For Catholics, the waters of Lourdes, France, hold a special significance. A young shepherd girl claimed to have encountered the Virgin Mary 18 times, and the waters there are believed to have miraculous healing powers; it’s estimated that 6 million pilgrims visit every year.

Pilgrimages in Hinduism are also vital to the religion. The practice of “tirtha-yatra” involves making a pilgrimage to a holy site, usually a body of water that can also be used for ritual purity. In Hinduism, it’s regularly about the pilgrimage itself rather than the destination; the individual is supposed to make the journey largely on foot and use the time to meditate and become closer to God.

On paper, Din’s pilgrimage is meant to be a difficult one: Mandalore is viewed as uninhabitable, and the Children of the Watch believe that the air is poisonous.

As it turns out, though, his pilgrimage is a short one — but it’s also just the beginning.

Din finds out quickly that the air is safe to breathe, and in fact there are still living species on the planet — they’re just species that want to kill him.

He even makes it to the Living Waters and begins the ritual that will cleanse his sins, but predictably things don’t go as planned. The conflict that follows makes an abrupt end for Chapter 18, but it carries ramifications for the rest of the season and the show’s overall theme.

This odyssey to Mandalore coincides with a story that’s intrigued fans since Din won his sweet weapon at the end of Season Two. The Darksaber, which Din was trained to use in the companion spin-off “Book of Boba Fett” and has been wielded against a few enemies in the season so far, makes Din the rightful ruler of Mandalore. There are Mandalorians who want to return to the planet and bring it back to its former glory, but they have no leader: “Wave that thing around, and they’ll do whatever you say,” Bo-Katan tells Din about the Darksaber.

As it always has, “The Mandalorian” uses its titular character to explore questions of identity — and, in particular, religious identity — in a changing world. Din has been told by the only family he knows that he isn’t a Mandalorian, yet he’s primed to be the savior of them all. (Dare I predict some messiah metaphors in the near future?) Even Bo-Katan, who’s at times presented as a voice of reason against Din’s religious fanaticism, will be forced to reconcile her headstrong vision with the truth she’s learning.

The fate of Mandalore is a hot topic this season: Who will ultimately rule? What it will take to achieve power? What lies in the planet’s future? Those currently unknown ends are no doubt compelling, but the journey there is even more interesting.

“The Mandalorian” is available to stream on Disney+.

by Jillian Cheney, Religion Unplugged’s Senior Culture Correspondent. She writes about film, TV, music, art, books and more. Find her on Twitter @_jilliancheney.