Lessons From ‘The Mandalorian’: When Childhood Attachments Go Wrong, Is Feeling Nothing, ‘The Way?’

Photo: IMDB
Scene from "The Mandalorian" of Mando and Grogu

When attachments go wrong in early life, you have to toughen up. But is feeling nothing "The Way?" If you thought it was, what does it take to break free and allow love?

This was the question for Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars and it’s the question for Mando, The Mandalorian, who also lost his beloved parents when he was a small child: Is love safe?

Love isn’t safe when your early attachments go wrong. And Jon Favreau’s continuation of the Star Wars saga in his Disney+ series, The Mandalorian, tells this story once again.

Yet, the series leaves us having to question if feelings like need, anger, fear, and love are really dangerous? Is no attachment "The Way," as many traumatized children believe?

We watch Mando and remember why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. When you’ve been hurt and suffered loss, you armor up and get tough to survive.

You have to think that nothing scares you as Mando does. You’ve already gone through the worst. But you really can’t forget — and saving The Child is a necessity.

Before you read on, please be aware of spoilers.

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Mando’s trauma mirrors the experience of many children.

There’s nothing worse than losing your parents or having insecure attachments when you’re young. That was Little Mando (played by Pedro Pascal), then called Din Djarin.

There was a war. Imperial invaders took over the planet on "The Night of a Thousand Tears."

Mando’s flashbacks show a terrified boy, carried by his frantic mom and dad. Desperately trying to protect him, they hide him in a shelter and seal him away.

We watch as little Din Djarin reaches out his hands, just as baby Grogu later does, towards his disappearing but loving mom and dad — as they slam the door shut.

A Mandalorian rescues and trains him, teaching him to stay safely inside his armor. Din Djarin becomes The Mandalorian. He’s had to close the door on any need for love.

This is the war that continues in Mando. Does he show his face, reveal his feelings? If he does, he can never put his armor back on. When you’re scared, you need that armor.

Wearing an armor "not to feel."

No child can feel safe with feelings if there’s no one to hear them, or if you’re told your feelings are wrong.

You might even have a voice inside your head, like Yoda to young Anakin, that says, "Fear of loss, anger, hate — they’re dangerous. Avoid your feelings."

That’s what Mando does.

"I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold," he says to his bounties. Cold means dead. Dead to normal hunger for love. Dead to all feelings.

Yet, as hard as Mando tries not to remember what happened to him as a child, flashbacks won’t let him alone. He did have feelings then: Fear, loneliness, and need.

How memories "crack" your armor.

When Mando’s next bounty is a baby foundling, like he was, his armor begins to crack. That’s when his flashbacks begin.

And as hard as he fights them, he starts to have feelings.

That baby, The Child, a little Yoda creature named Grogu, coos, whines, and tugs at Mando’s shut-down heart with his longing eyes.

That Child has all the feelings Mando used to have. That Child is the locked away Din Djarin.

Still, Mando tries to do his job. But that’s impossible.

He can’t just drop The Child off to The Client (played by Werner Herzog) and Dr. Pershing (played by Omid Abtahi), nor can he let the cruel Moff Gideon (played by Giancarlo Esposito) capture, misuse, lock up, and maybe kill The Child.

Baby Grogu is Mando’s child self, the one who must be saved from the enemies at hand, those in the galaxy and in his own mind, who fight against attachment and love.

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Why is saving your child-self necessary? Here are 3 reasons.

1. Knowing your feelings makes you safer.

If you’re shut down, like Mando, you tell yourself, "I’m fine alone. I’m tough, I need no one." You miss chances for love and care, like Omera (played by Julia Jones) offers.

But Mando can’t stay on Sorgan.

He’s been armored against feelings too long. It takes fighting the frozen (feeling-less) land he’s stranded in, the one he and The Frog Lady (played by Dee Bradley Baker) must escape in order to save her eggs — the potential for a new life.

Feelings don’t take your power away. Yoda was wrong. Locking feelings up makes you more scared and vulnerable. Your child self is not your enemy, it’s your savior.

So, Mando stands up to the cold, cruel Moff Gideon, "The baby means more to me than you will ever know. You think you know something about it, but you have no idea."

Feelings matter. A handcuffed, hungry Child reaches out to Mando, soon to be free.

2. Hunger for love and care is normal.

When you ignore your hunger, it leaves you starving and stuck, like Mando was, until he let himself care. Until he noticed Grogu’s hunger, the Child ate everything in sight.

When you ignore hunger, you’re in a fight with a ravenous Kreyt Dragon who terrorizes all of Mos Pelga’s isolated and deprived inhabitants — deprived like Mando is.

Is it a surprise that the Dragon’s sensitive area is his belly? Hunger can be terrifying for a child when there’s no one to feed it the love it needs. Yet, hunger isn’t an enemy either.

Hunger for love is normal if you’re made to feel safe. And, that means learning to trust.

3. If you learn to trust help, you can grieve.

Mando lost his parents on "The Night of a Thousand Tears," tears he’s never cried. He follows the rules he learned well.

"Don’t show your face. Don’t let people see you eat (or how hungry you are). Don’t need anything — and you won’t be hurt, again."

It doesn’t work. Mando feels. He can’t be a loner anymore when he needs to save The Child — and himself. And, he does find helpers along the way.

The two most pivotal helpers are Kuiil (voice of Nick Nolte) who gives Mando IG-11, the Nurse Droid, he’s reprogrammed not kill, and Cara Dune (played by Gina Carano).

Cara Dune also knows losses. She had to be tough, too, and shows Mando what loyalty is. She's the first of the two to shed a necessary tear.

Saving your child self means admitting you have needs and grieving your losses. To do so, Mando must be the human he is, not his armored automaton droid-like self.

We see Mando not easily accepting that he needs IG-11 when IG-11 must self-destruct. Yet, not ready to lose someone else he needs, Mando still fights his feelings, "I’m not sad."

IG-11 knows better, "Yes, you are. I’m a Nurse Droid and I’ve analyzed your voice."

To heal, Mando must cry "a thousand tears" and fight against his Mandalorian Creed.

"No feeling" and "no attachment" is not "The Way."

The Mandalorian Creed is similar to The Jedi’s. The subtext of both is this: Don’t feel emotion. Stay armored. No passion or love is allowed. You don’t need to grieve.

But, remember what happened to Anakin Skywalker after losing his mother to train with Qui Gon Jin — and later suffering more loss?

Episode 16 raises a question about Grogu’s fate when he must leave Mando to train with Master Luke (played by Mark Hamill).

What will make the difference? Grogu needs his feelings of grief heard. If Yoda had allowed Anakin’s sadness, Anakin would not have needed power over his terror of experiencing loss.

Feelings aren’t dangerous. Yet, Mando tells Grogu, "Don’t be afraid," harking back to his own attempts to toughen up.

In other ways, though, Mando isn’t quite so tough anymore. He takes off his helmet, shows Grogu his real face, and lets him touch it.

It isn’t armor or being tough that saves you. It’s not telling yourself, "Get over it, we all do." It’s learning to trust kindness and love — and not being too scared to feel.

To heal, it’s finally being able to cry "the thousand tears" you couldn’t cry long ago.

The truth is: If attachments go wrong when you’re a child, having someone to hear and help with all your feelings — anger, sadness, hate, and hurt — is really "The (only) Way."

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.