Working as a writer in the social media era means constantly scrambling to hit the “submit” button before anybody else. But I lingered and lingered with this one. It took weeks. It endured innumerable drafts. It interfered with every single other professional commitment in my life, and neither it nor I cared at all. For whatever reason, this insisted upon existing, and written the very best I could manage.
The mystical dimension of Star Wars infiltrates excruciatingly close to my heart, and it has left its handprints in every curve of my emotional and stylistic landscape. That made the writing process more hot-blooded...and worse. My family was in the immediate aftermath of our mother's passing, and that meant staring down at her name on the death certificate one moment and arguing with Internet strangers over a fictional space cowboy's shoulder-to-waist ratio in the next.
When the “who’s in the armor” issue hit the mainstream as I was battling through the editing thicket, I threw one arm around the disquiet and bent back over the keyboard. The focus in this piece happens to land on Brendan Wayne, but Barry Lowin, Lateef Crowder, and Pedro Pascal are all essential elements to “The Mandalorian”—and their individual atomic numbers are not interchangeable. These men are gloriously, perfectly varied. The jagged edges of whatever pain and batterings they have brought to Mando’s creation fit seamlessly together to provide balm for the rest of us. He needs all of them, and we do, too.
In a franchise bedrocked in firepower and blaster bolts, one of The Mandalorian's finest qualities is its remarkable ability to shut up when necessary.
Din Djarin's initial communication style was the quiet of intimidation. A warning quiet. It is a quiet broken only to inform a bounty that he is in fact a bounty.
In those early moments, Din Djarin was introduced to us by way of kicking intergalactic mean girls and spilling space beer and slicing adversaries in half via rapid door closure. When he was done being quiet, you misunderstood the ending of the quiet at your peril.
Telling wasn't necessary when he'd already done so much showing.
The Wizard Baby
If you're wondering why you can't find a man like Mando in the wild, that is because a person of such high quality testosterone requires the significant talents of three different men. (Four, when also counting the important work of occasional stand-in Barry Lowin.)
Our Mando's physical stillness is largely the product of actor Brendan Wayne, whose one-third of Din consists mostly of body doubling. In the early days after The Mandalorian dropped and the Baby Yoda memes were requisitioning America, little was acknowledged about Wayne’s ability to undertake one heartstopping entrance after another, often with his middle-aged wizard baby under one arm.
But even before the show premiered and detonated pop culture, Brendan Wayne was happy just to have semi-auditioned with a Mando suit in a building that also contained Thor’s hammer. His family was intact, his girls’ soccer team flourished, and he had proven himself proficient in a Boba Fett helmet.
Nothing else needed saying. He'd already won.
If you have drawn a direct line here between one Wayne actor and another, you have drawn correctly. Brendan’s healthy attitude concerning John’s complicated legacy is probably foundational to his boots-on-the-ground reaction to becoming one-third of a 21st century icon. Brendan Wayne was born into an industry that often runs on noxious expectations and corrosive resentments-- yet he neither runs from nor leans on being the son of the son of a 20th century icon.
To do so is telling. Mando, remember, is a man of showing. You'll know when he's ready to update his social media status.
This is where Brendan Wayne's teaching abilities are pressed into service in the mosaiced rendering of Din. Any participant of any sport knows that filling out rosters and yelling about hydration are terrible, terrible ways to pass on knowledge.
Where descendants of Westerns like Star Wars are concerned, bad teaching is telling everyone to copy the notes on the board. Good teaching is a screening of Stagecoach.
Film profs who show 1939’s Stagecoach to their classes go hard. A few play it all the way through. But there is one moment at which almost everyone stops.
John Wayne enters the film, and they stop. They press pause on John Wayne as he spins a rifle, halting the stagecoach, the film, the men, the women, the children, the genre, the industry, and the planet.
John Wayne is dressed in dust and the American West. He holds a saddle in one hand and his rifle and the other and, between the two, a place for his grandson eight decades down the line-- if he chooses to take it.
There's little question about what this is and why it's happening. This man is here to command the picture and say pretty much nothing about doing so. It’s a dramatic moment because director John Ford wanted it to be dramatic, emphasizing that this broad-shouldered man was so rugged and so morally complex that mere pistols weren’t enough for him to spin.
This man needed a rifle in order to issue a proper announcement about his intentions, because he certainly wasn't going to undertake a monologue about it.
The rifle in question was originally 37 inches long and would have banged Wayne’s arm without intervention, so Ford asked his crew to cut it down to 15. It was going to work, this rifle. They just needed to shorten it. Wayne would do the rest.
This is the origin of one of the greatest introductions in the history of filmed entertainment.
The only way Brendan Wayne could have possibly prepared to follow any of this was to walk his life, figuring out who put in goal during the second half and keeping his shooting hand close to his hip. This he did.
The powder was dry, but--- much as in the case of Pedro Pascal and the early career of his B-film staple grandfather-- the jobbing was constant. At one point Wayne seemed to at last found his break with a role in 2011’s Cowboys & Aliens, but his part was whittled down, the film foundered, and he went back behind the bar.
Well, there was nothing more to discuss at the moment-- his reason for working on that film had not yet arrived. It wasn’t time. Too many people and elements weren’t yet in place.
For example, the concept of a streaming Star Wars TV show was unthinkable just then. And when the moment came to cast The Mandalorian a decade later, Din's voice, the omnipresent Pedro Pascal, was busy. Talent-drenched, photogenic, incandescently endearing, and quick with a compliment to journalists on nail polish choices, Pascal was fashioned in the womb specifically to reign supreme over all of media-- certainly for 2023, possibly for all time. But in the moment, Pascal was plunged deep into Shakespeare and enduring a clean-shaven existence while filming Wonder Woman 1984.
Meanwhile, Brendan Wayne was doing his very best to blow his shot at the role of a generation. He agreed to try out a costume for Jon Favreau—the director of Cowboys & Aliens.
But this...this was a Star Wars project. A gigantic secret about which no one could say anything. This required the tersest of brusque body language. The best of pleasing behaviors.
Wayne stood by for the unboxing of what was clearly a Mandalorian-inspired costume and exclaimed, "Boba Fett!" And very quickly learned he wasn't allowed to say that, either.
The Other Rifle
Wayne clothed himself in not-Boba Fett and walked to the set like he owned the joint, Volume and all. He'd decided this was the moment to speak on behalf of Din Djarin.
So he made it count, announcing that his holster was too high and that cape was going to get caught on everything and did they honestly expect him to pull this Amban sniper rifle right off his back and start shooting? It was far too long.
It was going to work, this rifle. They just needed to shorten it. Wayne would do the rest.
Asked to return for a screen test, Brendan Wayne shrugged and explained that the timing conflicted with taking one of his three daughters to college.
Show, don’t tell.
By this time, Mando also had a stunt and combat specialist, direct Adonis descendant Lateef Crowder. The three thirds of one were traveling from different directions, and at different speeds-- but it didn’t matter. The one Mando mattered.
They were taking the time to do this thing correctly. They'd land in the same place when they needed to.
People don’t really remember that the first scene of the first episode of the first season of The Mandalorian doesn’t start in a bar. It opens outside the bar, in the snow, with a red light against the shadows and a determined man in a tattered cape trying to find his way.
We see him from the back. We don’t yet see his face. We very rarely will.
For the moment, it is quiet.
Then we go inside, and then the roughers start roughing up, and then the door opens, and no one says a word, even though, silhouetted against the darkness he’s just left behind, is Brendan Wayne-- dead center of one of the greatest introductions in the history of filmed entertainment.
And that is why no one talks much about the red tracking fob outside of the bar.
“I’m sure you get this all the time,” I once heard a podcaster say on the air, “but my first ever homework assignment in film school was watching Stagecoach.”
“I love it,” said Brendan Wayne on the other end of the line.
He really does get this all the time, and he does love it. He likes a good story. Stories are important. They teleport and they intersect. The best stories illuminate human relationships, of how living souls can touch fingers across generations.
When it's time to tell one, we know.