There is a Darksaber appearing at the end of first season of The Mandalorian, the new Disney+ Star Wars series set just after Episode VI, and it is just perfect to explain the power of convergence culture once again.
If you haven’t (yet) watched The Mandalorian and want to avoid spoilers, or if you have no idea what a Darksaber is and you aren’t interested in discovering it – furthermore, if you really are not curious about how one single object could be a perfect example of convergence culture… then you can stop here.
If you decide to go on: scroll down and beware, SPOILERS about The Mandalorian are to be found everywhere, from now on.
The internet has gone wild in these last days, speculating about the darksaber held by moff Gideon, the evil Empire warlord revealing himself, at the end of the Mandalorian series, as the mastermind of all what happens in the first 8 episodes.
If you are not that much into Star Wars, I could start telling you that a moff is an Empire high-rank officer in charge of important matters, as (grand-)moff Tarkin, who was commanding the Death Star in Episode 4 and the (best ever) spinoff Rogue One.
In The Mandalorian, moff Gideon is played by Giancarlo Esposito, the most evil-looking actor ever in my opinion, which since Revolution, has always been able to make me feel uncomfortable just with a look of his eyes. We learn from the main character, the Mandalorian himself, that Gideon had a role in the conquest of Mandalore and the consequent distruction of the Mandalorians’ warrior culture.
To cut the story short (and not to spoil too much), in the last episode moff Gideon’s TIE fighter falls down and we all think that Gideon is dead, when suddenly he cut his way off the ship wielding a strange kind of lightsaber, which in the very last frame of the episode, is revealed to be the darksaber.
Now for a casual watcher of the episode, that’s it: Gideon is alive, and he could save himself thanks to a strange kind of lightsaber that he owned for some reason. Enough: you do not even need to know what a darksaber is, to get the meaning out of this scene, and to understand that something more should come, as the villain mastermind is still alive. In fact, season 2 has been announced already. Everything makes sense.
But if you spent enough time, if you dedicated enough energy to the story, to its unfolding, to explore the deep and wide universe which the Star Wars narrative has built in more than 40 years, then you will get an incredible reward out of this scene. Because then you know what a darksaber is – you have been knowing it for years, you know all the previous appearances of this item, the heroes and villains who wielded it before Gideon, the crucial turning points of the history of that galaxy far, far away, when the darksaber has played a role.
Before sharing this reward with you all, telling you the story of the darksaber, I want to underline once more why this is happening, and the powerful impact that this rewarding mechanism is having on pop(ular)culture and storytelling in the last 10 years at least.
This is the key mechanism of convergence culture, as Henry Jenkins explained it in his book more than 15 years ago already: a story can be told trough different media, and every media has differences making it best suited to explore different corners, angles, aspects of the same story. The way you manage to do it, is building an alliance with the reader/player/user of the story, and asking for the their participation. The parts of story that you are telling in the different media could and should be enjoyed as stand-alone experiences, not to force the reader/player/user to go trough all of them to make some sense out of it, but the whole story should be more than just the sum of its parts, thanks to the rewards you are getting as reader/player/user, exactly trough connecting the dots, and recognizing the connections between the different parts.
Every modern work of art is an open work, and we already examined how this is somehow connected to some previous semiology studies by Eco and others, and how this could apply to Star wars: the users (or readers, or players… ok you got it!) are actively engaged in building more sense, more meaning in the work – to the point that they could actively start to produce new works which could fill in the blanks. This has been happening since decades, in the Star Wars fandom first and then in every fandom of every world-shaping story produced, from the Matrix to Harry Potter and so on – or we could say that this is happening since The Lord of the Rings, the first actual world-shaping story produced in modern ages.
Future forecast: we should start counting the Dune universe in the major league of world-shaping stories (again), since an announced new TV series will probabily become the next-big-thing during 2020, after The Witcher.
Fan fiction, fan movies etc are being created for this reason, and by the way they show once more how copyright laws are old, out of the time and always serving only some specific interests – well, that’s capitalism baby, in case you haven’t realized it yet 🙂 – when instead we should all support the classic hacker precept: information wants to be free!
We could play this bigger, intertextual open work game forever, understanding for instance that every hero wielding a sword, from a Witcher to a Jedi knight to my last Dungeons and Dragons character, owes something to king Arthur and the Round Table, or realizing that very often the pattern in these hero stories is the same, as theorized by Joseph Campbell in his studies on the Hero’s Journey which are at the core of my friend and colleague Carmine’s blog.
But I said I owe you a reward, so here it is; if you spent enough time and energy in unfolding the Star Wars world-shaping narrative, this is what you should know about the darksaber.
It was a special kind of lightsaber built by Tarre Vizsla, the first ever Mandalorian member of the Jedi order, many many thousand years before even the prequel movies, during the period of the Old Republic, that so far has only been described by videogames – and one would hope it could stay so. Instead, rumors about a movie about Darth Revan and the Knights of the Old Republic have surfaced already, so you better play Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic, its sequel about the Sith Lords and/or the mmorpg The Old Republic before it’s too late. This already means a whole universe, with its own stories, wars, dynasties and so on. One of the stories is exactly the one of the darksaber: after the passing of Tarre, the sword has been held in the Jedi temple until the Viszla clan claimed it and was able to get it back from the Jedi during the fall of the Old Republic.
Wielding the darksaber, clan Vizsla was able to unify all the Mandalorian tribes and to get control of planet Mandalore for centuries. The saber was the symbol of the Mandalorian power for a long time.
On the verge of the Clone Wars (that is: between Episode I and II of the movies…) the warrior planet Mandalore has changed the mood to a more pacifist attitude, under an uncommon female ruler, duchess Satine. We see this in the great Season 5 – Episode 16 from the cartoon series The Clone Wars, when she summons the old friend of her Obi Wan Kenobi to help her with the Dark Watch, a separatist group willing to restore “the old ways” with bombs and terror. Fascists never change, anywhere, in any galaxy…
As the story unfolds, one would have the impression that something more than friendship has happened between Satine and Kenobi before… but Obi Wan arrives to Mandalore only to learn from Bo-Katan Kryze, Satine’s sister, hidden top member of the Dark Watch but leal to the throne… (as to create the lealist faction Nite Owl, which will later become the core of Mandalorian resistance) that Satine has been kidnapped by the Dark Watch itself.
This is when we get to know that the hidden leader of the Dark Watch terrorist group is no one but… Darth Maul!
The former sith apprentice of Palpatine, now only Maul, has survived the duel with Obi Wan during Episode 1, has abandoned his Sith master Darth Sidious / Palpatine, has got in charge of the Dark Watch defeating their leader and last member of the Vizsla clan, Pre Vizsla, thus getting his darksaber (and pissing off Bo-Katan, who would try to help her sister Satine, and then turn rebel founding the Nite Owl…) only to chase revenge against Obi Wan with the help of his brother Savage Opress. Now he can finally get his revenge: he kills Satine holding her in the air with a Force grasp in front of a desperate Obi Wan, and them making her fall… on the darksaber he was wielding.
By the way, it took quite some time to Maul to organize all this, and also some resources, which he could get only becoming in charge of the smugglers / criminal cartel of the Crimson Dawn. We get to know this from the very end of the spinoff about Solo, when we meet Maul again… but this is another story (?).
We could go on following the story of Maul, and so revealing a convergence inside the convergence, but we want to fallow the darksaber instead. Let me only say that when the internet exploded for the apparence of Maul at the end of Solo, convergence culture gave a great reward to the ones who already know he was alive from the cartoons 🙂
We should follow Maul a little bit more anyway, because he owned the darksaber for quite a while during the Clone Wars. The saber disappeared for a while after, and then is retrieved on Dathomir, the dark-side planet where Maul was originally turned to the dark side by the magic of the Nightsisters, and where he used it in a big battle, for the last time as far as we know.
The darksaber was then found by Sabine Wren, the Mandalorian, former Empire cadet, explosive expert and… spray artist, which is part of the lonely rebel cell Ghost team, at the core of the equally great other cartoon series, Star Wars Rebels, set somewhere after Episode 3 – as demonstrated when their ship pilot, general Syndulla is clearly called on the PA at the Rebel Alliance base on Yavin 4, during Rogue One.
After finding the darksaber, Sabine is blackmailed by the new Empire viceroy of Mandalore and former Maul team mate, Gar Saxon, to give it to him as a ruler of the planet and distant member of clan Vizsla, in change for her mother’s freedom. So Sabine is urged by the Mandalorian rebel and friend of the Ghost team, Fenn Rau, to get swordfight training by the Jedi member of the crew, Canaan Jarrus, and then face the viceroy, in order to free her mother and restore a proper Mandalorian government on their home planet.
Here is her final battle against Gar Saxon:
Once Sabine got back the darksaber as legitimate new ruler of Mandalore, she decided to give it to Bo- Katan, nominating her the rightful leader of the planet, uniting the clans behind her, and starting a full scale rebellion of the Mandalorians against the Empire, under the sign of the darksaber.
So all this story does not matter directly with what happens at the end of the first season of The Mandalorian series, and you can understand what is on there anyway, but… in fact it does matter a lot, and riding trough two prequel episodes, two different cartoon series, three videogames, two spinoff movies (and we did not even mention the comic books…) we could arrive at the final of The Mandalorian with a lot more meaning to add to what we were seeing.
So now that you all know about the darksaber… how it got in moff Gideon hands? The Mandalorian explains that he knows Gideon from the Purge which defeated Mandalore and established the Empire control on the planet again. So did Gideon kill Bo-Katan and got the darksaber from her? Or will she come back and appear in the next season? Will the showrunner know all this?
Well, this is easy: Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau are the minds behind the Mandalorian, but also behind the Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels cartoons, so let’s cross fingers and hope more rewards will come for us from our convergent knowledge.
And if not… we could always write, draw, code or shoot the stories as we would them like to be!