This article contains a minor spoiler regarding the Mandalorian’s background, if you have not seen the first episode of the show and would prefer to remain 100% unspoiled, then wait to read this article until after you have seen the episode!
For the first time since Rebels fourth season, the masked warrior people, the Mandalorians, are the focus of a Star Wars property. While the details regarding the martial culture have changed over the years, be it simply the whims of George Lucas or Disney’s decision to erase old canon to make room for new, the Mandalorians have been a unique part of the franchise’s story of diversity and representation (to keep things simple, we’re going to stick mainly to the cinematic/television canon). Like most Star Wars stories, it began a long time ago (all right, a few decades ago).
Now maligned, as much praised, Boba Fett was the first Mandalorian to capture the imaginations of the franchise’s fans; first in the Holiday Special and later, more widely known, The Empire Strikes Back. In the both cases, Fett’s identity underneath the mask remained one of mystery. Portrayed under the mask by two different white actors, mainly by Jeremy Bullock, and in one brief instance, John Morton (who also played the ill fated Dak). The legendary universe that sprung up around the highly popular character cast the character as a white male, which, to the chagrin of some members of the fan community, was changed to Pacific Islander in Attack of the Clones with the casting of Daniel Logan as a tween Fett. More so, Boba Fett was revealed to be a clone of Jango Fett, played by another Pacific Islander, Temuera Morrison. As much as it seemed the Mandalorians, then, were a people of color, Lucas again fiddled with the background of the people in The Clone Wars.
Though young Fett, who had survived the start of the aforementioned war, appeared in the animated show, still a young person of color, Lucas introduced a Mandalore that was counter to the martial culture that had longed seeped into the fan consciousness for the visored characters by making them pacifists, or at least so, under the reign of the Duchess Satine. Satine, and the rest of her subjects, who dwelled under a giant dome on the ruined planet of Mandalore, were also blindingly white. As well were the Mandalorian antagonists of the The Clone Wars story arc, Death Watch, a group lead by Pre Vizsla (voiced by The Mandalorian creator, Jon Favreau). It seemed, at least for the duration of the show that the Mandalorians had skewed back to being white by default (awkwardly, many being blonde and blue eyed). For a couple years, this remained the only in-universe representation on television or film, until Star Wars Rebels.
Rebels changed everything by introducing the character Sabine Wren, coded as an East Asian woman (likewise, she was voiced by Tiya Sicar, of Indian ancestry). Through Sabine’s character, the Star Wars universe dived back into exploring the Mandalorian people once again, not just as men in armor, but also women, too. While it introduced white Mandalorians again, such as the Protector of Concord Dawn, Fenn Rau, it also welcomed into the franchise the Wren Clan, who, like Sabine, were coded as East Asian. In the season four opener, “Heroes of Mandalore,” Rebels went further and revealed other, albeit unidentified, Mandalorians of color; shattering the The Clone Wars depiction of the people as one monolithic white people. The result being the Mandalorians instead being presented as a diverse people, of many appearances and race.
The premiere of The Mandalorian continued this trend through flashbacks of the titular Mandalorian, appearing as a young brown skinned boy in a community of people of color, and having cast Pedro Pascal, a Chilean-American. The value in the evolution of the Mandalorians throughout the franchise’s history is one of inclusion. Obviously when wearing their trademark helmets and armor, the race and gender of any Mandalorian vanishes, knowledge that there are people of different race and gender, who take up the armor, makes the Mandalorians a facet of the Star Wars galaxy that is welcoming to all.