This is part one of a two-part series connecting “The Mandalorian” to the Advent and Christmas seasons. Click here for part two.
By Eric A. Clayton
As an unabashed fan and aggressive consumer of all things “Star Wars,” I’ve been onboard with Disney+’s second season of “The Mandalorian” since the very first episode.
“Too slow?!” Text message could not adequately express my incredulity. “Don’t you know who Cobb Vanth is? We watched a Mandalorian take down a krayt dragon! And how about frog lady!”
The pacing frustrated my brother. Nothing was really happening, said a friend. Really? You like it? I’ve heard mixed reviews, decried others, unfamiliar with the show. The term filler episode was casually tossed around.
You have to trust in the storytelling, I replied. Trust the storytellers. (After all, one’s the architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
I won over few converts.
That is, until the big reveals started pouring in. That is, until we saw a live-action version of fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano pull back the curtain on Baby Yoda’s (aka Grogu’s) past. That is, until we saw Boba Fett shatter a stormtrooper helmet with all the energy of a guy who was definitely not rotting away at the bottom of a sarlacc pit.
It became a lot easier to trust in the storytelling when the on-screen action kept coming and the plodding pace of a slow pan across the Tatooine desert was replaced by shoot-outs previously envisioned only with action figures and LEGOS.
All that to say, watching “The Mandalorian” has taught me a lot about Advent waiting.
And this Advent, of course, is like few others. Waiting never felt so visceral. We wait for a COVID-19 vaccine and to see if meaningful action can be taken on racial justice and climate change. We wait, perhaps, for a new job offer or to simply see our friends. We wait, painfully, to hold the hand or mourn the loss of a loved one.
The days tick by, an endless parade of anxiety and repetition, as we hold our collective breath. And we sit and wait and wonder if we’re in one of those seemingly filler episodes where nothing important is taking place.
When do we get that big reveal in our lives? When do our Boba Fetts blast in to make it all feel worthwhile?
Any “Star Wars” fan knows that the story doesn’t stop on screen. There’s a whole encyclopedia worth of lore and legend to back up every minor character, random droid and passing reference. (You might dust off some old “Star Wars” video games and tune into the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series if you don’t believe me.) Like a Tusken Raider dissecting a krayt dragon, every part is intentionally used.
And so it is that these seemingly slower, unimportant episodes build out the world, pull in new details and point back to “Star Wars” stories past and present. That slow, tedious work makes those important reveals, those epic moments, even more meaningful. It means we have a season finale that both satisfies and invites more questions, more excitement, more wondering.
So, too, is it with our lives. God invites us to that slow, tedious work of sifting through the monotonous, nitty gritty details of our days, reminding us that the Spirit is present at both the delivery room and the check-out line, the car mechanic and the funeral home, in the presence of moisture farmers and Imperial Moffs.
This Advent may feel like an episode chock full of nothing: a lot of hours in from of the computer stuck in your basement hoping the kids take a longer nap than yesterday. We may yearn for something exciting to happen, something that feels preparatory for the seismic event that is the Incarnation.
And yet, God’s coming to us can be as simple as a stranger (read: frog lady) asking for help getting home. And it can be as momentous as encountering a hero straight out of legend. (Hello there.)
George Lucas famously said his “Star Wars” stories, like poetry, rhymed, each stanza building upon and reflecting back on the previous. This is perhaps an apt description of God’s ongoing presence, God’s invitation in our lives.
St. Ignatius of Loyola approached this truth through the Examen, that daily prayer of reflection and gratitude that is foundational to all practitioners of Ignatian spirituality. In the Examen, we pause in trust and gratitude to give thanks for the ways in which we know God is at work in our lives, even if we can’t make sense of them. We do our best to recognize the places in which the Spirit has been present in our day. If we’re committed to the practice, over time we come to see God at work in the patterns of our lives.
And, just like a season finale of a much talked about television show, the Examen can console us as we look at what’s come before while planting the seeds for what comes next.
It’s tempting, I think, to gloss over those previous, slower episodes. The story of “The Mandalorian’s” second season will likely be told through the lens of fan-favorites (!) making triumphant, surprising returns to the small screen. And yet, there are details in those other, less-flashy episodes that are undoubtedly essential to our understanding the full story.
Remember that as we continue our journey to Christmas. There are details in these slower, less-flashy moments of our lives, right now, that are essential to our stories. Essential to piquing our curiosity, to grabbing hold of our attention, as we look to the days and weeks beyond December 25th.
And our God is a storyteller in whom we can trust.
Eric Clayton is the senior communications manager at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Ignatian Storytelling” (Loyola Press). He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter @eclaytopia.