The Visual Evolution of Mandalorian Armour Design

The Visual Evolution of Mandalorian Armour Design
The more things change for Mandalore, the more some things stay the same. (Image: Dario Carrasco, Jr., Jordi Ensign, Mark G. Heike, Bill Black, and David Jacob Beckett (Dark Horse Comics/Marvel Comics), and Lucasfilm)

There have been long debates about just how Mandalorian Boba and his father were at times in their long history in Star Wars, but their personal influence in the evolution of the Mandalorian people and their culture is indelible. But it’s also had a huge influence on how we literally see them too.

As The Book of Boba Fett sees the infamous hunter-turned-crime-lord embrace his legacy in a new way, complete with his latest adaptation of his iconic armour, let’s take a look back at how Star Wars’ old expanded universe, and its current canon, have retroactively fleshed out the visual history of the Mandalorians, and their inextricable relationship to their armour.

The Crusaders

Image: Chris Trevas/Del Rey Image: Chris Trevas/Del Rey

The earliest Mandalorian armours, first seen thousands and thousands of years before the events of the Skywalker saga in stories like the Knights of the Old Republic comics (themselves a prequel to the classic Bioware/Obsidian RPG series), were worn by the Crusaders. These roaming armies first conquered their own world before being lead by the Mandalores — the title inherited by the unifying leader of the Mandalorian clans — before the Mandalorian crusades first encountered the ancient Sith.

Airtight suits forged with the famous Mandalorian iron beskar, and capable of being worn in environments with no atmosphere, Crusader armour was highly individualistic, with different aesthetics and technological changes made by each Mandalorian warrior. A common connection across Crusader aesthetics, however, was the layering of organic components — fabrics, ceremonial bindings, animal bones, and spiked hides — over the base suit.

The Neo-Crusaders (Expanded Universe)

Image: Bioware/EA Image: Bioware/EA

After Mandalore the Indomitable lost a duel of honour to the Sith Lord Ulic Qel- Droma, the Crusaders were drafted into the Great Sith War. But not all of them were exactly satisfied with being led by a non-Mandalorian, and when the war came to an end roughly 4,000 years before Star Wars: A New Hope, with the Mandalorians routed at the planet Onderon, a new faction of Crusaders, calling themselves the Neo-Crusaders, arose, crowning a new Mandalore to strike back against the Republic and Jedi.

Unlike the Crusaders before them, Neo-Crusader armour was highly standardised, to give a cohesive look to the various species that would be adopted into Mandalorian culture beyond the original tribal factions. Gone were the organic accoutrements, leaving a sleek shaped to the plated armour. The Neo-Crusader armour was also colour-coded, allowing Mandalorians to denote rank: gold for Field Marshals, silver for front line veterans, scarlet for Rally Masters (a mid-commander rank), and blue for all other Neo-Crusader ranks.

The Neo-Crusaders (Current Canon)

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

At least some of the Neo-Crusader iconography made it into the background of the current iteration of Star Wars canon, thanks to the Clone Wars animated series. Depicted in ancient artwork in the version of Mandalore first visited in the series’ sophomore season, while these Neo-Crusaders wore rounded, plain helmets like the Neo-Crusaders first seen in the Knights of the Old Republic games, they were also depicted as covering their armour with large robes covering from the neck down, and wielding bladed weapons against the Jedi.

Neo-Crusader Shock Troopers

Image: Harvey Tolibao and Michael Atiyeh/Dark Horse and Marvel Comics Image: Harvey Tolibao and Michael Atiyeh/Dark Horse and Marvel Comics

Although Neo-Crusader armour was largely standardised, there were some variants of it that leaned more towards the traditional aesthetic of what we knew as Mandalorian Armour. As seen in the Knights of the Old Republic comic series, Shock Troopers were denoted by heavily plated armour, supported by exterior tubing and other elements, that would not only allow a Mandalorian greater protection from heavy weapons fire, but also fully operate in the vacuum of space for extended periods of time.

New Mandalorian Armours

Screenshot: Lucasfilm Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Mandalorian visual design takes a relatively huge leap in time now, all the way to being contemporary with the mainline Star Wars movies, and the prequels in particular. At this point in their history it’s revealed that, after a period of extended civil war, Mandalorian society has been transformed by the New Mandalorians, a faction who eschewed their warrior past to establish a pacifistic, isolationist ideology helmed by a parliamentary monarchy. Lead by one of the noble Mandalorian houses, Kryze, the New Mandalorian movement still carried some traditions of Mandalorian armour, but in a radically different aesthetic style. With no standing army, New Mandalorian armour split into two usages: the grey, lightly armoured tunics worn by the peacekeeper force known as the Mandalorian Guard, and the more elaborately armoured Royal Guard that protected the Duchess, Satine Kryze.

Beyond most typical Mandalorian visual language that the New Mandalorians broke off from with the designs is perhaps the most key break of all: both the Mandalorian Guard and the Royal Guard ditched the classic “T-Visor” helmet plate that had been a key signifier of Mandalorian armour design for generations… and would continue to be after them.

Death Watch Armour

Image: Lucasfilm Image: Lucasfilm

Concurrently with the armours seen being worn by the New Mandalorians were the armours worn by the terrorist faction known as the Death Watch, a splinter faction who still believed in the traditional warrior culture of Mandalore’s past. These designs are much more closely aligned with the Mandalorian armour we saw worn by Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and then by his father in the prequel’s middle chapter, Attack of the Clones.

Death Watch iterations on this aesthetic are visually identical to the designs worn by Jango and then eventually inherited by Boba, but in place of the clean look of Jango’s armour — which Boba would then paint over in his own colour scheme — the Death Watch unified their look with darker metallics and blue accents.

Mandalorian and Imperial Super Commandos

Screenshot: Lucasfilm Screenshot: Lucasfilm

As the Clone War came to an end, Mandalore was brought into turmoil by a coup spearheaded by elements of the Death Watch faction working with former Sith apprentice Maul and his criminal syndicate, the Shadow Collective. Mandalorians who proved their loyalty to Maul were formed into groups of “Super Commandos,” and while their armour stayed largely similar to that template worn by Death Watch in years prior, its colour palette was replaced with designs emulating Maul’s own black-and-red skin striping and accompanying tattoos. Some would go even further and modify their helmet with organic spikes — not as a nod to the Crusaders of long ago, but the bone protrusions on a Zabrak’s head, to emulate their new master.

The New Mandalorians petitioned the Republic for aid in liberating their world from Maul’s coup — and the death of Duchess Satine — in the Clone War’s final hours. Although the Republic was successful, the execution of Order 66 and the perceived betrayal of the Jedi Order lead to its rapid transformation into the Galactic Empire, and Mandalore quickly became occupied Imperial territory. The Imperial regime and Mandalorian collaborators that helped maintain its control would take a page from the Death Watch and the Shadow Collective and maintain the Super Commandos as a fighting force — this time with new, specialised armour. Inspired by real-life alternate concept art for Boba Fett from Empire Strikes Back, Imperial Super Commando design more closely emulated the armour of the Clone Army, with sharp angular chest pieces and a predominantly white colour scheme and smaller jetpacks. Their helmets largely remained the same, except for the addition of two small sets of antennae on either side of the helmet.

Post-Purge Armours

Screenshot: Lucasfilm Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Little is known what happened to Mandalore after it was re-liberated by a combination of forces from the nascent Rebel Alliance: former Death Watch members led by Duchess Satine’s sister, Bo-Katan Kryze; rebellious Mandalorian houses that had remained on the world; and the Mandalorian Protectorate based on the moon of Concord Dawn. What is known is that at some point, the Galactic Empire struck back at Mandalore, initiating a period of occupation and apparent genocide known among surving Mandalorians as the Great Purge.

Knowledge of just how devastating the Great Purge was is of varying degrees among surviving Mandalorians, who scattered into individual nomadic tribes and enclaves across the galaxy, intending to keep the true scale of survivors unknown on a galactic level. At least some of these enclaves returned to the more traditional armour designs that preceded the New Mandalorians’ cultural prominence. Individual Mandalorians would customise the overall look and coloration of their armour, as well as eventually imprinting it with the mark of their own clan. But one consistent trait seen so far in Star Wars’ exploration of this period was the practice of an individual “earning” a full suit of beskar-crafted armour, exchanging plasteel armour pieces for newly forged plates, once they had found a way to retrieve the now-rarer Mandalorian iron to give to an enclave’s armorer.