Few sights strike as much fear and awe in the Star Wars universe as the sight of a Mandalorian warrior clad in traditional armor. Star Wars fans were first introduced to it with Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, with its iconic helmet, sleek weaponry, and very cool jetpack helping to make the bounty hunter a fan favorite. Since then it has made appearances in subsequent Star Wars movies, television shows, books, comics, and games. The armor is, without a doubt, the most iconic symbol of Mandalorian culture.
Mandalorian armor is known as beskar’gam (iron skin) in the Mandalorian language, and is worn exclusively by warriors. It is worn by both men and women, and while it gives excellent protection, it also creates a common appearance regardless of species or gender. The highest quality sets are made by lightsaber-resistant beskar (Mandalorian Iron), but the exceptionally high cost and rarity of beskar has led to the use of durasteel, alum, and duraplast in armor production. Mandalorian metalsmiths have traditionally kepth the methods for working beskar into an alloy a highly guarded secret, but the element could be mixed with other metals such as ciridium to create a highly dense and almost indestructible set of armor. (a)
One of the earliest known appearances of Mandalorian armor in the Star Wars Expanded Universe is that of Mandalore the Indomitable and his Mandalorian Crusaders who took part in the Great Sith War of 3996 BBY. However, the Taung wore armor as far back as 24000 BBY during the reign of Mandalore the First. This armor was of a very ancient and organic variety, whose focus was protection during melee combat. Early Crusader armor had jagged edges with spikes and horns that gave a very beast-like appearance. (b)
Under Mandalore the Ultimate, membership in the Mandalorian clans was opened to outside species who also incorporated their technologies into Mandalorian armor. These later Crusaders wore less organic-looking armor that offered better protection from blasters, as well as incorporating pressure suits for space/high altitude combat. Upgraded Crusader armor was worn up until the rise of Mandalorian Neo Crusaders during the Mandalorian Wars in 3964 BBY.
By 3963 BBY, Mandalorians had almost exclusively adopted the Neo Crusader armor for use during the Mandalorians Wars. Seen as heretical by some Mandalorians, Cassus Fett convinced Mandalore the Ultimate to start moving towards a more unified army. Neo Crusader armor was far more uniform in appearance, but some modifications were made depending on the species or specialization of the wearer. For the first time, color was used to separate ranks within the Neo Crusaders: Blue = Basic troops, Red = Rally Masters, Silver = Veterans/Front Line troops (the short-lived Mandalorian Knights wore sets of grey Neo Crusader armor). Neo Crusader armor also offered upgrades in protection, and incorporated stealth field generators to keep warriors undetected by enemies.
With the death of Mandalore the Ultimate in 3960 BBY, the Neo Crusader army was disarmed and Mandalorians once again returned to their nomadic ways. During this time Mandalorians were known mainly as “Mandalorian Mercs” and were hired as personal military units, supplemental troops, or bounty hunters. Mandalorian armor would see no significant upgrades for almost 2,000 years during this time. It wouldn’t be until Mandalorians faced one of their darkest hours that Mandalorian armor would find new life. (c, d, e)
As the New Sith War took its toll on the galaxy, Mandalorians were not immune from the galaxy-wide conflict. By 1060 BBY, Mandalore had been all but decimated by Candorian plague. Pirates and raiders had made Mandalorian space lawless to the point where Mandalorian defensive ships gathered in caravans. In 1051 BBY a Mandalorian mercenary named Aga Awaud rose to become Mandalore the Uniter, and began the “Return” movement to rebuild Mandalore and its culture. (d)
Mandalorian armor became mass-produced once again, but in a highly different configuration than the days of old. While still allowing for individualization and personal preference, Mandalore the Uniter had the armor stripped down into separate components to facilitate speed and surprise in attacks. Mandalorian armor was lighter, so jetpacks were less burdened by weight, and special units wore kamas to protect against shrapnel, blast damage, and jetpack wash. Mandalore the Uniter’s armor would usher in a modern era for Mandalorian armor, and would be the basis for Mandalorian armor produced over the next 1,200 years. (b)
The more modern “Supercommando” armor had become somewhat of a rare site in the times leading up to the Clone Wars. Used primarily by the True Mandalorian and Death Watch factions, the armor became popular once again among Mandalorians after the fall of the New Mandalorians in 20 BBY. (e)
The last major step for Mandalorian armor happened around the time of of the Sith-Imperial War of 127 BY. While we don’t yet know why these design changes were made, Mandalorian armor took on a heavier apperance. Smaller, more segmented designs gave way to larger chest plates with overlapping abdomen and bicep plates. Helmets also lost their angular appearance to take on a more rounded shape.(f)
While some older elements like separate thigh, shin, and boot armor remained the same, a significant departure from older armor had been made.
(a)“Star Wars: Order 66”
(b)“Bounty Hunter Code”
(c)“The History of the Mandalorians” – Star Wars Insider #80
(d)“Essential Guide to Warfar”
(e)“The Essential Atlas”
(f)“Star Wars: Legacy 41: Rogues End”
Tom Hutchens is the founder of the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club.
You can follow his antics as “Mandalore the Uniter” on Facebook.