What makes stories like The Mandalorian so great? The trope of Protective Behavior: (Why is this trope so popular/recursive in stories today?)

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Yes, this post is going to be discussing the awesome, wildly popular Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, as well as a few other successful properties that use similar story telling devices. But please permit me to rant for a moment about my writing roommate. Ok, he’s not officially a roommate, but he does share the office space in our home.

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And he is more of a Mooch than this guy! Fuhget about it!

Meet Tater Tot. No, he isn’t edible. At least, not in California…possibly near the border to Arizona. (I kid Arizona, chill. Oh wait, it’s Arizona. It’s impossible for you to chill anything.)

He actually looks more like a hash brown with eyes.

It’s the same old familiar story. Daughter wants pet. Daughter names pet. Parents are eventually on board because they think it’ll teach daughter about responsibility. Fast forward seven months later and Dad ends up caring for the thing as if it were his own son.

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He’s such a tender little rodent.

Now I’m not saying I hate Tater Tot. To tell you the truth I’ve grown quite fond of him over the last several months. The way he stares blankly at me when I enter the room. The way he refuses to eat the food at the bottom of his bowl. The way he ignores the toys and treats I buy for him as if they were cursed by some rodent witch.

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Heh heh. The poisoned cheese worked for Mickey.

So, tonight I enter the office and what do I see? Tater Tot’s water tank is completely empty. This was very strange because he has a larger than life tank built for rabbits, and I had just filled it last night.

I felt bad. The bottom of his cage was wet. It turned out that I had missed getting the right seal on the nozzle and it had created a leak of grand proportions.

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I’m exaggerating slightly.

I refilled his tank and waited with him until he knew everything was cool. (Sorry Arizona, last one.) Well, even though he never said a formal Thank You, I knew there was something there. A mutual understanding between pet and human. Rodent and man. I’m his protector. I get nothing out of the deal, other than having someone watch me when I write. But I still look out for him. Now, I’m no guinea pig whisperer, but I think he realized I had made a mistake and was trying to fix it. Or maybe not. I’ll tell you what he wasn’t thinking about. The food on the bottom of his bowl.

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Rant over. Now let’s talk about The Mandalorian and why I went on a 500 word rant about Tater Tot.

Oddly enough, no guinea pigs in space.

For starters, this show is BADASS!! With Jon Favreau at the writing helm, the show successfully popularizes the dying space cowboy story which has been done to death. The Mandalorian is a cool character, but he’s not too cool. He has flaws. He kills without remorse. He struggles with his identity and past. He also…(MAJOR SPOILERS) comes to care for a child-like Yoda creature.

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Seen here. Also, I sense somewhere on our present day Earth a major toy deal has already been struck.

Now here’s what works best about this story:

The trope of protective behavior suggests that two characters will come together to form a symbiotic circle of looking out for one another. Even if the gains aren’t always very obvious to the viewer/reader.

We take our new anti hero, the Mandalorian. On the surface it doesn’t seem like he needs a cute, green, puppet following him around. Yet, Baby Yoda (because he doesn’t have a better name in the show currently, so that’s what I’m calling him) gives the hero a purpose. Mando has to deliver him to the intended place that he needs to go. On the same token, the protectee (baby Yoda) needs someone like the flawed bounty hunter in this harsh universe because otherwise he might not survive.

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Although his kind have had some pretty moderate success in this universe already. Just don’t ask them to reach for something on the top shelf, you shouldn’t. Hmm.

This is not a new concept in storytelling. But I think it’s a trope that almost everyone with a pet, child, plant, or even ant farm can relate to. The more fragile member in the duo can not provide something to the other, but sometimes just being there is enough for the circle to work. It is also the hope and goal that the fragile one will eventually become more because of all the time they spend with the other person/thing/alien/etc.

Other great examples #1:

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The Last of Us

Possibly one of the best video games ever made. Again, what works so well about this game is the trope of protective behavior. Life-hardened Joel doesn’t need a teenage tag-along like Ellie while trying to survive a post-modern fallout. Yet, she provides him with a missing piece in his life. His absent daughter. He teaches her how to be strong, and OH.MY.GOSH. he better not be dead in the sequel.

Where are all the “If Joel dies, we riot” shirts?

Other Great Examples #2:

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The Blind Side

Ok. So Sandra Bullock won a razzie the same year she won best actress for this film. And ok. So maybe some of the “true story” bits were stretched. You know what still worked about this film?

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It wasn’t all the publicity Taco Bell got.

Protective Behavior wins again! Lovable, gentle giant Michael Oher needs this family in his life to remove him from the bad situations he’s grown up in. Situations which have made him mentally fragile. But you know, the Tuohy family needs him too. He, through just being the lovable, gentle, very protective person that he is, helps them realize that their own lives needed to be changed to better understand the needs of others.

Also…who pays that much for a salad?

Other Great Examples #3:

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Wreck-It Ralph

I’m beating a dead horse at this point. Sorry…that wasn’t very PC. I’m feeding a very full guinea pig at this point.

Though he wasn’t full from water, I can tell you that much.

What works so well about Wreck-It Ralph is that both characters exhibit protective behaviors. He (Ralph) fights to protect Vannellope even if it might cost him his life. Which is of course a beautiful irony because lives are not usually what video game characters worry about. She (Vannellope) returns the favor by saving Ralph and helping him realize that he was a hero all along.

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Stupid cookie. Stop making me tear up.

This trope continually pops up in some of my favorite stories. I can only hope that The Mandalorian will continue to provide a fresh take on this popular story-telling device.

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Also…he needs a jetpack. Then again, it didn’t work so well for Boba Fett.

Thank you for reading friends. And in case you were wondering, the answer is no. Tater Tot will not have his own Disney Plus account. But that doesn’t mean I care for him any less.

Write strong. Write long. Write on.

-Gatlin

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