It all began in 1978. That's when the Star Wars Holiday Special came out. In this otherwise frighteningly 70's 'variety show' was included a short cartoon detailing a bounty hunter trying to capture the heroes. This was the first appearance of Boba Fett and his armor. Around the same time, the Boba Fett action figure came out (though I only ever got my hands on the one WITHOUT the actual, firing backpack rocket). And so, in this relative obscurity, Mandalorian mania had begun. I remember my friends at the time being very impressed with Boba Fett, even though nobody knew exactly what he was supposed to be.
Mandalorian Coolness (IMO): 6/10
When the Empire Strikes Back came out, and Boba made his first 'real' appearance, the mania only grew. And honestly? I...never really understood it. I recognized how cool the armor looked (the helmet especially). I even had to give a nod to the fact that—yeah, Bounty Hunters were a cool villain type. But that's where it ended for me. Many of my friends, however, were completely enthralled. Boba was the favorite figure when we'd play with our toys (mine was a taun-taun, as I recall..). Though I was only ten when ESB came out, I remember thinking that Boba Fett really didn't DO anything. He stood around looking sort of menacing and took a few potshots at Luke (and missed), but that's about it. Okay, so you can give him a nod for being able to track Han Solo down, that show's he's smart. But badass? No. Never really proved it in this movie. Hell, he didn't even take Solo and the others down by himself. He called the Empire to help him. Kind of a punk move when you think of it (even if it was probably the smartest thing to do).
Mandalorian Coolness: 5/10
Fett (and other Mandalorians) continued to make appearances in the Marvel Star Wars comics series. And in fact, these are probably some of the better showings for Mandalorians. One in particular stood out in my mind—Fenn, the freedom-fighting Mandalorian fighting to release his people from Imperial slavery. That was an interesting storyline, even if it did later raise all kinds of continuity problems. My impression of Mandalorians improved slightly. Probably because one of them was actually portrayed as a hero.
Mandalorian Coolness: 6/10
In Return of the Jedi, I was all set for a showdown of SOME sort—and I imagined the Boba Fett would have some part to play in it. This turned out to be true, but...lets just say that Fett didn't make a very good showing. At first, he just stands around, looking menacing again. Then, during the fight he has a series of mishaps. He uses his jetpack. Cool. He uses his entangling cable thing. Cool. Oops! Luke cuts the cable. Oops. He trips/falls and gets dazed for a bit when the skiff gets hit by heavy gunfire. Okay, now he's back up! He gets a couple shots off at Luke.. and misses. Even though the Jedi's back is turned. Oops. Crap. A mostly-blind Han Solo accidently hits his jetpack and he flies through the air, screaming and waving his arms. He continues to scream and flail as he hits the sail barge and falls into the Sarlacc. The end. Yeah. So..yeah. Again, not impressed with Fett.
Mandalorian Coolness: 4/10
But you can't keep a Mandalorian down, it seems. After RotJ, Fett made appearances in the Droids cartoon (set prior to the events of the original movies) and was 'reborn' in subsequent comics and novels—the general (though sometimes conflicting) storylines saying that he manages to escape from the Sarlacc. Alright, I'll play along. Sure. But still not impressed—but the mania persisted. The ultimate triumph of style over substance in my opinion.
Mandalorian Coolness: 5/10
With the re-release of the original trilogy in the late 90's, Lucas evidently decided to stroke the Fanboy's Boba lust by adding additional scenes of him. So in Episode IV we see him.. walk menacingly past the camera. Wow. In Episode VI we see him flirting with the chicks in Jabba's palace. You know, I actually approve of that. Gives Boba a bit more swagger in my opinion. But I know of at least one Fanboy who was dismayed at this—thought it betrayed the 'quiet menace' of the character. Whatever.
Mandalorian Coolness: 6/10
Though Episodes I and III had nothing to do with ANY Mandalorians, Episode II introduced Boba's dad, Jango. And you know what? I think they did a good job of making him a badass. A smart, sneaky badass at that. He didn't want to face a Jedi in direct combat (smart), but when he did, he pulled out all the stops. Flame throwers, rocket launchers, tangle cords, jetpacks—hell, even shipboard artillery. And lets not forget those Bah-WONNGGGG! bombs he dropped in the asteroid field. Hell, we even see Jango blow away one Jedi and do a sweet pistol twirl afterwards. Now that really IS badass. Unfortunately, he seems to get too cocky and leaps down into the middle of the battle to deal with Mace Windu. Admittedly, he attacks the Jedi when he's distracted. But once that failed? Man, he should have run. As it is, he gets trampled by a critter then beheaded (still, he does get that 'one shot kill' thing with the critter first. Again. Badass). Boba on the other hand? Eeeeee. He comes off as a rather annoying child. "go get 'em, dad!" Thankfully, his annoyance factor does not detract too much from Jango's coolness.
Mandalorian Coolness: 7/10
After the movies, we are left mainly with novels and comics to build on (and detract from) Mandalorian Mania. These are really a mixed bag—some I enjoyed, others I thought were dumb. Overall, they didn't affect my like/dislike of the race. And then? Knights of the Old Republic. Here, we are introduced to Mandalorians as a race for the first time, mainly through a major character, Canderous Ordo. We hear that they actually almost conquered the Galaxy (remember this is 4000 years prior to Star Wars). That's... pretty badass. We also see that they're a kind of nomadic warrior race with a very rough, brutal sense of honor. All of this is actually pretty interesting—despite the fact that my first reaction to the mandalorians was an inward groan of "great, more 'fan-service". More than anything else, I'd say that KotOR and KotOR II really turned me around on the Mandalorians as a race. I'm still not a big Boba fan, but I can now more fully appreciate the race/culture—as it has some SUBSTANCE behind it now, and not just a cool looking helmet.
I would also be negligent not to bring up the fact that one of the characters in my Star Wars campaign is a Mandalorian. From the early 90's until the present, that character has evolved along with my impression of his 'kin'—to the point now where...you know what? I like Mandalorians. I may not be manic about it? But they're neat. Dented helmets and all.
Final Mandalorian Coolness: 9/10 (Yelsainians and Corellians are still the best)