Boba Fett fans, you’re going to love this week’s edition of the Geek Goddess interviews.
Corinne Finkelstein was practically raised on Star Wars and, like many fans of the franchise, she was fascinated by a certain enigmatic bounty hunter.
One fateful day at WonderCon, she met members of the Mandalorian Mercs, a club that celebrates Star Wars through the creation and display of costumes representing Mandalorian characters and culture from George Lucas’ many sagas.
As an Orthodox Jew who abides by a strict set of religious rules, she worried she might not be able to meet the club’s costume requirements or be accepted by the other members. She quickly learned she had nothing to worry about as her fellow Mercs warmly embraced her, helping her create a unique costume and character that honored her religious beliefs.
Corinne went on to be accepted into one of the club’s elite brigades and now troops with her clan at charity and volunteer events around Southern California. She’s also become something of an expert on Mandalorian history and culture. (She really digs “Star Wars Rebels,” by the way.)
Her story suggests the ways of the Force can be a path to religious tolerance, even in our troubled galaxy.
How did you first learn about the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club?
I first found out about them at WonderCon in Anaheim this year.
When did you join and why did you want to be part of the group?
I started asking questions right away to see if the religious requirements I had would be OK. I wanted to join because one, Boba Fett is my favorite, but also they were really nice when I chatted with them at the con. They were friendly, engaging, and seemed really fun and accepting. I joined the forum right away, became official about 2 1/2 months later, and became a brigade member six months later.
Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How were you introduced to the films? What role have they played in your life?
I was taken to see “A New Hope” when I was only 6 months old. It was the first movie my parents took me to. Truthfully, I was so young, I don’t ever remember a time without Star Wars. I have always loved Star Wars. I even had the old Atari game, so as far as I can remember, I have been obsessed.
So you’re a huge Boba Fett fan?
I am. I love everything Boba Fett, but as I have learned more about Mandalorian history, I have really come to admire Ursa Wren and Bo-Katan Kryze (of “Star Wars Rebels”).
For those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, what is a Mandalorian?
Mandalorians are predominantly human (and) originated on the planet Mandalorian. They have their own culture and language that is different than the basic spoken in much of the Star Wars galaxy. There are, however, other races that chose to join the Mandalorian culture, as one major saying is, “Family is more than blood.”
They have a very civilized culture and a very strong legacy. They can be found on a few different planets throughout history and primarily are a civilization that puts family and honor first. They were widely regarded to be the most feared warriors in the galaxy and had a love for single combat. The most precious item a Mandalorian owned was their armor.
What requirements must potential members meet in order to join the Mandalorian Mercs?
The requirements to join the mercs: basically be over 18 (though we have a junior group that the kiddos can join once their parents are official members), be a member on the forum, and pass the costuming requirements set out by the approval team. This includes Mandalorian armor, other requirements like weapons, and soft goods (textiles).
Before you joined, you were concerned because you are an Orthodox Jew. What were some of your specific concerns?
My biggest concerns were the modesty standards. I am not allowed to touch gentlemen other than my husband or immediate family, and since I am married, I am required to cover my hair in mixed company. I also must keep anything above my elbows and knees, as well as my collarbone, covered and must wear female clothing. I am not allowed to wear pants, only skirts.
I also can’t troop or do events during Shabbat (Friday night around sundown to Saturday night an hour past sundown) so I was worried I wouldn’t get to do anything. Plus, I keep strict kosher (religious dietary laws) and I thought they would find that strange and maybe not accept me.
You said the members of the Mercs were “really accepting,” and that you were able to create a “kit,” or costume, that worked for them and you. Tell me how you arrived at that happy compromise.
I was so lucky. They were! First off, they were all really respectful of my restrictions. I explained to them and, truthfully, the whole clan and members of the approval team had suggestions to help. I also had to have females from the clan help me with placement of my armor since that needs to be done on the body.
The club was a concern since one of the requirements was knee armor. And a flight suit. Since flight suits are pants, I was able to wear leggings, make a skirt that looked like two pieces — loincloth for the front and Kama (command skirt) for the back — and made “shnees” — knee and shin pads — together. That way, I would have the knee requirements covered, but since I can’t show my knees, the approval team could see they were one piece attached to the shins. Also my loincloth and Kama are much longer than normal to cover up my knees.
Mandalorian Mercs encourage a fair amount of creativity and individualism when designing one’s kit. Tell me about the process of creating your armor.
I looked at pictures of the current female mercs. Looked at what I liked and what I didn’t. Picked a color scheme I loved and drew some inspiration sketches. I also wanted to keep it very feminine, so I added some pieces on top of the chest plate that add to the femininity. From there, it was a lot of work to get the weathering right, the color scheme right and to make sure it also wasn’t too flashy where it became immodest and drew attention to certain areas.
Did you have to research or learn about Mandalorian culture and history during this process?
I really learned a lot! Before, I was a fan, but I had no idea of the details in the culture, from the language, to the value system, to the belief system. I was able to do a great deal of research and was continually surprised with the beautiful culture that was very similar to my own.
Does your character have a name and/or backstory?
My character does have a name. It’s S’keara Charev. It’s inspired by the Hebrew words for “Hired Sword.” In my brigade profession, I am an acquisition operative. It’s my job to steal things for the highest bidder, be that Imperial plans, Kyber Crystals, relics, or anything else that needs to be liberated from its current owner.
My character lost her parents young, and was pretty much a loner until she found love. After this, she and her love were accepted by a clan and now, she makes a lucrative living. (It’s also nice when she can throw a wrench in the wheels of the Empire from time to time.)
After you were approved for official membership in the Mercs, you applied for a brigade membership. Tell me more about that.
Fortunately, my armor was designed with the brigade specs in mind (It’s different for each profession.), but I did have to add a lot of tools to my kit. I had to upgrade all my weapons, and everything had to be top quality.
I worked with my brigade marshal to make sure things were going in the right direction. It was a bit of a challenge as all my tools really had to look amazing and being a brigade member is a big honor. After about three months of working on my upgrades, I became a member of the Special Operations Brigade.
The Mercs are grouped into clans. Where is your clan based and what is its name? Is it a large group?
My clan’s name is Manda’galaar. It kind of translates to “Heaven Hawk.” Mandalorians don’t really have a word for heaven so this word is used for soul or spirit. We consider ourselves the “guardians of all things Mandalorian.” We have 68 (I think) members currently and our range is Los Angeles, Orange, San
Bernadino, Riverside, and Ventura counties.
Charity and volunteer work is a big part of the Mercs’ mission. What are some of the events your clan has participated in?
This is the best part of being a merc! The charity work! I have been able to participate in Star Wars days for a special needs children’s camp, science night at elementary schools, our clan does reading days at the library and children’s events at the zoos. They have even gone to visit sick children in hospitals.
Have you attended any conventions?
I have. Comic Con Palm Springs, Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, Comic Con Revolution, Ontario. So a few.
How do people tend to react when you guys show up in your armor?
They really like it. The kids go crazy and think it’s the coolest thing. The adults really like it as well and we get a lot of compliments. Sometimes, we look intimidating but we try, especially for the kiddos, to show them we’re nice.
Are there many female members in the Mandalorian Mercs?
There are a lot of females. Being Mandalorian and being a merc are not gender specific. There are a lot of really amazing female kits out there, and I have made some amazing friends from this.
As far as you know, you’re the only Orthodox Jewish woman in the mercs and the only Orthodox Jew in the brigades. What is that like for you?
I think it’s a really cool privilege. There are some times that events will pop up on Shabbat and I would really love to go, but can’t. So sometimes, I wish more things were on Sunday, but the whole clan really includes me!
They even gave me a nickname. I was looking for something in one of the baskets of food we were given and I found a granola bar that was kosher. I got really excited and said, “Yes, it’s kosher!” And one of my clanmates said, “That’s it … we will call you the Kosherlorian!”
I love it and it was so cool that they accepted me like that. They ask questions about my religion and culture and now they get super excited when they find something kosher. I have had a couple of them come up and say, “Look, I found the mark, its kosher, you can eat this,” and they are really excited. It’s a truly special group of people.
Do you draw any parallels between Judaism and the ways of the Force?
I do, actually. There is a philosophy in Judaism called “tikkun olam,” which means, “repair the world.” It’s the idea that as a Jewish person, you bear the responsibility not only for you and your family’s wellbeing but for society’s welfare too. I think that the Jedi especially try to do this. You see things in a broader perspective, there is a mystical side to this as well. So I think a lot of ideas parallel.
What does your Rabbi think of your involvement in the Mandalorian Mercs?
I have full support! It’s a chance to do great charity work and acts of kindness for strangers, which is a major tenant of our faith. And it also allows other people to get to know me and maybe learn about my faith since most people don’t really know any Orthodox Jews. As long as I observe what our faith prescribes, then it’s a great thing.
With all the spin-offs Disney is planning for the Star Wars franchise, would you like to see one about Boba Fett and the Mandalorians?
The animated “Star Wars Rebels” series has delved a bit into Mandalorian culture. Are you a fan of that series?
I love “Rebels” and really like their showing of Mandalorian culture.
You are also a “Lord of the Rings” fan. How were you drawn to J.R.R. Tolkien’s series? How does your love of “LOTR” manifest itself in your life?
“The Silmarillion” is my favorite book ever, but I reread all the books at least once a year. I also love the movies and watch them every chance I can. I also do other sewing projects where I make costumes for horseback, and a lot of my designs could be considered Elvish inspired.
What about Harry Potter? How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
I discovered the movies first, and as hard as it was, tried to read the books after the movies to avoid spoilers.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
You also mentioned you love “anything vampire.” What are some of your favorite series/franchises/stories in this genre?
I love Bram Stoker’s original. We also have a vintage-inspired “Nosferatu” poster in our bedroom. I loved “Interview with a Vampire” and “Van Helsing,” as well as a couple others.
What is it about vampire mythology that fascinates you?
I really think it’s fascinating that most cultures have a legend of the vampire in some form. Everyone has a myth of the undead. It’s very interesting.
As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture?
I think I would really love to see a bit more modesty and respect. What I mean is, women can be awesome regardless of how much skin they show or don’t show. Not everyone has to have this ideal body style with plunging necklines. I would like women to be just as valued (if not more so) for their minds and abilities rather than their looks.
Is there anything else we should know about you in terms of fandoms, personal interests, work, or life?
As far as work, I just started a custom sewing business. I love to ride horses, and if you see someone who has a different religion, ask them about it. I have felt so loved with my clan and others I have trooped with respectfully asking me about my religion. It has been an honor to have them learn about mine while I learned about theirs. I think it promotes tolerance and acceptance, which is desperately needed, especially now.
What’s the next upcoming release you’re looking forward to (books, movies, TV, etc.)?
“The Last Jedi”!
Photos courtesy of Chief Geek Photography, Brent Rudmann, Kristina Gunderson-Rudmann.
About the Geek Goddess Interviews:
No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who would be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.