The central story of Star Wars is the multigenerational Skywalker family epic, but that epic—like the contemporary U.S. economy—is built on the labor of self-employed contract workers: smugglers, guns-for-hire, and bounty hunters, most recently the unnamed Mandalorian of the new Disney+ drama of the same name.
Money is therefore of the essence in The Mandalorian, and to the Mandalorian. His paychecks, when they come, cover his own overhead and the cost of subsistence and must sustain him through the lean times. He’s an Uber driver or a freelance writer with a cool helmet. In the first episode, he considers payment in two forms of currency—Imperial credits and Calamari flan—in addition to ingots of a metal called Beskar, which is used to form the distinctive Mandalorian armor and is therefore more valuable than any other currency, at least to our protagonist.
I used to be a freelancer myself—admittedly in a line of work that involves less gunplay than bounty hunting—and felt constant anxiety over the security of my next paycheck in an uncertain industry. Paychecks would come late, or irregularly, or sometimes not at all. I cannot imagine working like that in an economy with such an unstable monetary situation as is portrayed in The Mandalorian.
Star Wars has always been fairly up front about money, though the value of certain goods or services has never quite added up. In the second act of Episode IV, Han Solo haggles with Obi-Wan Kenobi over the cost of a discreet charter flight from Tatooine to Alderaan: between 10,000 and 17,000 credits, and that first sum is almost enough to buy one’s own hyperspace-capable ship. We learn later that Luke expects to make somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 credits by selling his landspeeder, and we even see Imperial currency shortly thereafter when Han tosses a coin to the Mos Eisley Cantina bartender to cover the cost of removing Greedo’s smoking corpse from the corner booth. (It’s a big coin, for the record, which raises the question of where Han, a noted wearer of extremely tight pants, keeps his change.)
What we don’t learn is what the average moisture farmer, or Imperial Navy officer, or smuggler, earns per year, which would give some context as to the value of the Imperial credit. To use an example from the expanded universe (may it rest in peace), a New Republic officer might have 10,000 credits in his bank account, while 10 million is enough to buy a few dozen X-Wings. That doesn’t mesh with our experience, in which Luke’s speeder is the equivalent of a high school senior’s first car, but a modern fighter jet can cost as much as $100 million. (We never do learn how much it costs to clean up the results of a gunfight in a Tatooine bar, but I don’t know how much that costs in 2019 U.S. dollars either, and I’m from New Jersey.)
But it’s important to remember three things. The first is that it’s admittedly probably too much to ask for monetary consistency in a story about telekinetic spacefaring samurai. The second is that technology in the Star Wars universe operates differently than in ours, and owning a starship there might be the same as owning a pickup truck here. The third is that Star Wars takes place in a state of constant governmental upheaval. By the time of The Mandalorian, a mere nine years after the Battle of Yavin, the Empire has collapsed quickly after the Battle of Endor, and, while the credit isn’t valueless, it’s in a near Weimarlike state of inflation. When 10,000 would once buy a starship, 5,000 now barely buys enough fuel to get from here to there.
While that does not bode well for the rump Imperial government, the New Republic is clearly on the rise, as evidenced by the credits-to-flan exchange rate. The Calamari flan, in addition to sounding like the most horrifying food item imaginable—just imagine that seawatery mollusk flavor in a custard topped with caramel—is a positively joyful piece of currency. It comes from the Mon Calamari civilization, an amphibious squidlike race that produced the greatest capital ships and fleet commanders of the Rebellion, New Republic, and Resistance—most notably Admiral Raddus from Rogue One and Admiral Ackbar of Return of the Jedi and approximately 100 million subsequent memes. The flan coin, as rendered in The Mandalorian, is irregularly colored and vaguely luminous, to the point where it looks positively water-soluble. And it’s so much more stable than Imperial credits that the Mandalorian is willing to accept half his bounty if he’s paid in flan.
That’s not especially weird. Here on Earth there are places where euros or U.S. dollars are accepted and trusted above local currency, and the Star Wars universe is not wholly run by either the Empire or the New Republic; there are dozens or even hundreds of unaffiliated local governments with their own currencies and no desire to get tangled in the struggle for rule of Coruscant. Even in The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn tries to buy a hyperdrive for 20,000 Old Republic credits, only to be rebuffed by Watto, who demands not credits, but “money.” Since our hero hangs out in the kind of places where street toughs get fatally bisected by saloon doors, it’s fair to assume these worlds operate outside the strict control of Imperial Remnant or New Republic law. What is weird, however, is that these are not Republic flan, but Calamari flan. The Mon Calamari are a hugely influential species in the New Republic government, but they’re not the only show in town. The New Republic is multicultural by design, governed by (among others) Sullustans, Bothans, and members of countless human civilizations. So why would the Mon Calamari have their own currency?
A government without a common currency is perilously and unnecessarily unstable, which was one of the chief failings of the Articles of Confederation in the early days of the United States, and one reason the European Union created the euro. A common currency allows the government to set a centralized monetary policy and erases barriers to trade and commerce within the government’s jurisdiction. Since the New Republic has been in power for several years by the time of The Mandalorian, it would have had ample time to mint its own currency and phase out existing alternatives.
Considering that the New Republic managed to lose the peace merely a generation after losing the Galactic Civil War, maybe the chaotic currency situation is an indication of how difficult it is to win a democratic mandate in such a large, diverse body politic. Or maybe if Mon Mothma and her confreres had had the sense to set a strong monetary policy off the bat, the First Order would never have risen.