*** Be warned that SPOILERS ARE AHEAD for season two of The Mandalorian, so if you haven’t watched this episode, don’t read this article. Trust me, you want to go into this one without spoilers. ***
Earlier this year, it was reported that Timothy Olyphant would play Cobb Vanth in the second season of The Mandalorian, and in the first episode of the season we saw that those reports were correct.
We were introduced to Cobb Vanth, but he wasn’t a character created for the show. He first appeared in the Aftermath books, and now he has been brought to live-action and introduced to a larger audience.
So if you’re here wondering who this very fun and interesting new character is, you’ve come to the right place!
Cobb Vanth in the Aftermath trilogy:
When the promotion for The Force Awakens really picked up in September 2015, the book Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was released, beginning to explore the events following Return of the Jedi. The book was largely disappointing, with fans taking issue with the unique writing style and larger issue with the fact that the book didn’t really follow the beloved original trilogy characters (a problem more with the promotion of the book than the book itself). The way the novel was formatted was by telling the main story with the main characters, but interspersing “Interlude” chapters that explored the rest of the galaxy. One of these interlude chapters in the book took us to Tatooine, introducing us to Cobb Vanth.
Two subsequent Aftermath books were released, Life Debt and Empire’s End, and they represented remarkable improvements from the first novel. They too followed a similar format, and so each one of those novels also included an interlude chapter featuring Cobb Vanth, meaning that we got three chapters following this new character. Not a whole lot of material, but enough to leave a memorable impression. And that impression was mainly because of the very intriguing armor Vanth came to possess.
In the first book, Aftermath, the Red Key Raiders have established control on Tatooine, a mining company led by the Weequay Lorgan Movellan. One of their members, Adwin Charu, seeks to obtain droids, weapons, and mining tools from Jawas. While doing so, he encounters a man who introduces himself as Cobb Vanth, who helps him gain an audience with the Jawas. In the sandcrawler, the two come across a box containing some valuable armor:
“From the box, [Adwin] withdraws a helmet. Pitted and pocked, as if with some kind of acid. But still – he raps his knuckles on it. The Mandalorians knew how to make armor, didn’t they? ‘Look at this,’ he says, holding it up. ‘Mandalorian battle armor. Whole box. Complete set, by the looks of it. Been through hell and back. I think my boss will appreciate this.”
Vanth determines to take the armor and appoint himself Sherrif, saying, “Being a lawman, I could use some protection against those corrupt types who might think to seize the opportunity here on my planet. That armor is mine.” Vanth quickly draws his blaster and shoots Charu in the shoulder, taking the armor from him, intending to “[bring] the law to this lawless place.” Instead of killing Charu, Vanth leaves him behind to go back and warn his boss to leave the planet.
In the next book, Life Debt, the interlude chapter on Tatooine is mainly about Malakili, the rancor keeper at Jabba’s Palace. He had stayed behind at the Palace, along with many others, waiting for a new Hutt to come, but none did. So he too eventually left, heading to the sarlacc at the Great Pit of Carkoon and tame it.
“But the mighty Sarlacc was injured. Burning wreckage from the sail barge had rained upon it. Already its body – considerably more massive than the mouth exposed from the sliding sands – had been partially unburied, its stoma-tubes slit open, its digesting innards pillaged by industrious Jawas. They pulled out weapons and armor, droids and tools. And skeletons, of course.”
Malakili wandered toward Mos Pelgo but was roughly apprehended by the Red Key Raiders. But the Raiders are killed by some others approaching, a man and a woman, saying they are law. The woman is a Twi’lek named Issa-Or, and the man is Cobb Vanth:
“There, a man in Mandalorian armor, the suit of it pocked and pitted and streaked with scars. Armor that looks eerily familiar, and Malakili’s innards clench at the sight of it. A carbine hangs at the man’s side.”
Vanth introduces himself as “Lawman and de facto mayor of what used to be Mos Pelgo,” while Issa-Or says that it is now called Freetown, “A place where good people can come if they’re willing to work. If they’re willing to stand tall against the syndicates. Against folk like Lorgan and Red Key.” Finding out that Malakili is a beastmaster, they reveal that they have obtained a baby Hutt from the Red Key, and they enlist Malakili’s help to raise it.
Then finally, in Empire’s End, Lorgan Movellan and the Red Key Raiders have attacked Freetown and taken Cobb Vanth captive. As Lorgan attempts to figure out what motivates Vanth, the self-proclaimed Sheriff of Freetown says he is “just a man trying to do right,” and when asked what he wants, he simply responds, “I want freedom.” It is then revealed that Vanth used to be a slave, bearing the scar marking on the back of his neck still. The Raiders drag out the Huttlet (named Borgo), but their takeover is cut short when a giant Bantha arrives, with a Tusken Raider riding it. The Tusken attacks the Raiders, and others soon join in. Malakili frees Vanth, who quickly overpowers Lorgan, explaining that they had cut a deal with the Tusken Raiders:
“‘Funny thing,’ Vanth says. ‘The Tuskens consider this place sacred. And they don’t like slavers any more than we do. We cut them a deal. We give them water, they leave us alone. They like that we have a Hutt, too. Earns us a bit of respect. And my friend here, Malakili, he procured for them something real special: a pearl from a krayt dragon’s belly. That afforded us the last piece of the puzzle: their protection. Though I think they might’ve done it for us anyway – they don’t like you syndicate types out here.'”
Before Vanth lets Lorgan leave, he carves a message on his face.
How does this fit with The Mandalorian?
In The Mandalorian, Cobb Vanth tells Din Djarin about how he came to possess the armor. We learn that he was a slave who, like the others on Tatooine, was celebrating the fall of the Empire as the Second Death Star was destroyed. But that very night, the Mining Collective arrived and took control of the power vaccum left on the planet after the death of Jabba the Hutt and the fall of the Empire. The Mining Collective opened fire on those in the cantina, but Vanth escaped, stealing a camtono of silicax crystals. He wandered in the deserts of Tatooine until he was saved by some Jawas. While aboard their sandcrawler, Vanth was offered a number of items in exchange for the crystals, but he eyed some Mandalorian armor hanging on a wall and obtained it. Wearing the armor, he returned to Mos Pelgo and killed the Mining Collective members there, liberating the town. Five years later, Djarin arrived at Mos Pelgo and met Vanth, setting off the events of the episode, where they team up together, uniting the citizens of Mos Pelgo with Tusken Raiders to take down a Krayt Dragon that had been terrorizing the town. Upon doing so, Vanth upholds his end of the deal he made with Djarin and willingly gives his armor to the true Mandalorian, who rides away on a speeder bike.
So how does this all fit together? Well, I think most of it is relatively easy to see, and could go something like this:
Cobb Vanth lived his whole life on Tatooine and was a slave, but as Tatooine was freed from the oppression of the Hutts and the Empire, they were taken over by the Mining Collective – who presumably operated under another name as well, the Red Key Raiders. Vanth escaped their grasp, encountered some Jawas, obtained a set of worn Mandalorian armor from them, and returned to fight off the Raiders and liberate Mos Pelgo, which was renamed Freetown. Subsequently, Vanth continued to fight for freedom and against the Raiders, which led to a variety of different stories.
Really, there’s only one major part that doesn’t very easily and simply fit together. In Aftermath, Vanth and Adwin Charu together find the Mandalorian armor in a box on the sandcrawler and fight over it. In The Mandalorian, Vanth sits alone with the Jawas when he sees the armor hanging on a wall. So what’s the truth? Well, I simply assume that as Vanth tells Djarin these things, he’s not giving a complete history, and he’s probably telling it in a way that makes him look great. So there are surely some details he leaves out, and that’s totally fine! The show doesn’t need to give us a complete history of the character; in fact, one of the things that give Star Wars fans a lot of trouble is an obsession with thinking that a character’s whole backstory should be explained on-screen (see the discussion around Snoke). But it doesn’t need to be. What the show told us is exactly enough to catch casual audiences up with the backstory of Cobb Vanth, while it largely fits in well with the books for more hard-core audiences. In my mind, the few apparent discrepancies can be chalked up to an incomplete and (likely) idealized version of events re-told by Cobb Vanth.
But anyway, since the Aftermath trilogy takes place during the final year of the Galactic Civil War, and The Mandalorian takes place five years after the Battle of Endor, that means that there is a span of around four years that is unexplored in Cobb Vanth’s life. That’s certainly long enough to explain some of the changes, like the fact that the Huttlet is nowhere to be found, or that they’re calling it Mos Pelgo again, or that relations have deteriorated again with the Tusken Raiders. Four years is a long time. I really hope that we see Vanth again this season in The Mandalorian, but I also hope that we spend some more time exploring what he was up to in the time in-between the Aftermath books and the show.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Cobb Vanth in the Aftermath trilogy; I was intrigued by the armor he wore, but a bit indifferent on the character himself. That has totally changed with just one episode of The Mandalorian (which is probably a credit to Timothy Olyphant’s performance), and now I can’t wait to learn more about him.