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By The Way
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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A man in a ‘Star Wars’ costume gives free masks to travelers. Meet ‘The Maskalorian.’

This is the way a Mandalorian doppelganger encourages strangers to mask up

The Maskalorian gives out masks in New York City. (Chad Nicholson)
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Even in these strange times, the sight is unusual enough to turn heads: a helmeted figure in a jumpsuit and cape with a tiny green creature strapped to his chest. Both appear to come from a galaxy far, far away. Both wear disposable masks over their mouths.

Masks, it turns out, are the entire point of their mission.

“I am the Maskalorian, giver of masks,” the figure says in his first public appearance, in the summer of 2020. “Whether you’re a human or a droid, it doesn’t matter. We must be vigilant and do what we can to keep each other protected.”

The character — inspired by the hit Star Wars show “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus — is the brainchild of Matt Adams, a 43-year-old filmmaker and improv performer. And that little green guy wearing a GoPro on his chest might look a lot like Grogu, a.k.a. the Child, a.k.a. Baby Yoda. But his name is Masku. Together, they have given away roughly 1,000 masks.

He has since been spotted in Austria, New York City and walking through aisles on flights between the two places. On social media, videos of the masked crusader have racked up millions of views.

The Maskalorian hands out free masks to passengers on an airplane. (Video: The Maskalorian)

Adams came up with the idea in the early days of the pandemic. As an ex-New Yorker living in Austria, his wife’s home country, he was missing interactions with strangers and was reading about people who were strongly opposed to wearing masks.

“I just kind of wanted to see, I wonder if I can encourage people in a playful and humorous way,” he said.

He set to work assembling a wardrobe of a bounty hunter in space: flight suit, cape, shoulder armor, gauntlet-style gloves, belt, chest plate. A costume he found online had most of the parts, but the latex mask that came with it didn’t fit the bill. It took a few tries to land the right helmet and a few versions of The Child to get the right size. His mother-in-law made a Masku-sized mask on her sewing machine.

The voice — a take on the raspy, whispery tones of Mandalorian actor Pedro Pascal — came naturally, Adams said.

“It’s kind of like the Mandalorian with a smile under his helmet,” he said. “The Mandalorian on vacation.”

And then it was time to introduce the Maskalorian to the public. His first appearance was in September 2020 in Graz, Austria, where Adams lives with his wife, Simone Adams, who works at the Center for Digital Teaching and Learning at the University of Graz.

From 2008 until 2013, Adams made videos for Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based group that pulls off random acts of mayhem like No Pants Subway Rides, movie scene reenactments and seemingly spontaneous dance parties in public. He knew he wanted the experience to be documented, so he hired a film crew to follow him around.

And because he and his wife had no idea how the character would go over, he had some of his friends from an English-speaking improv group waiting in spots around the city to make sure there would at least be some public interaction they could stage and film. That wouldn’t be necessary, it turned out.

A passenger refused to wear a mask on a London-bound flight. The pilot turned the plane around.

“From almost the moment I put on the helmet, I was getting reactions,” Adams said.

More appearances followed: a trip to Vienna, where a few other improvisers participated; an outing with his wife — in her own costume that riffs on the show’s Armorer character — in Graz; a jaunt to New York City in September of last year; and an airplane ride back home. Adams said he wears a mask under the helmet as well as on the outside.

The scenes are full of inside references for Star Wars fans. The Maskalorian offers hand sanitizer that he says is “approved by the Rebellion.” The masks are “made of white beskar,” the legendary steel used for Mandalorian armor. He compliments a woman with a dog on how well her blurrg is behaving. And he frequently drops the signature phrase: “This is the way.”

On the subway in New York City, a woman held up a backpack version of R2-D2 in greeting.

“I recognize an old friend!” the Maskalorian said. “R2-D2, the only droid I’ve ever trusted.”

On an Austrian Airlines flight, Adams said, he didn’t want to scare anyone. So he had his wife take a few pictures and a video of him in his seat to start. Fellow passengers turned to look and smiled.

“Right at the end of the flight, I was like, ‘This is my only chance,’” he said. He walked down the aisle and handed out masks for two minutes. As he was leaving, he took his luggage from the overhead — still in costume — and a flight attendant greeted Masku by his common name (“Goodbye, Yoda!”) and proclaimed her love for the infant.

That kind of interaction has been joyous for Adams.

“It’s not an easy time right now,” he said. “If you can provide a break in their day, for me, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

He’s gotten some negative feedback in addition to the positive interactions, but he said those comments or messages don’t really bother him.

“It’s a little bit flattering,” he said. “Somebody will go out of their way to send some guy without a face a message.”

Adams said he hasn’t received a cease-and-desist order from Disney; he always makes sure to differentiate his character from the original and hasn’t tried to make money from the project. In fact, it has been a costly gig for him over the past year and a half, including the price of the gear, film crews and masks as well as time he’s spent editing the final products.

His previous job making educational videos at a university in Graz ended last year because of budget cuts. Now he’s working on creative projects while teaching a documentary film class online for a State University of New York college. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra “credits” for Maskalorian adventures.

“I don’t know how much I can afford to do, but I would love to be able to do more,” he said.