What’s this? New “Star Wars” that I actually like? It’s been far too long. Not since “Revenge of the Sith” have I experienced a new Star Wars project as good as the new series “Star Wars: Andor”, a spy thriller covering the saga of those who dared to resist during the Dark Times, 5 years before the events of “Rogue One” and “A New Hope”, when the Rebellion was little more than lone wolves, a courageous few willing to lay their lives on the line for freedom, to sacrifice everything to overthrow the tyranny of the Empire.
Seeing the Empire through new Eyes
Indeed, more than any other major Star Wars project “Andor” gives the viewer a visceral window into how evil the Empire truly is, and yet also how its machinery of oppression is at once terrible and impotent; we truly see what Leia meant when she told Tarkin “the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers”. The ultimate futility of violence, of total control by the state, the self-defeating nature of the dark side, is a core theme that runs throughout George Lucas’s original saga, and here it is at last continued in this post-Lucas age of Star Wars.
Interestingly, “Andor” depicts Palpatine’s Galactic Empire pretty much exactly how I always imagined it to be. Not a supernatural demonic horror driven by the Emperor’s sorcery, but rather as a very human bureaucracy, run virtually autonomously by a powerful military determined to keep order in an ungovernable galaxy by any means necessary, lest the death and destruction of the Clone Wars be reprised, laws, legislatures, norms, and liberties be damned. The seed of fascism, which runs rampant within the imperial bureaucracy but without quite rising to the level of being a state-enforced ideology, for Emperor Palpatine himself has no personal investment in fascism or even the Empire itself; for him, it’s all just a tool to be used and exploited as a means to Sith ends, which he pursues in the shadows with all the resources a galactic government can command while the imperial military keeps his base of power secure.
“Andor” does an excellent job of depicting how police states actually work. Syril Karn is so typical of the true believers that form the banal bureaucratic foot soldiers of fascist regimes, being a simp not just for Dedra Meero but for what she represents: a state that cares nothing about him in the end but that he himself is utterly devoted to. Speaking of Dedra, she may well be my favorite character — certainly Denise Gough turns in my favorite acting performance of the whole show, playing her character so delightfully in every moment of airtime. Syril and Dedra’s relationship certainly qualifies as the most twisted romance (if you can even call it that) in the history of Star Wars, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.
Only the Toughest could make it in the Dark Times
Dedra is the most hardcore operator in the whole show, aside from my other favorite character: Luthen Rael, brought off very effectively by Stellan Skarsgård. Luthen knows what it takes to have cool factor in Star Wars: he’s an antique dealer and insurrectionary, gallivanting about the galaxy with a black cloak and speeder, and that starship…well, let me just say he makes Han Solo look like an amateurish nerf herder. 😉
One of my favorite scenes in the whole series is when Luthen monologues to Lonnie (a Rebel mole inside the ISB) in the depths of Coruscant that joining the Rebellion is a lifetime commitment, not something you can back away from, telling Lonnie he’s going to keep working for him (with an implied “or else”).
Interestingly, Luthen says he’s been doing this for 15 years, which since the show takes place in 5 BBY puts his start in the work of rebellion in 20 BBY…a full year before “Revenge of the Sith” and the end of the Clone Wars. Hmm. I think there’s a lot more to his story than the sort of goody-goody republic-loyalist-turned-rebel the likes of Mon Mothma is. Cassian Andor himself, it’s worth noting, started fighting for a Separatist-backed rebel cell as a child around the same time.
“Andor” adds to what I’ve long suspected: a very thick throughline connects the Separatist movement and the later Rebellion. In addition, I think it’s underappreciated by fans how similar the late-stage Republic was to the Empire; again, Cassian Andor himself pretty much equates the two in “Rogue One”. “The Clone Wars” animated show unfortunately portrays the Republic as good and the Confederacy as evil, but I don’t think that’s the real picture. In behind-the-scenes features for the same series, it’s explicitly said by the creators that Separatist ships were part of the same design lineage as what would later be used by the Rebellion. In addition, “Revenge of the Sith” outright states in the opening crawl that “there are heroes on both sides”. Biggest difference between the two stages of the conflict (the Clone Wars and the Galactic Revolution) was the fact that the opposition reassembled under an aegis Palpatine didn’t control, with the battle lines between fascism and anti-fascism even starker than they were in the Clone Wars.
In this show the Rebellion, or rather the embryonic rebel cells that would eventually form the Alliance, is depicted in truly impactful and inspirational fashion, the message of “Andor” being more overtly insurrectionary and anti-fascist than in any live-action or animated installment of Star Wars to date. This is a theme that has run throughout the saga since the very first film in 1977, but “Andor” seems at times like an anarchist tract of resistance brought to life. Tenets of anarchist praxis are even discussed in-universe, with there even being a cypherpunk crypto-anarchist type character on the Aldani mission: our creators didn’t miss a beat.
And not just when it comes to insurrectionary anarchism; between the Separatist links and Luthen’s ruthlessness while on the side of good, our creators were downright bold. In my mind this is perhaps most obviously illustrated by “Andor” making explicit what was implicit before: childhood in Star Wars doesn’t work like it does in modern America, which is a very welcome change from what science fiction usually does (Star Trek, I’m looking at you). The value system is in line with ancient norms, giving children adult responsibilities as soon as they’re able to exercise them, rather than our peculiar practice in the last century or so of denying agency until long past puberty.
I’m particularly delighted that they went there, and more or less explicitly state that coming of age on Chandrila is 15. Leida’s enthusiasm for having a marriage arranged at that age is also quite a refreshing contrast to the tiresome trope of the teenage girl from such a culture who conveniently has hopes and dreams that exactly match modern Western sensibilities of young womanhood (blech). That was a gutsy move. I don’t see why it horrified some people; I thought Leida readying herself and that little class (?) of hers for wifehood was a beautiful thing, even if Chandrilans could really stand to loosen up those awfully-rigid customs of theirs (well, at least it now makes a lot more sense why they’d send someone as straight-laced as Mon Mothma to the Senate…).
Yes, Andor does very much feel like Star Wars
Our creators didn’t miss a beat when it came to making the series feel like “Star Wars” either; indeed, it feels more like “Star Wars” than any Star Wars I’ve seen since “The Clone Wars”. Some people say “Andor doesn’t feel like Star Wars”, which makes me wonder if they even watched the same show I did; our creators drew on the same sources, the same politics, and the same styles George Lucas did, while not making it a rehash of what came before. The trick to doing this is to draw not on previous Star Wars media, but rather on the sort of media Star Wars itself drew upon originally, while introducing some new material (e.g. the idea of a spy thriller, which we haven’t seen as the premise of a Star Wars film or show yet).
Completing the process is respecting the universe and its lore, which “Andor” does in force; indeed, every time I watch it it feels like an installment of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe brought to cinematic life. The show has legacy characters, but their appearances make sense; the show is peppered with references to lore, one of which I noticed dated all the way back to the Rakatans from “Knights of the Old Republic”, but all the references make sense. They’re not at all gratuitous, not there for fanservice, not there to telegraph to the fans “hey, we have this thing for you; that makes it Star Wars!”. No, it’s there to help tell the story and immerse the viewer into a world that extends far wider than what you see on screen.
“Andor” is an excellent example of the results you can get when your writing is actually competent and you actually care about the universe you’re writing in. Tony Gilroy, creator and showrunner for “Andor”, is known not to be a Star Wars fan, but when he creates for Star Wars he treats the universe’s lore with the respect it deserves.
Indeed, “Andor” is an excellent example of television, period; every aspect of it is a masterful bit of cinema. “Andor” is not a perfect show in my view, however. My quibbles include the rather bleak aesthetic; quite suitable for the Dark Times, but on occasion it’s somewhat too drab. The cinematography is good, but could stand to be bolder and more vivid. Unlike what some people say it’s not a boring show; it keeps the plot moving and keeps up the tension, but overall I’d say the pacing is a bit too languid. A touch more of the George Lucas “faster, more intense!” spirit would be welcome at times. And particularly welcome would be a lot more aliens.
But really, these are rather minor complaints. I expect “Andor” in the future will have a treasured place in my go-to list of what to watch any time I want to see some “Star Wars”, alongside the six films of the original saga and “The Clone Wars”.
Indeed, “Andor” is the only Star Wars film or show aside from those six films that I really like. Everything else put out by Disney Lucasfilm to date has ranged from mediocre to terrible; even “The Clone Wars”, while enjoyable, was uneven and somewhat lacking overall. This, on the other hand? It was great. I don’t always like my Star Wars to be this dark and heavy — in particular, I’d really love to see a similarly high-quality Star Wars show with a much more lighthearted spirit in the future — but for what “Andor” was, what we wanted and needed it to be, the chronicle of galactic revolution in the Dark Times? It struck right on target. I’m very much looking forward to the second and final season come 2024.