Andor has made me believe in Star Wars again

Season one has wrapped, and I believe Andor is the best Star Wars content since the Original Trilogy. Here are some reasons why.

Tony Gilroy

When I heard that Gilroy was going to be the showrunner for the series, I was initially surprised. Why? Because Gilroy isn’t a “Star Wars guy”. He’s gone on record saying that he is not a “fan fan”, and while to some this may seem almost blasphemous, I find it refreshing. His writing and direction on Rogue One made that movie age far more gracefully than some other new entries in the universe, and I think that is because Gilroy is interested in telling good stories, not necessarily checking boxes of fan service. Gilroy is most well known as the writer for the original Bourne trilogy along with the excellent legal thriller Michael Clayton. His worlds tend to be grounded, gritty, morally ambiguous, and deeply character-driven, and his philosophy has translated wonderfully into Andor. Gilroy has given us a vision of Star Wars unlike anything we have ever seen before, and what is even more amazing is that Andor would work as an incredible series even if it wasn’t connected to Star Wars, and that is all because of Gilroy’s vision as showrunner.

The Writing

This is probably Andor’s greatest strength and it has elevated what has traditionally been viewed as a kid-friendly space saga into a nuanced, dark, and tense study of rebellion and the atrocities that create them. Every character, whether it be Andor, mysterious organizer Luthen Rael, rebellion fundraiser Senator Mon Mothma, or Imperial lackey Syril Karn, all have depth, motivations, and struggles that feed into a larger story. On top of this, the dialogue by writers Tony and Dan Gilroy, Beau Willimon, and Stephen Schiff is easily on the same tier of excellence as shows such as Breaking Bad, True Detective, Justified, Better Call Saul, and The Wire. Never before has Star Wars felt this weighty, and there have been moments where I have had to pause and just admire what I have just heard (Luthen’s “Sacrifice” monologue is easily one of the best pieces of writing in any Star Wars content ever). This is a show that rewards your ears and your attention.

Some of my favorite quotes so far:

  1. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace. I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts.
  2. I’d rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.
  3. Power doesn’t panic.
  4. A surprise from above is never as shocking as one from below.
  5. I don’t like wasting time. But one must be careful. You pull in the net and the easy thing, the quick thing, is to assume that everything you’ve dragged to shore is a fish. I have colleagues who believe that’s the prudent mindset in defense of the Empire. But I take a more nuanced view. I try.
  6. The pace of repression outstrips our ability to understand it. And that is the real trick of the Imperial thought machine. It’s easier to hide behind 40 atrocities than a single incident.
  7. Wouldn’t you rather give it all at once to something real than carve off useless pieces till there’s nothing left?

The Terror of the Empire

Throughout the history of Star Wars, the Empire has always been what I would call a “PG threat”. You hear things and certainly see things that show you the evil behind them (hello, blowing up entire planets), but all of these things are at a relatively safe distance. As much of a tragedy as the destruction of Alderan was in A New Hope, it reminds me of the famous quote by Stalin: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”. It’s easy to let the big picture and distance weaken the impact. Andor however, shows you the boots-on-the-ground atrocities committed by the Empire. The Empire is actually scary again. While in the previous films the Empire was often compared to the Nazis (though more on the visual design aspects), in Andor they are much more menacing. You hear stories of entire species being wiped out, witness torture (easily one of the darkest things EVER in Star Wars), imprisonment for no reason, hangings, prison camps that force prisoners to police one another under fear of death, and fascist politics taken to a galactic scale. And all of this is accomplished without ever once seeing Darth Vader or the Emporer. No, the true evil of the Empire is done by normal people, driven by their own personal prejudices, ambitions, desires for order, agendas, or deep-seated insecurities. Many of these people we see in the Empire aren’t evil on a grand scale like Vader or the Emporer – they are evil because they are in an oppressive system that incentivizes them to maintain the status quo – they are evil because it benefits them. Much like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, the true terror wasn’t just in the leadership at the top, but in the daily actions of those below, and they are often brutally efficient. Unlike the memes, the stormtroopers you see here don’t miss very often.

The Devil (Rebel) You Know

Rebellions are messy, and in previous Star Wars content, the Rebel Alliance looked like plucky underdogs more than partisan fighters. Andor shows the reality of rebellion: it is a battle of wills where you must be willing to do what is necessary to win. This idea is summed up beautifully in a monologue by rebel organizer Luthen Rael. He is asked by one of his double agents what he’s sacrificing, and his response is one for the ages.

Calm. Kindness. Kinship. Love. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace. I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion: I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they’ve set me on a path from which there is no escape. I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost and by the time I looked down there was no longer any ground beneath my feet. What is my sacrifice? I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude. So what do I sacrifice? Everything!

– Luthen Rael, Andor – Episode 10 – One Way Out

Every movement in history, every rebellion, every fight for freedom, has the unknown soldiers who sacrificed everything for others to gain the rewards. To quote Orwell, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Andor is full of characters who fit this description perfectly, and it is challenging to see these people compared to the clean-cut heroes that dominated later films. Without characters like Luthen, Andor, and the others you meet in the series, the rebellion never gets to its feet. Without sacrifice, there is no victory.

Force? What Force?

There is not a single mention of the Jedi or the Force in the entire season. You never see a Jedi or a lightsaber. No one fighting for the Rebellion is counting on a near-mythical space wizard to come to save them. There’s no Rebel fleet of X-wings coming over the horizon. In Andor, the idea of the Force or Jedi is nonexistent. These are normal people trying to survive and fight against evil in their daily lives. The larger context of a galaxy-wide resistance is a distant dream – the fog of oppression and tyranny is keeping all of these individuals separate and fighting their own battles. But the fog is soon to be lifted. And it is normal people performing individual acts of courage that are lifting the fog. The Force plays no part in it, at least not explicitly.

Story > Nostalgia and Fan Service

Ever since Disney took over the franchise, nostalgia and fan service have been the name of the game. Nearly everything since has been tied in some way back to events in the original trilogy or winks and nods to things that very outspokenly called for. While season one of The Mandalorian didn’t follow this formula as explicitly, season two dove in with gusto with the live-action debuts of Bo-Katan Kryze (Originally from the animated Clone Wars series), Ahsoka Tano (also from the Clone Wars), mentions of Grand Admiral Thrawn (introduced in a popular trilogy of expanded universe novels in the 90s), the return of Boba Fett, and the triumphant return of Luke Skywalker post Return of the Jedi. While all of these things are fun and make for great entertainment, at the end of the day, it begins to become stale. The universe of Star Wars has LIMITLESS storytelling potential and Disney has continued to draw from the same wells, and they are on the verge of running dry.

Andor has brilliantly taken a lane where everyone knows the end result of the main character’s journey (death after helping steal the Death Star plans), but has used that seemingly narrow channel to give more character depth and strengthen the lore of the universe we already know. Within those confines, they have managed to give added context and nuance to things we have already seen, or given us new things to think about that the other content never bothered to address (how was the rebellion funded, what were the prisons like under the Empire, how did the Empire treat indigenous populations, what kind of sacrifices and decisions were made behind the scenes to get things done). I went back and rewatched the first half of Rogue One after Andor ended and it immediately had more weight by knowing exactly what kind of things were done to help get the Rebellion to that position beforehand.

Why has this worked? Because Andor is focused on telling a good STORY, not checking boxes of nostalgia and fan service. This world doesn’t need Jedi or references to X characters from Y novel or TV show if it doesn’t fit into the story. And that is what makes it so compelling: it can stand on its own legs separate from everything else Disney has shoved into all of its other shows.

If Star Wars wants to continue to survive and bring in new fans, Disney MUST use Andor as a model. The universe is a lot bigger than the small circle surrounding the Skywalkers, and it took a lot of normal people crawling and dying in the mud to get Luke to the place where he could destroy the Death Star. Give us more of those people Disney. The universe certainly has plenty of room and plenty of stories left to tell.

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