Note: It’s necessary to discuss the plot in some detail in order to discuss what makes Andor great both cinematically and politically, so be warned there are spoilers here.
Andor is such a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars franchise, and for television in general. The new series streaming on Disney+, a prequel to 2016’s Rogue One, is unexpectedly one of the most compelling and gripping things I’ve seen in ages. Its combination of dark, dystopian mood, wrenching suspense, and social commentary puts it in a class with Squid Game or even Children of Men — and I never thought I would type something like that about Star Wars. It’s also one of the most thrilling and inspiring fictional portrayals of revolution I’ve ever seen, at least in a mainstream entertainment.
Andor was created by Rogue One co-writer Tony Gilroy, whose taut screenplays for the original Jason Bourne trilogy set the standard for paranoid, politically switched-on suspense thrillers. There’s more than a little of that mood here, but honestly Andor is the best thing Gilroy’s ever done. The 12-episode first season of the series is not without its flaws, but it was such a pleasant surprise for this longtime Star Wars fan who had all but abandoned the franchise. During the week it took to watch it I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I still can’t.
I didn’t even want to watch Andor when it was first announced. After the second season of The Mandalorian, I basically gave up on Star Wars after 44 years. This is in part because I’ve grown weary of the Disney+ series format (including the Marvel series) — what should be a two-hour feature film stretched to six or eight hours and padded with fan service. I skipped The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi with no regrets at all.
But in a larger sense I’m weary of the Star Wars culture wars — the constant battle against the anti-woke jackasses to defend progressive themes, or women or Black or brown characters, or anything new or complicated in the stories. I’m tired of Star Wars actors being driven off social media by toxic fanboys. I’m tired of the franchise making story decisions based on all this whining and complaining and hating — such as essentially writing Rose Tico out of the overwrought mess that is The Rise of Skywalker. One of the tipping points for my frustration was the image of Luke Skywalker as an unstoppable superhuman warrior with zero personality in the Mandalorian season 2 finale. This was seemingly in response to complaints about the aging, grumpy, flawed, beautifully human Luke in The Last Jedi (my favorite Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back).
Rogue One, the 2016 prequel in which the character of refugee-turned-criminal-turned-rebel Cassian Andor is introduced, is a very good Star Wars film, but somewhat overrated. It does have a lot of great stuff in it, especially Andor and all the other new characters. I admire how dark and uncompromising its view of armed rebellion is — and of course this sets up the even darker mood of Andor.
To oversimplify, everything good about Rogue One is new to the franchise, and everything that sucks about it is rehashed. I really dislike all the plot elements that lead up to the original so heavy-handedly. It would have been a much better film without Darth Vader, without the super obvious stuff at the end about the handover of the Death Star plans, and especially without those creepy holograms of Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher (ugh!).
So many prequels are handled this way in modern franchises, with what I call the funnelling effect — because the drive to tie up the prequel story in order to validate the original installment causes a narrative bottleneck that greatly diminishes creativity or suspense. Apparently fans will complain if every last plot element is not explained pedantically? Nothing can be left to the imagination? Revenge of the Sith is probably the arch example of this, with the final act given over to an amazingly tedious setup of the original trilogy that we just don’t need. (Not that it would have been a worthwhile film without all this; I stand by my judgment that the prequels are terrible from beginning to end.)
So I don’t love Andor because it’s a prequel to Rogue One — if anything that was a reason to avoid it. I assumed it would do that funnelling thing and ruin Cassian Andor’s backstory, and I had little interest in (by my count) a seventh prequel to Star Wars. No — I love it for its unique approach to the characters and their social context, and for its excellent writing.
Quick point of clarity before I go on: Star Wars doesn’t have to be serious to be good. I really appreciate the darker tone of Andor, and how they’ve stripped away the space opera and other familiar elements to take a different approach. But I don’t think that seriousness inherently makes it a superior Star Wars. I love the campy, melodramatic space opera of the original trilogy; I love the wild, satirical tone of Last Jedi. You can be “serious” and also fall short; Joker is a “serious” franchise film with very interesting politics and it’s also deeply flawed.
It’s not the seriousness alone that makes Andor great; it’s all in the execution, and having something to say. Meanwhile, the original trilogy had plenty of serious themes itself, which leads me to the next important point of clarity: Star Wars has always been political.
Take the most fundamental thing about the narrative of the saga: rebellion against empire. Way back in the 70s, George Lucas originally based his fictional rebellion on the Viet Cong’s struggle against the U.S. And he’s never disavowed that allegory; as recently as 2018 he doubled down on it. Once you know that, it’s beautifully clear: the desperate, impoverished grassroots people’s resistance to a massive, terrifying, high-tech imperial military.
Lucas and his collaborators continued that theme with the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi — the invading army and their war machines defeated by traditional weapons made of wood and stone, and by native knowledge of the forest. It will never stop amusing me that the characters considered by many to be the most annoying in the original trilogy are actually based on the Viet Cong.
There are other politicized elements of the original trilogy: Leia’s feminism; the blatant Nazi look of the Empire’s uniforms and tactics (which is definitely interesting considering Lucas says he meant the Empire to be the United States!); the commentary on systemic racism and segregation with droids as second-class citizens; and Lucas’s introduction of a Black hero in Empire as a response to criticism that Star Wars was too white.
It’s useful to highlight these things because the eternal cry of the jackasses is that the progressive politics of newer installments represents a betrayal of Lucas’s vision. Far from it: Lucas was “woke” from the first moment he sat down at a typewriter.
Mind you, as much as I’ll always love the guy, I don’t think Lucas is some kind of radical. He’s a billionaire after all, and I’m fairly certain he’s much more conservative now than he used to be. But the point is that the early 70s, when Lucas started writing Star Wars, was a time of mass radicalization, especially driven by the movement against the Vietnam War. This shaped the politics of the New Hollywood — the late-60s and 70s school of cinema that was marked by an explosion of experimentalism as well as open questioning of the establishment. That school was a big influence on Lucas.
Regardless of where he’s at now, it’s just interesting and heartening that all these years later, he remains clear about the politics of his creation, especially in light of where Andor has taken those politics.
For example, Andor depicts oppression, police brutality, torture, Indigenous resistance, and insurrection — but so did the original trilogy. Remember that scene in which Luke sees the smoking skeletons of his aunt and uncle after their farm was raided by Imperial troops? When I was a kid that freaked me out. It’s worth remembering that before all the Star Wars tropes were so deeply entrenched, the stormtroopers were actually scary for us kids — fascist shock troops with dehumanizing armor that made them look like skeletons. Now they’re a cute, cuddly pop-culture joke about bad guys who can’t shoot straight.
One of the things I appreciate about the terrific opening sequence of The Force Awakens is that it takes it back to that original vision of the stormtroopers as a source of terror and oppression. In it, stormtroopers slaughter the inhabitants of a Resistance-sympathizing village down to the last child — surely a deliberate echo of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The Last Jedi also included anticolonial themes, especially when Rose Tico recounts the destruction of her home planet by the First Order and the burning hatred she’s always had for them. Delivered by Kelly Marie Tran, an actor whose family were Vietnamese refugees, this dialogue takes the politics of the saga full-circle.
Okay, so I’ve said all that, but there’s no question Andor represents something new and different in the franchise, politically speaking — an escalation as it were. Lucas may have had the Vietnam War in mind when he wrote Star Wars, and that makes for extra richness in the storytelling, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a space opera for families. You and your kids are not really supposed to be thinking about Vietnam when you watch it.
But with Andor, the politics are front and center, and the tone has completely shifted towards the grimmer, edgier atmosphere of war movies, spy thrillers and prison dramas. For long stretches, despite the make-believe setting, there is even something approaching naturalism. There are no references to the Jedi, the Force, or any other mystical elements of the saga; instead the focus of the plot is on the entrenchment of fascism in the Empire; and on the nascent Rebellion’s revolutionary organization, espionage and armed insurrection.
Furthermore, it’s all clearly meant to refer to our world. All science fiction and fantasy is about our world; this is not an earthshaking revelation. But Andor does this with unusual directness. If you’re not thinking about real-life fascism, police violence, mass incarceration, and Indigenous and anticolonial resistance when you watch it, you’re not paying enough attention. There are unmistakable allusions to historical revolutions and to uprisings in Palestine, Ireland and elsewhere. The dialogue echoes real-life revolutionary theory — I kid you not, some of it verges on actual Marxism.
To illustrate the difference between this series and most other Star Wars installments, compare their depictions of torture. When Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca are tortured at different points in the original trilogy, and when Rey is tortured in The Force Awakens, it’s not especially frightening for viewers over the age of ten. There’s a B-movie sort of campy detachment and it basically functions as character development. By contrast, in Andor, when Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona) is tortured by Imperial Security, it’s seriously confronting. We’re given a detailed explanation of what she’s about to go through. We never see it — and it doesn’t even involve physical pain — but it’s so awful I don’t want to type it here. Bix never recovers from the trauma. These terrifying scenes give us a vivid idea of what torture by a fascist state must really be like for those who’ve suffered it in Nazi Germany, Chile or elsewhere.
So, Andor is not for kids — or at least not for the younger kiddos (by all means enjoy it with your teens and use it as an opportunity to educate them). It’s not the Star Wars we grew up on.
To be clear, Disney is a capitalist media conglomerate, and Andor is just another one of its products. To whatever degree it promotes revolutionary ideas, it does so incidentally. I don’t think showrunner Gilroy and his collaborators had some specific radical agenda in mind when they made it; from what I can gather, Gilroy is a smart writer who makes use of history and current events to lend his creations texture and weight. You get a sense of that when he talks about why he took on the project:
I look at it and go, my God, this is about the making of a revolution. This is about the history of a revolution. This is a five-year period that leads to this titanic thing. My God, what an incredibly fascinating tapestry to pull together, if you could find a way into this that they would let you make.
Perhaps not many other Hollywood screenwriters refer directly to the Russian Revolution the way he does, but that doesn’t make Andor a radical cinematic text compared to, let’s say, The Battle of Algiers.
Still, Andor is without question a reflection of the current political climate, and an exciting one at that. We are living in an era of permanent crisis, growing frustration with the system, and growing radicalization, especially on the part of young people. The reason we see, for the first time, a serious approach to the politics of resistance in this Star Wars series is that there is a large and growing audience hungry for those ideas.
Gilroy and the cast have been explicit about this in interviews. “It’s quite relevant today,” star Diego Luna says, “to tell the story of what needs to happen for a revolutionary to emerge.” Explaining why he insisted Cassian Andor be written as a refugee, Luna says: “The story of a refugee is a story that is very pertinent to the world and where we find it.” Co-star Fiona Shaw, who plays Cassian’s adoptive mother Maarva Andor, agrees: “Our world is exploding in different places right now, people’s rights are disappearing, and Andor reflects that.”
I find it really interesting for the cast and crew of a Star Wars production to be talking about revolution on their publicity rounds. Though the original Star Wars trilogy is indeed about revolution, I don’t remember that word ever being used by its creators to describe it. It’s a fascinating barometer of the times.
And because it’s set in a galaxy far, far away, they don’t have to hold back at all. They can show violent insurgency as a good thing, and get away with it. Compare Black Panther, in which the militant revolutionary, whose ire against colonialism and imperialism is perfectly justified, has to be the bad guy. In Andor, the fact that the protagonist is willing to kill is described as a virtue.
Apparently some people are complaining about the slow pace of Andor. As a friend put it, there isn’t a lightsaber battle in the first episode so it’s too slow for you? (FYI there are no lightsabers in the series at all.)
This is strange given the intensity of the drama and suspense — Andor generates more suspense than just about anything I’ve seen on TV. The deliberate pace is its glory. Slow-burning? Yes. Slow? Hardly.
A Star Wars series changes up the pace a bit and people react like it’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives — it’s hilarious but it says a lot about the same-sameness of franchise output these days.
I love the unusual way the plot is structured: the 12 episodes are divided into roughly four separate chapters, if you will, that thrust Cassian Andor into different situations on different planets along his journey, all filled with danger and excruciating difficulty. Each chapter is almost like a feature film in itself, with a new cast of characters and a story that’s somewhat self-contained; and each one, after building slowly over a couple of episodes, climaxes in an explosively thrilling setpiece. Any one of these setpieces would be the best part of a lesser series.
That steady, rhythmic pace punctuated by those big payoffs is so rewarding and really sucks you in — especially compared to the maddeningly predictable story arcs of other series, even the acclaimed ones. Talking about that narrative structure in this Rolling Stone interview, Gilroy almost arrogantly boasts about how Andor is something new for TV storytelling. Arrogant or not he’s right.
The setpieces — which unfold from, in order, a shady business deal, a raid on an Imperial garrison, a prison riot, and a funeral — are brilliant because they are so spare and controlled compared to the chaotic, visually tiresome CGI battles that are the standard now. There is less violence in terms of explosions and body count. Most of the excitement comes from the psychological factor — understanding a plan and seeing it succeed or go awry; knowing what’s at stake and how the characters react.
And yet there is judicious use of spectacular special effects — such as The Eye, an astronomical phenomenon on the planet Aldhani that forms the blazingly beautiful backdrop of the tense raid in the sixth episode. The overall restraint makes those occasional flourishes more impactful.
The four-act structure does have an overarching narrative tying it all together, which has to do with Andor’s growing radicalization; the struggles of the different pockets of underground resistance to cohere into a war of rebellion; and the efforts of the Imperial Security Bureau — the Gestapo, as it were, or the CIA, take your pick — to find and crush these militants.
These overlapping, tangled storylines are so well-written (by Gilroy, his brother Dan, and Beau Willimon). The drama hinges mainly on character and dialogue. There’s a lot of dialogue, and at times it’s refreshingly mumbly for such a popular franchise. Not every reference is explained. Characters come and go, there are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of disappointment and tragedy. Take the bittersweet moment we find out Andy Serkis’s character can’t swim — we never find out what happens to him. Andor is subtle, often fearlessly implosive, and it trusts in the audience’s intelligence.
The danger and suffering Andor goes through gives Luna plenty of chance to do what he does best: fret and fume with angst and anger. Luna is fabulous, especially in bringing out the trauma and humanity beneath his unsmiling mask of fatigue and detachment.
But there’s also a certain decentering: Andor may be the lead character, but he’s just a roleplayer in the proto-rebellion. The patchwork narrative, which puts a lot of emphasis on other characters in the rebel movement, also has political significance: it reflects the collective nature of struggle.
This is the opposite of the usual case in Star Wars, with its focus on the mystical heritage and destiny of heroes like Luke. Andor has no time for the Great Jedi Theory of history. For example, Karis Nemik, the eccentric rebel and revolutionary theorist, only appears in three episodes, and only gets a few lines of dialogue. But his character is of central importance to the entire story because he is the author of the manifesto that changes Andor’s life and, it is implied, eventually unites the movement. “The day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance, will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this.”
Nemik convincingly embodies those historical epochs when intellectuals take up arms to fight for a desperate cause, as they did in Russia in 1917 or in the Spanish Civil War. As Andy Cunningham says in his review for rs21, Nemik’s manifesto “has the same immediacy and cordite smell as Marx and Engels’s more famous inspiration.”
In his few scenes as Nemik, Alex Lawther makes every line count. The entire cast is lights-out. Stellen Skarsgård is magnificent as Luthen Rael, a covert rebel leader who oversees and protects a network of spies and militants in different corners of the galaxy. He delivers a monologue about the peace and happiness sacrificed by revolutionaries that’s so powerful and piercing I swear I lost sleep over it. “I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see.”
Serkis does some of the best work of his career as a grizzled prisoner-foreman in a nightmarish Imperial factory. As a bad-tempered rebel with a shady past who’s suspicious of his new colleague, Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays basically the same character he does on The Bear — and by that I mean he’s terrific. There are dozens of other characters we get to know briefly and who all contribute something to the movement.
The same principle applies to the Imperial forces here: there is no black-helmeted dark lord to be the face of evil; the Emperor is only mentioned in passing. The villains are dozens of bureaucrats and functionaries who sit around gleaming conference tables, talking in reasonable tones and making genocidal decisions they believe will promote peace and safety for all. It’s a much more realistic view of how imperialism and mass murder actually happen in our world, whether it’s the Nazi war machine or the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq.
Denise Gough is brilliant as Deedra Meero, an ambitious ISB supervisor who uses sophisticated data-crunching to hunt the rebels. Somehow she inspires our sympathy at first, before we see the terrible cruelty she is capable of, her face a ghostly mask of repressed humanity, reminding us that it takes ordinary people to do evil just as it does to fight for good. In his political analysis of the series at Left Voice, Marxist historian Doug Greene writes,
Meero is a far more terrifying antagonist than Darth Vader, since she has no Force powers, but is a regular human being who truly believes in fascism and uses her ruthless skill to enforce Imperial rule… Meero also shows the hollowness of cheering an ambitious ‘girl boss’ simply based on their gender.
Meanwhile the pathetic Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) represents, as both Greene and Cunningham argue, “the exasperated petty-bourgeois” — the ordinary bureaucrats, small business owners, and other members of the middle classes who historically tend to “throw their lot in with imperial order” to protect their own interests when fascists consolidate power. They are the mundane role players who make fascism possible.
Though Andor takes pains to distance itself from Star Wars, it does make use of a few familiar elements. There are smugglers turned rebels, mysterious figures in dark cloaks, loveable droids who show human emotion, TIE fighters, speeder bikes, and blaster fights in fluorescent-lit corridors. The skill in the writing lies in folding some of those tropes in to anchor us in the Star Wars galaxy while giving it all a completely new feel.
The biggest difference, that there are no Jedi, is an important one politically and socially speaking. I’ll always love Luke, Obi Wan and Yoda as much as the next 70s kid, but to be real about it, the Jedi are terrible. They are an elitist, anti-democratic cult of warrior-monks who act like galactic cops with no oversight and screw up everything they get involved in. Furthermore, as this video by Pop Culture Detective argues, the philosophy of the Jedi order is based on some pretty messed-up concepts of masculinity and detachment from emotion.
I think another reason Andor leaves the Jedi out is so it can leave the Force out. The idea of a mystical, all-enveloping supernatural power really has no place in a more realistic story about a people’s revolution. This brings the franchise closer than ever to a materialistic view of the universe. Materialism is the realization that our material conditions are the cause of our social conditions, and that material struggle is the only way to improve those conditions — the only way to change the world (or the galaxy). Not morality, not individual self-improvement, and not anything mystical or spiritual or external to the physical world.
Again, I love Lucas’s original vision, including the Force. I still tear up when Yoda levitates the X-wing. But Andor makes a welcome break with all that because it’s much more directly about our world and the problems and injustices we face for real. For it to really resonate as a story about revolution is has to be about the solutions to those problems that humans can come up with ourselves, by working together.
The fabulous retrofuturist production design, by Luke Hull, expands on and advances the epoch-making design of the original Star Wars in an extremely satisfying way. Like many other elements of the series, it’s so invigorating compared to the nostalgic designs of other Star Wars entries — all too often chained to artistic decisions made 40 and 50 years ago. Andor really explores this society that has interstellar travel and communication but seems limited to fairly primitive electronic devices, and gives it a visual logic. The 70s computer terminals and pixillated holograms, the metal currency and retro-space-age apartment buildings feel like part of the story and not mere nostalgia. There’s also a deepened effort to illustrate class differences between the galactic elite, with their expensive vehicles and chic fashions, and the working class and the oppressed, with their run-down homes and beat-up droids.
The great use of synths in Nicholas’s Britell’s score only adds to that retrofurist feel. As a lifelong electronic music fan, and knowing how much Star Wars influenced the pioneers of electronic music in the 70s and 80s, it makes me so happy to finally hear synths in a Star Wars soundtrack.
You wouldn’t have much fun trying to separate Andor from its politics; nearly every aspect of the story has a political dimension, and the details are often quite specific. When Andor flees his adopted home planet of Ferrix after a botched Corporate Security raid, he joins a rebel mission to rob the Imperial payroll on Aldhani; the mission is directly inspired by a 1907 Bolshevik bank robbery led by Joseph Stalin (probably the only good Stalin ever did in this world). As Greene points out, even the hats worn by the militants are a visual reference to Red Army-issued headgear, and their blasters resemble AK-47s.
When Andor again flees, he ends up in a dystopian Imperial prison that is comparable to Squid Game in its extensive commentary on mass incarceration and labor. Finally the series climaxes with a funeral that becomes a protest that becomes an uprising, which is strongly suggestive of the Palestinian intifada.
The police stop-and-search that results in Andor’s imprisonment is a queasy reminder of the fates of George Floyd, Eric Garner and others — right down to the police droid’s use of a chokehold on him. The various police forces (Imperial, Corpo, and assorted others) resemble real-life police in their look and behavior, one of the series’s most blatant commentaries on our world. But it’s also worth noting that real-life police have become more and more like stormtroopers in the last 40 years in terms of militarization, intimidating body armor and brutal tactics.
When the citizens of Ferrix are alerted to Corpo and Imperial raids, they bang on metal cans, pipes and bells to raise the alarm throughout the city — a plain reference to civilian support for the IRA in Belfast.
The colonization or outright genocide of native or Indigenous peoples around the galaxy is a running theme in Andor, and it’s clear that it’s all about Imperial control of their land and resources. The raid on Aldhani is set against the backdrop of the Empire’s forced displacement of the planet’s Indigenous people, the Dhani. Andor’s backstory includes the total destruction of his home world of Kenari, along with his people’s Indigenous way of life, by an Imperial mining disaster. This could refer to historical disasters from Bhopal to Chernobyl, but also to the ongoing pillaging of Indigenous land all over the world by mining capitalists.
Cassian’s adoptive father, Clem Andor (Gary Beadle), was a political dissident who was publicly executed by stormtroopers when Cassian was thirteen. This parallels the history of Vladimir Lenin, who saw his older brother hung for attempting to assassinate the Tsar when he was a teenager.
Here’s Gilroy talking more about how the Russian Revolution influenced his vision:
The Russian revolution, the 30 years [leading] up to it, the amount of infighting and the number of groups and the amount of people who end up hating each other more than they even hate the Tsar, and the difficulties that they have in organizing and what Lenin does to pull them together or slap them into shape, all of that. I mean, that’s just fascinating. We’re going to get to do all of that.
This infighting is outlined in the scene between Rael and competing rebel insurrectionary Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker) — who is clearly based on Che Guevara, down to his name. Gerrera disparages the many other factions of rebels (“Sectorists. Human cultists. Galaxy partitionists. They’re lost! All of them, lost!”) and states that he is the only one with “clarity of purpose.” Rael tells him, “Whatever our final version of success looks like, there’s no chance any of us can make it real on our own.”
Rael’s concerns are echoed by Nemik’s manifesto: “Random acts of insurrection are occurring constantly throughout the galaxy. There are whole armies, battalions that have no idea that they’ve already enlisted in the cause.”
It’s a nicely textured and believable view of rebellion — but Greene’s points about the rebels’ fatal lack of a coherent revolutionary program are worth noting.
The focus on labor in Andor is fundamental to its social commentary. Much more than most previous Star Wars installments, the depiction of the galaxy here actually features an economy and workers.
There’s a funny bit in Clerks (1995) in which Randal points out that there must have been thousands of workers who died when the new Death Star was blown up by the Rebels in Return of the Jedi — “plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.” Much as I dislike Kevin Smith, this was so memorable because no one had ever raised the issue of who actually does the work in the Star Wars galaxy before.
The Corporate Zone shown in the first episode of Andor illustrates the Empire’s relationship with the capitalist class of the galaxy. Rather than being a totalitarian state that exercises tyranny for its own sake (an “amorphous evil,” as Greene describes this view), the suggestion here is that the Empire actually exists to protect capitalists and their economy — which is precisely the nature of fascism in the real world.
The tension between Corpo versus Imperial control of Ferrix after the disastrous Corpo raid shows how the capitalist state under neoliberalism is content to be hands-off and allow extensive privatization — at least until too much instability means they have to exert more direct control.
So it’s the role of the Imperial state to wage war, to consolidate power over land and resources, and to brutalize workers and dissidents, all on behalf of capital. But capital is allowed a great deal of free reign and even a measure of private power, which is brutal and authoritarian in its own right. This is a very realistic likeness of the current neoliberal order worldwide.
By the way, one thing I love about the Corpos is that their uniforms resemble those of the private security guards on the Bespin mining colony in Empire. It’s a clever reminder that Star Wars has been dealing with the issue of privatization and corporate power for over 40 years. Sometimes the fan service works!
Contending with these forces of fascism and privatization are the ones who do the work. The working class is shown extensively on Ferrix, a “junk planet” with massive scrapyards and metal recycling operations. Workers on Ferrix may be subjugated by the Empire and their corporate overlords, but they haven’t been bowed ideologically; the mood on the planet is one of settled resentment and simmering unrest. When Corpos raid Ferrix to arrest Andor, workers help raise the alarm and also sabotage the Corpos’ ship. The climactic funeral of Maarva Andor effectively becomes a general strike, as workers down their tools and amass in tribute to a beloved dissident.
The episodes set in the prison factory on Narkina 5 are much more explicitly about labor, to the point that they function as a parable about the hopelessness of life under capitalism and the need for workers to join together to revolt. As Greene puts it, these episodes provide the show’s “clearest example of a collective revolutionary hero.” It’s probably the first time the franchise has ever portrayed collective action by workers so extensively. For long stretches it doesn’t even feel like Star Wars; the mood and aesthetic of the antiseptic, sunless prison with its endless, dehumanizing labor and its electrified floors are more in line with dystopian thrillers — including what I believe are overt visual references to George Lucas’s dystopian classic THX-1138.
Though the action during the prison riot itself is terrific, what I found even more memorable is Andor’s efforts to win his fellow prisoners over to the need to organize, particularly the gruff foreman Kino Loy (Serkis) who keeps his floor in line as a matter of survival and scorns hope in resistance. At one point in his desperate attempts to win Loy over, Andor very nearly approaches Marxism when he tells him, “We’re cheaper than droids and easier to replace.”
Loy finally comes around — it’s one of the most exciting arcs you’ll see in a supporting character — and during the riot, he gets on the facility’s intercom, making a rousing speech to inspire his fellow prisoners to stop working and revolt. “If we can fight half as hard as we’ve been working, we will be home in no time. One way out!” It felt so much to me like he was talking to us and saying, “One solution, revolution!”
Maarva Andor’s posthumous monologue, delivered via prerecorded hologram during her funeral, is just as inspiring. (There are several great monologues in this series; and the writing is so good they don’t feel forced or pretentious.) In it, she addresses the complacency that’s natural for anyone to feel when living in an unjust system: “We’ve been sleeping. We’ve had each other, and Ferrix, our work, our days. We had each other and they left us alone.” She mentions work more than once, and makes it clear that the Empire couldn’t function without workers: “We kept their engine churning.” Then she urges her people to set that complacency aside: “If I could do it again, I’d wake up early and be fighting those bastards from the start! Fight the Empire!”
Again, with all that’s going on in the world, from the epidemic of police violence to the climate apocalypse, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is for our benefit.
The few things I don’t like about Andor are generally, like the good things, related to politics.
The focus of Andor is largely on humans; alien creatures and droids are much more marginalized than usual, serving mainly as background characters. There are long stretches (like the prison scenes) in which there are no aliens or droids at all. I believe this is done for the same reason there is no mention of the Force: to make it more realistic and relatable for us in the real world. And that’s understandable.
But there’s something kind of weird about this too. Droids have often served as an allegory for slavery and racial oppression in the Star Wars universe — with complex and sometimes unsettling implications, as argued in the brilliant video from Pop Culture Detective embedded below. Similarly, as is also the case in Star Trek and many other sci-fi worlds, alien creatures in Star Wars open up possibilities for illustrating multiculturalism and racial harmony. Isn’t this one reason Chewbacca is such a beloved character? Considering all this, isn’t it a bit regressive to marginalize aliens and droids here?
I admit I was a lot less interested in the story of Mon Mothma, the Imperial senator (and future rebel leader) who secretly funds the militants while navigating the rarefied world of the galactic elite, than I was in those of the militants, workers, and prisoners in the rest of the series. It’s a bit like how in Spartacus you just want the scenes with the Roman aristocrats to be over so you can get back to the slave revolt. Compounding the problem is the fact that Mothma is a familiar character from the original trilogy and it all feels a bit more like prequel-business-as-usual when she’s onscreen.
To be fair Genevieve O’Reilly is outstanding as Mothma, and that greatly helps in overcoming these objections. It’s certainly interesting, and realistic, that the rebels come from many class backgrounds, and to see how those differences shape how they operate. Mothma’s contribution to the movement involves coded conversations at cocktail parties and moving shady money, all with the growing awareness that the Empire is spying on her. She faces a quieter but no less lethal danger from the enemy than Andor does, and there’s considerable tension.
But there are a lot of TV series about the intrigues of the rich and powerful; Andor becomes ever so slightly more standard during these cocktail party scenes. And there are a lot of cocktail parties. This is a shortcoming of the extended format of a TV season: in a feature-length film there would be one cocktail party scene and it would get the same point across. Here there are three or four of them; I just lost my patience after a while.
It’s also really disappointing when it turns out that rebel militant Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) — who leads the raid on Aldhani and is a total badass — is Mothma’s cousin. Not only is it a bit too neat and tidy, it’s also taking it back to that tendency in the saga for the rebel heroes to require some connection to the aristocratic elite (i.e., finding out the farmboy rebel is the dark lord’s son). The whole point of Andor is to get away from those space-opera tropes, but it’s like they couldn’t help themselves.
Much more satisfying is the relationship between Vel and fellow militant Cinta Kaz (Varada Sethu) — apparently the first onscreen queer couple in Star Wars. Echoing Rael’s monologue, Cinta tells Vel that the cause is more important than their love: “The struggle will always come first. We take what’s left.” It’s harsh but real.
I was bummed when I found out, after I finished the series, that the parts being manufactured by the prisoners on Narkina 5 are for the Death Star. Funnelling, check; fan service, check; and, worst of all, deflecting the power of the commentary on labor (are we supposed to be more appalled at the evil thing they’re unknowingly working on than we are at their exploitation?).
Sure enough, there’s a brief after-credits scene, a teaser for season 2, that shows the Death Star under construction. Very tedious considering how many Death Stars and other planet-killing weapons we’ve seen in various stages of completion in Star Wars for the past 45 years. I’m extremely psyched about season 2, but I do worry it will give in to that funnelling tendency — if for no other reason than it will be that much closer to established timelines.
The fact that we already know Cassian Andor is going to die fighting for the cause in a few years (at the end of Rogue One) paints a glaze of tragedy over everything, but somehow it’s liberating too. It disposes of the possibility of a happy ending right from the start, and lets us focus on the value of what Andor can contribute to the movement in the short time he has left. I know I keep repeating this but it’s another lesson for us.
I don’t want to go too far in suggesting a TV show — especially one made by Disney — could change people’s politics or persuade them to mobilize. But this one is such a vivid, powerful, unapologetic portrait of revolution, packed with so much savvy detail and historical knowledge, that I wonder if it could actually inspire people, in the same way The Hunger Games has.
Time will tell, but in the meantime, Andor has certainly set a new bar for intelligence, visceral power and social relevance in franchise entertainment, and it’s hard to imagine anyone topping it anytime soon.
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