Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Andor: The Star Wars Franchise’s “First Piece of Universally Excellent Television”

The season one finale of the Star Wars series Andor dropped today and my friend Deandre and I just finished watching it. As with the entire series, this episode is a masterfully compelling work of television.

Here’s Dan Casey’s overview and breakdown of today’s finale episode (and, yes, there are spoilers).

As I’ve noted previously, Andor is a prequel to the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which in turn serves as an immediate prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977).

Andor stars Diego Luna, reprising his role as Cassian Andor in Rogue One. Like Rogue One, Andor has a much more grittier look and feel – and far more complex characters – than any other movie or series in the Star Wars franchise. This definitely goes a long way in accounting for my interest in, and appreciation of, both Rogue One and Andor.

I also appreciate the show’s contemporary political resonance. In an interview from earlier this year, Andor actress Fiona Shaw (right) highlights this resonance when she notes that the show’s writer Tony Gilroy has written “a great, scurrilous [take] on the Trumpian world.”

Shaw goes on to say: “Our world is exploding in different places right now, people’s rights are disappearing, and Andor reflects that. [In the show] the Empire is taking over, and it feels like the same thing is happening in reality, too. . . . I was impressed by Tony’s social-realist intentions. He’s created a whole new morality. It’s very deep and humane – there is grief, mourning, hope, fear. It’s not just primary colours here.”

Following are excerpts from one of the best reviews of Andor that I’ve come across: Walter Marsh’s “Andor: How a Star Wars Deep Cut Became One of the Best TV Shows of the Year.”


After a slow but very watchable start, [writer-director] Tony Gilroy has upped the ante week after week with a clarity of vision that makes Andor not only the best of Star Wars’s television slate, but one of the most compelling shows of 2022. Somehow, after 45 years of films about an intergenerational civil war between space fascists and resistance fighters, Andor offers an inventive and entirely refreshing take on what life is like under an authoritarian regime.

We see how a population is subjugated through economic exploitation, a creeping surveillance state and draconian policing that feeds a giant prison industrial complex. We see the Imperial regime reimagined as a series of workplace power struggles and meet the workers and collaborators who drive it: from an ambitious supervisor in the Imperial Security Bureau (Denise Gough) to a rank-and-file corporate security grunt (Kyle Soller), whose on-the-job zealotry is rooted in the small tyrannies of his home life.

No longer background extras waiting to be choked out by Darth Vader, these mid- and lower-level Imperials are motivated by ambition, self-preservation and bone-deep resentments. The threat they pose becomes more complex, insidious and recognisably human than any big, planet-killing laser or cackling Sith Lord – and even more terrifying for it.

We also see different kinds of rebellion from what we’ve seen in Star Wars previously, from disillusioned Imperial deserters to spontaneous acts of community solidarity. Then there are characters like Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) and Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who keep up appearances as members of the galaxy’s wealthy elite while secretly funding and organising the underground resistance. “I’ve given up all chance at inner peace; I made my mind a sunless space,” Luthen says in one show-stopping monologue evoking Rutger Hauer’s final scene in Blade Runner.

But some of the strongest stuff comes from the ground up, such as the episodes Andor spends with a small rebel cell laying low in the mountains on the planet Aldhani. Filmed in the Scottish Highlands, they could almost be mistaken for 16th century Jacobites if it weren’t for the occasional Tie fighter zipping overhead.

Among them is Nemik (Alex Lawther), a technical whiz with a sideline in political consciousness-raising. “It’s so confusing isn’t it, so much going wrong, so much to say, and all of it happening so quickly,” he tells Andor while explaining the Rebel manifesto he’s been drafting. “The pace of oppression outstrips our ability to understand it – that is the real trick of the Imperial thought machine. It’s easier to hide behind forty atrocities than a single incident.”

Such moments of praxis add meat to the bones of Star Wars’s good versus evil struggle and speak to any number of Earth-side fascist regimes. They also run rings around the leaden dialogue of its small-screen contemporaries (The Rings of Power) and big-screen cousins (The Rise of Skywalker).

. . . For better or worse, Disney’s previous experiments with live-action Star Wars TV, from The Mandalorian to Obi-Wan Kenobi, have often felt like watching lifelong fans play with their action figures in a sandpit. From a de-aged Mark Hamill to a long-awaited rematch between Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, some of their biggest moments have come from weaving in beloved characters and Easter eggs while tiptoeing around the established canon of a galaxy far, far away.

Gilroy, on the other hand, seems to care little about what came before him. Instead, he has focused on human drama, visually stunning set pieces and watertight writing. The result adds a weight of history to Cassian’s final destination — and gives Star Wars its first piece of universally excellent television.

Walter Marsh
Excerpted from “Andor: How a Star Wars Deep Cut
Became One of the Best TV Shows of the Year

The Guardian
November 21, 2022


Following is one of the most powerful scenes of Andor’s season one finale. In this scene, a pre-recorded holographic message from Cassian Andor’s adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) is played at her funeral on the Empire-occupied planet of Ferrix.

My name is Maarva Carassi Andor. I’m honored to stand before you. I’m honored to be a Daughter of Ferrix, and honored to be worthy of the stone. Strange, I feel as if I can see you. I was six, I think, first time I touched a funerary stone; heard our music, felt our history. Holding my sister’s hand as we walked all the way from Fountain Square. Where you stand now, I've been more times than I can remember. I always wanted to be lifted. I was always eager, always waiting to be inspired. I remember every time it happened, every time the dead lifted me with their truth. And now I’m dead. And I yearn to lift you. Not because I want to shine or even be remembered. It’s because I want you to go on. I want Ferrix to continue. In my waning hours, that’s what comforts me most.

But I fear for you. We’ve been sleeping. We’ve had each other, and Ferrix, our work, our days. We had each other, and they left us alone. We kept the trade lanes open, and they left us alone. We took their money and ignored them, we kept their engines churning, and the moment they pulled away, we forgot them. Because we had each other. We had Ferrix.

But we were sleeping. I’ve been sleeping. And I’ve been turning away from the truth I wanted not to face. There is a wound that won’t heal at the center of the galaxy. There is a darkness reaching like rust into everything around us. We let it grow, and now it’s here. It’s here, and it’s not visiting anymore. It wants to stay. The Empire is a disease that thrives in darkness. It is never more alive than when we sleep. It’s easy for the dead to tell you to fight, and maybe it’s true, maybe fighting is useless; perhaps it’s too late. But I’ll tell you this: if I could do it again, I’d wake up early and be fighting these bastards from the start. Fight the Empire!

Another insightful and well-written review of Andor was published today by NPR. It’s written by Glen Weldon, and following is an excerpt.

The Star Wars films showed us an Empire that was Evil because it destroyed planets and chased down our doughty heroes. Sure, there were always gray-uniformed Space Nazis milling around in the background, and the few who got speaking roles – Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, for example – were possessed of the cold cunning of a Saturday serial villain, to contrast with the implacable menace of Vader and the over-the-top mustache-twirling of the Emperor. They were all of a piece, larger than life.

But the fascistic functionaries of AndorSyril Karn, Dedra Meero, Major Partagaz, Lieutenant Supervisor Blevins, and others – are cogs. Willing, dedicated cogs who relish the machine they’re a part of, even if they each believe they could be of more use somewhere else in it.

There is The Force, and there is force – blunt, brutal and dehumanizing. In Andor, again and again, we watched the latter variety exert its dispassionate influence, not on entire planets, but on individual lives. The public display of Andor’s father’s corpse. Andor’s arrest, and six-year-no-but-really-forever sentence for loitering. The exploitive, endless labor of Narkina 5. The appallingly chipper, matter-of-fact torture of Bix. The cumulative result was wrenching and personal and inevitably, eerily, relevant.

As was the season’s portrait of resistance.

The Star Wars films argue that a galaxy can be saved from tyranny by a handful of heroes – and, yes, a succession of easily exploited design flaws in space stations.

Andor showed the growing discontent and anger that gives rise to heroes. In many different ways, for their own individual reasons, the characters of Andor decide to rise up and fight, because totalitarianism is an unnatural state; it breeds resistance.

“The more you tighten your grip,” Princess Leia told Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope, “the more star systems are going to slip through your fingers.”

On Andor, we watch as that grip tightens around places like Ferrix and Aldhani and Narkina 5 and Coruscant. We watch people we care about get crushed. But we also watch others slip through. Yes, lives get lost, and compromises get made – that’s what Luthen’s monologue in episode 10 is all about, the harrowing loneliness of the freedom fighter.

But Andor shows us that the Empire’s downfall is and always was inevitable, Skywalker or no Skywalker. It’s baked in, the inescapable result of the system’s utter disregard for the humanity of the people it seeks to exploit and control.

Glen Weldon
Excerpted from “Andor Soared
NPR News
November 23, 2022

And finally . . .

Related Off-site Links:
Andor Episode 12 Review: An Explosive Finale to End It All . . . and Post Credits Explained – Abheet Gupta (High On Cinema, November 23, 2022).
Andor’s Season Finale Is a Rage-Filled Triumph – Tom Philip (AV Club, November 23, 2022).
Andor Creator Tony Gilroy Talks Luthen’s Good Day, That Post-Credit Scene and Season Two – Brian Davids (The Hollywood Reporter, November 23, 2022).
Why Andor Is One of the Best Shows of 2022 – Mark Serrels (CNET, November 22, 2022).
Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Is Instantly One of the Best Star Wars Characters Ever – Austen Goslin (Polygon, November 23, 2022).
Hell Yeah, Andor’s Cool, Casually Queer Women – James Whitbrook (Gizmodo, October 6, 2022).
Andor: The Best Star Wars Show Since The Mandalorian – Jack Seale (The Guardian, September 21, 2022).
How Andor Became the First Star Wars TV Series for Grown-Ups: “I Wanted to Do It About Real People” – Adam B. Vary (Variety, September 8, 2022).
Andor Is Star Wars’ “Scurrilous Take On The Trumpian World,” Says Fiona Shaw – Ben Travis (Empire, August 2, 2022).

UPDATES: The 25 Greatest Moments From Andor’s Incredible First Season – James Whitbrook (Gizmodo, November 24, 2022).
Andor’s Season Finale Solidifies It As One of Star Wars’ Greatest Stories – Charles Pulliam-Moore (The Verge, November 24, 2022).
Why Andor Boldly Goes the Distance While Most High Profile Star Wars Adaptations Fell Short – Melanie McFarland (Salon, November 25, 2022).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Revolution Will Be Televised
Resisting the Hand of the Empire
Musings on the Possibility of “FinnPoe”
Finn and Poe Revisited

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Andor is about the the road that the U.S. is on right now. Cassian is arrested from the street because of his suspicious appearance, sentenced long because of a “tough on crime policy.” He is sent to be prison labor. It’s all already happening. The resemblance of the imperial troops stopping the funeral is perhaps not accidentally like the police from BLM protests. Maarva’s speech is addressed to Americans of today.