Star Wars Storytelling Matures with ANDOR

R. B. Wood

Former technologist, world traveler, & storyteller.
Copyright Lucasfilm/Disney

NOTE: This post originally appeared in issue #69 of Journey Planet

There is no doubt that Disney’s stewardship of the Star Wars franchise has suffered from growing pains. Fan and critic reactions to the final two films of the Skywalker saga and the move away from Star Wars feature films are a clear testament to that fact. The one bright spot for Disney in the cinematic space was the one true “war film” of the franchise – Rogue One.

There are spoilers ahead for many of the Star Wars properties. You’ve been warned.

Rogue One follows the exploits of Jyn Erso, a strong-willed woman with a checkered past (and daughter of the lead architect of the original Death Star project) who leaves her history behind to fight the Empire. During her onscreen journey, we are introduced to a cast of marvelous characters, including rebel spy Cassian Andor.

Rogue One ends as one would expect a war movie prequel to end for all the characters never mentioned in any other properties. The beauty of the storytelling in Rogue One is that, as a seasoned and obsessive fan of Star Wars, I knew how the movie was likely to end for the characters we meet in in the movie – yet the writing was so good, their foregone conclusion did not take away from the enchantment one bit.

Maintaining story tension for two hours for a tale where the audience already knows the outcome is no mean feat – see the Star Wars prequels for an example of a missed opportunity.

The (in my not-so-humble opinion) mediocrity of the prequels was the reason I was nonplussed when it was announced that Disney would be producing a prequel series to Rogue One called Andor. Would they ruin a spectacular film with another missed opportunity prequel story?

The short answer is that the House of Mouse got it right.

Disney brought in the writer for Rogue One, Tony Gilroy (whose credits include Beirut, Proof of Life, and The Devil’s Advocate, to name a few), as showrunner. The result is a story unlike any other told in the vast Star Wars universe: a slow-burn, character-driven show with superb acting, poignant writing, and political intrigue. It showcased the absolute horror of a fascist regime and the sacrifices those who revolt against such a government must make to eventually win.

Andor takes place five years before Rogue One and follows the returning Diego Luna’s titular character for his own journey from rogue to freedom fighter. But this fight is not a solo endeavor, as we also are reintroduced to the eventual political leader of the rebellion, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), and the expert in subterfuge and antiquities, Luthen Rael (played by the brilliant Stellan Skarsgård). Through their eyes and actions, we witness the birth of multiple insurgencies that, as we know, eventually come together to form the Alliance of Leia, Luke, and Han.

But Andor is not a black-and-white story of good versus evil. This is a gritty story of sacrifice, lies, and murder – more often than not carried out by the heroes of the story. While Cassian Andor’s journey is like that of Rogue One’s Jyn Erso, it is the interaction of the characters that drive this story. Tony Gilroy takes his time to properly set up the pieces on his chess board, an act done with great care. Oh, there are still explosions and Star Destroyers, but they are used sporadically and only when a necessary part of the story.

Andor is telling a story about regular beings in a complex universe who are facing extraordinary and deadly choices within the framework of a tyrannical government exerting its power and control to obliterate individualism and freedom. The scenes within the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) – analogous to the German Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) or the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) – show the Empire’s attempt to quell the movements of Mon Mothma, Luthen Rael, and others. As the twelve-part series unfolds, we are shown that both sides of the galactic conflict break the rules of basic morality and law to achieve their goals. There are no white and black hats – green versus red lightsabers – to be seen. All hands are dirty, and Tony Gilroy shows it with great finesse. There are brilliant speeches and monologues to underpin the passion that the various factions feel about their chosen paths (Fiona Shaw’s speech as Maarva Andor will make the viewer shed a tear). But the triumph of Andor is taking a story with a known ending and making it both entertaining and relevant for the times we live in.

While telling a poignant Star Wars tale with nary a lightsaber to be seen, I cannot wait to see where Andor goes in season two.