Since about a month we have now been able to see the first 6 episodes of Star Wars: #Andor. So, it is time for #CloneCorridor to speak out on what this series has done for the Star Wars universe. Well, no surprise here: It is exceeding all expectations I had. A new age of Star Wars has begun.
The First Arc: Episodes 1 through 3
Star Wars: #Andor comes out of the starting blocks immediately showing us that this Star Wars is different from what we are used to. Many describe the feel of the series’ start to the more raw and dark tone of Star Wars: Rogue One, but I think that misses the point.
There can be no doubt that the tone of Star Wars: Andor is more mature than that of the Sequel Trilogy or of Solo. But the density of action scenes in the first arc, episodes 1 through 3, is far slower than in Star Wars: Rogue One. This show, #Andor, is not here to take us from action sequence to action sequence. It’s focus is entirely different.
What sets #Andor apart from all the Star Wars we have seen so far since 1977, is the focus on the stories of ordinary folks in the Star Wars Galaxy at the time that the Empire comes of age. The first three episodes manage to evoke the constant threat of the Empire without actually showing the Empire. What we see is how this invisible threat coerces people, such as the employees and managers of the corporate security companies, into questionable behaviours and how these spreads like a toxin into the personalities of various characters we meet.
One of the beautiful things of the first three episodes is that they do a lot of world-building but with little exposition. The episodes give characters the space to ‘breathe’ and almost every background character that shares a few moments of screen-time with the main characters gets some lines that suggest the presence of a ‘real life’ behind the character we see. Not a real life that is somehow plot-relevant, but one that makes all the beings visible on-screen seem really existing within this universe. Nameless yet rounded and with a story of their own. It turns the Star Wars universe from a universe centred on a family Saga into a huge tapestry in which individual storylines are threaded together to a larger whole.
Cassian Andor simply is one of these gazillions of characters and evidently the character we are following, but not because he is special and instead rather because he is representative. Cassian’s life is affected by the choices of others, imperial and non-imperial, and those choices had beneficial but also traumatic impacts. We find Cassian in scene one coming to terms with parts of that, while scene two causes a situation which adds further injury to his existence. It is slowly unwrapped across three episodes that gives us some real insight into who Andor is, what universe he inhabits and how his relationships with people he cares about, and those he is careless about, are all complicated.
Episodes 4 through 6: When does adventure start?
Now of course we have seen lots of Star Wars and we are kind of trained to spot key scenes such as “the call to adventure“. Star Wars: Andor plays us with such expectations and sets us up quite a few times to fall into the trap of believing that now the next scene is definitely the call to adventure. Instead, however, without lecturing us, #Andor takes an approach reminiscent to Remarque’s “for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it“.
The tone of #Andor is mature not because it contains more violence or gore, but because it treats violence in a mature manner. Violence in #Andor has consequences, there are stakes everywhere in this series, and these stakes drive people to fortunate and unfortunate choices.
Some people moan that Star Wars: #Andor is a slow series, but this is not true in my experience. The episodes ranging from 50 to 60 minutes feel short to me and that is usually not a sign of spending an hour in which too little happens. Episode 5 is a great example of how the series does this. Instead of foreshadowing and action sequences to create tension for what’s to come, tension is created purely from the conversations of and interactions between characters.
In episodes 4 through 6 tension builds to a satisfying finale of this second arc, but largely without using any of the standard “film-by-numbers” tricks that we have seen so often in many TV series and films. Instead ‘ordinary’ family situations, such as Mon Mothma’s home situation, become pits of tension, and the mutual suspicions in a burgeoning rebel-cell equally create stakes that are thrilling.
Then, when Death comes, it frequently comes in random, tragic and rarely heroic ways. The poison of the authoritarian life under the Empire is that life becomes cheap. The reality of rebellion against such oppression however adds further fuel to the fire that eats away at everyone’s morality. The camera of #Andor doesn’t dwell on the individual hero that gets to speak a few last monumental words. Instead, it swoops past a rebel who gets hit by a slipping, heavy, load of cargo signing their death sentence. The emotions are rarely spoken out, but they are acted out believable and impactfully.
When the second arc ends the losses in the series have already started accumulating for our characters. We have been thoroughly introduced to the sickening impact of the corruption by, and overreach of, imperial power on the lives of the Empire’s enemies as well as its helpers. But none of this is done in the typical, stereotypical manner of the bright hero who has a few dark moments but always returns from the edge, with somehow having gained absolutions for their dark deeds. Star Wars already showed in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, to take this thing far more seriously and to make Anakin Skywalker’s deeds explicitly inexcusable. Andor also shies away from the nondescript “grey” behaviour of characters we see in many films and instead entangled the ambiguous morality of characters to the complexity of their interactions and relationships. This is perhaps the shows greatest feat … it makes characters deeply human, deeply flawed and provides everything that happens with a sense of realism.
I think Star Wars: #Andor is not just the best Star Wars we have seen from Disney so far; I think it is absolutely one of the best drama series of the past few years. If you haven’t been watching it so far because you’re tired of Disney Star Wars … this series might dramatically change your mind. If you haven’t been watching it because you’re not into Star Wars … this series isn’t asking you to be, it’s telling you an urgent, enthralling and emotional story about real people dealing with real difficult circumstances that just happened to occur a long time ago in a Galaxy far far away.