Andor: Triumph or Trifle?

Star Wars: Andor has just finished it’s first season of 12-episodes, and I don’t think I’ve been this torn and twisted around by a show since the mini-series premiere of the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

I love Star Wars, just as I still love the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica (even all these years later), and just like the rebooted BSG challenged me to stretch my understanding and acceptance of what is ‘good Battlestar Galactica story-telling, Andor season one challenged me to re-evaluate what ‘good Star Wars’ story-telling can be.

If you’ve read this blog, you know that the Battlestar Galactica reboot won me over pretty quickly. I became a fan about an hour into the mini-series, and stayed one through the whole four season run. The reboot didn’t damage my appreciation of the original, which I’d seen as a very young boy, and neither the old or the new detracted from one another in any way – despite what were some pretty controversial choices at the time.

Star Wars: Andor was a slightly different experience for me. It wasn’t a reimagining, it wasn’t considered controversial, and it was taking place within the known history and accepted timeline of Star Wars, but, like the BSG reboot, it was aiming to be grittier and more realistic.

Unlike the new Battlestar, though, which I was very nervous about at the time, I was looking forward to this new live-action Star Wars show. Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett had disappointed me months earlier, but Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi had delighted me and I was hoping for a similar experience.

When Andor premiered and I watched the first three episodes, I wasn’t excited any more. I was underwhelmed. It didn’t immediately win me over, like the Battlestar mini-series had almost two-decades ago.

Maybe because I didn’t need to be won over, and probably because my expectations were too high.

Andor looked beautiful. The acting was first class. The writing was perfect. The setting was not Tatooine (thank the Maker). There weren’t any Mandalorians running around (I enjoy Star Wars: The Mandalorian, it’s just that Mandalorians are starting to feel incredibly over-used), so there were a lot of big ticks for me…

But, it didn’t feel like Star Wars.

That one word, ‘feel,’ itched and poked at me through all 12-episodes.

Even when Stormtroopers showed up, and we saw TIE-Fighters and, eventually, an X-Wing or two at Saw Gerrera’s base, it still didn’t feel like Star Wars.

Not even Mon Mothma, the real reason I was excited about Star Wars: Andor, made it feel like Star Wars, because she was stuck in either an apartment on Coruscant or an air-taxi most of the time, and we only saw her in the Senate once. Very briefly.

For probably eight out of the 12 episodes, I found myself wondering why Tony Gilroy and his team hadn’t just gone off and made an original science fiction series, because Andor did not feel like it belonged in the Star Wars universe. It was excellent, and I was enjoying it, but it was also rubbing me the wrong way.

By episode 12, something finally clicked and I felt like I understood the show – so maybe I’m just a bit slow on the uptake?

Ultimately, season one was about two things: the events that pushed Cassian into the Rebellion, and how messy forming a rebellion can be. We all knew those storyline’s were the focus of the show, because Tony Gilroy never made Andor out to be anything but those particular stories, but good old expectation – or expectation of what Star Wars is – is what ultimately diluted the initial experience for me.

Plus, I have to admit, I was getting sick of reading a lot of reviews that were saying Star Wars needed Andor to be relevant and to ‘grow,’ which was just starting to sound like the rabid nit-picking of a certain kind of Star Wars fan – the ones who always want something to be ‘edgier’ or more of ‘something else,’ so that the rest of the world will stop making fun of their love for that galaxy far, far away.

For me, Star Wars is many things – interesting and relatable characters, amazing effects, a fast-paced and pumping storyline (in most cases), and intense action and emotion intermingled with humour. It’s also a good old fashioned fairy tale.

Andor had interesting and relatable characters, it’s effects were pretty good, but still not as good as those being pumped out by the modern Star Trek series’ (or even The Orville or the reboot of Lost in Space), and it had a great storyline. It had moments of wonderful action, and every episode was dotted with potent emotion – but it was nowhere near fairy-tale-like (which isn’t bad, just a different tone), and it lacked humour. At least, if there was humour, I can’t remember it, like I can remember lines like “scruffy-looking Nerf herder” or “you know better than to trust a strange computer,” and “don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease.”

George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, J.J. Abrams, and Rian Johnson all understood the need for humour, and the fact that most of us will crack an inappropriate joke at the most stressful or confronting of times. Even Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, had moments of humour in what was, ultimately, a very tragic story.

Andor season one looked beautiful and was masterfully crafted, but it was pretty damn bleak and desperately needed a few tiny moments of that dark humour humans are known to express under stress. The bleak isn’t bad, it just took me a while to embrace it, because Star Wars has always been so instilled with hope, even amidst tragedy.

Overall, I eventually allowed myself to get swept up in the story and to embrace the season and it’s different style, but it was a journey for me that didn’t gel with episode 12. I’m glad Andor was made, it is a wonderful addition to the Star Wars universe, and I’m revved for season two, but I didn’t love it with a capital ‘L,’ and I really wanted to. I am pretty certain I will, over time, but I suspect that will depend on season two.

What worked for me actually surprised me. I really enjoyed Ferrix and the world Tony and his team created there. I loved seeing blue collar Star Wars, even though I never knew I wanted to! I really appreciated and respected the way they created that world and it’s working-class culture, and how real and raw and honest they made it. I grew up in public housing in working class neighbourhoods, alongside factory workers, truck drivers, mechanics, trades people, gangs, wannabe and actual criminals, and so on – and in fact, still live in about as working-class a town as you can get. Gilroy and his team got it all right. Ferrix was real. It wasn’t a caricature or a ‘Hollywoodized’ version of what working-class life is. The characters and their relationships, and their commitments to each other, were true and visceral. I recognised all of it, and it was beautifully handled.

I also really enjoyed the ISB scenes. What a dysfunctional, sycophantic, typically bureaucratic bunch. It was great! For the last few years I’ve been working in emergency management and disaster recovery, and every time there is a new disaster, I have to wade through bureaucrats and their petty power plays and ass-covering while lives are on the line. Gilroy and his team really showed the arrogance of that mindset you sometimes encounter in bureaucracies with remarkable insight, while also showing how power can twist people.

Andor is perhaps the most steeped in the real world any Star Wars series has ever been.

I particularly loved Dedra Meero. She was outstanding, and one of the best villains Star Wars has ever produced. Denise Gough was the perfect mix of strength, intelligence, drive, and vulnerability, and her performance in episode 12 in particular was one of the best I’ve ever seen in Star Wars (or anywhere). When she almost dies on Ferrix, and is rescued by Syril Karn, her acting is world class as she shows her shock and fear.

I wanted Dedra to become a good guy at some point, but as she tortured Bix I knew that was never going to happen, so I ended up loving how much Denise’s portrayal of this particular ISB agent made me despise the character – yet still root for her. I did not want to see Dedra die, and I’m so glad she made it to the end of the episode. She now stands tall with Emperor Palpatine as my all time favourite Star Wars villain (and she didn’t even need fancy armour like Darth Vader, the Force, or a lightsaber).

I also loved Fiona Shaw as Maarva, Stellan Skarsgard as Luthen, Adria Arjona as Bix, Kyle Soller as Syril, Andy Serkis as Kino Loy, the always excellent Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, and I really enjoyed Alex Ferns as Sergeant Mosk. In fact, there wasn’t a performance I could fault.

The other actor and character that really grabbed me, as much as Denise Gough and Dedra did, was Joplin (Chook) Sibtain and his character, Brasso.

Brasso was just a guy living his life, with no interest in power, politics, the Rebellion or the Empire. He was doing his job, loving and supporting his friends, and getting on with it.

Watching him transition, slowly, across the course of the series, from jovial hard-worker to that moment in episode 12 where he’s had enough, was a delight and a highpoint of the series.

Tony Gilroy and his team excelled at showing how normal people can rise up and become powerhouses in their own rights, without having been former ‘whatever’s’ with heaps of training and experience as once-professional bad-asses.

Kino Loy’s journey was similar, as was Maarva’s, and even Syrils (though at the other end of the spectrum).

The message of Andor is one we don’t get a lot these days: heroes are normal men and women (and other genders), who have just been pushed too far. No need for lightsabres, the Force, a background as an SAS soldier or marine or police officer, and no need for a ridiculous costume and super powers (I am really sick of superhero movies).

The message was also: villains are normal men and women (and other genders) too. Dedra and Syril don’t have super powers or even exceptional levels of military training. They’re not insidious Sith Lords. They’re people like you and me, either pushed too far or given too much power, without the compassion that power needs to temper it.

I really like that. Other Star Wars shows have tried to do similar, but none have succeeded as well and as honestly as Star Wars: Andor.

What didn’t work for me?

The bleakness. While it was clear people (at least on Ferrix) cared for one another, there were not many moments of joy that enabled that to really hit home for the viewer.

For me, in my ‘head-cannon,’ the people of Ferrix rose up because they cared for and respected each other, and wanted the best for their community. At many points in the story, though, at times it looked like people were only rising up because they were being crushed by the Empire.

Also, the lack of Mon Mothma didn’t work for me. I liked the character of Cassian Andor in Star Wars: Rogue One, and was intrigued about the idea of creating a series focused on his journey toward rebellion, but Mon Mothma was the main attractant to the series for me. And we barely got to see her.

I was hoping we would see something of the deterioration of the Senate, beyond the barely full chamber in the one scene we were given that focused on that now familiar political body. I have always been curious as to whether or not Palpatine ever showed up to general Senate meetings. I also wanted more of Coruscant than the insides of apartments, flashy buildings in the distance, and window-dressing for fancy speeder rides. Coruscant, like Alderaan, are two iconic worlds we never see enough of – yet they shovel Tatooine down our throats every chance they get.

I had hoped for the juxtaposition of a thriving city-world against the more humble trappings of Ferrix, mixed in with the guarded sparring of Senate disputes, framed against the in-fighting of an emergent Rebel Alliance. I wanted to see Mon Mothma’s allies, and I really wanted to watch how deftly she wove her way between ally and enemy. At one point, it looked like we were going to get that via a dinner party at her home on Coruscant, with some of Palatine’s inner circle in attendance… but we didn’t. It was alluded to and skipped over. The verbal sparring at that dinner could have been a feast for the viewer, and a wonderful way of showing the strength of this woman who essentially gave birth to a rebellion.

The glimpses we had of Mon Mothma’s very unhappy life were intriguing, but so much of it felt like a missed opportunity. I get they wanted to show her isolation, but she felt… ineffectual, as a character. That was probably the point, but again… the expectations of a fan.

It is more than that, though. In Star Wars history, she is one of the main architects of the Alliance. Seeing her husband and daughter, and their various parties/dinners/meetings was moderately entertaining, but so much more could have been done with this incredibly important character.

Genevieve O’Reilly is an exceptional and under-rated actor, and she has been bringing Mon Mothma to life in live-action and animated form for a couple of decades now. Both the character, who is so pivotal to everything Star Wars, and the actress, deserved more focus.

Other than that, the other thing that didn’t work for me, as I’ve mentioned, was the lack of humour.

But, all in all, Star Wars: Andor is excellent. It really is good, and a master-class in story-telling. It’s not the Star Wars many of us grew up with, but it enhances the overall experience if you give it a chance.

No one dropped the ball on this series. It’s close to perfect – from production quality to writing, and everything in-between. Some reviewers have found the pacing uneven at times, but I can only think of one episode where that was so (number 5).

It still doesn’t feel a lot like Star Wars, but after watching each episode through to the end of the season, I’m okay with that. Like the Battlestar Galactica reboot challenged and stretched me as a fan, so too has Andor.

Star Wars: Andor does exactly what it promised to do, which was provide us with compelling backstories for Cassian and Mon Mothma – and even a little something about Saw Gerrara, all of whom will become very important to the birthing Rebel Alliance.

The only real gripe I have left, now that Andor has won me over, is that it is going to potentially take TWO YEARS until we get season two.

Yes, it’s a complex, effects heavy series that relies on a lot of practical sets, but if Paramount+ and CBS can give us three live-action Star Trek‘s a year, with (I’m sorry to say this) superior special effects (though admittedly less practical sets), surely Star Wars: Andor can be filmed and put together in around a year?

Disney+ is really messing up it’s release of Star Wars material. It doesn’t feel like there is any method or strategy in their scheduling. We’ve been waiting forever for Star Wars: The Mandalorian, season three. There was suddenly good spacing between Obi-Wan and Andor… but that was the exception, not the norm, and now we’re back in a period of waiting. Yes, we have the ad nauseam animated offerings and the ridiculous Lego crap, but not every Star Wars fan wants to watch cartoons or cross-promotional overly-blown adverts for toys.

Disney+ needs to stop focusing on it’s over-saturated Marvel slate of less and less interesting offerings, and realise it has more to offer. Since Lucasfilm was sold to them, they’ve dropped the ball on Star Wars almost as often as they’ve caught it.

What do I mean?

Solo? I know some people love the movie, but I’m not one of them… it sucked. It’s a horrible, bland movie. The actors are all great, and the effects were excellent, but everything else was just terrible.

Rogue One? Big tick.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian? It isn’t all that well written, but it reinvigorated my love for Star Wars and I really enjoy it. It has solid characters, and an interesting narrative that explores an exciting time in the Star Wars timeline. It’s another big tick.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi? Huge tick.

Star Wars: Andor? Big tick, bordering on huge tick.

Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett? They Disneyfied an awesome character and ruined him. For me, it stands as an example of how not to do Star Wars and how not to treat characters.

The Force Awakens? Big tick. Yes, it was almost beat-for-beat A New Hope, but it was executed beautifully.

The Last Jedi? Huge tick. I know some fans don’t like it, but it’s in my top three Star Wars movies. I love the film, and I respect the big-swings Rian Johnson took.

Rise of Skywalker? WTF?! I mostly enjoyed it when I first saw it, and loved how they brought Carrie back, but otherwise… what were they thinking? It’s the only Star Wars film I can’t rewatch in its entirety. Some fans felt betrayed by The Last Jedi, but I felt betrayed by Rise of Skywalker.

The newer animated offerings? Bad Batch is intriguing, and I enjoyed Clone Wars, Rebels, and the first season of Resistance, but the other stuff feels like filler.

Here’s to hoping Andor season two arrives sooner than we’ve been told it will, and here’s hoping we see more of Bix, Brasso, Dedra, Syril and the rest, and a lot more of Mon Mothma.

If I were to score Star Wars: Andor out of 10, I’d give it a 9. In the end, for me at least, season one was a triumph.

If I’d written this any earlier though, like maybe half-way through the season’s release, it might have received only a 6 or a 7. I’m glad I waited.

I am excited for season two, and the twists and turns Gilroy and his team are going to put Cassian and Mon through, on their journey toward outright rebellion.

May the Force be with you.

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