Andor has finally arrived on Disney+, and if you’re like me and much of the Star Wars fanbase, it’s been an absolute delight so far. Much of that comes from the fact that Andor, despite starring a character we’ve seen before, feels like something unfamiliar to the franchise.
The tone is dark, more akin to the gritty reality portrayed in Rogue One. Even that had a sense of hope and purpose Andor currently evades, though. There are no straightforward heroes or villains. Characters have a reason to root for them, and far more to question their every move. Everything just feels a little bit more serious than it did on the Forest Moon of Endor.
While it’s not the first time Star Wars has delved into adult themes, far from it in fact, Andor undoubtedly stands out from other stories so far. And it should. It’s trying to. With that, it’s caused some, while a minority, to beg a fair question.
Without the Jedi or Sith, the Skywalkers or Solo, AT-ATs or X-Wings, how much is Andor really a Star Wars story? And what makes it stand out against any other science fiction show?
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this question, either. It came in the leadup to the film that inspired it, Rogue One. I remember the speculation about whether that film would feature a lightsaber or not and how it would end up as little more than a war movie. Many feared that project would lose the luster of what made Star Wars special.
Well, it turned out that wasn’t the case. Rogue One featured a strong number of callbacks, Darth Vader being the biggest one, but take those away, and it still feels as much like a Star Wars story as ever, even with entirely new characters and planets.
Silly as it sounds, I’d argue that Solo: A Star Wars Story is another example. Yes, that film of course uses younger versions of characters we’ve come to know and love and recreates one of the franchise’s most iconic moments. But, ultimately, it’s a Western featuring a young gunslinger and his partner looking to make a quick buck. That’s really it.
Lastly, I want to look at The Mandalorian. Over time, it’s become much more engrained in the Star Wars mythos than any of us expected. But, back in season one, Mando was a lone wolf making his way around the galaxy. Again, the story was simple. He was just trying to bring a kid back home.
What makes Andor unique?
I rattled off all of those examples to show how diverse the Star Wars galaxy has become. To define Star Wars solely by the Skywalker Saga is to ignore the potential for stories that lay beyond it, or negate, what’s here right now.
Yes, there is a larger mythology that must be acknowledged. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader battling on the Death Star and Luke Skywalker mastering a mystical power called the Force mesmerized audiences forty five years ago for a reason, and continue to have that same effect today. No other science fiction universe can replicate that.
But, at the same time, Star Wars, like any franchise, must continue to adapt, and that’s meant changing what makes it unique. In the original trilogy, it was managing to tell a human story in a foreign world. In the prequels, it was arguably the visual effects and the unprecedented extent to which CGI was utilized.
That brings us to the sequels. There, both the familiar (The Force Awakens) and the bold (The Last Jedi) faced criticism. What that seemed to indicate is that the audience again wanted something new, both in the characters and in the story, that still felt like Star Wars.
I always think to George Lucas’ philosophy. One of his biggest themes has been the constant need for reinvention. A number of quotes illustrate that, and I’ll take this one from Paul Duncan’s book, The Star Wars Archives relating to Lucas’ conception of the prequel trilogy.
"He says, “I told the people at Lucasfilm they’re going to have to face the reality that I’m making a movie that nobody wants to see, but I want to tell that story. I’m more interested in telling the story than I am in just a doing a franchise where you tell the same story over and over again.”"
Star Wars storytelling is meant to evolve.
And with that, Star Wars has had to adapt, and in fact, that’s how it’s been the most successful.
Stories can look like many different things. They can be an extended narrative on a single family or a singular story about a group of unlikely heroes who stole the plans to a superweapon. They can take place hundreds of years earlier, in the High Republic Era, or millions of years later.
They can depict the spiritual war between the Jedi and Sith, as the upcoming Acolyte and Tales of the Jedi will, or of the galactic one between good and whatever form evil takes.
The music can feature fanfare and Force themes, or, piano riffs and soundscapes. Ludwig Goransson’s main theme for The Mandalorian catapulted itself to instant admiration. Yet the instrumentation couldn’t be more different than John Williams’ score across the Skywalker Saga.
All of this is to say that the most special part of having built a galaxy so big is the ability to never stop telling stories within it. Star Wars is not meant to be constrained to the Skywalkers, it no longer has to be. Stories don’t just have to be live action or animated, on the big screen or at home. And they can be for any audience, young children or adults.
It’s important to mention, though, that adaptability needs to be earned. Star Wars has decades worth of storytelling under its belt. So, yes, it has that right to branch out.
What you might find with Andor — even before Mon Mothma and the Empire have arrived — because yes, they always do— is a story that’s still very Star Wars. It has the worlds, the creatures, the people, the themes and an underlying interconnectedness to something more. Even if it looks and sounds different than we’ve come to expect.
Most importantly, you’ll find the story of an unlikely hero. Because beyond all of the superficial elements, story has always made Star Wars special. The Mandalorian fits right into the galaxy because the lead character became an icon before ever even seeing show his face.
If you’re open to it, Bix, B2 and Andor just might be able to do the same.