The trouble with Andor

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Lucasfilm's ANDOR, exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Lucasfilm's ANDOR, exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. /

With just two episodes left this season, “Andor” has been blowing the minds of Star Wars fans…but not too many others. This show is exceptionally good and critically acclaimed, but it’s the lowest-watched live action Star Wars series so far. So what gives?

Not so long ago, in this very galaxy (November 12, 2019, to be exact) brand-new streaming service Disney+ put every single egg it had into one basket–a Star Wars show featuring an unknown character. Just over three years ago, the Mandalorian launched Disney+ into the stratosphere. It seemed like everyone you knew was watching it–even people who didn’t like Star Wars. Suddenly the entire world was captivated by Baby Yoda and life as we knew it would never be the same.

The Mandalorian was a phenomenal success. Disney’s experiment in live TV had paid off, big time, and the race was on to bring more Star Wars to the small screen. First there was “Book of Boba Fett,” and then “Obi Wan.” Both of these shows were fine, even good in places, but neither of them ever came close to the giddy exhilaration of the can’t-miss-tv feeling of “The Mandalorian.” Some fans (well, at least this fan) wondered if Disney had somehow caught lighting in a bottle–if “The Mandalorian” was a magical series, its magnificence never to be reached again by subsequent projects. Maybe great live Star Wars TV was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and we’d already had our hit.

“Andor” obliterated my gloomy projections. Although a bit of a slow starter (the first three episodes could have been condensed down into one) this show is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that still makes you think, with eye-popping special effects sequences, top-notch acting, and brilliant writing. More importantly, it feels like Star Wars. It’s an incredible feat, and it gives me hope for the future of Star Wars tv.

As of now, Disney has a 50/50 success rate with live TV shows in terms of quality (we’ll get to viewership in a minute). No doubt there are people at Disney scrambling to figure out just exactly why the Mandalorian and Andor are flying high while Boba Fett and Obi Wan never really made it off the ground. Worry no more, Disney execs, I have the answer–nostalgia. Star Wars has a serious nostalgia problem, and it’s crippling the storytelling efforts of the live TV projects.

Both Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi are beloved characters, to put it mildly. Fans the world over rejoiced at the announcements of their respective series, eager to spend more time with old friends. But once we had them…we didn’t quite know what to do with them. Obi-Wan largely left its eponymous hero untouched, a carbon copy of his Clone-Wars era self dropped into pre-Episode IV Tatooine. We’ve already seen what he can do…it’s not interesting to see him do it again. Baby Leia was a good bit but not as good as Baby Yoda (sorry, baby Leia!) and the show didn’t move forward so much as drag its feet through the paces til its inevitable conclusion–Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader! Again! We know how this has to end. The show did not manage to say anything new about anyone in it, and despite excellent performances from everyone involved (3rd Sister in particular was pretty great)  the show left me cold. I could not get invested in a battle I’d already seen fought by these same exact characters.

Boba Fett, on the other hand, took a wild left turn and totally reinvented its titular hero. We knew little about Boba Fett other than he was a badass bounty hunter and he died in the Sarlacc pit, so imagine viewers’ suprise when it turns out that this particular Boba Fett is not dead, does no crime, barely even threatens people, and has a tragic sandpeople backstory. I really enjoyed this series and what it had to say about people’s abilities to change, but I don’t know a lot of people who agree. The show was…a little boring. Boba Fett was so uninteresting that Mando and Luke Skywalker hijacked the series for two episodes and folks were frankly happy about it.

So, you can’t take a beloved character and keep him the same, and you can’t make him different, either. What are you supposed to do with him? “The Mandalorian” and “Andor” have the answer–leave him alone! I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I think that the weight of fan nostalgia and the efforts to appease those fans is too heavy for Star Wars TV series. It’s not an accident that “Solo” the movie bombed as well. We like to freeze our heroes in carbonite–not watch them grow old, change, or just do the same old stuff in a new place. It just does not seem to be a recipe for success on the small screen.

Yes, we knew who Cassian Andor was (and Mon Mothma, too, while we’re at it). There was a decent amount of excitement over him in Rogue One, as he was one of the first Latinx characters in a “Star Wars” lead role. But as great as he is (and he is great), “Rogue One” is just one movie, and it only came out in 2016. It’s not in the same ballpark in terms of screen time or memory time as either Boba Fett or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cassian Andor is a character who we don’t know too much about and who deserves to have his story told. What we know about him going into “Andor” is basically an archetype–he’s a revolutionary. A man who will kill for his cause and not blink. Starting with the question “how did he get that way?” is a great entry into his world and a real driving force for a story, as opposed to “how can we spend more time with Boba Fett?’

Mando was unknown–just some lone wolf who unexpectedly became a dad. Viewers were familiar with the trope, but we didn’t know how this character would react to it and grow within it. Both “Andor” and “The Mandalorian” anchor us in something familiar but allow is to plunge headfirst into an entirely new story. When the first TIE fighter screams overhead in Ep. 4, it’s almost a jolt–oh yeah, this is Star Wars. Both shows deliver story and character first, and Star Wars fan service second. And it’s just so, so good. There are abundant easter eggs and cameos in both series that delight veteran fans, but the shows are constructed well enough that even non-Star Wars people (whoever they are) can enjoy them. They’re not the typical “pew-pew good guy/bad guy” Star Wars story, but they are a new story, a real story, a story worth telling. I for one would like to see more genre takes in the GFFA. More Western Star Wars! More Heist Star Wars! Even more (gasp) Romance Star Wars! Just tell a good story and I’ll be there. Don’t make an excuse for an action figure. Don’t remind me of my childhood. Just tell me a story.

But despite Andor’s indisputable excellence, it has failed to pull the numbers the previous shows have. Star Wars is a juggernaut of an IP, and it relies on name recognition to get eyeballs on its shows. Obi-Wan is a name you know, Andor is not. As a rabid Star Wars fan, I forget that I am in the minority–not everyone in the world lives and breathes Star Wars like I do. Most people  (or at least more people than my small sect) are casual fans–they’ve seen some movies, probably like Baby Yoda, but haven’t dipped their toes into the Extended Universe. As long as that’s the bulk of TV watchers, it makes financial sense for Disney to keep making shows like “Boba Fett” instead of more shows like “Andor.” It’s a bummer, but money talks.

So the trouble with “Andor” is that the precise thing that makes it so incredibly good is the reason why there likely won’t be more shows like it. Unless diehards like me really spread the word and get casual fans to tune in, we will be doomed to endless rehashes of beloved characters. Which isn’t bad, per se, but it isn’t as good as it could be.