Andor Stuck the Landing

When I wrote my post about Andor last month, I commented that "for all I know the writers could still mess up horribly and ruin everything, but at the moment that doesn't seem likely to me". I'm happy to say that the writers did in fact not mess up the finale. The last episode came out this week, and it was great.

With the entirety of season one behind us now, I've seen people say that this is the best Star Wars has been in decades. Some might even say that it's better than the original trilogy itself. I don't know where I'd put it myself, but I've never been good at ranking pop culture items. Andor's definitely got to be somewhere at the top though.

Alternate Andor poster from starwarsnews.net

I've just continued to be amazed by the craftsmanship that has gone into this show on all levels, resulting in something that is both artistically and thematically incredibly coherent. Just this morning I was reading an interview with composer Nicholas Britell, who was responsible for the show's sound and music, and I couldn't help geeking out about all the little details. Did you know that the intro was slightly different for every episode? I'd seen people comment that the number of stars in the background increased as the season progressed, but I hadn't known about the acoustic side of it.

You know how with some shows, you have a good time in general, but then there'll be a scene or episode that kind of makes you go, "I don't know... that doesn't really make sense to me"? Hopefully you won't take it too seriously and will still be able to have fun, but it's a bit of a distraction nonetheless. Andor has been the opposite of that for me, in that there've been moments that made me go "huh, that's really clever/interesting" and then I see a comment or read something in an interview afterwards that suddenly makes it even better because it reveals additional connections or details that I'd missed. It's just such a beautiful work of art.

It's really fascinating how much they managed to do with the character of Cassian Andor alone. While rewatching Rogue One last month, it struck me again that while I did enjoy the film myself, the criticism that its characters never really got fleshed out were definitely very valid. You can basically see tiny glimpses of depth and if you're able to fill in the rest in your head that's great, but I can't fault people for whom that didn't work. It's absolutely true that the film itself didn't give viewers a lot to work with.

After seeing Andor, one has to wonder whether Tony Gilroy just prefers having more time to flesh out a whole cast of characters, as he certainly gets a lot done over the course of twelve episodes. (This is where it gets spoilery by the way.) Cassian starts out as someone who already hates the Empire, having lost many loved ones to its violence, but that by itself hasn't been enough to make him take meaningful action against it. He derides the Empire and steals from it, but ultimately he's still trying to just get by. It's not explicitly said like that, but there's a sense of: That's just how it is, what can you do? It's not like he's ever known the world to be any different.

He's also a slightly unusual main protagonist in that he's not instantly remarkable in some way. He's not particularly charismatic, strong or fearless; he's a fairly quiet guy who is rightfully and visibly scared when in danger. However, he's also very observant, intelligent and good at understanding what makes people tick - no wonder he makes for a good rebel spy!

When he finds himself conscripted into a rebel heist, he has no moral qualms about what they're doing, he's just not sure it's worth the risk, an assessment that turns out to be quite astute when about half the team dies in the process. In a way it's not really a surprise that he decides to simply take his cut and go. He just wants to get away from it all.

However, the world (specifically the Empire) doesn't let him get away. In a scene that feels both weirdly realistic but also humorous, he ends up being arrested for basically nothing due to just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and "looking nervous" - a massive irony after he just got away with a huge crime.

He ends up in a dystopian prison that doubles as a forced labour camp, which is more than he can bear, and planning an escape becomes his only means of survival. It's interesting though that here too, he doesn't suddenly transform into a charismatic leader but rather manages to push and encourage another inmate whom he knows others will listen to and follow.

Yet even after all that, it still feels like he's briefly considering just trying to get away from it all once again. He still has his hidden stash of cash, so if only he can get back to his elderly mother, they could both be okay... but of course Maarva is not okay; she's dead. And even as Cassian sneaks off to attend her funeral, you can tell that he's feeling lonely and lost. It's only when he sees the recording she made for the ceremony that it hits him that there's something left for him, that there are people whom he can help, and it feels fitting that he's not there anymore when the Imperials come looking for him because he's decided to go off and save Bix.

In a way I feel like even summarising it like that is perhaps simplifying it too much - the point is that his motivation isn't just "grr, revenge" or "I have nothing left to live for". It's complex and layered and feels very real.

This is true for the rest of the show's ensemble cast as well - because despite the title, it's not just about Andor. There's Luthen for example, who's what I suppose you could call a rebel spymaster: resourceful, devious and with eyes and ears everywhere. However, even though he's on the side we're cheering for, his behaviour is often appalling, as he's so removed from it all, it sometimes seems as if he's just treating people's lives and deaths as some sort of game. Of course, then he has an amazing speech at the end of episode ten in which he reveals that he's fully aware that many of the things he does are despicable but that he sees no other way of building a better future - a future he himself doesn't think himself worthy of and that he doesn't expect to ever see.

There's also Mon Mothma, a character from the original trilogy whose personal life wasn't ever really fleshed out in great detail, not even in the old EU as far as I can tell. In Andor she presents an interesting contrast to the rebels on the ground in that her role of providing financial support to the rebellion seems very easy on a superficial level, seeing how she continues to live a life of luxury as a senator on Coruscant in the meantime. However, we soon learn that she has to make sacrifices of a different kind, as she has barely anyone she can trust and has to keep up a facade in front of absolutely everyone, including her husband Perrin and her rebellious teenage daughter Leida.

Perrin was actually an interesting side character to me - I've seen many commenters deride him as boring or annoying, but my read on him was that he's just a guy who wants to live a good life and hates how with Mon everything has to be super serious and/or about politics, which is why the two are rather estranged. We learn that their marriage was arranged when they were very young, so it's not like they were ever deeply in love or anything, but my impression was that there was at least affection there once, and that it's just another thing that's crumbling for Mon. She finishes the season by arranging a marriage for her own daughter and wrongly accusing Perrin of having gambling debts in front of a known Imperial spy, all in order to cover her own tracks of financial wrongdoing, making heavy sacrifices in a different way.

And of course there are the Imperial antagonists, Dedra Meero and Syril Karn, whom we end up feeling for at times as well, even while we don't want them to win. Possibly my favourite scene from the first story arc was the one where Syril discusses Cassian's killing of two guardsmen with his supervisor, and the supervisor's assessment of the situation is completely spot-on, yet at the same time you can understand Syril's opposing viewpoint of wanting justice for his colleagues and feeling enraged by what he sees as corrupt handling of the case. He's kind of an Imperial idealist, in that he actually believes the propaganda about maintaining order and being rewarded for excellence, even as the system tries to beat him down over and over again. Honestly, I found him weirdly relatable at times, especially when he was exchanging snark with his mother - let's just say that when my own relationship with my mother was at its worst, I was quite familiar with being told that I was a disappointment too.

In general, all the characters feel like real people, so that you find yourself weirdly caring even about the minor players that hardly have any lines. I'm already excited for season two, though that won't be ready for another two years. We already know that its events will start about a year after the end of season one and will finish just before the start of Rogue One, with bigger time jumps between individual story arcs. It's just a shame we won't get more than that...


  1. "I'm already excited for season two, though that won't be ready for another two years. "

    This is something that really annoys me about modern television shows. I only realised a week or two back that it's going to be 2024 before we see the next (And last.) season of Stranger Things. Far from building up excitement, for me that length of time between seasons dissipates most of the interest I had. By the time we get there I'll barely remember what happened last time or even who most of the characters are and I begrudge having to go back and rewatch stuff just to remember why I was interested in the first place.

    Honestly, I'd rather have lower production values and a quicker turnaround. First world problems, eh?

    1. Hm, I don't really feel strongly about that. Maybe it's a side effect of growing up watching American shows on German television, which meant you basically never knew when any given production would make its way across the pond. You just didn't know whether a German channel was even going to bother buying it and even when they did there was always time required to dub the thing... so I'm quite used to having to wait for stuff.


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