[This story contains spoilers for the season finale of Andor.]
When Andor was announced in 2018, it was just one of many Star Wars series in the works for the young streaming service Disney +. Four years later, in an age of several Star Wars series arriving annually, season one of Andor managed to raise the bar for what a Star Wars show could be by carving out its own corner of the galaxy, a corner that has always existed but hadn’t been fully explored until now. It could also provide a path forward for Lucasfilm, proving that audiences will embrace storytelling beyond the mythos of the Skywalker Saga.
Before the series, audiences knew Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) from Villain One as the devoted Rebel captain who gives his life for the one thing that could turn the tide of their struggle: the Death Star plans. The Cassian we meet at the beginning of Andor is a completely different kind of villain. He is selfish, pessimistic and wants nothing to do with either side of the looming conflict. In the course of AndorIn the first season of the first season, audiences see Cassian’s evolution from a disenfranchised criminal to a man more akin to the ruthless rebel leader they remember. More importantly, viewers see what it took for Cassian to finally dedicate his life to the rebellion — a decision he is said to have mocked early in the show. And while Star Wars always had the means for nuanced and complex storytelling, to peel back the layers of the empire’s oppression and the rebellion’s sacrifice, Andor brings the franchise out there in a way previous projects never have.
In a franchise known for its historically fair take on good versus evil – and how the former will always triumph over the latter – Andor unveils a different kind of Star Wars story. Andor looks through the eyes of the unelect – the people who live day after day under the oppression of the empire. Those with no connection to a Jedi or a Skywalker or a Solo. Through the eyes of Cassian, we see the Empire – and the Rebellion – for what they really are. The Empire? A bigger, more calculated evil than a bunch of clumsy Stormtroopers. And the uprising? An organized effort that is much more complicated than just the good guys. They are willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means sacrificing their own goodness in the process.
At the end of the finale, Cassian presents rebel mastermind Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) with two options: kill him or have him join the rebellion. It rounds out his character’s season one journey and brings him that much closer to the Cassian Andor stealing the Death Star plans with Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).
Cassian is not joining the cause for goodness sake; he does it because it is necessary. At this point, he’s committed murder, committed a major Imperial heist, and thrown into a brutal work prison. He has led a mass prison break, only to later find his friends back home suffering the consequences of his actions. It leaves Cassian no choice but to fight back. It’s a choice that feels real, the kind of breaking point that only surfaces after a life under the ruthless thumb of the Empire.
“I’d rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want,” Cassian tells fellow inmate Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) in episode ten. As viewers, we know that Cassian ultimately gives his life for the rebellion. That knowledge makes us root for Andor, knowing that one day he will become the hero of a bigger story. But despite knowing his fate, knowledge that could have taken the suspense out of the series, the stakes remain high. It’s not just about whether Cassian lives or dies, it’s about the lives of the ordinary people around him, fighting for another day they may not see.
Of Andorstates the story of Cassian de Star Wars playing field a bit. There’s more to the Galaxy far, far away than Skywalkers and the Chosen Ones. In fact, there is a whole world of people slowly crumbling under a fascist regime so desperate to crush any rising rebellion that the ruthless measures it takes ignite the resistance itself.
“We need the Empire to help,” Luthen says in episode eight. “We need them angry. We badly need them. Oppression leads to rebellion.” It’s a feeling that seems hard – Luthen is willing to let people die and suffer at the hands of the Empire to advance the cause – and one that audiences certainly didn’t think about when they watched Luke triumphantly destroy the Death Star in A new hope. As Andor thus constantly reminding us that beneath the great victories lay the horrific costs it took to get there.
Revealed to be the true mastermind behind the Rebellion’s beginnings, Luthen remains one of the show’s more vital characters, and arguably one of the more pivotal characters in Star Wars to date. In a past Star Wars story, a nuanced character like Luthen could have been framed as a villain. He is ruthless, brutal, paints a menacing portrait and can come face to face with the most extremist rebels like Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). But his character shows us the true work of making a successful rebellion. To create the military stronghold that Luke Skywalker joins Episode IV, Luthen had to lay the groundwork, sacrificing everything in his life in the process.
“I’ve given up all chance of inner peace,” says Luthen in episode ten. “I’m burning my life to make a sunrise I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror, or an audience, or the light of gratitude. So what am I sacrificing? Everything!”
“Tyranny requires constant effort,” writes Karis Nemik (Alex Lawther) in his manifesto that Cassian studies during the season one finale. “It breaks. It leaks. Authority is fragile. Oppression is the mask of fear… Even the smallest act of rebellion pushes our lines forward. And then remember this. The Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural.
In Andor, the public sees the realm in its full glory. And this time around there’s no menacing Darth Vader or cackling, lightning-fast Emperor Palpatine. This is the true portrait of the empire in all its cold, calculated and oppressive ways. Through characters like the cruel and ambitious Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) or the obsessive and desperate Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), the franchise finally reveals the passion behind the Empire. These Imperial officers aren’t just blind evil puppets of Palpatine. They believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the Empire – an idea more terrifying than perhaps the threat of the Death Star itself.
In episode nine, Meero says that unlike her more straightforward Imperial colleagues, she prefers “a more nuanced approach” to defending the Empire. For Meero, her career is on the line, and she will risk everything for it. It’s an idea not far removed from that of freedom fighter Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay), Rebel Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), or even Luthen himself. The rebellion takes on not only the larger regime, but also the individuals within who feel as strongly as the rebels do – not about freedom, but about power.
These concepts of tyranny, sacrifice, and revolution could have sparked Andor collapse under its own weight. And yet showrunner Tony Gilroy’s creative vision allowed it Star Wars to feel more complete, real and accessible. Amongst the world’s Luke Skywalkers walk the Cassian Andors.
When Villain One hit theaters in 2016, to critical acclaim and fans alike, marking itself as one of the most loved Star Wars movies so far. It was different, it was gritty and eventually everyone dies. It made the events roll in Episodes IV, v and VI that makes much more sense.
Andor achieves a similar performance. Tapering off Villain OneDue to the darker tone of the series, the series not only adds more context and meaning to the events to come, but also sets the stage for more projects of the same timbre in the Star Wars universe. While there will always be a place for Jedi-focused stories or a love of adorable Grogu-like creatures, Lucasfilm may be ready to get ruthless, to take the bigger leaps or bigger risks. Perhaps the Skywalker-focused movies or the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula aren’t necessarily the way forward. Perhaps the path ahead is a greater focus on unique self-contained stories that enrich the universe in their own way. As for season two, which wraps up the series, Gilroy is already on the 12 episodes that the gap to Villain One.