Andor, the prequel to Rogue One, is fast becoming one of the most beloved Star Wars properties out there. Its gritty take on the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire is gaining traction with fans after a series of decent, but generic and family friendly releases to the franchise. The shift away from the fantasy elements of Star Wars, such as the Force and Jedi, makes the Andor feel fresh, and much more like a Sci-Fi show. But what makes the show so good, and is it really getting bad viewership? This article will contain some very minor spoilers, so bare that in mind if you want to watch the show completely blind.
Gritty tone – What Boba Fett Should Have Been
Part of what makes Andor so great, is that Disney has finally created a fairly grim, adult show. The Star Wars fandom stretches across generations, so there are a lot of people, such as myself, who grew up on the franchise. However, Disney and the main series of films tend towards family friendly entertainment. There are, for the most part, black and white heroes and villains and whilst things get tense for the characters, it never really feels like there’s much threat. You always know that the heroes will prevail, with most characters firmly protected by plot armour.
However, for the older fans, especially those without kids, this can end up feeling rather droll. For many of us, we thought The Book of Boba Fett would be the answer. A story about the criminal underbelly of the galaxy with a villain, or at least anti-hero protagonist . However, it ended up being a bit too mild. Boba Fett didn’t feel like a cutthroat space gangster. The same could be said of The Mandalorian. It’s a fantastic show, and it dabbled in some more adult themes and actions, but in the end, Baby Yoda is there to keep it family friendly.
Andor rejects all this for a more complicated approach to the Star Wars galaxy. Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, is firmly an anti-hero, just trying to survive. He commits multiple murders, and not just of nameless stormtroopers, but characters that are fleshed out and even beg for their lives. The show turns away from the fantasy elements of Star Wars, and embraces a realism that makes Andor feel much more like a Sci-Fi show. Many characters die, and even the heroes commit ethically questionable actions. For example, Luthen knows the heist will cause suffering across the empire, but does it anyway for what he sees as the greater good. This darker tone would have been perfect in a Boba Fett story, so it’s great to get it now in Andor.
Realities of Empire and Rebellion
Part of this approach is shown in how the Rebellion and Empire are shown. The audience must contemplate the moral complexities of the Rebellion and it doesn’t hand wave away the actions of its casts, but actively looks into the ramifications. The show also delves into the realities of Empire. It’s not just the amorphous enemy of our heroes. We see what they do to the planets and cultures they dominate in a way that is thoughtful and intelligent. Ultimately this makes for a much more engaging watch for the older fans of Star Wars, who so far have been underserved by the franchise.
World Building – New Planets and Small Details and Ramifications
One of the areas that Andor succeeds in is its world building. The Star Wars universe has never felt so alive. We get an insight into the bureaucracy of the Galactic Empire and the Imperial Security Bureau, the lives of its citizens on various planets, and how the actions on one world effect another. It’s not just the interconnected nature of the universe in Andor, it’s also the smaller, and sometimes larger details.
We aren’t relegated to Tatooine and sand planets, which is all too common in a series set in a huge galaxy. The worlds visited in Andor are diverse and interesting. From the water prison, to the highlands of Aldhani, the corporate Ferrix to the metropolitan Coruscant. These aren’t short visits where you get a glimpse of the society such as Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith. Each world gets the time to develop.
The view we get into the politics on Coruscant through Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma is a great addition. So is the insight we get into the ISB via Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and Syril Karn (Kyle Soller). Then there are the smaller details. The weird squig drinks that Mon Mothma drinks or the Gungan Shield in the antique shop. These aspects help add depth to the wider world the story takes place in.
One of the best examples is in Luthen Rael and Saw Gerrera’s conversation, played by Stellan Skarsgård and Forest Whitaker respectively. They mention the various factions within the Rebel Alliance and the tensions between them. The Separatists and Neo-Republicans are both anti Empire, but it’s not so simple to unite across different perspectives, which we see in the real world. This makes the Rebellion substantially more realistic. Of course the rebellion would have numerous different stances and wants. Andor has the best world building I’ve seen in a canon Star Wars property to date. It’s much more in keeping with a Sci-Fi show, rather than a fantasy, which is what makes Andor so refreshing for a Star Wars show.
No Nostalgia, No Lightsabers, No Skywalkers
Star Wars tends to over rely on nostalgia and previous characters, rather than creating new people and places. Whether it’s the bizarre return of Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, Luke turning up in the Mandalorian/Boba Fett, or the Kessel Run in Solo. A lot of the Solo story line felt like they wanted to ram in as much of was mentioned in the original trilogy as possible. For example, we didn’t really need to know that Han got the last name Solo from a random officer.
Star Wars is certainly not the only property that does this. Nostalgia is part and parcel of the current media ecosystem. However, the focus prevents these series and creators from really moving forward and making something new. Fortunately, Andor has not taken this approach. There are minor easter eggs of course, and some returning characters. These tend to be minor characters though, such as Mon Mothma. The approach feels natural when it does bring in these returning features. The Emperor could turn up, but it would comes across as appropriate and relevant to the story at hand.
Andor Follows the Regular People of the Galaxy
The show isn’t about the special superheroes of the universe. There are no Jedi or lightsabers and epic confrontations. It’s about the rank and file of the rebellion and empire, and the world they live in. It’s a fresh take for a series that leans heavily on the Force and its wielders. The average people of this universe are always going to be much more relatable than the one character powerful enough to single-handedly take down the behemoth empire. The focus on average people and the crushing reality of the Empire makes everything feel more real. We don’t need anymore space wizards, we need down to earth characters such as Andor, Bix and Taramyn. It’s this change that makes Andor more like a Sci-Fi, as Star Wars has usually been about the great and powerful, which is much more common in fantasy media.
Fantasy tends to follows the great and powerful. There’s magic, long lost Kings, heroic knights and epic battles. However this seperates a show from the everyday reality of normal people. It’s harder (not impossible, just harder) to relate to a superhuman or ‘The Chosen One’, than a someone one who feels small in a larger world.
I would argue we have creator Tony Gilroy to thank for this. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said he encouraged the production to ‘Do your thing. You’re here because we want you to be real’, to prevent the reverence and nostalgia for the series from getting in the way.
Sets not CGI
This may not matter to all viewers, and it certainly isn’t going to make a bad show good, but the use of sets, rather than CGI or The Volume technology used in The Mandalorian is a nice touch. Actor Adria Arjona, who plays Bix Kaleen, talks about the how they used a 3 to 5 block city set for Ferrix in an interview with Collider.
Whilst sets aren’t the be all and end all, they help make the settings feel much more realistic and lived in, with actors able to use and react to their surroundings in a way that is refreshing compared to a CGI saturated industry. When they do use CGI, it’s used fantastically, such as with the visual spectacle of The Eye in the Aldhani Heist. It adds to the grounded nature of the show. I would argue that the simpler Sci-Fi environments, help detach the Andor from the fantasy aspects of Star Wars.
Andor Is More Akin To Sci Fi, Rather Than The Star Wars Space fantasy
What all these factors add up to is a Star Wars series that feels like a Sci-fi show, rather than a fantasy that is set in space. There is no Force, Jedi/Sith or Lightsaber fights. It’s a show about people in a galaxy spanning empire. This combined with the mature approach to the story makes for a show that strikes all the right notes for a generation of Star Wars fans now in their 20s and older. The more fantastical elements are stripped back so we can focus on the technology and denizens of the Star Wars universe in a way that revitalises the series. It’s different, it’s not Star Wars as we know it, and ultimately, that’s what makes it great.
Now, thats not to say the fantasy elements are bad. Some of the best parts of the franchise come from this aspect of the show. Newer series such as Kenobi are essentially space fantasies, and had amasing moments like the confrontation between Vader and Obi-Wan. However this approach is, by this point, stale. We’ve seen enough of the Jedi and Sith for the moment. What we need is a fresh take on the franchise, and Andor achieves this with flying colours.
Will it Survive – Reviews and Viewership
So, with all that said, how is the show faring? Reviews wise, it’s doing fantastic. Andor is getting acclaim from both critics and audiences. The show currently sits on 92% (tomatometer) and 83% (Audience Score) on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the outpouring of support the show has received, it still lags behind the viewership numbers of the other Star Wars series that have come out recently.
The viewership is still good however. Nielsen states the first 3 episodes received 624 million minutes of viewership, compared to Kenobi’s 958 million minutes for it’s first 3 episodes. Don’t be mislead by these figures. The show may underperform compared to other Star Wars shows, but it’s still getting a sizeable viewership. The show may not have cracked the top ten most streamed programs, but it hit number 6 for the top ten streaming original programs according to Nielsen. Parrot Analytics puts the demand for the show at approximately 31.7 times the demand for the average tv series in the US. It’s also worth noting that the data is are not perfect.
It’s not entirely clear why the show is lagging behind other Star Wars shows. It could be Star Wars fatigue. Others have suggested the competition with Rings of Power and House of the Dragon. But Kenobi also had to battle it out with Stranger Things Season 4 and The Boys Season 3. It could also simply be the Cassian Andor isn’t as popular a character, however Din Djarin was also a fresh face to the world of Star Wars. It’s also possible that there is just a delayed response. Some will be waiting for the show to finish so that they can binge watch, and the show will no doubt benefit from word of mouth as well.
Even if the viewing figures never quite reach the heights of its competitors, the show is set to start filming season 2 in November, with the series being close ended, finishing just before Rogue One starts.