We’re nearing the close of the first season of Lucasfilm’s Andor series. The Disney+ adventure set in the Star Wars universe at the dawn of the Rebellion finds Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) trying to navigate his way through political intrigue, allies who aren’t as they seem, a truly brutal and efficient Empire, not just a clumsy gang of Stormtroopers who can’t shoot straight, and a narrative that demands your attention.
As such, it may be one of the best shows on television right now. It defies the longstanding addiction to nostalgiabating, while weaving our characters through terrain both cold and dirty as well as clean and antiseptic. Danger awaits in both. The series has been called a high bar in Star Wars storytelling, building on what we’ve seen in it’s eventual follow-up (precursor?), Rogue One. Critics have hailed it as “Star Wars for grown-ups.”
It’s also under-performing in viewership, dragging beneath more obvious favorites like The Mandalorian, but also failing to match misfires like the Obi-Wan Kenobi and Book of Boba Fett ventures. How is it that an effort so lauded is also so disregarded?
There are a few reasons.
Reason One: Everyone’s dead.
As we will see in Rogue One, Cassian Andor pays the ultimate price to get the Death Star plans out of the Empire’s clutches. All his compatriots will die too, including Saw Guerrera (Forrest Whittaker). A lot has been said about Rogue One’s failure to ignite the box office. (It still made over a billion, but was regarded as a lesser effort until recently. It is now appraised favorably.) That presumed stumbling was blamed squarely at all the main characters being killed. Andor, then, suffers from the foreknowledge that handicapped Rogue One, in different ways.
Reason Two: Tone.
This is a serious show with a precise pacing. I won’t say “slow,” but absolutely deliberate. You have to take the Star Wars lore you know, pair them with this, and actually think about things. Why is the Empire feared? If it wasn’t for the grizzled piece of jerky overseeing everything (and his loyal attack dog), would it still be a threat? Andor capably makes that assertion, and you do not get there by focusing on space cowboys and laser samurai.
Reason Three: Maybe people really want space cowboys and laser samurai.
Did Lucasfilm simply misjudge the audience appetite? I posed the question on a forum about this very thing, and a lot of people responded, saying, “Star Wars is about the Skywalkers. End of story.” Others said, “It should stay Jedi versus Sith.”
This has been a huge issue for the studio as it seems to create strategy based on feedback, not storytelling strictly. We saw this all through the prequel years, and we saw how a handful of incensed fans ruined for real the lives of an actor (Ahmed Best) and a child (Jake Lloyd). The decision for Lucasfilm/Disney to make a sequel trilogy was informed by the belief that they wanted something more like A New Hope.
Thus, The Force Awakens was very much a beat-for-beat mashup of the former – an entertaining one, but hardly something new or bold. Lucasfilm over-corrected with the following The Last Jedi, a film that I think is a bit flawed but is an excellent Star Wars story. It dared to suggest that The Force is bigger than one bloodline. For every iffy idea the movie posed, there were five that landed the punch.
And don’t give me your nonsense about “Rian Johnson cucked Luke Skywalker and made him a coward.” The original Star Wars trilogy was informed heavily by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics, most of which painted samurai as powerful figures who found their loyalty led to loneliness and death. In his most celebrated samurai film, Seven Samurai, the leader Kambei Shimada lives life as a ronin, drawn into conflict to help not by desire to, but by compulsion. He does not want to take on students, but he does so fearing they too will learn of loneliness and death. One is shunned by a woman he comes to love and the other dies on the battlefield half naked and face-down in the mud. It’s a long way of saying that had George Lucas made The Last Jedi, I don’t think it would have been that much different.
But the fans again could not abide Luke’s crisis of conscience and guilt. To stem their bloodletting, JJ Abrams was called back in for The Rise of Skywalker, which is either mindless fun or the new definition of half-assed.
For all that people have groused about needing to break away from the dynastic under-layer stitching these movies together, they can’t let it go. They cheered when The Mandalorian TV show seemed to chart its own course, but then cheered louder when at they end of season two, a CG Luke Skywalker was called in for the ultimate membaberry muffin. So, if you really hated the idea that Star Wars was stuck on the Skywalkers, why was your favorite moment the digital resurrection of this character?
Reality time. People say they want away from the comfort food of the original trilogy, but that’s because it is the thing you have to say. It is harder to defend the idea that you’re happy with reruns and serotonin and dopamine squirts. But behavior – not idle words – are telling the truth now…and part of that behavior is the rejection of a show like Andor.
Give Tony Gilroy, the show runner, some credit. He and his brothers have pulled together airtight alibis. You can’t blame poor acting because there is none to be found. Lousy effects? No, these are cinema-quality, and possibly the best to come from Industrial Light and Magic in decades. Over-reliance on “the Volume,” the digital stage pioneered by ILM? No, most of the series is shot for real on location. No, each of the arguments formerly used and believed before are shot down by high quality and higher standards. What does that mean?
It would have to mean people didn’t really want this, no matter how loudly they claimed otherwise. And because Lucasfilm/Disney is a business, Disney+ is a subscription service, and subscriptions are sold to what people actually want to buy, not to what they purport, Andor is in trouble. Maybe if folks told the truth once in a while, these kinds of misjudgments would stop, and for those of us appreciating a grown-up Star Wars, we could finally let it go and not get caught up in someone else’s arrested development.