Spoiler Warning – I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum but they are in the article so beware if you haven’t finished Andor
Recently for several weeks, I suffered from an odd form of cognitive mistake. Every Monday I would think to myself, “The new episode of Andor comes out on Monday” and then be very disappointed when I checked and it actually was released on a Wednesday. It seems high praise indeed when so eager to watch a show your mind will repeatedly deceive you. Andor is one of the best tv shows of 2022 and it might even be the best. For most people this was not expected, I certainly didn’t expect it. It’s a different kind of Star Wars, less about light sabres and more of what life is like under a totalitarian regime like the Empire.
Setting The Scene
Andor is a spin-off tv series from the film Rogue One, which featured Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor, and shows the story of how the rebels acquired the plans for the Death Star. Andor is set several years before Rogue One and at this point, Cassian is a bit of a crook but not part of the Rebel Alliance, although like most people where he lives, hates the Empire. With Andor we see the first steps of the formation of the Rebel Alliance with another central character being Senator Mon Mothma (seen in Return of the Jedi briefing the Alliance) who is working against the Empire. There is also the mysterious Luthen Rael, something like a criminal or maybe a key player in the resistance to the Empire, but whatever he truly is, he is demonstrated to be utterly ruthless.
Essentially the audience is seeing Cassian go from trouble-maker and criminal to becoming a full member of the Rebel Alliance, from being concerned only for himself and his small circle of friends and family to the wider problems facing the galaxy. Usually, Star Wars deals with huge storylines of galactic civil war, planets being obliterated and titanic struggles between good and evil. Andor is very different – at the start of the show the stakes seem to be set ridiculously low and the looming threat is not stormtroopers but incompetent security forces vaguely aligned with the Empire.
There are three stories which encapsulate Andor. The first, Cassian is recruited to rob the cash payroll from an imperial garrison, the second, Cassian finds himself imprisoned, and the third, the funeral of a prominent character. All three of them deal with the idea that is it better to slowly ground down the Empire over years, keeping your head down to avoid attention and having some measure of life, or to risk it in defiance, to risk it for your freedom and a better life? We see various characters in different situations decide the best thing is not to resist but to comply, hoping their obedience will lead to good things or at least not to draw the ire of the Empire. Each time this way of thinking is overturned, and each time they should have failed, the prison was inescapable, the garrison too well-defended, unarmed mourners standing up to stormtroopers.
The Imperial Security Bureau
Our window into the Empire is through something we’ve not seen much of so far, the Imperial Security Bureau, these white uniformed intelligence agents are charged with rooting out the enemies of the Empire. They are a collection of rigid, repressed, sinister bureaucrats, who as well as protecting the Empire are fighting their own battles for influence and power within the organisation. Most of the agents seem to have very linear minds which cause problems when dealing with small outbreaks of rebellion across the Empire, the exceptions seem to be Major Partagaz and Dedra Meero, an agent under his command. It is Dedra who leads the hunt for Cassian and others. The ISB is a very odd organisation, with many of their members pale and gaunt, even sickly looking, their sneering faces full of contempt and undeserved superiority.
A Community, Not A Backwater
A lot of the show takes place on the planet of Ferrix, this is where Cassian is living at the start of the show. A small, industrial site, on the fringes of Imperial power. Star Wars often has characters start on similar planets, Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, Rey on Jakku, and usually they just serve as a backwater place that the hero wants to leave. Whilst Cassian is indeed happy to travel, we see things about Ferrix we never see about some of these other planets. We see some of the cultures of the planet, the feeling of community, it can be a hard place to live but people are also proud of their home and their community. This is best exemplified in the funeral that happens in the series finale, we see a number of Ferrix traditions and important cultural signifiers that matter to people, the organisation the Daughters of Ferrix, an organisation of citizens that works for the community. This fully formed community is indicative of Andor as a whole, avoiding simple cliches for more engaging storytelling.
This article has barely scratched the surface of the layers and complexity of this show – I haven’t mentioned Kino Loy (Andy Serkis‘ amazing portrayal of a conflicted prisoner), Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay’s ruthless rebel), the bizarrely compelling Syril Karn, or Brasso, who in a few seconds became perhaps the most bad-ass character ever created. Andor is amazing. Watch it.