Monday, November 28, 2022

Andor: Returning to the Heart of Star Wars

(Guest post by Ben)

The following article contains spoilers for Andor.

What makes Star WarsStar Wars? Is it the Force? Laser swords? Or perhaps it’s huge space battles with galaxy-wide stakes? Since Star Wars first came to us in 1977, we’ve been enamored with the Darth Vader, awed by the flashing of lightsabers in the heat of battle. We’ve also made the subconscious connection that these things are Star Wars. But it’s more than that. Star Wars is about high-stakes and triple salchows over molten lava, true, but it’s also about individuals. And in the Andor series on Disney+, we get to see just how important individuals are to the saga. It shows us that we don’t need mystics and space-magic to have a good time. It shows us that lightsabers don’t need to be brandished to stimulate awe and wonderment in the viewer. And, perhaps most importantly, it shows us that the Star Wars universe does some of its best storytelling when focused on the little guy(s). 

Smoke and Mirrors

The first season of Andor was a whopping 12 episodes which, by today’s standards, is nothing to balk at. Throughout those 12 episodes, we were able to see the inner-workings of the Empire and how it became necessary for ordinary people to push back and to join a cause many didn’t know they were joining. Part of the magic of Andor was seeing the day-to-day, routine lives of both Imperial supporters and those who wished they had not lived to see such times. What makes that important? We see the struggle, and it connects us to the characters.

With Jedi and Sith doing quadruple salchows and performing incredible feats, it’s easy to separate ourselves from those characters. After all, quadruple salchows are basically impossible for someone like me (so is just a single, but that’s beside the point). However, when it comes to the routine, to the heavy burdens and difficulties of life…we feel that. We live that. And so it becomes more real—and more important—for us.

Showcasing the Grandiose

And, yet, despite the day-to-day antics keeping things interesting, there is awe and there is wonderment in this show. The celestial event during the payroll heist. Cassian Andor’s backstory of how he left his home planet. The massive anvil that acted as a bell for the people of Ferrix. The worldbuilding in Andor was wonderful, and it helped pull the viewer in to the main events of the show as well. 

For the People

What made Andor so engaging, I think, is because it focused so much on the little guy. Cassian himself started out as not much more than a budding tribal warrior. But then there was Syril Karn, the former deputy inspector who fell from grace due to his over-zealous approach to apprehending Andor. Syril’s life went from something he believed in—the pursuit of order and justice—to a space-office worker. In a cubicle. Isolated. But his struggles are compelling. I mean, I’ve been there! Okay, maybe not been fired for trying to apprehend a known killer in his jurisdiction, but I’ve felt the monotony of work, the desire to be more, and the crushing weight of defeat when my professional plans didn’t work out. (But don’t worry, all is well now.) He is the Everyman, in a sense, of the Star Wars universe.

But let’s not forget Kino Loy, the vocal taskmaster of unit Five-Two-D on the impregnable prison-factory on Narkina 5. All he wanted was to work his days off until he would be released. No antics, no talk of revolt, just work and be released once his time was up. As we got to know him, though, we recognize that he’s torn. He knows he should do more, but his time is almost up, so what’s the point? Best not try and rig the system, right? But when everything falls apart, he’s the one that leads the inmates to overthrow their Imperial overlords. He fights tooth and nail to get his comrades out—as many alive as possible. However, once the mass of escapees reach the edge of the installation, it’s jump into the churning water and swim to shore—or remain on the floating fortress and be tortured before being killed. We recognize Kino’s deep sacrifice when we learn he can’t swim. From his all-in performance in this role, Kino pulled at our heartstrings time and again, then ripped them right out when the truth dawned on us, the viewers. Kino knew—all while leading the charge and getting everyone out—that he would not make it out. He knew this fight was 100% for others, and that he had to sacrifice himself in order to free the (likely) innocent inmates.

Kino’s final episode, “One Way Out,” is, perhaps one of the best Star Wars moments we’ve seen yet. Heart, grit, and emotions through the roof. There were no mystical powers doing the rescuing, no laser swords for show, and not even a mention of higher stakes. It was an individual level, with characters using their own instincts and knowledge to escape. The stakes were high, yes, but we didn’t need to know they were helping build the Death Star to give us a reason to cheer for them as they escaped. The truth is, it was the individuals we were cheering for, with or without any knowledge of a planet destroyer in the works.

There are countless others I could mention that played a huge role in my love for Andor: Cassian’s mother, Bix, Lonni Jung (the Rebel spy in the ISB), and Karis Nemik (the rebel idealist part of the payroll heist). Even the higher-ups in the organizations Each one of these individuals sheds additional light to the inner workings of not just the Star Wars universe as a whole, but to the deeper reasons why people fight, why they live, and why they die. 

In Review

Gosh, I love Andor. The episodes are engaging, even when it’s mostly just different parties talking with each other. Everything feels so tense, like every word matters. Come to think of it, I find the dialogue so tightly written that every word likely does matter. The dissonant music adds to that tension, and the action is everything I love in a Star War. From beginning to end, Andor is a storytelling masterpiece. Sure, it might veer from the traditional Star Wars as we have come to know it, but everything combines to create a five-star visual meal that demands coming back for seconds. 

1 comment:

  1. My favorite Star Wars series for sure! Thanks for the great write-up!