I’m going to say something highly controversial: Disney has actually made a good Star Wars show, and I’m not talking about the first season of ‘The Mandalorian.’
I know, I don’t know how it happened either. Perhaps Kathleen Kennedy was on vacation during the writing phase, or maybe Disney was just too focused on the largely disappointing ‘Kenobi’ series to pay attention to what was going on elsewhere, but ‘Andor’ is legitimately great.
The series takes place prior to the events of the original three movies and is essentially the backstory to ‘Rogue One,’ consistently held up as one of the best Star Wars movies ever made. It follows Cassian Andor from his checkered beginnings to becoming a vicious leader in the rebellion. And I realize I’m nerding out here, but I promise, I’m going to make a broader point if you stick around.
Here’s the trailer for those that haven’t seen it.
The show is dark, gritty, well-written, and original. In other words, it’s what Disney Star Wars should have always been.
What do I mean by that? I’m not going to deliver any spoilers, but speaking broadly, it’s a show that actually tries to be good at writing. You understand Cassian’s motivations, and more importantly, they make sense within the story and who he is as a character. The worlds depicted are also extremely well done and are fleshed out in a way that doesn’t leave you guessing about what you are seeing. Far from another tiring rehash of the Tatooine set, new places are introduced while old ones are given new details and depth.
For example, Star Wars has depicted Coruscant several times in the past, but ‘Andor’ finally gives us a window into what it’s like to live there. What’s the class structure like? What was it about the governmental system that led to a rebellion? The tension between the elites and the poor is felt through the screen. Again, motivation is provided for future events, something that is sorely lacking in far too many modern television shows, and in far too many past Star Wars productions.
Further, for the first time since Darth Vader appeared on screen in ‘A New Hope,’ the Empire is depicted as powerful, organized, competent, and legitimately terrifying. It’s not just comically villainous morons who can’t shoot straight. The Empire is shown to be made up of real people with real families and real contradictions. That’s important in that it allows for actual stakes to exist as the story arcs build. Anyone could die at any time (except Cassian because this is his prequel), and without saying too much, that happens. The lack of plot armor is shocking at times.
Visually, the show is stunning, and the mid-season finale is legitimately shocking if you are used to the tiddly-winks version of Disney Star Wars. Lastly, and this may be one of the secrets to it being so well done, there isn’t much “woke-ness” present.
Broadening out, the big thing here is that Hollywood showed it can still put out good content if it actually tries. It’s amazing what pushing aside “the message” and focusing on good writing can do for a show. Instead of trying to protect characters, ‘Andor’ returns to a time when you couldn’t guess what’s going to happen based on what in-group a character belongs to.
To illustrate that, the female characters in ‘Andor’ have depth. They aren’t just “strong, diverse, female characters.” One of the chief villains is a woman, and unlike what happened in ‘Kenobi,’ it doesn’t look like the writers are going to give her some ridiculous redemption arc. In her interactions with men, she doesn’t always win the argument and she doesn’t always succeed. She’s even humiliated at times. It sounds silly to say that’s refreshing, but it’s actually rare in modern television to see female characters treated with such complexity.
Big picture, had Disney gone in this direction with Star Wars originally, things would be in a much better place. It’s okay to be original. It’s okay to not rely on nostalgia and played-out tropes. It’s okay to make something new that honors the first movies while not making carbon copies of them.
With all that said, do I think this means Disney has learned its lesson? Heck no. It’s still the same company that’s putting out ‘She Hulk’ and whatever the heck the Marvel shows are these days. You can expect the garbage to keep flowing forth from the Mouse. But for the moment, they finally managed to get Star Wars right. Now, if we could just figure out to memory-hole Disney’s sequel trilogy.