Shownotes: Andor

must everything be boring and sad?

Shownotes: Andor

Previously, on Star Wars Opinions:

What I want from them, I think, is something akin to the first series of the Mandolorian—a series of small, low-stakes adventures focusing on tone and ignoring the Main Plot Of Star Wars as much as possible.

So, uh, kinda? I was half-right: I want something that's focused on tone and ignoring certain aspects of the world that are almost always at the forefront of mainline Star Wars media. No Jedi, none of the big names, no more bloody Skywalkers. Just taking the setting seriously, making good use of symbols that even non-heads will recognise and understand, and not feeling the need to have characters say that they have a bad feeling about this every few minutes is enough.

I wouldn't describe it as wearing its Star Wars-ness lightly, but it has an appreciation for what it does well without necessarily lapsing into reverence. It's actually a very OG Lucas trait; calling them laser swords, not being a mark for the gimmick. It lets us see the symbols of Star Wars with fresh eyes. The TIE fighters—long-established as easy fodder for X-Wings to chew through on trench runs and suchlike—become terrifying as they screech through the sky above woodland guerillas. Star Destroyers blot out half the sky. They even manage to do fanservice well: nobody makes a sly aside about Andor having the Kyle Katarn Dark Forces blaster, but if you've played those games you'll recognise the barrel straight away.

It helps that Andor is not only the best bit of Star Wars media in as long as I can remember, it is one of the best TV shows I've seen in years full stop. In the words of a friend of mine:

The show is so full that it's difficult to know where to start. The acting is incredible—again, not just Good For Star Wars; and it's given focus, too, lingered on, teased out. Stellan Skarsgård has so many moments¹ ranging from #epic speeches to letting his guard down to show a moment of private relief. Genevieve O'Reilly completely embodies Mon Mothma's tense brittleness; Denise Gough makes the banality of evil interesting in her Theresa May-like performance as Dedra, and Kyle Soller does the best job I've seen an actor do of making themselves completely hateable since Jack Gleeson. I'm picking the standouts here, but I think you could just list the whole cast here.

It all centers on Diego Luna's Cassian Andor, another absolutely surpassing performance, a mercurial figure who the show follows from his childhood abduction through petty criminality to ultimately being "brought in" to Luthen's nascent rebel movement. Andor's the protagonist of the show, but in many ways he's not quite the hero of the story. He's present for significant moments but not necessarily the key figure in all of them. He's not running the Rebellion—he's not "Axis"—he's an accelerant, an enzyme that causes catalysis. He was a crucial component of the Aldhani heist team, but it wasn't his idea; he helped start the Narkina 5 riot, but it's Loy who has to make the speech to get everyone to kick off. He puts the gun in the hand but doesn't pull the trigger (ironic, as his signature move is pulling his gun and shooting people unexpectedly.

Orbiting his story are several others: former corporate security officer Syril Karn's attempts to revenge himself on Andor who he sees as having cost him his career; Imperial spook Dedra Meero's attempt to capture "Axis", the key figure of the nascent Rebellion; said key figure Luthen Rael's dual life attempting to forment and finance rebellion while maintaining his cover as an antiques dealer; and Mon Mothma, attempting to maintain her own cover as a liberal senator while providing Luthen with money and negotiating a horrifically toxic home life². If you've not watched it, these pencil sketches barely begin to capture all the moving parts here, and their depth.  It even extends this to droids. B2EMO is treated in many significant ways as a person—or at least, like something with desires and agency and stuff. I remember the AMCA folk talking about him like an old family dog that can talk, which agree with for obvious reasons³.

The opening trilogy of episodes captures so much of what makes the show great. Ferrix feels lived-in (again, a very OG Wars thing) in a way that so many of the places in the Netflixier Star Wars shows just don't. (The cowboy-film-town, propped-up-house feel of the settlement Timothy Olyphant's defending in The Mandolorian comes to mind.) It's a place with a clear primary local industry, with custom and ritual around it;a wall of gloves which are taken from and replaced at the beginning and end of every shift—shifts, by the way, which are signalled by THE TIME GRAPPLER. There's a civil society, there's solidarity (this all pays off to great effect in the final episodes).  Aldhani is the same—and in that case, it looks like a landscape of barren and desolate beauty, somewhere that's had an empire drive out its native population, because it was filmed in the Scottish Highlands, so that's literally what it is. Niamos feels like a run-down seaside resort because it's filmed in one, etc etc.

The execution of everything is pretty much perfect, too. The Aldhani heist was so tense it had my heart beating out of my chest, to the point where CM, leaning on my shoulder, could feel it (I guess I should be careful on rewatch there). There was so much focus on the execution, on the practicality—taking too much time because money is heavy. The Narkina 5 break was chaotic but completely comprehensible and Andy Serkis' speech was, though destined to make its way onto an Epic Moments Compilation, genuinely powerful. (Also, Andy Serkis is in this!) Speaking of destined-for-epic-compilations-but-actually-good speeches: Luthen's speech to Lonnie falls into that category, as does Maarva's speech inciting the crowd in the final episode. The whole setup bit for the final episode, in fact—the musicians tuning up, the Imperials trying to work out what's going on—which then unspool beautifully: the march begins, the community becomes the protagonist, and you have the long shot down Rix Road as the mass of the union and the populace come down toward the riot cops while the pipes and flutes play.

Andor is a show which moves freely from heist to prison break to bureaucratic drama to espionage thriller to (admittedly Star Wars-inflected) kitchen-sink realism and doesn't feel overstuffed—and equally doesn't feel like any of them are underserved. It feels like the answer to the question "what if you made a Great TV Show using Star Wars toys" rather than "how can we continue to explore the Filoniverse" or whatever. Series 2 can't come soon enough.

¹ uhh, sorry about that last one, couldn't find a video of the scene without someone jabbering over it

² "what if Liz Warren were married to Michael Flynn but also happened to be living a double life channeling funds to the Viet Cong"

³ Being me, what this made me think of was Ivor The Engine. For those unacquainted, I wrote this about it probably ten years ago, but the short version is that Ivor is a railway engine who wants to sing in the local choir. He has to do a run to the local town so that his driver Jones The Steam can deliver some fish, and he hears the choir, and he realises he wants to sing with them! But while he can’t talk to communicate this, his driver is attuned enough to him to know something is wrong. Assuming a mechanical fault, they taking him to the railway’s chief engineer, who, having determined the fault is not mechanical, says that he thinks Ivor is upset. "You haven’t spoken harshly to him, or accused him of something he didn't do, have you?” he says to Jones The Steam. “Oh no sir, we wouldn’t do that!” is the response. They take Ivor seriously enough to care about his emotional well-being. I think of Brasso promising he’ll stay in the house with B2 after Maarva’s death to comfort him. The thing that actually incites the riot isn’t that the Imperial officer tried to stop Maarva’s speech, it’s that he kicked B2.

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