Andor is what great Star Wars cinema should be

The prolonged drought of lifeless Disney-era Star Wars shows seems like it may finally be lifting. What started as the show no one asked for when it was first announced back in 2018, Andor has already dramatically surpassed all of its made-for-TV predecessors through a combination of production quality, purposeful storytelling, and high-caliber acting.

Throughout Andor, it is abundantly clear that the show’s creator, Tony Gilroy, has set out with the objective of telling a compelling story first, and he does much of it through nonverbal means (a hallmark of good cinema). Andor displays the confidence to take its time setting up character motives and exploring the new worlds it creates without throwing in a Wookie or a lightsaber every few minutes for fear of losing its viewers.

Moreover, the show does not feel the need to make each episode its own self-contained subplot — a shortfall The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and to a lesser extent, Kenobi, suffered from. Each of these felt the urgent pressure to introduce a problem, climax, and resolution to audiences, all within each 30- or 40-minute entry.

The main character would learn of a dire predicament, travel to another planet, meet someone with information, fight off a new group of one-dimensional rapscallions to retrieve a MacGuffin, and conclude, analyzing the hard-won information that will point him toward his next adventure. Although each show had an overarching plot, the formulaic episode structure became painfully evident by the second or third collective season.

While Kenobi provided a stronger cohesive narrative than Mando or Boba Fett, it fell short on a more primitive level: It failed to justify its existence. A show conceived from the beginning as a cash grab employing fan-favorite Ewan McGregor one more time, while still constrained by the reality of what we know of the characters from A New Hope, it had zero room to create the stakes necessary for what studio execs were determined to bill as “the rematch of the century.” It set its expectations too high, failed to match them, and then blamed the “toxic” fan base for its abysmal ratings.

By contrast, Andor understands from the outset that it needs to earn its viewership. The entirety of the first three episodes takes place on planets we’ve never seen, with characters we’ve never met, within political societies we’ve never experienced. Save for the occasional blaster shot, vague references to the distant Empire, and, of course, the titular character Cassian Andor himself (who we were introduced to in Rogue One), you might forget at points that you are watching a Star Wars show at all. Despite this — and its slow start — the show continues to command the viewer’s attention.

For me, this is the hallmark of what great Star Wars cinema should be. Andor understands that it doesn’t deserve an audience simply by virtue of the franchise whose name it bears. This humility will serve it well even as the show progresses and it inevitably shifts toward the more familiar faces and settings that we know — from the trailers — will come.

Andor is being hailed as a more “adult” show — dark and gritty. Rightfully so. The themes are somber, and the tone is rarely comedic. While I think the thematic shift bears much of the responsibility for the new audience label, the reason it succeeds is much deeper than the fact that it offers weightier subject matter. Fundamentally, it is more engaging because it takes itself more seriously as an art form. The characters have depth, the motives are complex, and the motifs are new and unexplored territory for this franchise. Andor shows, rather than tells, a story that is worth watching.

A common means of dismissing otherwise substantive criticism of Star Wars movies and shows is to claim that they are “made for kids,” but I believe this assertion betrays a lack of appreciation for what made the franchise what it is in the first place. Star Wars is what it is today because the characters are frail, flesh and blood that we can’t help but cheer for, and the story intrigues and delights.

If the Star Wars universe is going to continue its attempt to expand into the Unknown Regions, it should learn from Andor to tell a good story first. Only then will we witness the firepower of a fully armed and operational Star Wars franchise.

This is the way.

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