The flames of rebellion can be a slow burn before the flashpoint. That’s a fair description of the reception for “Andor,” Disney+’s latest “Star Wars” series. Early reporting suggested viewers weren’t nearly as interested as they’d been in “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett,” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Three weeks after its Season One finale, “Andor” feels vital in a way that eluded its predecessors (save for the ubiquity of Baby Yoda, a.k.a Grogu).
With IP franchises risking streaming fatigue, it’s special that a “Star Wars” property — and a TV series at that — would be beloved by fans and appear on critics’ year-end Top 10 lists (including that of IndieWire’s Ben Travers). Rian Johnson’s 2017 feature “The Last Jedi” found acclaim (and 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), but as the internet liked to tell us, fans were more divided. “Andor” represents a unique moment of lockstep, and word of mouth should carry it to even larger audiences over the holidays.
This success arrives not a moment too soon for “Star Wars,” and offers lessons for the franchise’s future. On the bigger screen, the road for “Star Wars” is unclear: There’s no announced titles slated for specific dates or heading into production. Taika Waititi and others are attached to film projects, but for when? On TV, even Grogu seemed to lose some of his power. “The Book of Boba Fett” largely robbed the Season Two finale of “The Mandalorian” of its emotional punch and lowered the stakes for his relationship with Mando in Season Three.
Grogu played into a George Lucas maxim: Don’t be afraid to be cute. The Star Wars creator was always careful to say he thought the franchise was “for kids.” And while it’s certainly possible for kids to enjoy “Andor,” the Tony Gilroy-created show feels like the first Star Wars” property that’s definitively for adults. It plays like an idea-driven drama in the mold of Gilroy’s classic “Michael Clayton”— one that happens to have laser guns, TIE fighters, and outrageous displays of galactic couture.
Gilroy told Variety that he let Lucasfilm’s art department populate Stellan Skarsgard’s character’s antique shop with all manner of callbacks to other “Star Wars” stories, but he didn’t really care. “[They] will sneak in all that crap into Luthen’s gallery,” he said. “That, I had no idea.” His focus is on its characters and emotions, and a thorny interrogation of what it really means to lead a rebellion — not on franchise connections, cameos, and fan service.
Cameos and callbacks have been pillars of other Disney+ “Star Wars” series. Look, there’s Bo-Katan! and Ahsoka, and creepy CGI Luke! That last one, at the end of “Mandalorian” Season 2, was moving for lifelong “Star Wars” nerds like me, but it also tipped the showrunners’ hand. It wasn’t about just creating an emotional ending to Mando and Grogu’s journey; it was meant to summon how you, the viewer, feel about “Star Wars” as a whole (including salving any lingering wounds about Luke’s presentation in “The Last Jedi”). It was a marketing exercise as much as it was a genuine ending.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” took that a step further: It was framed entirely as the marketing pitch of Obi-Wan vs. Vader, the Rematch. Except it wasn’t, since it skimped on Hayden Christensen and denied us the chance to see what he could do when not being directed by Lucas. Similarly, all the cameos on “The Mandalorian” were backdoor pilots for spinoffs that will cumulatively build to a crossover event. There was also a shocking amount of repetition: Mando Season Two and “The Book of Boba Fett” veer close to Monster of the Week territory.
“Andor” does not feel like another cog in an interconnected IP. We already know the title character’s fate in “Rogue One.” With its cast of entirely new characters (except for Andor himself, and certainly he is not a “legacy” character on the level of Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, or Vader), “Andor” was the first “Star Wars” property since “Mandalorian” Season 1 that felt like it expanded the “Star Wars” galaxy rather than reducing it to the familiar.
Diehard fans of “Star Wars” publishing — the novel-readers who eat up what used to be called the “Expanded Universe” of “Star Wars” storytelling, a sub-fandom within the fandom — seem to be among the fans who enjoy “Andor” the most. It has the feel of something like Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s “X-Wing” novels (or, more recently, Alexander Freed’s “Alphabet Squadron” series). Those were built around new characters and made the “Star Wars” galaxy feel so much bigger and showed there were more ways to look at that universe than the mystical, quasi-spiritual lens of the Jedi, which even Mando couldn’t ultimately escape.
“Star Wars” can be so many different things, and the novels have always suggested as much (anybody who thinks sex wasn’t a part of “Star Wars” before Andor should read the “X-Wing” books, where Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn’s romances were steamy indeed). Most recently, Disney launched wide-ranging novel and comic-book franchise “The High Republic,” set hundreds of years before the movies when the Jedi were at their peak. It’s all-new characters, all-new villains, and unique threats. Leslye Headland’s series “The Acolyte” will be set at the tail-end of this period.
“Andor” is even more radical. This is one of the few live-action presentations of what it’s like to be an ordinary person who doesn’t have a special destiny in this galaxy far, far away. (Other sightings: Luke’s blue milk-sipping family life on Tatooine, glimpses of ordinary citizens on Cloud City, or celebrating when the second Death Star is blown up.) What does it really mean to be living under an oppressive regime like the Empire if you’re just a mechanic living on a backwater?
“Andor” fulfills the promise of “The Last Jedi,” which strongly suggested that the franchise needed to evolve beyond its original characters and reframe how we saw “Star Wars.” Johnson’s film still featured a ton of Luke and Leia, a lot of “greatest hits” moments, and characters with special destinies. On “Andor,” Cassian, and Bix, and Maarva don’t have the power of the Force (do they even know what a Jedi is?), an especially cool ship, or belong to the bounty hunters guild. They’re just trying to get by in a galaxy stacked against them. They’re people with a heads-down attitude learning how to stand up.
Obi-Wan talks about “a certain point of view.” The certain point of view of “Andor” doesn’t have to be the only one for the franchise, but it’s a necessary one that should stand alongside others. It shows the future of “Star Wars” is not to be one thing, but many things. That’s how a franchise grows. That’s how a galaxy feels bigger.