Andy Cunningham is inspired by the latest episode in the Star Wars franchise.
A spectre is haunting the galaxy, the spectre of rebellion… or so the marketing for the latest Star Wars show on Disney+ should have started. Star Wars: Andor follows a young worker/dodgy dealer on a nondescript planet who gets caught up in the nascent rebellion. And it’s a great example of a revolutionary process as portrayed in popular culture.
Star Wars: Andor is driven by its main character. Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) was introduced as a revolutionary operative in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This film was billed at the time as a grunt’s eye view of the Rebellion, the galactic-wide uprising against the oppressive Empire. After its re-edits, Rogue One fell a little short of this lofty ideal, but this hope finds its full expression in Star Wars: Andor.
We follow Cassian as he initially makes a mistake. Searching for his lost sister, Cassian is confronted by two corporate security guards. In the ensuing confrontation, he kills them and flees home to the new planet you’ll grow to love: Ferrix. Now a wanted man, Cassian needs to get off this world, and he sets up a meeting with a smuggler to try and escape. That smuggler is revealed to be Luthen Rael, a key co-ordinator of the emerging Rebellion. Through Rael and Cassian’s meeting, Cassian’s life becomes bound up with that Rebellion.
The events above happen in the first three episodes of this twelve episode series. In the rest of the series we visit various planets, go on a very serious rebel mission, meet some of our other rebel cadres and take an in depth look into the development of the imperial security state. But Andor isn’t a rushed story – its strength lies in its development of real and believable characters that are given time to ponder and make decisions that can have a galaxy-wide effect. People make history but not in the circumstances of their own choosing, after all.
With its main characters, Andor has done its revolutionary homework. There are no Jedis or space wizards in sight here, just ordinary folk. While we see the Rebellion through Andor’s eyes initially – and he plays that familiar Star Wars trope of reluctant revolutionary like a serious Han Solo – we also get to see how the different strands of resistance tie everyone to the Rebellion. During the raid on Aldhani, we meet Nemik, an intellectual who writes Star Wars’ version of the Communist Manifesto. Nemik rubs shoulders with Cinta, a revolutionary with a visceral hatred of imperial power after stormtroopers murdered her family. Overseeing this rebel cell is Luthen Rael, the coordinator and facilitator of rebel attacks. Rael poses as an antiques dealer to the rich in the galactic capital of Coruscant, while at the same time developing a clandestine network of rebels to oppose the Empire.
These supporting characters are what makes this series. All of them could have jumped straight out of our own history books as revolutionaries. Rael’s speech about ‘burning his life for a sunrise he’ll never see’ is reminiscent of Eugen Levine’s ‘dead men on leave’ speech following the fall of the Bavarian SSR. Nemik’s Manifesto, forged in the heat of Rebellion, has the same immediacy and cordite-smell as Marx & Engels’ more famous inspiration. Cinta’s story could be any of those revolutionary resistance fighters from one of our many wars. By representing, mostly authentically, these experiences on our TV screens, Andor has produced something that is not only important for the Star Wars universe but will act as an inspiration for ordinary people in the real world.
In a further interesting twist, we also see how the Empire is responding to this growing Rebellion. The grey mediocrity of the security bureaucracy is laid bare as they struggle to respond to it. We also get to see ordinary people, like the proto-fascist Inspector Syril, making the decision to throw their lot in with imperial order. This fleshes out the Empire in Star Wars and answers one of the two big questions of the franchise: where do all these imperials and stormtroopers come from? There are heavy vibes of the extending security apparatus post-9/11, which given Tony Gilroy’s previous work on the Bourne series, isn’t a surprise. What is wonderful is watching bureaucrats debate the implements of oppression and scramble to respond to the Rebellion, as competing sections of the new fascist state fight for power and influence.
There are also heavy references to Trump and the familiar theme of a decaying republic. Through the eyes of Mon Mothma, a rich senator and politician who secretly funds the Rebellion, we see the creeping control of the Emperor. We also get to see how the galactic ruling class tacitly and explicitly support the consolidation of fascism in the Empire. Genevieve O’Reilly does a fantastic job portraying Mon a complex and sympathetic character, wanting to oppose this creeping fascism but also trapped by her own social position.
All in all, Andor is an interesting and compelling presentation of a revolutionary process. Yes, there are problems, like Saw Gerrara’s ‘People’s Front of Judea’ factionalism (a well trodden trope) or the more fundamental insistence that a small conspiracy of morally dubious revolutionaries can move the masses around like chess pieces (another Hollywood trope – see the otherwise excellent Hunger Games). But these problems don’t get in the way of what is a wonderful exploration of real characters who can make a revolution.
And whether you feel there’s only ‘one way out’ or that you must ‘fight the bastards’ everywhere, Andor will have you signing up for the Rebellion.