Television

Andor Introduces a New Kind of Rebellion to the Star Wars Universe

The Disney+ series isn’t just providing backstory—it’s changing what it means to fight the Empire.

A man with a weather-worn face crouches and peers into the distance.
Diego Luna in Andor. Lucasfilm

The Andor teaser promised a reckoning, and after the first four episodes, a reckoning is what we’ve got. The Disney+ series uses Cassian Andor, Diego Luna’s character from Rogue One, as the audience’s entry into the birth of the X-wing-flying rebels who made Luke Skywalker a Star Wars legend. But this isn’t the kind of rebellion we’re used to seeing in the Star Wars universe. Andor is the story of how a hardscrabble revolt became a Rebel Alliance, and how that rebellion takes many forms across many corners of the galaxy. Some are united by a common, local goal. Others are scattered while working towards the greater good. Some use extreme methods, others subtle, and others still rebel by making the galaxy better for one person at a time. At this stage, as Cassian points out in a Rogue One line borrowed for the Andor trailer, the rebels are “spies, saboteurs, [and] assassins.” They’re also ordinary citizens standing up in whatever ways they can.

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The original Star Wars presented a conflict between clear-cut moral opposites: The bad guys were the Imperial Army and the good guys were the Rebel Alliance. Although it’s not underlined in the original trilogy, that alliance is not restricted to a species, race of people, religious belief, planet, or even region in the galaxy. But they were an army, with resources and ranks and a fleet. As in so many other works of science fiction and fantasy, the “good guys” in Star Wars are a found family where misfits like a stargazing farm boy, a bossy princess, and a self-described scoundrel can find acceptance and triumph over evil together.

Only five years prior to the events of the original Star Wars, those fighting against the Empire in Andor have not yet united to the extent that we see in the original trilogy—or even in Rogue One (which was also written and partially directed, uncredited, by Andor creator Tony Gilroy). That does not mean that ordinary people under Imperial rule aren’t resisting, or even that this resistance isn’t organized, however crudely. In the show’s third episode, the people of Cassian’s adopted home planet of Ferrix use a system of makeshift chimes to rally against the incursion of the Empire’s private security contractors—not exactly the type of guerilla warfare that we see practiced by the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, but much scrappier than what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars, where the battles more often involve spaceships, advanced technology, hokey religions, and ancient weapons. (At least, that goes for the live-action realm; the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series have a decidedly grittier vision of armed resistance.) Andor’s rebellion calls to mind more recent examples of military occupation, like the U.S. in the Middle East, rather than Nazi occupation of Europe, the Vietnam War, or other moments in history that have served as visual cues for earlier Star Wars films.

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Glimpses of daily life under Imperial occupation have been few and far between in Star Wars. The Stormtrooper presence on Tatooine is restricted to populated spaceports like Mos Eisley, and all it takes is a Jedi mind trick to get them out of the way. The best example is the luxurious casinos of Bespin, which did not initially fall under the Empire’s jurisdiction. Keeping Imperial troops out of his hair is the reason Lando Calrissian sells out his friend to Darth Vader, though he ultimately loses control of Cloud City anyway. Even then, we see the Empire taking control  Another good example, funnily enough, is the Star Wars Holiday Special. Say what you will about the bizarre (and thoroughly disowned) television movie, but it features Stormtroopers searching a civilian home while a televised news presenter announces that the citizens of Tatooine have been placed under curfew because of “subversive forces.”

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Cassian may not begin Andor thinking of himself as a freedom fighter, but his attitudes about stealing from the entitled, arrogant people in charge are anti-Empire in a Robin Hood kind of way. He gets that thinking not just from his upbringing on Kenari, where his father was killed in a protest and an Imperial mining disaster decimated the planet, but from his adoptive mother Maarva. Played by Fiona Shaw, she’s a scavenger who, with her husband Clem, took young Cassian from his home on Kenari so that he wouldn’t be kidnapped or killed by the Galactic Republic, which was only about a year away from falling to the Galactic Empire. If you remember the events of Revenge of the Sith, you remember that the Republic militarized before democracy officially died. Palpatine’s coup was a slow boil. The prequel trilogy laid out in excruciating detail how Darth Vader and the emperor came to power, and only showed the seeds of hope and rebellion at the very end. Shows like Andor, and Obi-Wan Kenobi to a small degree before it, finally have the opportunity to show the other side in all its messy complexities.

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In Andor’s fourth episode, which aired this week, Cassian meets a small pod of six rebels planning a heist. Because they have a mission and a headquarters, they’re closer to what we recognize as rebels in Star Wars. However, they’re so underground—pretending to be shepherds in the abandoned hills of an occupied planet—that only those who need to know are allowed to communicate with their leader Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard), or even know he exists. Cassian doesn’t use his real name in their company (he calls himself “Clem”), and it’s likely that none of the others are using theirs either. They do not have the benefit of community organizing that the people of Ferrix have, or that the Rebel Alliance will have.

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Luthen claims to have “many mouths to feed” in the rebellion, but only keeps one trusty assistant at his side. He offers Cassian a way to make a difference and “fight these bastards for real,” while pointing out that Cassian, who killed two Imperial security contractors in the show’s opening minutes, doesn’t have much of a choice but to join him. Luthen seems like the type of grizzled mentor we’ve seen time and time again in Star Wars. Old Ben Kenobi, Saw Gerrera, and Woody Harrelson’s character in Solo come to mind. But then Luthen returns to Coruscant and we see that he’s not a warrior at all—he’s a spy. He has wigs and disguises and a whole second life as an antiques seller. The Rebel Alliance leaders in the original trilogy are staid military officers. Luthen, as a character, is far more colorful.

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The one other character we know becomes a key player in the Rebel Alliance, Mon Motha, is operating in a completely different way on Andor. Mon Mothma is not yet part of the Rebel Alliance’s High Command. She’s not yet surrounded by allies. She’s still a representative in the Galactic Senate, working against the Empire from the inside by trying to block policy, and working with Luthen to secretly fund rebel groups where she can. We know from future films and other Star Wars stories that Mon Motha’s attempts to subvert from within the status quo are doomed to failure, but that doesn’t make them any less noble or compelling. In fact, the knowledge that she will ultimately be running the rebellion makes it easier to not write off these efforts as naive, and serves as a good contrast to Saw and Cassian’s more direct methods of action.

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Those rebels in Rogue One are extremists, and at the time were unlike anything we’d seen. Now, with Andor, the diversity of rebellion continues to expand. Back in 1977, there wasn’t a lot of nuance to the Rebel Alliance. But heck, Star Wars was inspired by Flash Gordon serials and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It’s not supposed to be nuanced, and that’s actually made it easier for subsequent films and televised dramas to flesh out the world from its simple and sincere center. This is the true promise of Andor as a series. It’s not just an “origin story” for a character whose death we’ve already experienced on screen. It’s an origin story for the Rebel Alliance, with as much of an emphasis on that alliance as the rebels themselves.

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