With six episodes in the can, it's safe to say Andor is a new kind of Star Wars television show. Strip it of its late-70s sci-fi veneer and coterie of weirdo names that sound like bad anagrams, and there remains a taut, tense, and terrific man-on-a-mission narrative that feels like a moody riff on The Dirty Dozen. And while the story of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) may spin out of a Star Wars movie, we still don't know who he is. What made him so eager to fight and (spoilers) die for a rebellion that he once scarcely understood or even cared about? Andor, a show that puts drama over spectacle, is aching to help us figure that out.
The critical consensus holds that Andor is good. The raves have praised the show's gravitas, emphasis on character detail, muscular dialogue, and how it has refrained from the toybox mentality that has come to define Star Wars TV. And it has — at least, so far. In the face of less universally well-received series like The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor raises an essential question for Star Wars TV: Is it possible for Star Wars to be a gripping war narrative and a toy-smashing goof at the same time? Or is "grim adult/toybox universe" the franchise's sole binary for the foreseeable future?
That binary stems from a foundational problem for the franchise: Star Wars hasn't seemed interested in navigating a path away from the nine films that make up The Skywalker Saga. Perhaps not coincidentally, digging from the deep aesthetic and thematic wells of the original and prequel trilogies made the sequel trilogy — like The Force Awakens and especially The Rise of Skywalker — feel so underwhelming. That unfettered reverence has informed every subsequent attempt to further this saga, effectively making almost every entry — lately, all television series due to diminishing cinematic returns — feel needlessly safe. With safety comes inertia.
Andor signifies an encouraging break from franchise reverence and represents at least one solid path ahead — an adult-minded action drama that favors the micro of Star Wars over the macro. More, it questions something Star Wars has largely glossed over since the days of the prequel trilogy: how audiences weigh the destructive consequences of politics in real life has evolved, so why hasn't Star Wars? Yes, Emperor Palpatine dominates the galaxy, but how does that affect everyone who has to live in it? What ambitious minor lordlings pop up to facilitate the Emperor's brutal rule? The people of the Republic have acquiesced to the banal cruelty of the Empire — so how can they ever hope to rebel against it? Andor is all over that; unsurprisingly, it's captivating to watch.
While the series is refreshing in how it jettisons lightsabers and destinies and how every road somehow leads back to Darth Vader and/or his rebellious children, that shouldn't be the only way forward. Star Wars has long grappled with tone — it either wants to explore grown-up themes of democratic failure or knock out a parade of goofy aliens and sassy droids. It can, and has, successfully balanced both before; perhaps the most remarkable example of this (post-OT, anyway) is the latter superior seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
As an animated series, The Clone Wars evolved throughout its seven seasons. First, it was fun. Before long, amidst its aerial starship fights and laser sword battles, it began to weigh the nuances of conflict and resolution — heady stuff for a kids show. Most crucially, it didn't stop doing that, even when it began to make story mistakes echoed by the popular live-action series that followed it (cul-de-sac episodes to flesh out future Star Wars series, unnecessary callbacks and cameos, etc.). Yet, imperfect as it may be, the balance of fun and gravitas in The Clone Wars has laid a foundation for the franchise to build upon and could be treated as a template for future Star Wars stories.
Otherwise, it can be easy for the tone to kick a show right off the rails. One glaring example is The Book of Boba Fett, which buried itself under a security blanket of expensive cameos culled from other shows and shows yet to be produced. Put more plainly, it took on the form of a show-stopping detour into what was decidedly The Mandalorian Season 2.5. What character work that could — and, honestly, should — have been done for Boba Fett, himself a clone of the bounty hunter Jango Fett and a brother-of-sorts to the entire Clone Army of the Republic, wasn't the show's focus after its first half. Were Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill-ish) or Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) a crucial part of Boba's story? No. They didn't even meet. Yet there they were, providing warm-and-fuzzies for an audience that deserved something far more nourishing when it came to the gangster epic of Boba Fett.
Navigating a tonal binary isn't like dusting crops; it takes careful consideration. Obi-Wan Kenobi ultimately didn't stack up to the hype that surrounded it because it played out like an exercise in fan wish-fulfillment — hey, Ewan McGregor is back, and he gets to fight Darth Vader! — instead of a rumination on how the dogmatic structures of the Jedi Order allowed old Ben Kenobi to fail his apprentice so disastrously. Given time to thoroughly explore this corner of Star Wars lore, Obi-Wan might have become an evocative echo of Luke Skywalker's bitter musings on a similar theme in The Last Jedi, threading the film saga to the Disney+ TV era on a poetic level.
Andor is picking up the thematic slack left behind by Boba Fett and Obi-Wan (and the second season of The Mandalorian, if we're being honest). Exploring the logical extremes of a fascist takeover can be a heavy burden for any show, let alone something that should, by rights, feel light and easy like Star Wars. Andor bears the weight, and it seems that the swashbuckling pop of the franchise has dimmed as a consequence. It finds its strengths in other places, like Andor's relationship with the burgeoning rebellion, and walks a dizzying tightrope via characters playing both sides of the galactic order, like Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) and Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly). It's gripping television, though perhaps Andor has to grimace for future installments of Star Wars to grin. It's difficult to say.
At the present moment, the future of Star Wars TV looks just as bright as it did when Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and his tiny green son first touched fingers, E.T.-style, in the premiere episode of The Mandalorian three years ago. In the time since, there have been five Star Wars television shows of varying quality, but it's been difficult to shake the feeling that the franchise is still in a Skywalker-shaped rut. Lucasfilm is looking to chart new courses in its purportedly expansive galaxy but doesn't seem too willing to risk alienating audiences who clutch their Chewie plushes a little too tightly. Andor isn't interested in any of it, and thank the maker for that. Moving forward, it will be how Star Wars embraces and reconciles the binary extremes of itself — fun and contemplative — that will be the spark that lights a fire under this franchise.
Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently settled in Chicago. He reads lots (and lots) of comics and, as a result, is kind of a dunderhead.