As Star Wars' latest production, Andor Season 1, comes to a close, something incredible is happening — Star Wars fans are actually agreeing on something. Nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans, and yet, showrunner Tony Gilroy has done the impossible. Even the toxic fans looking for clicks have been relatively quiet, as superfans, casual fans, the snootiest of critics, and people who barely know anything about Star Wars have come together to agree that Andor is phenomenal.
Those who love Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (a number that’s grown in recent years) could definitely see this coming, but for most, it’s been a refreshing surprise. While many say Andor’s strengths are rooted in how different it is from the rest of Star Wars, some even disparaging other productions to do so, that analysis is reductive. It misses what Star Wars has become — there is a piece of Star Wars for everyone, from the touching relatability of The Mandalorian’s space Western, to the sprawling animated epic of The Clone Wars, to the camp and melodrama of the prequels. This flexibility in storytelling style, medium, and genre is what has allowed Star Wars survive and appeal to so many for so long. Some ventures have been more successful than others, but this trial and error, this willingness to innovate, is what brings us masterpieces like Andor.
But what exactly makes Andor so breathtaking? The Disney+ series, which once again stars Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, succeeds because it emphasizes what has always made Star Wars great — the power of hope and community. Whether that power manifests as actual magic, like the Force, or the sacrifices people like Cassian make, it is a hopepunk story, where optimism is weaponized, and “grimdark” — grit for darkness’s sake — is shunned. It is a cyclical tale of incessant war, and yet viewers come out of it feeling hopeful. With the real world coming apart at the seams, it’s no wonder Star Wars’ insistence on this idea has remained so appealing for so long.
Andor’s early marketing suggested the series would swing towards grimdark, digging deep into the grit of the galaxy far, far away for “adult”-leaning shock value. Instead, Gilroy balanced the abject horror of the Empire with the raw power of community to create another beautiful and insightful look at the Star Wars universe. In interviews, the showrunner clearly comes across as someone focused on the craft of writing and the politics of fascism, and less about Star Wars itself. Ironically, by doing so, he created a show so extremely Star Wars, both literally and thematically, that it feels like going back to the original trilogy.
This is evident in Andor Season 1’s final scene, where the components Cassian and his prison comrades were building are revealed to be a part of the Death Star’s targeting laser. It's also felt in the slower pacing of the episodes, reminiscent of older films like the original trilogy, where long, sprawling sequences of characters just walking, like Kleya Marki’s covert walk through the upper streets of Coruscant, or C3PO’s slow trudge through Tatooine’s Dune Sea, give us the breathing room and sense of scale to really live in the galaxy far, far away.
Thematically, of course, this emphasis on the true meaning of Star Wars is evident in Andor’s heavy contemporary political commentary. Karis Nemik’s analysis of the Empire’s strategy to “hide behind 40 atrocities” is a clear product of living through the Trump administration, just like the Vietnam War and Nixon administration inspired George Lucas’ original trilogy, and the Bushes’ proxy wars in the Middle East inspired the prequels and The Clone Wars.
However, the thematic parallels don’t stop with just politics. They’re evident in the character development as well. In A New Hope, the catalytic event for Luke’s story is the utterly horrifying massacre of his family, where we see his aunt and uncle’s bodies and the burning of his home, and that of the Jawas, his neighbors. Is Cassian’s story not similar, starting with a horrific attack on his family and having to leave his planet? In Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo is tortured, he returns to Leia confused at the Empire’s senseless cruelty, wondering why they would torture him and not even ask for any information. Is that not reflected in Bix’s torture scenes, where Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) makes it clear she knows she may not get the information she needs, but does it anyway?
And what is more Star Wars than pivotal emotional and plot moments hinging on a simple droid? Everything from Princess Leia entrusting the Death Star plans to R2D2 in A New Hope, to L3-37’s sacrifice in Solo, to Chopper mournfully holding Hera’s hand after Kanan’s loss in Rebels, to Cassian himself surviving because of K2’s sacrifice in Rogue One emphasizes that droids aren’t just cute sidekicks. They're an exploration of what sentience means, and a reflection of the kindness of the characters around them. Andor adds to this through line with B2EMO’s strikingly human reaction to Maarva Andor’s (Fiona Shaw) death, and the way the Ferrix community treats him like her child and trusted family member. Just like how Artoo’s broadcast of Princess Leia’s desperate plea jumpstarts Luke’s journey to rebel hero, B2 projecting Maarva’s last words to the community of Ferrix becomes the literal spark of rebellion.
Star Wars also always emphasizes themes of family, both biological and found, redemption, and of course, sacrifice. Maarva Andor’s last words to Cassian, that she loves him “more than anything he could ever do wrong” echo Luke's (and Padmé’s) belief that “there’s still good” in Vader. Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) “burn[s] his life to make a sunrise he knows he’ll never see,” recalls Obi-Wan sacrificing himself to save Luke one final time in A New Hope, after a lifetime of sacrifice as a Jedi that we see in The Clone Wars.
I often say my favorite part of Star Wars is Star Wars Rebels, because it combines the magic and politics of Star Wars so wonderfully. So I was worried that Andor would be treated as the “adult” version, covering the same time period and concept of how a rebellion is built, but trying to be “edgy” and considered “better” because it was live action and didn’t have any lightsabers. But on finishing Season 1, I realized that it doesn’t cover exactly the same ground as Rebels, but is a complement to it. Like twin suns in Tatooine’s sky, or as Kallus’ Fulcrum code would say, “by the light of Lothal’s moons,” Andor and Rebels are two great explorations of the most important element of Star Wars — that darkness, and in the case of these series, imperialism, can only be defeated through community.
Star Wars Rebels is the story of how a group of rebels developed and protected a community, while Andor is the story of how a community created a rebel, despite his every attempt otherwise. This idea of hope through community and connection, both literally between people, and figuratively through the Force, is a part of the very fabric of Star Wars. There are many who praise Andor because it doesn’t have any Jedi, assuming the magic of Star Wars is “childish” and capitalistic. While it can be sometimes, the Jedi and the Force’s absence in Andor, as opposed to Rebels in the same time period, is on purpose. Whether it is Jedi and clones becoming brothers in arms, or a lone Mandalorian becoming a father, or a rebel princess being supported by a Jedi and a scoundrel after the loss of her entire planet, the real star war is literally the friends we made along the way. Andor is a reminder that even when imperialism works to wipe out any belief in a power that connects us — in this case literally with the Jedi — our connections to each other will always be a source of power.
We watch Andor, and we know how it ends, along with the rest of Star Wars. Order 66 looms large over the prequels and The Clone Wars, just like Rogue One’s ending looms over this show. We see Luke train Grogu, despite knowing his new Jedi Order will fall in the sequels. We watch the Ghost crew scrape by for every victory against the Empire, even though we know the Rebellion does eventually win. Just like life, we know the ending, and the endless suffering that will happen on the way. But when Star Wars is good, as it is in Andor, it reminds us that even the smallest attempts in the face of inevitability are worthwhile. Some prisoners will escape, some citizens of Ferrix will be free, and some small, risky heist will radicalize the hero who will help take down the Death Star. As Nemik says, it reminds us to try.
Klaudia Amenábar is a media critic who co-hosts RuPalp's Podrace: A Queer Star Wars Podcast, and the Mystery Spotcast: A Supernatural Rewatch. She has appeared on NPR, the Mary Sue, io9, Comics Beat, and more.