Andor is really fucking good.
Something you probably have heard all over the place by now, but in case you hadn’t:
Andor is really fucking good.
There’s a lot of takes out there about why that is, and they’re all more or less right. Probably. I haven’t read them all. But there’s a single aspect to why I enjoy this show so much that I want to hone in on. Namely:
They’re Taking Star Wars Seriously
First off, let me explain what I don’t mean.
Andor is, perhaps, the most adult-oriented Star Wars show or movie made so far. There’s basically none of the usual add-ins creators use in family friendly media to keep the littlest kids interested. No comic relief characters, no wacky hijinks, hell, there’s barely any of the usual action sequences. In fact, a lot of it seems to be trying to put the kids to sleep on purpose. A huge portion of the show is exploring the deep and tangled intricacies of the Empire’s fascistic bureaucracy involving a lot of scenes of people in white hallways and similar uniforms getting into politely and barely camouflaged verbal slap fights that would fit nicely into a Jane Austen novel, side by side with a lingering thread about Mon Mothma’s terrible marriage that’s so subtle it makes the Empire stuff look like a screaming match in a house fire. Riveting stuff for adults and even some teenagers and tweens, but sit your average eight year old in front of the TV with his Yoda stuffie and the lightsaber he got at Disney World and he’s going to be passed out before the first commercial break.
And I fucking love it. But that’s not what I mean when I say take Star Wars seriously. Star Wars has always been a generally family friendly story, and while I appreciate the odd show or movie that ages itself up I don’t want to take it all away from the kids. I don’t want the next trilogy to be Breaking Bad in space.
Actually, shit, I do sort of want that.
Okay, I don’t want every Star Wars going forward to be Breaking Bad in space. It’s okay to have lighthearted fun, too.
So, that’s not what I mean. Then what do I mean?
What’s Your Favorite Christmas Carol Adaptation and Why Is It The Muppets?
A Muppet Christmas Carol is the best movie adaptation of Charles Dickens’ work and I will fucking fistfight you in the K-Mart parking lot of your choosing if you say otherwise.
The primary reason why it’s so great is because Scrooge’s nephew is portrayed as a low-key turd who absolutely cannot stomach it when Scrooge becomes a good man at the end because a good chunk of his personality was based around the fact that he was a better man than his POS uncle. But a large part of why it is so good is Michael Caine. He goes out there in this ridiculous sleepwear outfit and almost-exclusively acts against puppets on dudes’ hands while the dudes are crouched below pretending they’re not there, and he plays it as serious as a car crash. He even told director Brian Henson as much when they met, apparently saying:
“I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.”
And that decision is why the movie works so well. Because if Michael Caine buys that he’s surrounded by sentient humanoid felt animals, you buy it. The most ridiculous, fantastical, over-the-top science fiction and fantasy stories live or die by the actors playing in them. You can have a tight script and expensive sets, but if your cast are all winking at the camera through the character – telling your audience look at all this silly shit I’m doing! – then it’s never going to work.
Acting in Star Wars, Not Playing Star Wars
I feel like a lot of these new movies and Disney+ shows are plagued with this exact problem, except the actors are not peeking out from their characters to look down on the work. Instead they’re all like giddy children. Look at me! I’m playing in a Star Wars! I’m a Storm Trooper! Howdy howdy howdy!
Everything about The Force Awakens or Obi Wan Kenobi feels like it knows its doing a Star War and its fucking stoked about it. Not just the actors, either. The tone, the writing, the plot, the music, the direction everything. All the little callbacks, the way every single actor who has a chance to has slipped into Storm Trooper armor, all the direct looks into the camera and little pauses when something important to a Star Wars viewer happens but in-universe shouldn’t matter at all.
It all adds up to a Star Wars production that is so exited to be a Star Wars production that it can’t help but try to play the scene and grin at you about being a Star Wars at the same time. And that ends up putting more distance between the universe and the viewer. If the actors are constantly high-fiving you because they have a lightsaber it becomes hard to be fully immersed.
This wasn’t even an issue I realized I had with most of the recent Star Wars stuff until Andor. It feels like someone finally understood the assignment. The utter joy at telling a story in the Star Wars universe is shown in the way they utilize and expand on the universe. For a show that’s a prequel to a movie that was The Most Direct Prequel Ever to the first movie, there’s hardly any direct references to any of the other media. The few characters who do show up are smaller characters from smaller works who function within the confines of this new story and not, I don’t know, the same people from the same families we always see even though this galaxy is huge and holy shit, we finally finally didn’t go to Tatoo-fucking-ine hallelujah.
The fact that they got Stellan Skarsgård to be in one of these things is a gift from the gods above in the first place, but the reason Luthen Rael is such a powerful character isn’t solely because he’s played by Skarsgård. It’s because Skarsgård isn’t constantly showing us how excited he is to be playing a key man in the Star Wars rebellion. Instead he’s out here pretending the Muppets surrounding him are other Shakespearean stage actors and this is the most important work he’s ever done in his life. Same goes for the rest of the cast, for the director, for the tone, the music, etc. Everyone focused on making a good show first, a Star Wars show second.
The Future of Long Ago
Like I said, I don’t need every new Star Wars thing to have this sort of political thriller tone. They should absolutely continue doing fun family-friendly adventures. The only thing I ask is that everyone involved calm the fuck down and focus less on the Star Wars aspect and more on the ‘good content’ aspect.
After all, Star Wars is pretty fucking cool, but only in our universe. Actually living in the Star Wars, especially in the time Andor is set, seems to suck ass.