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Commentary: 'Star Wars' has always been political. 'Andor' made it must-see TV

Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Despite what some people — and at least one giant media company — might have you believe, “Star Wars” has always been political.

“It is a period of civil war,” explains the opening scrawl of George Lucas’ 1977 space opera, now formally known as “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” The original trilogy of films goes on to show how a farm boy with special powers, a gruff but loyal smuggler and a courageous and capable princess pull off the seemingly impossible and help a scrappy rebellion take down an intergalactic authoritarian regime.

“Andor,” the Disney+ series that wrapped its first season on Wednesday, tells the story of how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) transforms from disaffected, self-centered thief to committed resistance fighter willing to die for the cause. Eschewing many of the familiar tropes and set pieces associated with the franchise, the series has pushed “Star Wars” storytelling to new heights.

On paper, “Andor” is standard Disney+ fare that the franchise-wary might not consider particularly compelling. It’s a prequel series to “Rogue One” (2016), itself a prequel set immediately before the events of “A New Hope.” Unlike the core film series known as the Skywalker Saga, “Rogue One” doesn’t focus on any Jedi or Chosen Ones with the weight of the galaxy on their shoulders. It instead tells the story of a team of rebels who embark on a rogue mission to steal the schematics for the Death Star to keep the Rebellion’s hope of defeating the Galactic Empire alive.

As Andor explains in the movie, “Rebellions are built on hope.”

Jedi, Sith and the Force are similarly absent in “Andor.” It’s the first “Star Wars” story that takes time to depict what life is like for ordinary people living under Imperial rule and what leads them to accept or resist the increasingly oppressive, fascist regime. The show is an interrogation of power and morality beyond the simplified (if undeniably exciting) struggle between the Light and Dark Side.

 

This is not so surprising when you look at “Andor’s” credits. Showrunner Tony Gilroy, who also worked on “Rogue One,” is best known for his work on “Michael Clayton” (2007) and the “Bourne” film series. The writing staff also includes “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon and “The Americans“ writer/producer Stephen Schiff. Examining the corrosive complexity of political intrigue is a foundational part of “Andor’s” creative DNA.

It’s also no secret that Lucas took inspiration from history and real-life authoritarian regimes in developing “Star Wars.” But because the films are also meant to be accessible to kids, some of the politics are diluted — to the point that some misinformed toxic fans either don’t realize or care that they sometimes behave in ways that align them with the Dark Side.

“Andor,” however, presents the galaxy far, far away as one made up of many different shades of gray, underscored throughout by its stellar cast. Heroes of what will eventually become the Rebel Alliance at times make morally suspect decisions. And as in any workplace, ambition and office politics affect employees of the Galactic Empire, who as individuals tend to be flawed rather than simply evil. It’s a nuance that’s hard to convey through the rigid dichotomy of Jedi and Sith.

But the absence of Jedi and the Force does not mean “Andor” is not a good “Star Wars” story. The world-building of the series has been impressive, introducing new planets, customs and (blue) foods. While the series has predominantly featured standard humanoid characters instead of more visually distinct alien species, they haven’t been completely absent. “Andor” also introduces the charming boxy droid B2EMO, who occasionally stutters.

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