clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Six Lessons Lucasfilm Can Learn From the Success of ‘Andor’

‘Andor’ isn’t just great by ‘Star Wars’ standards—it’s one of the best shows of the year. Here’s how Disney and Lucasfilm can translate that success to future projects set in a galaxy far, far away. 

Disney/Ringer illustration

While there have been notable projects to come out of the Star Wars pipeline over the past decade, most fans would agree the franchise hasn’t been firing on all cylinders since Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney in 2012. The same tactics the House of Mouse used to transform the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a multibillion-dollar phenomenon—namely, oversaturating the blockbuster landscape with superheroes—haven’t always been conducive to success in Star Wars, which tends to work best when quality is prioritized over quantity. (Star Wars movies can still make bank, but it’s telling that Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Rise of Skywalker failed to meet lofty expectations at the box office.) But just when it seemed like Star Wars was trapped in a sarlacc pit of mediocrity, the franchise was injected with new life thanks to [squints] the spinoff series about a character from a spinoff movie that helped explain the opening crawl to A New Hope.

On paper, yes, Andor seemed emblematic of Disney scraping the bottom of the IP barrel. But as many outlets covering pop culture, The Ringer included, can attest, Andor isn’t just great by Star Wars standards—it’s one of the very best shows of the year. Even if the Disney+ viewership hasn’t been on par with other Star Wars series, Disney knows it’s got something special on its hands, as evidenced by the company’s decision to air Andor’s first two episodes on several sister platforms—ABC, FX, Freeform, Hulu—in the lead-up to the season finale. But with Andor set to conclude after a second 12-episode season, Disney can ride its critical goodwill for only so long, which begs the question: How can the company translate the show’s success to future projects set in a galaxy far, far away?

Obviously, the ideal solution would be replicating Kaminoan cloning technology to make an assembly line of Tony Gilroys. But since Disney probably hasn’t made that scientific breakthrough—yet—here are six lessons the rest of the Star Wars brain trust should learn from Andor’s stellar debut.

Give Normal People Some Attention (Not the Hulu Series, Though It’s Very Good)

Setting aside all the internet uproar over The Last Jedi, which, depending on whom you ask, is either the best Star Wars product of the Disney era or the absolute worst, Rian Johnson’s film demonstrated how ordinary people were just as capable of extraordinary things as so-called chosen ones. (Even if The Rise of Skywalker reworked Rey’s parentage so that she was a Palpatine instead of “nobody,” we’ll always have the Broom Kid!) Andor takes this idea even further by conveying the everyday struggles of citizens who can’t call upon the Force to help them, and showing how the tyrannical rule of the fascistic Empire sows the seeds for a galaxy-wide rebellion.

Granted, not every Star Wars story needs to focus on the little guys—lightsaber battles will always hold a special place in the franchise—but Andor’s grounded approach made every corner of its world feel genuinely lived-in. Whether it was a low-level security officer being berated by his overbearing mother over breakfast, or a rebel leader masquerading as a high-end antiquities dealer in the heart of the Empire’s galactic stronghold, Andor put a spotlight on the kinds of characters that usually fade into the background when Sith lords and Jedi knights are part of the equation. (Rogue One had a similar philosophy, but the accelerated pace of the movie meant it didn’t have enough time to explore its characters’ interior lives.)

There’s an immersive appeal to the Star Wars universe—Disney has certainly capitalized on the hype with its theme parks—but Andor broke new ground by imagining what life would really be like for the Empire’s subjects, as well as the middle-management grunts who work to uphold imperial power. Unsurprisingly, the results weren’t pretty for the characters trapped within it, but as The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau once promised, it doesn’t hurt to explore the “darkier, freakier” side of Star Wars.

Let the Empire Do Its Thing

For decades, the Galactic Empire was defined by the imposing Darth Vader, the cackling Emperor Palpatine, and an endless stream of stormtroopers notorious for their poor marksmanship. The Empire was unquestionably evil—anyone building a weapon called the Death Star is up to no good—but their villainy throughout the franchise took on an almost cartoonish quality. (Just look at these dorks.) Andor is a fascinating corrective because it actually considers the nuts and bolts of operating an authoritarian regime, and just how many people are willing to go along with the Empire’s atrocities for the smallest slice of personal gain. (The real-world parallels are hard to miss.)

I can honestly say that nobody in the Empire has terrified me more than Dedra Meero (played by Denise Gough), an officer in the Imperial Security Bureau—basically their version of an intelligence-gathering division like the CIA—who will gleefully torture innocent people if it means rising up the corporate ladder. This type of cutthroat bureaucratic ambition is far more relatable, and unnerving, than a behoodied space wizard shooting lightning from his fingertips. Then there’s Andor’s three-episode arc on Narkina 5, where Diego Luna’s eponymous hero is sentenced to six years of prison for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and later learns the Empire never intends to let any of the inmates go free. (Worse yet, Cassian Andor and the other prisoners are unwittingly working on parts for the Death Star.)

Andor portraying the Empire as a toxic, interplanetary workplace filled with hustlers driven by resentment, fear, and career ambition is arguably the series’ greatest feat. The series adds a new dimension to the big bad of Star Wars by showing the many cogs of the galaxy-spanning machine, rather than just focusing on the Sith lords with [clears throat] UNLIMITED POWER barking out all the orders. All told, the Empire has never seemed more menacing—and when the plucky rebels do claim a victory over them, it’s never been more satisfying.

Embrace Moral Gray Areas

When Andor is introduced in Rogue One, he kills an informant without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a shocking incident—not least of all because it’s already established that Andor is fighting for the good guys. (As if Andor’s introduction in Rogue One wasn’t brutal enough, he opens the show by killing two security officers because they were harassing him outside a bar; hardly the start of a typical hero’s journey.) But if Rogue One and Andor have taught Star Wars fans anything, it’s that moral compromises are sometimes necessary to enact meaningful change in the galaxy. That is the tragic MO of Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), the Rebel leader who accepts that he must use the enemy’s playbook for the alliance to ever stand a chance of defeating the Empire, even if it comes at the erosion of his own soul. “I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see,” Luthen tells a Rebel informant operating within the ISB, in arguably the best monologue of the year.

There’s something genuinely refreshing about a Star Wars project in which the protagonists don’t always do the right thing, and are in constant conflict with how their decisions affect those around them. Star Wars has already explored what happens when the holier-than-thou Jedi run the show, with the Emperor rising to power right under their noses and nearly driving them to extinction. Going forward, it wouldn’t hurt the franchise to examine the kind of moral gray areas introduced in Andor. Rebellions are more compelling when they come at a cost.

Be Practical

One of the most fascinating innovations The Mandalorian brought to Star Wars was StageCraft, a new technology from the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic—itself a division of Lucasfilm—that essentially wraps a film set with giant LED screens that can generate different images. (ILM does a much better job of explaining all the technical wizardry in a behind-the-scenes featurette.) You can understand the appeal of StageCraft, especially when characters in the franchise are constantly hopping between planets that have diverse visual backdrops: in addition to The Mandalorian, the technology was implemented on The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. But Andor ditches StageCraft altogether: as Gilroy told Empire, “we’re old-school.”

Of course, Andor has copious visual effects that spared no expense, but there’s a visceral quality to some of the show’s biggest set pieces when they’re set in an actual physical location. (The sequences on Aldhani, for instance, were filmed in the Scottish Highlands.) Going back to the days of George Lucas’s original trilogy, Star Wars is at its best when state-of-the-art special effects are combined with practical sets and locales that give a real sense of place. Or, as Fiona Shaw (Andor’s adoptive mother, Maarva) also explained to Empire: “You’re interacting with real stuff.” In that respect, Andor is a faithful extension of franchise tradition.

Fan Service Should Be a Last Resort

When it comes to major franchises, there always will be a subset of fans that get joy out of Easter eggs and feel like their passion is rewarded for being able to point them out. (Identifying Easter eggs is also a cottage industry for entertainment websites.) Easter eggs aren’t inherently bad, but they can easily overwhelm a story: If a movie or TV show spends half its running time reminding the audience about things that happened in the past, is it really bringing anything new to the table? While Andor is not totally devoid of franchise callbacks—Luthen’s art gallery is basically a collection of deep-cut Easter eggs—the show is otherwise admirably resistant to fan service.

One of the main reasons Andor isn’t gung ho about Star Wars nostalgia comes down to Gilroy, who admitted he wasn’t a franchise aficionado and encouraged the rest of his team to put aside their fandom. Rather than coming into the franchise as a superfan like Favreau or Dave Filoni—which has its own merits—Gilroy had a learning curve for the intricacies of its universe (er, galaxy) and relied on his natural gifts as a storyteller. As a result, the Andor showrunner might be the best creative force to come to Star Wars in ages because he wasn’t actively pandering to fans, and let the propulsive beats of the narrative be the series’ biggest selling point.

Unfortunately, the lack of fan service could help explain why Andor has failed to reach the viewership of other Star Wars shows. But if the Disney era of Star Wars is ever going to hit the heights of the original trilogy—or even come close to it—then it wouldn’t hurt if the franchise continued to let the past die.

Actually Clone Tony Gilroy?

In all seriousness: Gilroy has been a real gift for Star Wars ever since he was hired for rewrites and reshoots of Rogue One, and with the possible exception of Rian Johnson, there is nobody who’s worked on the franchise with a higher artistic pedigree. (I will always go to bat for Michael Clayton as one of the greatest films of the 21st century; bushel of baguettes and all.) For the Andor writers’ room, Gilroy also brought along his brother Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Stephen Schiff (The Americans), and Beau Willimon (House of Cards), names more closely associated with prestige projects than a multibillion-dollar franchise.

Lucasfilm doesn’t necessarily have to start poaching writers from Succession and Better Call Saul, but it wouldn’t hurt to continue giving creatives with an outsider’s view the chance to carve out their own stories within Star Wars. Like Gilroy, perhaps what Star Wars really needs to do to follow in the footsteps of Andor’s success is to hire writers and directors with a clear-eyed perspective and a willingness to leave their nostalgia goggles at the door—and give them the freedom to do what they do best.