There’s a shadow hanging over the Star Wars streaming library. It’s cast by a creation whose reputation has surpassed those of the technological terrors filmed on Industrial Light & Magic’s visual-effects Volume. A fully operational powerhouse whose moment of triumph left a lasting impression. An entity acclaimed enough to make millions of voices—or at least some number of dissatisfied social media users—suddenly cry out in condemnation of any new series that isn’t in line with its lead.
That’s no moon. It’s Andor.
Tony Gilroy’s Star Wars series premiered on Disney+ one year ago this week. Ever since, it’s loomed large in the Star Wars streaming firmament—perhaps disproportionately large, given its modest-for-Star-Wars-sized audience. For some Star Wars fans, it’s become the prestige touchstone—and, maybe, millstone—by which all Star Wars series (or genre shows, period) should be judged. Consequently, both of the live-action shows that have aired after Andor—The Mandalorian’s third season and Ahsoka’s first—have been greeted by a chorus of complaints that they aren’t more like last year’s Rogue One prequel.
I get it. Andor was exactly the sort of Star Wars story I’d wanted, awaited, and hardly dared dream I’d ever see. It was, in a way, the solution to a previous problem that had plagued the discourse surrounding Star Wars shows. Last summer, after Obi-Wan Kenobi but before Andor, I made a plea for judging sci-fi and fantasy series and movies by the same standards one would apply to non-genre fiction:
There’s only one strain of responses to stories like these that truly bums me out: the suggestion that they aren’t worthy of impassioned analysis or critical inquiry, be it primarily positive or negative. That stories about space wizards or dragons or superheroes are inherently silly or unserious, and that those who have issues with their plotting or pacing or depictions of characters should just stop overthinking things. That they aren’t supposed to make sense, and that the only way to enjoy them is to turn one’s brain off before boarding the ride. That they’re purely escapist, popcorn pablum. That they’re just for kids, and that it’s a waste of time to engage with them on an intellectual level as well as a visceral level.
I swear I’d safely locked away my monkey’s paw when I wished that people would stop dismissing and defending Star Wars and other sci-fi and fantasy franchises on the grounds that they aren’t sophisticated enough to withstand serious scrutiny. Yet Andor’s excellence has come with one “be careful what you wish for” repercussion: a tendency to denigrate more traditional Star Wars series because they aren’t like Andor. While it’s true that there are ways in which Ahsoka and the rest of its Mandoverse cohort can’t measure up to Andor, their contrasting approaches to Star Wars storytelling can coexist peacefully and even complement one another, appealing to different audiences or satisfying the same viewers’ multifaceted tastes. Neither needs to win, neither needs to suffer by comparison, and neither needs to spoil the audience’s appetite for the other.
Andor and Ahsoka aren’t entirely dissimilar. They both have one-word titles starting with the letter A. They’re both named after and ostensibly star preexisting Star Wars characters. They both feature ensemble casts that sometimes steal the spotlight from their titular protagonists—and both of those casts include Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma.
In most respects, though, the similarities end after the Lucasfilm logo. Andor was created by Gilroy, an acknowledged non–Star Wars fan who described the production design of his series as “non-Star Wars in every way.” Ahsoka was created by George Lucas’s handpicked protégé, Dave Filoni, whose stated storytelling purpose is “to tie together all of the Star Wars films and animated series” to make the franchise feel like “one big, connected galaxy.” Andor was filmed largely on location; Ahsoka, like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Filoni and Jon Favreau collabs The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, was shot mostly on a futuristic soundstage. Andor’s two seasons (the second of which is slated for summer 2024, pending strike-related delays) give Gilroy a canvas of 24 episodes; Ahsoka’s first season (the only one yet confirmed) runs only eight and ties into other series. Andor takes place at the height of the Empire; Ahsoka starts after its fall. Andor eschews any hint of the Jedi; Ahsoka is heavily infused with the Force. Andor doesn’t draw on much Star Wars backstory; Ahsoka caters foremost to fans who’ve seen Filoni’s animated shows The Clone Wars, Rebels, and Tales of the Jedi. Andor is grounded and political; Ahsoka is fantasy tinged and suffused with Star Wars mythology and lore.
For a few reasons, it seems like a loss to swear off any Star Wars series that can’t match Andor amazing monologue for amazing monologue. For one, that’s setting the script bar awfully high. Gilroy, an Oscar-nominated writer and director, is one of the industry’s most skilled, respected screenwriters. Virtually every aspect of Andor’s production (dialogue, plotting, and characterization; cinematography, acting, and costume design) is superior to Ahsoka’s—but then Andor’s artistry is also superior to that of almost every other series, sci-fi, fantasy, or otherwise. Disney’s other live-action Star Wars series, all of which I’ve taken to task for their flaws, could absolutely learn from and aspire to emulate some of Andor’s strengths. But peak Mandalorian has strengths Andor doesn’t, and Ahsoka boasts beautiful visuals, compelling characters, and exceptional performances of its own. It’s not nearly as quotable, profound, and devastating as Andor, but we’re not talking about the quality equivalent of the drop-off from Aaron Rodgers to Zach Wilson, or Shohei Ohtani to Jared Walsh and Kenny Rosenberg.
Moreover, each series is serving two distinct subsets of fans, along with plenty of people who fit inside the spot where the circles on the Star Wars Venn diagram overlap. Andor was a welcome change of pace for viewers who normally wouldn’t watch Star Wars or aren’t in it for the Easter eggs. Ahsoka is a gift for Rebels fans who are elated that the latest spinoff is essentially serving up a fifth season of that series. Ahsoka isn’t for everyone, no, but judging by the ratings, Andor wasn’t for everyone, either. (Happily, they’re both very much for me.)
The roots of Star Wars lie in old-school serials aimed at all ages, and as I’ve argued before, there’s room for space adventures alongside anti-fascist art. I’ll never forget when Andor’s Dedra Meero tortured Bix Caleen with the sound of screaming, dying children. I also enjoy Ahsoka’s space whales, horse dogs, and snail crabs. It’s fine to like only one series or the other. It’s less understandable to suggest that one series’ success renders the other less capable of delivering laughs, thrills, and catharsis to watchers with a certain point of view. There’s no need to act like Anakin and declare, “If you’re not Andor, then you’re my enemy.” You know what they say about Sith and absolutes.
It’s inspiring and heartening that Gilroy accomplished so much within the franchise framework. What Andor proved, though, is that there’s room inside Star Wars—and, more broadly, within mainstream genre fiction—for projects with dramatically disparate styles and sensibilities. I don’t think the proper lesson to take from Andor’s originality is that subsequent series should be more like that one. It’s that other series should also be allowed and encouraged to really explore the studio space. (And, perhaps, to film outside the studio sometimes.)
That should mean entrusting Star Wars stories to more creators who didn’t grow up playing with original trilogy action figures or inhaling novels about Grand Admiral Thrawn. But it doesn’t negate the value of a glue guy like Filoni, whose love for the franchise, institutional knowledge, and care for continuity keep the diehards happy and make the sizable Star Wars base feel seen. And for all its ties to the past, Ahsoka is breaking new ground: by transferring beloved characters from animation to live action, by reframing the Force and challenging the light side–dark side binary, by introducing a new galaxy. Just because it has an opening crawl doesn’t mean it can’t take leaps along the way.
One year after Andor debuted, the series has become the overachieving older sibling, the do-no-wrong exemplar that later arrivals can’t possibly live up to (and eventually tire of being compared to). Andor may be the best series to bear the brand of Star Wars, but it may not be the best Star Wars series—and it’s certainly not the only one worth enjoying. Two galaxies are big enough for both shows.
So no, they can’t all be Andor. Nor should we want them to be.