Making ANDOR better and/or more like STAR WARS
Unpopular opinions ahead! Don't @ me bro!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a huge STAR WARS nerd and, as I write this (on Tuesday 11/15 for 11/17 publication) I have yet to see all twelve episodes of ANDOR. I am just waiting for the last two to be released. The reason I am writing this now and not after the final two episodes are released is because I strongly feel that what ever surprises they have in store for us will not change my opinion of the show, so far.
(STAR WARS) ANDOR, is a funny animal. I put "STAR WARS" in parenthesis because if you watch the opening titles, the show is actually called, simply "ANDOR." Unlike "STAR WARS: THE MANDALORIAN" or "STAR WARS: THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT," or "STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS" or... you get what I'm saying. The way those opening titles leave the "STAR WARS" off of the title card suggests to me that the fact that this show takes place in the Star Wars universe is not that relevant to those telling the story
In fact, there are no Jedi, no Sith, no bounty hunters, almost no stormtroopers, very few Tie Fighters, no X-Wings, and almost no "pew pew pew" or swashbuckling action scenes that the original STAR WARS film basically invented. Early on, I read that the producers were even suggesting that there weren't going to be any "easter eggs" referencing other corners of the Star Wars universe in this show. Happily, that part turned out not to be true. However, I'm not making up the rest of it. There is very little Star Wars in ANDOR.
Which is what makes it so ironic that there are many vocal fans on social media who have proudly claimed that ANDOR is "the best Star Wars ever!"
Let me be clear: this isn't about what I think STAR WARS should or shouldn't be. What I describe above is an objective view of what the main, and most popular ingredients of a Star Wars movie, show, comic, book, or audio drama, generally are. What's worse is that, what ANDOR lacks more than anything else, compared to other STAR WARS content, also happens to be a few things that every story needs--not just stories taking place in a galaxy far, far away. More on this in a bit.
What I Think Works in ANDOR (spoiler free)
What works is the suspenseful atmosphere--every scene oozes with this slow build to the dreadful future. We know where the lead character's life will lead him and so, each step of the story feels like a step toward his tragic but heroic end--and that's GREAT. While I have gotten pretty bored of what I call "slow burn storytelling," the vibe of this show does impress.
What also works is the "world" of the story. It all feels like a STAR WARS version of reality. The architecture, the props, the vehicles, are all very Star Warsy.
Another thing that I think works is the use of suspense. On the rare occasion that the sh*t is about to hit the fan, you really feel it coming. Like ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, this feels more "real" than most of the rest of the Star Wars stories. While any violence is not particularly graphic, that dread I mentioned earlier always turns into suspense, and things get messy. It's like the folks behind the Netflix DAREDEVIL show made this series.
Of course, STAR WARS has always been gritty and "real" with plenty of death all around (even on camera) and dirt and grime and bad luck. Luke's adopted parents weren't just killed, they were flayed. BUT there were other things that balanced the story to make it feel more fun and exciting and not just about seeing our hero's parent's bones with some flesh still hanging off of them.
What I Think Does NOT Work in ANDOR (spoiler free)
I'm not going to waste any time going on about how ANDOR delivers STAR WARS style excitement just once every three episodes, or so. I will say that I think this is part of why ANDOR's audiences have been so low compared to other STAR WARS shows on Disney+--just a part of why, though.
In my opinion, ANDOR needs more prominent stakes. We never really see how awful the Empire is being to others. Various characters talk about it, but we rarely see Imperials do anything bad beyond having British accents (am I the only one getting tired of hearing British accents in all scifi these days?!?). The show seems to rely on us already knowing that the Empire is awful. Which, I'll be honest, we do--but there's just something missing here. Immediacy.
Instead of the audience watching the coming-together of the Rebellion against a clear and present danger, the show ends up feeling, to me, more like it's not the Empire they are fighting but something more akin to Climate Change.
Climate Change is an important thing that we need to fight, but there's a reason there aren't action adventure shows about stopping the planet from heating up.
In the very first episode of ANDOR, the title character enters a brothel and asks about his sister. He is told that she had left.
That is the last we hear of his search for his sister. The only other relationships he has are with his adopted mom (another adopted parent!) and her adorable, bumbling, droid. The mom is the very archetype of a character doomed to die so that a man can be more driven to fight. She fits all the stereotypes established in a great many stories, across all media and genres. I'd be surprised if there aren't plenty of people aside from me who can see her fate coming and are already rolling their eyes.
No one else in the lead character’s life matters to him or us in any real way that would make us sad if they died. Think about the relationships in the original STAR WARS movie. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, and even R2 and Threepio--were all important to each other. They had rapport--they would joke with each other, get in each other's faces, and experience life together.
This allowed us to fall in love with all of them and care whether they lived or died.
ANDOR tells the story of isolation in a crowd. Sure, it makes sense in the abstract--you can't start a rebellion without keeping it to yourself, but where are emotions in the abstract? Where are the things that make us care in the abstract?
One character on the show who is secretly funding attacks on the Empire is desperate to keep her secrets. But how is that interesting? If I had a secret like hers, I'd want to tell everyone what I’m doing to protect their freedoms. I wouldn't tell everyone that, but you get what I'm saying. She has no problem keeping the truth from what passes for her loved ones and the same goes for everyone else. Wouldn't it be more interesting if she was dying to tell the people she cares about what she is up to? Welp, she can't because she has no one she really cares about in her life.
As a result we don't, well, I know that I don't care about anyone in particular. I'm only curious how everyone who isn't in future STAR WARS media will die.
The last thing I think doesn't work in ANDOR is Andor, himself. I think the actor is great and he's not boring to watch in the least. The issue is that the character of Cassian Andor is already the guy we meet in ROGUE ONE. He's already a tense guy who is trying to survive long enough to do some damage to the Empire. Where does he have to go from here? Are we just going to watch him be withdrawn, stoic, and broodish for all 24 episodes in this series?
These are all things that all good stories need, by the way. Character arcs, character dynamics, and stakes.
How I'd Have Written ANDOR - abridged (spoiler free)
This is going to be an abridged "How I'd" have written it on a technical level—not what I'd do as a fan (I'll save that for another post over for my NerdyPete.net substack).
First, I'd keep the lead character's search for his sister at the forefront of the story. He needs someone active to care about--just as much as the audience does. His search for her should lead him eventually to the Rebellion--or at least a Rebel cell--a group that will eventually merge with another group and then eventually will help form the Rebel Alliance.
Second, I'd have him forge relationships with well developed characters who are fun, snarky, jerks, brilliant, obtuse, all kinds of different people (of all genders and species) who become his friends because that's how life works. All or most of them should have some talent or skill that can help him as someone trying to monkey-wrench the Empire. These are characters that he and the audience would come to care about and love. They'll all die, of course, but that's why the guy we meet in ROGUE ONE is such a tortured downer of a guy when we meet him in that film.
The structure of the show I'd have written would have been similar to the ANDOR we got but faster. I'd do a "let's hurt the Empire" caper every episode instead the caper that builds for three episodes as the ANDOR we got generally does. The A plot for each episode would be the caper, the B plot would be about character relationships, and I'd make sure that the C plot would always be about the clues that lead to the sister. Every three episodes, or so, there would be a sister-centric episode that would turn the sister-search into an A plot, caper storyline. Each of these capers draws them closer and closer to other cells and the sister.
The final arc of the series would be a massive caper that ties several Rebel cells together, including the one with his sister and should end with the formation of an Alliance that we see in ROGUE ONE.
At the End of the Day
No show is going to be perfect and I, of all people, know that in this vast franchise there is plenty to love and loathe in it. I'm all for a good natured debate, but ultimately, for me it's really down to "is it a good story or not?"
Is ANDOR, as it is, entertaining? Sure! But, I think if it had better character dynamics and more at stake for the lead and the characters he (and we should) care about, you have to admit that it would have been better.
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