This article contains spoilers about the season finale of Andor.
In one corner of the Star Wars galaxy, you’ve got the eeeeevil Sith Lord, Emperor Sheev Palpatine, crackling with Force-lighting as he fries Jedi Master Mace Windu to a crisp, screaming “POWAH! UNLIMITED POWAAAAAH!”
And over in another corner — the much grubbier and lower-profile one depicted on season one of Disney+’s Andor — you’ve got the bootlicking, low-level, fascist toady Syril Karn, standing at attention while he nervously answers his supervisor’s question about whether he’s modified his uniform.
“Perhaps slightly,” he says. “Pockets, piping. Some light tailoring.”
Several years separate those two events, and they exist on different order of magnitude. The Emperor and all his cackling and crackling belong to the mythic, the macro Star Wars — the Joseph-Campbell-hero’s-quest of George Lucas’ original vision, which combined sprawling space-opera with the high adventure of Saturday movie serials — narrow escapes, thrilling stunts and hiss-worthy villains.
But over on Andor, you’ve got villains like Syril Karn. They’re not exactly hiss-worthy, these pathetic, feckless strivers. Their constant angling for recognition and advancement, to say nothing of their obsession with the aesthetics of fascism (Piping! Light tailoring!), makes them more eyeroll-worthy.
Which is exactly why Andor works as freshly, singularly and powerfully as it does.
Force with a lowercase “f”
Karn and his colleagues are dedicated to the cause of fascist oppression (which they’re careful to refer to only as “order”) with a zeal that isn’t remotely macro. It isn’t mythic, religious or even passionate. Instead, they’re driven by institutional imperatives that scour their souls free of empathy, compassion and understanding, and reward them for ruthlessness, cruelty and — above all — efficiency.
Who’s the showrunner here, Hannah Arendt? Because as we watched season one of Andor play out in a series of mini-arcs across its 12 episodes, we saw the inner workings of the Empire. It’s The Banality of Evil: The Series.
The Star Wars films showed us an Empire that was Evil because it destroyed planets and chased down our doughty heroes. Sure, there were always gray-uniformed Space Nazis milling around in the background, and the few who got speaking roles — Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, for example — were possessed of the cold cunning of a Saturday serial villain, to contrast with the implacable menace of Vader and the over-the-top mustache-twirling of the Emperor. They were all of a piece, larger than life.
But the fascistic functionaries of Andor — Syril Karn, Dedra Mero, Major Partagaz, Lieutenant Supervisor Blevins, and others — are cogs. Willing, dedicated cogs who relish the machine they’re a part of, even if they each believe they could be of more use somewhere else in it.
There is The Force, and there is force — blunt, brutal and dehumanizing. In Andor, again and again, we watched the latter variety exert its dispassionate influence, not on entire planets, but on individual lives. The public display of Andor’s father’s corpse. Andor’s arrest, and six-year-no-but-really-forever sentence for loitering. The exploitive, endless labor of Narkina 5. The appallingly chipper, matter-of-fact torture of Bix. The cumulative result was wrenching and personal and inevitably, eerily, relevant.
As was the season’s portrait of resistance.
Andor walked so Luke could Skywalk
The Star Wars films argue that a galaxy can be saved from tyranny by a handful of heroes — and, yes, a succession of easily exploited design flaws in space stations.
Andor showed the growing discontent and anger that gives rise to heroes. In many different ways, for their own individual reasons, the characters of Andor decide to rise up and fight, because totalitarianism is an unnatural state; it breeds resistance.
“The more you tighten your grip,” Princess Leia told Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope, “the more star systems are going to slip through your fingers.”
On Andor, we watch as that grip tightens around places like Ferrix and Aldhani and Narkina 5 and Coruscant. We watch people we care about get crushed. But we also watch others slip through. Yes, lives get lost, and compromises get made — that’s what Luthen’s monologue in episode 10 is all about, the harrowing loneliness of the freedom fighter.
But Andor shows us that the Empire’s downfall is and always was inevitable, Skywalker or no Skywalker. It’s baked in, the inescapable result of the system’s utter disregard for the humanity of the people it seeks to exploit and control.
Anakin was right about sand
Let’s be real, though.
There’s another reason, besides the satisfying clarity of its focus on the individual, that Andor’s first season set itself apart. Back in 1977, on his aunt and uncle’s Tatooine moisture farm, we all watched Luke Skywalker inform C-3PO, “If there’s a bright center of the universe, you’re on the planet it’s farthest from.”
This turned out to be a lie. For several reasons — most especially the unhealthy infatuation with nostalgia/fan service that continues to dog the franchise — the Star Wars powers-that-be keep booking us passage back to that same, damn featureless sand-planet. Even the otherwise excellent The Mandalorian, which mostly traffics in the same interplanetary ground-level action Andor does, couldn’t resist the siren song of Tatooine’s Krayt dragons and Tusken Raiders. (And despite a first season that managed to step out of the shadow of what had gone before, the gravitational pull of Jedi temples and lightsabers also proved too strong for The Mandalorian to escape.)
Looking forward to the second and final season of Andor, we know a few things. Mon Mothma is gonna get exposed and go on the run (look for her daughter to betray her). Cassian has to meet K-2SO. Karn and Mero’s wildly dysfunctional, jackbooted folie-a-deux will maybe see them a-deuxing each other. (Personally, Karn’s infatuation with Mero seems more wrapped up with his demented obsession with authority than anything purely sexual; see above, in re: “Pockets. Piping. Some light tailoring.”)
And at least some of our favorite gray- or white-suited Imperial apparatchiks are gonna end up on the Death Star as it meets its fateful finish.
That much we know. This much we can only hope:
That it all will take place as far away from %##*&! Tatooine as possible.