The beginning of a revolution

The beginning of a revolution
Image: Lucasfilm

Andor is coming! The next live-action Star Wars series is inching closer to its release, and last week, series star Diego Luna visited Good Morning America to bring along a full trailer for the series, a couple of months after a teaser dropped at Star Wars Celebration.

Teasers usually just show off the vibe of what to expect for a series of movie, to set expectations. The teaser emphasized a driving beat and escalating violence, and this new trailer really hammered home the discontent that the Empire was bringing the galaxy.

Here's the trailer:

First up, here are a couple of the newsworthy bits:

Andor's release date is slipping by a month: from August 31st to September 21st. I don't think this has anything to do with quality or lack of faith in the show on the part of Disney/Lucasfilm, but more to do with the fact that the show isn't going to overlap much with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. That series runs for nine episodes (through October), but I have a feeling that Disney watched what happened between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ms. Marvel.

Obi-Wan was a pretty highly-anticipated show, and we also had the arrival of The Boys and Stranger Things around the same time: that seems to have translated into Ms. Marvel garnering some pretty low viewership numbers over the course of its run. That's not a huge surprise: folks only have a limited number of hours in the day. Andor's also pretty highly anticipated, and I can see Marvel / Disney wanting to avoid a repeat of that. Still, Disney's going to be going up against Amazon's Rings of Power, and we've got The Bad Batch's second season debuting a week later on September 28th — if it holds that release date.

When it does premiere, we'll get three episodes at once. That's not an uncommon practice (Obi-Wan debuted with two), and it feels like a good practice to sink a hook into viewers to keep them coming back week after week. Andor's going to be a long series: season 1 lasts for 12 episodes, more than any other live-action Star Wars series to date.

Forest Whitaker is back! This reminded me of a couple of pieces that I wrote for The Verge about his character, Saw Gerrera. He played a critical role in Rogue One, and again in 2019 when he appeared in the video game Jedi: Fallen Order.

The show's going to be political. More on this in a moment, but speaking to Empire, actress Fiona Shaw says that Tony Gilroy has "written a great, scurrilous [take] on the Trumpian world. Our world is exploding in different places right now, people’s rights are disappearing, and Andor reflects that. [In the show] the Empire is taking over, and it feels like the same thing is happening in reality, too.”

They shot the series practically, rather than relying on Volume. Gilroy made an interesting note that they went "old school" with the show's production. That's caused a bit of a misguided firestorm within Star Wars Twitter as a dig against The Mandalorian. I don't think that was the goal: they just wanted to create an immersive world, which prompted me to go back to watch the Rogue One sizzler reel from Celebration from 2016, which also highlighted the importance of being in the middle of some massive sets.

Volume has been a bit of a secret weapon for The Mandalorian and some other shows: a huge screen that allows the director and crew to project a world (which they can tweak) behind the actors. When it works, it's really spectactular, and it helps cut down on their costs a bit.

But, I think it's wise not to be completely beholden to Volume. The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi sort of showed the limits to what you could do with the technology: just look at some of the action scene where you need more depth. The scooter chase in Book of Boba Fett was particularly painful to watch, for example.

There's been some other updates along the way as well during last week's Television Critics Association panels. Via The Hollywood Reporter:

  • Alan Tudyk's K-2SO won't appear in season one. "We have five years [before the events in Rogue One],” star Diego Luna said. “If he knew K2 back then there would be no journey to go through.”
  • It'll be a two-season series, with the final episode leading "directly into the first scene of Rogue One." I kinda wonder which scene that is: I'm guessing it isn't the opening where Director Krennic comes and takes Galen Erso away, but rather the scene where we meet Cassian on the asteroid trading outpost, The Ring of Kafrene, where he shoots an informant to get away from Imperial stormtroopers.
  • Season one will cover a single year, while season two will bridge four years, jumping forward every couple of episodes.

There's a reason why Rogue One really stands out for me as an entry in the larger Star Wars universe: it brought a new level of depth and moral complexity to the franchise that we'd only glimpsed here and there over the years. Books like Michael A. Stackpole's Rogue Squadron and X-Wing series was a good model for this (getting away from the main heroes to focus on the folks fighting the battles, and the impact that had on them), Karen Traviss's Hard Contact and sequels, not to mention some of the episodes in the Clone Wars series: especially that finale.

What really grabbed me from the onset of the film was Cassian's introduction in the film on the Ring of Kafrene: there's so much embedded story in those short couple of scenes, and they convey so much about his character and the fight that he's been part of. His willingness to ice his informant Tivik (played by Daniel Mays, who I loved in the BBC series Ashes to Ashes) spoke volumes, as did the followup scenes when he's ordered by General Draven to ignore his orders and simply assassinate Galen Erso, rather than extracting him.

I wrote about this in the aforementioned Verge piece about moral complexity, and how Rogue One helped bring that level of depth by creating a story that wasn't just about clear-cut black and white morals.

This feels like something that Lucasfilm has been working at a little over the last couple of years, and it makes sense: we live in complicated times, and I feel like pop culture has reached a point where we can tackle complexity in a way that doesn't alienate an audience: look at stories like Game of Thrones or Battlestar Galactica. With Rogue One, we've seen the same thing follow, and by all accounts, this series is reaching for that same thing. (Whether or not it'll actually hit those heights, we'll have to wait until September to see.)

But there's a neat moment in this trailer that gives me a bit of optimism that we're not going to see more of the same here. In the trailer, we see some characters on what looks like a pretty remote planet as a Star Destroyer flies overhead, before jumping to the next shot, where we've got at least part of the planet strip-mined.

From what I've heard about the series, we'll be seeing some of Cassian's early life, and my guess is that this is something of a motivating factor for him: seeing the Empire destroy his planet to extract its mineral wealth to help with maintain control of the galaxy.

This is the thing with Star Wars as a whole: it's never been all that nuanced. Darth Vader is this big, menacing guy who literally orders the destruction of a planet to make a point. The Empire is brutal and powerful, and doesn't hesitate to use those resources to maintain its control of the galaxy.

Obviously, the times when there is a clear-cut good and evil in the world are pretty few and far between: there are always complications, even in those clear-cut cases. Rogue One did a bit of work to show that the group with the moral high ground wasn't above casual murder or assassinations to achieve their goals, and I'm looking forward to Cassian agonizing and rationalizing this in the next two seasons of the series.

That, I think, is something that I really think that Star Wars needs: that emotional complexity leads to some interesting places, and while the Empire is a pretty hard and fast case of clear-cut evil, it's still interesting in 2022 to explore the stories of where its members aren't straight-up evil, but who have rationalized what they're doing for any number of reasons, whether it's seeing their role that the galaxy isn't falling into chaos, or that they've risen to power because of the (seemingly) illegal actions of the Jedi Order during a devastating Galactic Civil War. These are all stories and lessons that are applicable if you've had a pulse the last couple of years.

It also reminds me a little of another show: Apple's Foundation. The series has its ups and downs, but one of the interesting things that it did to expand on the books was to delve a little more into the galaxy and how it was beginning to fall apart – because of a type of corruption at the head of the galaxy. The central focus of the series is to look at just how devastating an empire can be, and how colonization and exploitation can begin crumbling those foundations upon which the entire system rests.

From the looks of things, Andor will tackle some of those same topics. Hopefully, it'll carry out that story in a way that's new and fresh for the larger franchise.