Let’s just get this out of the way at the start: the laziest form of online discourse when a new Star Wars show comes out is to use it to bash previous Star Wars storytelling. As if there’s only a limited number of stories that are allowed to be enjoyed, and as if the only way to enjoy this one is to criticise the prior ones.
So I want to make it clear that I hope to stay clear from that in this article. In comparing Andor to what came before, I am not criticizing prior Star Wars stories, but simply explaining an aspect of this series that I think has added to our understanding of the entire galaxy, the entire saga, and the entire collection of Star Wars stories in a unique way.
Andor is, in my opinion, the scariest the Empire has ever been. It portrays them as a real threat, and in doing so it gives context to the rest of the saga, and in particular the original trilogy.
The Empire in the original trilogy is portrayed as the epitome of evil, led by the mysterious Emperor Palpatine. Sure, most of the Imperials were quite incompetent, but between their sheer might and their massive battle station that could take out a planet, their rule and danger was made clear. But on the other side of it was the Rebellion, and by our introduction in A New Hope this band of rebels is a team, working together to stand and fight.
There was a time before that rebellion was formal and unified, however, and what then? What is one to do when the Empire’s grip is all around, and there’s no rebellion to call on?
This series is allowing us to see that part of it. We see Mon Mothma surrounded by Imperials, recognizing the danger of telling anyone about her plan because spies are everywhere. These stakes are raised. In a way it’s galaxy-altering stakes, sure, but they’re more personal than that. It’s not about whether a Death Star blows up a planet; it’s about whether this individual is caught and killed for treason. And all around her are ISB plants, Imperial sympathizers, and people who can’t be trusted. One misstep – just one – and she’ll lose her life.
Or then you have the fact that there are actually some very competent Imperials, officers like Dedra Meero or Colonel Yularen. We’ve seen them before, particularly in the likes of Grand Admiral Thrawn, but rarely has the Empire actually been portrayed as this smart and capable. Once again, the stakes are raised.
Or then you have a TIE Fighter made to seem terrifying in a way they never have before. On Aldhani, a single TIE flying by the team of rebels is enough to strike fear into the viewer’s heart, allowing us to see the sheer scope of the Empire. If just one ship is this terrifying, well, think about how the Empire has fleets of them.
Or then you have the utter tyranny and oppression of the Empire, which is escalated after the events on Aldhani. The Ghorman people are suffering, but so too is the rest of the galaxy. Clem is executed for trying to break up a fight. Cassian is arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sentenced to six years in prison. And there’s nothing that either of them could do about it. The Empire doesn’t care, doesn’t listen, doesn’t negotiate. They just rule, and what they say goes. The people don’t have a voice. And they are suffering under the fascism of the galactic government.
And behind all of this lurks a presence not seen, yet deeply felt: Palpatine. He’s name-dropped several times in the latest episode, but we haven’t seen him yet (if we will at all). He’s the sinister Emperor, the one who orders all of this to happen, and he sits behind the scenes much like he does in the first two films of the original trilogy, just the name enough to strike fear. Palpatine.
By allowing this show to take its time and be driven more by dialogue than action, Tony Gilroy and his team are actually letting the viewer see the sheer terror of the Empire’s reign. And that helps us better understand the world that some of these characters live in, like Mon Mothma and the rest of the rebellion, throughout the original trilogy. They have seen much, and they have lived – some of them for two decades – under the Empire’s watchful and suspicious eye. Yet they have remained true to the light, not wavering in the fight for good. And they look all the more heroic for it.
Against the bitter backdrop of darkness, as things look more and more grim, the light of the heroes stands out all the more.