With the first season of Andor wrapping up, the show has been a massive success, being critically acclaimed and telling a truly fantastic Star Wars story.
But one of the aspects of the series that has garnered some discussion in recent weeks is the ratings. Let’s acknowledge up front that ratings for a streaming series like this can be notoriously hard to judge and keep track of, so that’s why I’m not mentioning all of the data in this article. Instead, I’m simply going to mention that, no matter what the metrics are, it seems that Andor is performing fine, but well below the levels of other Star Wars shows on Disney+ (and some of the other streaming shows across other platforms).
In typical fashion, this has led to a great many takes on it. Some have blamed the other Star Wars shows for turning audiences off to the franchise. Some have blamed the Star Wars fans who can’t seem to recognize a good thing when they see it. Some have blamed Disney either for the timing of the series or the promotion of it. In short, there’s always someone to blame.
In reality, I think there’s a far simpler explanation: nobody should be surprised by this reality, and it’s a necessary thing for the future of Star Wars in the long run.
Of course, only time will tell whether that last part is right or not. But I do think that we can address the first part rather definitively here and think about the series in comparison to others. Because think about what the other Disney+ shows have done, and how they compare to Andor.
The first one was The Mandalorian, which had three key things going for it right from the start. (1) First, it released the same day as Disney+ launched, and it was the flagship release for the entire Walt Disney Company with the streaming service. (2) Second, it was the first ever live-action Star Wars show. There were ways in which it marked one of the most significant projects in franchise history, perhaps somewhat analogous to the return of the films in 2015 with The Force Awakens (which is one of the highest-grossing movies of all-time). (3) And third, the very first episode introduced “baby Yoda,” who became a worldwide star almost overnight. He became among the most marketable and beloved Star Wars characters of all time, with widespread cultural appeal. He was introduced in the first episode.
Then consider the second live-action series, The Book of Boba Fett. That came after two seasons of The Mandalorian, which had by that point become a fan favorite and a widely praised series. And, again, it had a few key things going for it. (1) First of all, it served as a sort of direct continuation of The Mandalorian, and anyone who watched that series was introduced to this new one. Boba Fett showed up in the second season of The Mandalorian, and the finale featured a surprise post-credits scene announcing the new show. (2) But second, and more generally, it featured a well-known Star Wars character in Boba Fett (not to mention other familiar characters showing up as the series went on). Introduced in 1980, Fett has continually been ranked among the fan favorite characters in the franchise, despite audiences knowing little about him. A series focused on him was sure to draw interest.
And then there was Obi-Wan Kenobi, which probably speaks for itself when it comes to hype and interest. It could be argued that no series in the Disney+ era has been met with the same level of anticipation as this one, which brought back Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen in the iconic roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Kenobi has been ranked as the most favorite character of Star Wars fans quite repeatedly, and Vader is cinema’s most recognizable and iconic villain. A story of their rematch after the prequel trilogy, with the same actors who played them in those films? It’s not hard to see why that would have appeal.
Now let’s consider Andor. It’s main character is Cassian Andor, who was the co-lead of a spinoff film, Rogue One. That film was quite successful and very well-regarded, but it didn’t exactly launch Cassian into being a household name or one of the fanbase’s favorites. The other familiar characters in the series, like Mon Mothma and Saw Gerrera, are known to Star Wars fans but not exactly the level of iconic (though this series could help change that for Mothma). This series has nowhere near the same level of appeal to widespread audiences as any of the Disney+ live-action Star Wars shows so far. And I don’t think it’s particularly close, either. That’s not a criticism of this series, but I think people are foolish if they don’t acknowledge it as reality.
Furthermore, the structure of the series is something totally different too. It is the least action-focused and most dialogue-driven of anything we’ve seen from the franchise, such that it might be harder for people to jump into in the first episode or two and continue on with. It also means that there will be less of the “thrilling” moments that get posted to YouTube and attract wider audiences. Nothing like Luke Skywalker’s arrival in The Mandalorian or Obi-Wan Kenobi’s rematch with Darth Vader, for instance. Again, I’m not saying this series needs those things; but I am saying that to automatically expect Star Wars fans to embrace a series that uses action sparingly, when the whole franchise has been built on it for decades, is a big ask.
Because of all this, when I see stories or takes about Andor’s ratings, I find myself thinking, “… and? Did you expect different?” But it seems that people do. It seems that those who think the series is great (which I do) automatically expect the show’s greatness to attract audiences, but I think that’s a much slower process. When season two rolls around, and more people have had a chance to watch season one, then I think we’ll be able to better judge that. But the quality of a show and the widespread appeal of a show are not the same, at least not right away.
Yet despite all of this, Disney and Lucasfilm simply need to keep their current course and weather some “smaller” ratings for Andor (and small for Star Wars is still large for most other things) and keep going. Because the franchise does need to evolve and grow, not beyond things like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi entirely, but to add other genres and styles in addition to it. But the only way to really do that is to start by curating an audience for it, one that will hopefully continue to grow the more people check it out. And there’s no better way to start than with Andor, which is superbly well-written and features stellar performances. It’s the show that actually can capture the feel of Star Wars and be packed with tension and excitement despite offering something different. Not everything is able to do that. But this is.
So I’m hoping that Lucasfilm doesn’t change course, like they somewhat did after The Last Jedi, but instead this time keeps going in different branches of Star Wars. The franchise needs it. And if you expect it to have the same kind of widespread appeal as some of these other projects, right away, you’re just setting up for disappointment.
Andor is a glowing success. Lucasfilm has a series to be seriously proud of. And I trust that over time, that will be more and more apparent to audiences too.