For decades, the most relevant question Star wars thought to ask was usually a variation of “Who’s your father?” For Luke Skywalker, it was Darth Vader, the source of the young Jedi’s longings and fears. For Vader himself – when he was still the Anakin Skywalker of the prequel films – it was nobody; he was immaculately conceived through the Force, the source of his hubris. For Rey in the sequel trilogy, it was (unfortunately) a Palpatine. The fatherhood trend has charted an infamous course through several others Star wars chapters, including recent posts such as The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is then a strange kind of irony that the father of Star wars itself sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012, making Disney the home of—and, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, the father of—all futures Star wars stories. The IP game was on.
It is the game where the prequel movie Rogue one landed when it was released in 2016 and where its prequel series Andor still located today. Now more than ever Star wars franchise loves to milk its own nostalgia, often with the through line of descent. Disney stock demands it Star wars keep cutting out content that gobbles up fans and their money, and the simplest way to do that is by renovating familiar stories and characters with a new coat of paint. Andrew, finally reminded us of what fanfiction writers have always known to be true. Projects born of powerful intellectual property rights need not be hampered by it.
What does Andor such a fascinating post in the Disney chapter of Star wars The story is this: The Tony Gilroy-led series is does not a piece of nostalgia, even if it leverages pre-existing IP. The show launched with relatively low ratings and runs on a relatively modest budget. It has a predetermined number of episodes ahead and will last no longer than two seasons. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a beloved but not widely recognized figure in the Lucas universe. He is not a Skywalker; he’s not even Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is a normal man, and – oddly enough – an orphan. Like Rey before her Palpatine bloodline became clear, Cassian has no father. (His father character, Clem, is long dead.) The most dominant, instructive presence in his life isn’t a former parent, or the Force, or a genealogy he hasn’t yet reckoned with. It is the empire itself.
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Andor acknowledges it Star wars has always been political, even when its politics were too nice: Empire Bad. Rebellion Good. So the series opens up about the superficiality of this binary and exposes the moral sacrifices everybody do in the aftermath of the revolution. The hero is no longer swept along by the tide of rebellion as part of his own self-actualization. The family can no longer do the work for him. Although Cassian Andor discovers things about himself and his family, he does so in overtly political positions: as a child whose world is destroyed by imperial overconsumption. As a renegade profiled by tough guards. In the violence of prison slave labor. His decisions have consequences far beyond his immediate friends and family, and we get to see them. As Stellan Skarsgård’s rebel leader Luthen Rael says in one of the late ones Andor episodes, “I am cursed for what I do. I longed to be a savior against injustice without considering the cost…I burn my decency for someone else’s future.”
Andor‘s lesson is that the hero’s legacy and their lineage are not theirs alone. The Skywalker saga is like that small in relation to the freedom of the entire galaxy. Also Andor‘s excellent finale episode, “Rix Road,” opens with the appropriately gut-wrenching image: A kid building a bomb. (Another data point in the paternity flow chart: This child has been radicalized because he lost his father to the Empire.)
The child’s name is Wilmon Paak, and he is preparing for a war that he knows was coming years ago. The Imperial Security Bureau closes in on Ferrix, Cassian Andor’s homeworld, as the locals gather for the funeral of Cassian’s adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw). But the Imperials are far from the only ones after Cass’s head: Vel (Faye Marsay), Cinta (Varada Sethu) and rebel leader Luthen Rael are all eager to see the thief buried to ensure that what he knows about their mission never falls into the itchy hands of empire.
There was never any doubt that Cassian – a fugitive again, after his daring prison escape in episode 10 – would return to Ferrix for the finale, yet he’s arrived not just to honor Maarva’s memory, but to save his ex-girlfriend Bix Caleen (Adria). Arjona). The Salyard operator has been captured by the Empire and their screaming child torture machine for far too long now, and by the time Cassian transports her to safety, she’s barely conscious.
Meanwhile, on Coruscant, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) faces equally significant battles. The Empire has taken an interest in her family fortune, which is problematic since she is secretly pouring money into the rebellion. To throw the Imperials off her scent, she hatches a brilliant, desperate plan: During a trip through Coruscant’s sparkling airways, she accuses her husband, Perrin (Alastair Mackenzie), of starting gambling again. Mon suspects that her new driver is an Imperial spy, and she is correct in assuming that he is eavesdropping on her private conversations. So she uses Perrin’s general ineptitude against him and successfully convinces the Empire that her debt is thanks to a lying spouse, not a budding coup.
But that doesn’t completely solve her money problems. Still needing to pay off her debts, her best option is crooked Chandrilan banker Davo Sculdun (Richard Dillane), who agrees to facilitate if Mon is willing to introduce his own 13-year-old daughter to his 14-year-old son . (Chandrilan tradition encourages child marriage; Mon married Perrin herself at age 15. Introducing Leida to Sculdun’s son is as good as guaranteeing their engagement, especially given Leida’s recent signs of indoctrination in previous episodes.) It is a terrible victim, one of many throughout Andor‘s morally nuanced first season.
Others feel that the rebellion is squeezing them too. Well, Mon’s cousin, can barely get Cinta to look at her long enough to remember that they are in love. And Cassian himself brushes off regrets, convinced he should never have left Maarva alone on Ferrix. His friend, Brasso (Joplin Sibtain), reminds him that he “knows all he needs to know and feels all he needs to feel.” The rebellion is no longer his private struggle; now it’s in his blood. His old Aldhani friend, Nemik (Alex Lawther), stokes these fires with a pre-recorded manifesto: “Even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward,” he dictates. “The imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. Authority is crazy.”
These movements finally converge during Maarva’s funeral, which begins early thanks to some premature anvil clanging by the town bell ringer. More mourners than the Empire allowed gather in the streets, and it soon becomes apparent that ISB officer Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and her men have only superficial control over the gathering. (I smell one metaphor?) The parade progresses along Rix Road, and B2-EMO reveals a holo-cast of Maarva in the days leading up to her death. She addresses the audience of friends and family with a warning and a call to arms. “There’s a wound that won’t heal at the center of the galaxy,” she tells them. “We let it grow, and now it’s here. It’s here, and it’s not visiting anymore. It wants to stay.” She finishes her rousing speech as Cassian and the Imperials dodge each other. “Fight the Empire!”
In the center of Rix Road, all hell breaks loose. Wilmon Paak drops his bomb as former ISB employee Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) sprints to save Dedra. The street erupts in dust and shrapnel. Stormtroopers unleash fire. People die, and Andor let’s see it. As Cassian drags Bix to safety, Syril does the same for Dedra, who can’t seem to grasp what her eyes are telling her: That her former stalker has saved her from a Ferrix mob. Cassian drags his friends to the shipyard, where Bix, Brasso, Wilmon, B2-EMO and Co. escape from Ferrix to Gangi Moon. Cassian doesn’t go with them, much to Bee’s whiny annoyance.
Instead, he finds Luthen Rael’s ship and intercepts Luthen as the Rebel prepares to evade Imperial capture once more. There, Cassian gives his former recruiter a simple choice: kill him or enlist him in the case. This time for real. No strings attached. No way back. All together now. Luthen’s smile tells the audience all we need to know.
And that’s still not the end of the episode. The credits roll, and Star wars takes a page from Marvel (another Disney entity) in the form of a post-credits scene. In this seconds-long epilogue, a pair of sparkling droid hands appear and the camera pans back to reveal several robots dragging the strange gear-like pieces of metal Cassian and his fellow prisoners gather in the Narkina 5 prison. As it turns out, these gears are parts for a weapon of mass destruction. Cassian and his fellow prisoners were, unknown to them, building the Death Star.
Could there be a more ideal ending to Andorfirst season? It is twisted; it is obscene. It makes perfect sense. That Cassian and his crew would be working on behalf of the space station he would soon die trying to destroy is so fitting it’s almost musical. And that says a lot about the direction Gilroy has tried to turn Star wars universe mod: The IP will only survive if its chapters evolve beyond—and maybe even eclipse– their predecessors. And the best way to develop IP is to interrogate it. How did this happen? Who built this system? Who won, who suffered? We already know that the Empire is evil and the Rebellion is good, but how did they come to be seen that way? Why? Nostalgia can be a source of inspiration if it doesn’t first become a trap.
Star wars is still only about its sacred IP, its characters’ lineage. It’s still about fatherhood, today’s responsibilities to and effect he the future. But Andor proved that our understanding of what that means can and should change. Cassian Andor isn’t necessarily a more interesting hero than Luke Skywalker, Anakin or Rey. He is another face on the same die. But Andor thought to ask him another question: Not “Who is your father?” but “Why does it matter?”
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, television, books and fashion.