Why ‘Andor’ is a ‘Star Wars’-shaped political masterwork
Our columnist Hanna Flint pens a love letter to the latest release from the film franchise (and decries the latest Twitter debacle)
Saturday 5 November 2022 By Hanna Flint
If you didn’t realise that Star Wars was political, the clue is in the name. The film franchise was founded on George Lucas’s liberal beliefs against fascism; a Rebel Alliance fights back against the Galactic Empire (whose theme tune is called the ‘Imperial March’) and was inspired not simply by the oppressive Nazi regime of the early 20th century, the Cold War or Ancient Rome, but also the guerilla efforts made during the Vietnam War. In a conversation with James Cameron, he described the rebels as ‘Viet-Cong’ who were fighting ‘the largest empire in the world’ in turn, based on the overreach of the US super-power during the mid-century conflict that wasted the lives of millions. ‘That was the period where [President] Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships?’ Lucas said in a 2005 interview. ‘Because the democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away.’
Say what you want about the prequels, but Lucas was really able to get into the nuances of legislative maneuvering and corruption. Through Episodes I to III, audiences watched Palpatine (read Nixon) cripple the Galactic senate and install himself as the tyrannical Emperor that Luke Skywalker and friends would have to battle against in Episodes IV to 6. Once the Star Wars creator sold Lucasfilm, this sort of explicit political exploration, in the live-action offerings, at least, was softened somewhat to focus on the never-ending Skywalker saga and an overreliance on nostalgia, and cute non-human sidekicks. Now, we have the series Andor to thank for reestablishing Lucas’s political intent.
It shouldn’t be a surprise with Tony Gilroy at the helm. He co-wrote Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which was a remarkable break away from the legacy sequels in favour of a grounded, self-contained plot about securing the Death Star plans. Sure, Darth Vader and Princess Leia showed their faces, but they were cameo appearances to thread the narrative to A New Hope. The film focused entirely on the most diverse group of disparate fighters the franchise has ever put together, who sacrificed their lives in the name of the Rebellion to prevent further supremacist domination via nuclear Armageddon.
In Andor, Gilroy provides the back story for one of those fighters, Cassian Andor, played by Mexican actor Diego Luna, who is introduced as a thief operating out of the industrial planet Fennix. He’s trying to find the sister he was separated from when his home planet was destroyed by Imperial forces after they pillaged its natural resources. Gilroy shows how much capitalism is wrapped up in oppressive regimes through in-world corporations funding the Empire and in turn allowing their own security forces to control the local working-class communities where they might have complexes.
Andor is forced to go on the run from corporate cops after killing two of their men in self-defence and is reluctantly recruited as a mercenary to steal from the Empire by the Rebellion. Later, he’s given a six-year sentence for a trumped-up charge of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and forced into a prison labour facility to support the manufacture of Empire machinery. Meanwhile, the Empire’s spy network is abusing power and using torturous tactics to keep the galaxy in a perpetual state of fear.
This is a series that charts the path of an apathetic outsider to a Rebel martyr; it is anti-cop, anti-fascist, anti-corporation and feels more in touch with the current social, political and moral crises than most shows on television. Art should reflect the world and science fiction has always been a mirror to the current affairs and struggles we navigate. Andor is making Star Wars political again and it couldn’t be a better time for it.
Who am I?
Twitter has announced plans to charge users for having a verified status. Soon, anyone can get a blue tick if they are willing to pay $8 a month for the privilege.
In my humble opinion, the notion that having to pay a fee will somehow democratise the verification process is nonsensical, given that it was initiated as a way to authenticate public figures and media sources from being impersonated or being held accountable for the news they disseminate.
As a journalist and former editor for a news outlet, I was given a blue tick five years ago, but will not be paying to keep it. Of course I won’t. I’m on Twitter too much already and this whole situation has come at a time when I’m trying to be less online.
I wonder what I’ll feel like when it’s removed – will I break into song, like I’m Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, asking ‘who am I?’ More likely, I’ll just carry on with my life and see if freedom of speech is improved if accounts like @HF24601 get verified instead.