It’s hard to understate how shocked and happy I am that Andor exists. I have been banging a drum for years that Disney has been putting out programming that often appropriates the aesthetic of social change and revolution while advancing pretty regressive narratives (see my take on Black Panther and She-Hulk as examples).
Yet with Andor, we have a show that is saying something explicit about the need for direct action in fighting fascism without pulling any punches. It is an earnest text that covers a lot of ground, and like every commenter with half a brain, the fact that the Disney corporation greenlit it is shocking to me. We get a show that depicts fascism as it actually is, and that is sadly too rare in pop culture.
A break from the past
There is a tendency in media, and especially in the galaxy far, far away, to depict fascism as this almost supernatural force perpetuated by one or two bad actors. On the silver screen, the Empire emerges in Star Wars because of the machinations of Darth Sidious, not because the xenophobia of the core worlds reached such a fever pitch that the people there were ready to accept any strongmen who affirmed their biases. Hitler and Stalin weren’t geniuses after all, but in Star Wars, that messy history is mostly glossed over for an evil Chessmaster who bends the galaxy to his will. As I write in ‘Star Wars’ Made Us Unprepared For Fascism:
“Much of our media has made people think they understand fascism when really they are more familiar with a caricature of fascism: that of an all-knowing, evil Chessmaster who manipulates people into doing things they don’t really want to do from behind the scenes. This type of story-telling does not seek to challenge the viewer’s complicity in that evil, which is why so many people can comfortably wrap themselves in Storm Trooper or Thanos paraphernalia without ever feeling awkward.”
Andor takes every major complaint I have historically had about the Star Wars series and addresses them head-on. It depicts fascism not as the actions of one or two evil Chessmasters but as a banal system uplifted by government and corporate bureaucrats falling over themselves to be cogs within it. My favorite character, supervisor Dedra Meero, spends much of her time in government office meetings trying to one-up her colleagues. It’s chilling how casually her peers mention being happy over things like increasing incarceration rates.
Banal fascism is everywhere in this series. You see it in the ecumenopolis Coruscant, where Senator and secret rebel Mon Mothma is constantly being watched by all the forces in her life (she can’t even trust her driver). You see it in the sterile orderliness of all the Imperial architecture. Life under the Empire is hell, an unending grind that does not need the presence of Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader to underscore its evil.
The casualness is the worst part. There is a scene early on where an imperial officer stationed in a world called Aldhani monologues on how the Empire has conducted a campaign of cultural genocide against the natives. As he says menacingly of the Dhani people:
“They breed a sad combination of traits that make them particularly vulnerable to manipulation. On a practical level, they have a great deal of trouble holding multiple ideas simultaneously. We’ve found the best way to steer them as we’d like is to offer alternatives. You put a number of options on the table, and they’re so wrapped up in choosing they’ve failed to notice you’ve given them nothing they thought they wanted at the start. Their deeper problem is pride. The Dhanis would rather lose, they rather suffer than accept. Which is wildly ironic as they’ve choked down everything we’ve thrown at them these last twelve years.”
He goes on to explain how the Empire used social engineering to push the Dhanis out of the highlands into industrial zones to perform cheap labor. All while killing off their religious practices in the name of “progress.” It is a banal evil that requires no superweapon to pull off and is chilling for just how common it has been employed by Empires such as ours throughout history (see the cultural genocide of many American Indian tribes as an example).
Being a rebel
From beginning to end, Andor explores what it takes to resist this system and be a rebel (YouTuber Just Write does a great job breaking down this point here). The protagonist and show namesake, Cassian Andor, starts as a disillusioned thief begrudgingly thrust into rebel activities by outside forces. A shakedown gone wrong leads to him contracting for a dangerous rebel mission on Aldhani so he can get a load of money to essentially [email protected] off.
Others try to radicalize him. The rebel spymaster Luthen Rael sees his potential from the get-go. The young idealist Karis Nemik passionately tries to give Andor the philosophy for why anti-fascist direct action is so necessary, but initially, none of these teachings stick. Andor is too invested in the current system and the idea that he can secure individual safety for himself and his family.
In this way, Andor falls into a long tradition of the “disgruntled mercenary with a heart of gold” trope, who eventually joins rebel forces after an arc of resisting them. You can think of Cloud from Final Fantasy, hired by the eco-terrorist group Avalanche to stop an evil corporation from killing the planet. Another example is, you know, Han Solo from the original Star Wars film, who comes back at the last minute to help blow up the Death Star.
What makes this narrative a little different from those examples is that Andor makes the fight against fascism more than a character’s individual moral choice to be a rebel or villain. Wherein Han Solo returns at the last minute of his own volition in A New Hope, Andor parts ways after his mission on Aldhani. He [email protected] off to a vacation world to try to live out the remainder of his days, not thinking about the Empire. Yet remember, this show is about how fascism is a system, so this plan doesn’t work. The Empire is on this vacation world too, and Andor gets arrested and sent to prison for what are essentially [email protected]#t charges.
The prison Andor ends up in is a nightmare designed out of a Goebbels fever dream. It is a work camp where prisoners endlessly produce widgets for the imperial war machine while nameless guards shuffle them to various places, often out of sight. There are no weapons, with the guards instead employing electromagnetic waves to pacify all the prisoners, the latter of which must be barefoot at all times for this system to work. This prison is the end stage of this fascist system: the ultimate panopticon where the idea of being watched is enough to push most people into compliance.
Yet it’s this complete crushing of hope that is the final straw for Andor. Where other people had tried to unsuccessfully radicalize him, having his agency taken away becomes the ultimate motivator. In prison, he becomes the radical one, pushing his mirror, Kino Loy, a man who wants to keep his head down until his sentence is over, to rebel against the prison instead. When they learn that the Empire has no intention of letting anyone go, this revelation lights the fire for a prison escape. Andor and Loy organize to do this not because success is particularly likely (Loy coldly says that he is operating under the assumption that he is already dead) but because anything is better than the hopeless system they find themselves in.
They would rather be dead than continue to live under fascism, which says something profound about how much humans are willing to endure and how much they are ready to sacrifice when the proverbial shit eventually hits the fan.
One of the central themes of this show is that as a rebel, you are fighting for a world you will likely not live to see. Something that we know will be true for Andor because he dies at the end of Rogue One, never to see the birth of the Republic he fought so hard to build. As rebel Luthen Rael says: “I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost, and by the time I looked down, there was no longer any ground beneath my feet….I burned my decency for someone else’s future. I burned my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see.”
The fact that this message is being advanced in the heart of the American Empire is startling to me. I think the distance of the galaxy far, far away allows the creatives on this project to be more direct about what to do in the face of fascism, then say, projects like the Black Panther series (see my review of that here).
Yet what this series is saying applies to our world too. We currently exist on a planet where Empires like the US, Russia, and France treat countries on the periphery just as cruelly as Aldhani or Ferrix. The US was founded on a cultural genocide that has not completely ended, and we also use these tactics elsewhere. Try looking at Yemen or the history of Latin America if you are curious. If we were to take the lessons of Andor seriously, what does that say for how we should handle the empires in the here and now?
That’s a difficult message to process because Luthen is right. As a rebel, you often don’t get to live to see the fruits of your labor, but regardless of whether you keep your head down or try to escape, you can’t run from fascism. The only thing you can do is fight.
About the Creator
I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.