Friday, December 9

Andor Expertly Balances Storytelling With Star Wars Fan Service

A poster shows Andor's characters, including Mon Mothma, Luthen and Andor himself.

Image: Lucasfilm / Disney

As you may know, I’m a big ol’ Star Wars nerd. And one of my favorite things in Star Wars media is all the tiny references and Easter eggs embedded everywhere. But sometimes this fan service goes overboard and derails a story in a way that alienates or bores non-fans. Andor, the newest TV show set in the Star Wars universe, not only avoids this problem, but also finds perfect ways to utilize nerdy Star Wars lore without making it tedious or annoying for folks just wanting to watch a good show.

Andor, which premiered in late September on Disney+, is the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise and is set before the events of the original Star Wars film and the movie Rogue One. It follows the life of Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, as he navigates a galaxy controlled by the evil Empire. He’s not yet the rebel we know from Rogue One, but over the course of this season and presumably the next season, he will evolve into the man we met in that popular spin-off.

Disney / Lucasfilm

People across my timeline have been loving Andor. Even people who’d previously sworn off Star Wars entirely are back and enjoying every minute of the series. Many of them happily point out how the show isn’t a giant excuse to do fan service every week. But funnily enough, Andor has some of the coolest and most interesting bits of deep-cut Star Wars lore out of anything Star Wars-related in years; it’s just handled so well that most folks miss it all.

A great example comes in how the show handles Cassian’s home planet. In the first episode of the show, we learn that Cassian was born and raised on the planet Kenari. It’s newly created for Andor, which allowed showrunner Tony Gilroy more freedom to do whatever he needed with it and its people. But, technically, we already knew of Cassian’s home planet, and it wasn’t Kenari. Back when Rogue One came out, Lucasfilm released various book tie-ins. One reference tome listed Andor’s home world as Fest, an old Star Wars planet that first appeared in the game Dark Forces. So, at first, I thought the show had simply retconned that origin away. I wasn’t too annoyed by this, as I always prefer when Star Wars media focus on story over lore.

But then, in Andor episode two, we learn that Fest was a lie that Cassian and his adoptive mother told everyone to hide the truth of where he was really from, Kenari. For most viewers, that scene wasn’t that big of a deal: Cassian lied because he was trying to hide where he came from, got it. But for Star Wars nerds like me, it was a fantastic way to retcon something using Star Wars lore while still honoring a reference book from years ago. And it didn’t interfere with the show at all, allowing normal, non-Star Wars sickos to enjoy the show without rolling their eyes at some forced bit of fan service.

Lucasfilm / Star Wars Explained

Andor is filled with Star Wars lore and connections like this that it sneakily deploys in ways that make sense for general audiences, but which have deeper, interesting connections to the franchise’s decades of prior material. And unlike the last Star Wars show, the fun (but not nearly as good) Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor doesn’t get tangled up in fan service that distracts from the actual story and characters. The refs are there to find in Andor, if you care, but it’s totally fine if you just want to enjoy the thrilling ride instead.

For example, Mon Mothma’s daughter, Lieda, isn’t a brand-new character, but instead a very deep-cut one who barely existed in the old Star Wars Extended Universe. So her popping up in the show not only brought her into canon, but was a very fun bit of fan service that didn’t stick out to most viewers.

Similarly, the kyber crystal Luthen Rael gives Cassian as payment for helping with a heist has its own subtle connection to old Star Wars lore. Sure, many viewers probably know vaguely that a kyber crystal powers lightsabers. And many also probably recalled that we previously saw Rogue One heroine Jyn Erso wearing a similar necklace. But while folks were looking at the crystal and going, “Oh that’s a thing I kind of know about…” Luthen drops one of the coolest bits of lore in the show, explaining that the crystal “celebrates the uprising against the Rakatan invaders.” That might have set off alarm bells in the heads of any fans who played Knights of the Old Republic.

A screenshot of a comic book showing a Rakatan alien warrior screaming in space.

That’s because the Rakatans were created for that game. They were an ancient race of super-powerful aliens who possibly invented hyperdrive and at one point controlled the galaxy as part of their Infinite Empire. Technically, they’ve been mentioned in canon before, but this is really the first big re-introduction of the species. Pondering how they could work into future Star Wars stories set far in the past has me very excited.

Speaking of video game references, in Luthen’s shop—which is chockablock with fun Easter eggs that could fill a whole separate blog—we see what appears to be a suit of Sith Stalker armor as first seen in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. That game and its main character, Starkiller, are no longer canon, and this armor popping up in Andor doesn’t change that. But it could hint that perhaps one day parts of Force Unleashed will be reintroduced into the modern Star Wars universe. I mean, if Jaxxon is canon these days, anything can happen.

Read More: Lego Star Wars Is The Antidote To Years of Toxic Fan Culture

But all of these deep-cut references and bits of fan service were likely never spotted by 90% of people watching Andor, even though some of them directly connect to the plot or the show’s characters. That’s an impressive feat to pull off, and based on interviews with the show’s creator, Tony Gilroy, a lot of this was included by Lucasfilm nerds and not himself. He recently told Variety that he works closely with lore experts like Pablo Hidalgo to make sure he’s not doing anything that breaks the Star Wars universe. But for him, his real focus is on Andor’s story and its characters, not references to manuals or old video games.

“The art department will sneak in all that crap into Luthen’s gallery,” Gilroy told Variety. “I had no idea. Like, ‘Oh my God, the thing in the background!’ and people are blowing it up. That’s the art department. So many cool people work on the show. There’s a deep geekdom in Pinewood, believe me.”

That’s how it should be. If Disney wants to continue to create amazing Star Wars productions like Andor, it should bring in more creators and directors like Gilroy. People who, sure, might not be the biggest Star Wars fans in the world, but who have interesting stories to tell. Let those people create cool stuff while the nerds at Lucasfilm fill in the gaps with fan service that weirdos like me can get excited about, while never ruining the show for everyone else.

I admit, this is a hard balance to strike, and I don’t expect all future Star Wars projects to be like Andor. In fact, I would prefer a world where we get both shows like Andor, which are for everyone, and shows like Tales of the Jedi, which are good but clearly target Star Wars nerds like me. Star Wars can’t grow if it only focuses on its big fans, and Andor shows that when you expand the franchise and do something different, you not only end up pleasing longtime Star Wars nerds like me, but also reach a whole new audience that might never have cared about Star Wars in the first place. Plus, Andor is just really entertaining, so more shows like this sounds like a good thing to me.



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