Brilliant “Andor”: critical success, popular failure


Miles Hayford

“Andor”, a Disney+ original series focused around the origin story of the Rebellion and “Rogue One” star Cassian Andor, has just wrapped up its first season with another on the way. The series follows Cassian Andor as he discovers his purpose, realizes that the Empire needs to be stopped, and focuses around the birth of the Rebellion that is introduced in the original trilogy of Star Wars movies. 

“Andor” has an awesome cast of characters that range from the ambitious Imperial officer Dedra Meero to the mysterious rebel leader Luthen Rael who leads a double life as an aristocrat and insurgent. “Andor” is a fresh take on the Star Wars universe. Its mature tone, wonderful cinematography, and incredible writing has breathed new life into a Star Wars franchise that has faced criticism ever since Disney acquired it from George Lucas in 2012.

The show isn’t afraid to get dark and gritty, proven by the way the Empire is portrayed in an entirely new light. The original Star Wars trilogy directed by George Lucas, always made sure to let the audience know that the Empire were the bad guys. But, they never went above and beyond like “Andor” does to show how cruel the fascist regime is. 

Whether it is the interrogation sequences, the Imperial prison as a dystopian asylum, or the fate of the Empire’s prisoners, “Andor” sets up a dark and mature tone that is a pleasant surprise to a franchise that was initially geared towards children. The series has done what no other Star Wars project has done so effectively: It makes it clear how horrible life under the Empire is and why the Rebels fight. 

The cinematography of the show is brilliant. In addition to incredible camera work and certain shots that pay homage to the show’s inspiration, “Rouge One,” “Andor” looks better than any other Disney+ Star Wars series. Environments in “The Mandalorian,” “Book of Boba Fett,” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” relied heavily on The Volume, an almost 360 degree stage of LED panel screens and a ceiling that creates impressive digital surroundings. This cuts the budget of a show and saves the crew from having to film on location at a specific time to get correct lighting and other technical aspects. The technology is impressive, but the tangible feel of an actual setting is missing. “Andor” is the first show not to use that technology, and it is obvious. The sets are incredible, but so obviously real and immersive. It feels fresh and new compared to the empty and hollow atmosphere of The Volume. 

Finally, the star of the show is the incredible writing. Star Wars has never seen writing like this before. Each word of dialogue feels like it has been carefully crafted by the writers. In episode twelve, Cassian Andor reads a manifesto written for the rebellion. The author of the manifesto, Karis Nemik, writes, “Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that. And know this, the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this. Try.” 

This writing is a work of art, and a far cry from the clunky dialogue that was common in the prequel trilogy. Writing is where “Andor” thrives and that’s the real key to the show’s success. It doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence. It doesn’t force itself to explain character motivations, but trusts that the viewer is smart enough to study the show and understand its message. No Star Wars project has had writing on the level of “Andor.” 

There is no way to properly explain how good “Andor” has been. It is a thrilling, high stakes drama that is miles ahead of anything we’ve seen on Disney+ before. “Andor” isn’t about Easter eggs and fan service, but just good writing, storytelling, and performances. 

This might make one assume the series is a smashing success for Disney+, but, that isn’t the case. “Andor’s” viewership is strikingly low compared to the other Star Wars entries on Disney+. Parrot Analytics, which tracks chatter on social media and elsewhere about current movies and TV shows, claims that the show is nowhere near the numbers “Obi-Wan Kenobi” had at its peak. 

Even more concerning, “Andor” cannot even beat out “The Mandalorian,” a show that has been on hiatus for two years, in audience demand currently. Furthermore, its viewership metrics are significantly lower than other popular shows like “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” despite the famous Star Wars brand being attached to it. The numbers are so concerning that Disney has decided to release certain episodes on cable TV, a first for a Disney original.

There are some potential reasons that could contribute to a smaller than usual Star Wars audience. The series features no legacy characters that resonate with a larger audience, it focuses around a lesser known and less popular character from “Rogue One,” and it is a slower paced show that builds its stakes up to a thrilling conclusion through fascinating character development and powerful dialogue, rather than rely on the popular method of jumping into sci-fi action right at the start of the show.

The true reason for this underwhelming response to “Andor” can be explained by what Disney has done for the last decade to the Star Wars brand. It has tarnished the once lustrous brand of Star Wars with lackluster project after project. Unfortunately, it seems that “Andor” is being punished for Disney destroying the brand. 

There was the controversy surrounding “The Last Jedi”, the overindulgence in fan service in “The Rise of Skywalker, and of course a string of disappointing Disney+ projects that have only divided the fandom with Disney’s decision to turn legendary characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi into vessels for uninspired content. But, those controversial events don’t even come close to encapsulating the entirety of what Disney has done to lay waste to the Star Wars brand. It is clear that the once universally loved franchise is now the catalyst for online civil war and a sense of betrayal from many fans.

This sense of betrayal is most definitely felt by many Star Wars fans who are angry at what Disney has done to their favorite franchise. This has caused a strong dose of skepticism for many which has caused less viewership for “Andor.” Many are skeptical of it out of experience with the other disappointing Star Wars shows. Star Wars fans are now reflecting “Andor” star Luthen Rael’s best piece of dialogue in the show: “I burn my life to make a sunset that I know I’ll never see.” 

While this quote most easily can be used to explain the sacrifice required for a rebellion, it also reflects the mindset of many fans who refuse to watch the new series. Fans have metaphorically burnt their lives watching the endless stream of new Star Wars content over the last few years, but the sunset of quality content has never been seen. So why should fans continue to place trust in Disney when they have time and again betrayed the fans and delivered divisive content? The fans don’t want to be hurt again, they don’t want to continue to get hyped up for a project only to be let down. They are done trusting Disney to make a quality show, which is a shame considering the quality of “Andor”.

The low metrics of “Andor” represent something bigger than just “Andor.” It is a sign of what could come to pass if Disney doesn’t do something drastic to save Star Wars. If another previously announced Star Wars movie gets canceled because of “creative differences” or another TV show disappoints, what would stop the fans from distrusting the corporation so much that they refuse to watch the more popular projects like “The Mandalorian”? Disney cannot afford their gold mine of viewership, “The Mandalorian”, to fail when its third season comes in early 2023. However, what’s to stop that from happening? If such a quality show like “Andor” cannot attract viewers, what can? 

Although “Andor” has already been given a second season, which just started filming, this first season can definitely be called a major disappointment for Disney’s wallet. Disney will need to adjust their strategy in order to regain the trust of viewers. Perhaps the recent return of Bob Iger as CEO of the company will lead to successful changes to the brand, but the future is still uncertain for Star Wars. But one thing is for sure: Keep making shows like “Andor,” and eventually people will see the brilliance.