Andor proves why Rian Johnson deserves another chance at Star Wars

Andor proves why Rian Johnson deserves another chance at Star Wars

I remember the crossed arms, the tense faces, the utter look of confusion, and maybe a tinge of fear.

As my friends shuffled into the bar after watching The Last Jedi, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised. You see, I’m one of “those people,” the ones who actually really liked Last Jedi, even right out of the gate. Yeah, even Canto Bright.

Look, I’m not saying I’m going to totally rework where Last Jedi ranks in terms of Star Wars movies, but I was legitimately surprised by the mixed reaction it received.

If there was anyone who really didn’t like that mixed reaction, it was producer Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the suits at Lucasfilm — hell, even the actors themselves got in on the act. If you were one of the theatergoers that yelled “Luke would never do that!” at the screen, you weren’t alone. Mark Hamill himself simply quipped, “I said to Rian, ‘Jedis don’t give up’.”

The press tour for Rise of Skywalker was really more of a “let’s bash Rian Johnson” tour. As the sequel trilogy’s stars said at the time:

..when it was announced that Abrams was indeed returning, his actors breathed sighs of relief. “I cried,” Ridley said, explaining that the director brought a comforting sense of structure and security. Boyega said he was glad that Abrams would get to finish the tale he’d begun in Episode VII. “Even as a normal person in the audience, I wanted to see where that story was going,” Boyega said.

As my friends pondered how their childhoods had essentially been ruined, the most vocal fans took to social media to voice their displeasure. What happened? Disney, Lucasfilm, and Kathleen Kennedy caved — and we got the sh**pile that is Rise of Skywalker. Because when a movie grosses over a billion dollars, the best thing to do is listen to angry dudes on Twittter.

Yet today what I hear from those same friends is that Andor is unequivocally the best Star Wars TV show of all time, and in some cases, the best Star Wars production period.

I’m on board — Andor is damn good. Star Wars TV, frankly, is saving the galaxy from the tragedy of the sequel trilogy, and Andor is a beacon of hope reverberating from Coruscant to the Outer Rim and beyond.

And what makes it so good is that it is not beholden to what came before. Tony Gilroy, the man behind both the Disney+ series and Rogue One, said there’s “never fan service” in the show, even when familiar characters show up.

Mon Mothma has a different haircut, but also an actual life. For the first time, we see the family of Imperial officers, overzealous moms, and production design that feels both incredibly accurate to the original trilogy yet somehow true to real life.

Andor, in short, blows up the Star Wars universe. In return it’s beloved by critics and fans alike, made it to the top 10 Disney+ shows of 2022 (debunking initial reports of low viewership), and netted Diego Luna a Golden Globe nomination. It’s the most critical praise anything from Star Wars has received since — GASP! — The Last Jedi.

Maybe audiences weren’t ready for what Rian Johnson wanted to do — to move beyond the Jedi, to break out of the Skywalker lineage of Force users, and in general to break open Star Wars to honor the wide-ranging galaxy of nearly infinite stories it might hold. That potential, after all, is why we all love Star Wars so much. The main storylines are fun, sure, but it’s the possibilities that are so damn exciting.

The Force Awakens did what it needed to do — give us one more blast of nostalgia. We literally see Starkiller next to the Death Star. Hey, it’s way bigger!

But that film did little to actually further the Star Wars universe in any meaningful way. I’ll gladly cough up money to see pretty much any Star Wars movie in the theater, no matter what it is or how good I think it is. Yet how are Disney and Lucasfilm going to continue to milk a franchise that retreads the same storyline, the same characters, the same family, time after time after time? How is there a future in that?

Andor did what Johnson set up Star Wars to do, and Rise of Skywalker failed to do. The simple shot of a kid on a distant planet using the Force to summon a broom set the stage for Andor’s success. Hell, there’s not even a single Jedi in Andor.

Not everything in Star Wars has to be like Andor, just as not everything in Star Wars has to be A New Hope 2.0. Its success shows that Johnson was on to something — it’s time for Star Wars to move beyond what it once was, to explore all the possibilities it holds. Something those of us that have been playing the video games (Knights of the Old Republic anyone?), reading the comic books, and playing the role-playing games have known for a long time.

And I’m not here to convince you to like Last Jedi, but any movie that creates that much debate among a fanbase is doing something exciting, at the very least. I’d rather argue with my friends over a beer about Last Jedi than shuffle out of Rise feeling like I just swallowed one of those jelly beans that tastes like dirty socks.

For his part, Rian Johnson says he’s still open to coming back to Star Wars after his side trilogy had seemingly been put on indefinite hold following Last Jedi’s release. And the success and fan love for Andor show that he should be given that opportunity.

Hopefully, we’ll finally see what that kid with the broom can do.

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