Charles Dickens may not be the first writer that comes to mind when you think of Star Wars. But that is what Tony Gilroy intends to change with Andor.
Like the famous Victorian author, Gilroy (of Bourne franchise fame) is dividing his narrative into chapters (in Andor‘s, 24 of them) for wide distribution, but says he intends a novel-like narrative that will one day be ready to be viewed as a whole.
Dickens’s stories feel full of characters, with approximately 40 main and supporting characters in High expectations; Andor he has 200 speaking roles in the 12-episode first season alone. Dickens deliberately drew his characters from all walks of life, high and low, and usually began with his leading lady at the bottom of the heap; he does too Andor.
“It really is Dickensian,” says Gilroy. “Multiple characters, multiple plotlines, multiple intrigues; everyone’s adventure stories colliding with each other. The idea is to start extremely small, and we’re going to get huge…you’ve got a long way to go.”
Andor, Gilroy explains, “strives to be a 1,500-page novel by the time it’s finished.” When Gilroy star and co-producer Diego Luna called Andor Star Wars “different” and “intelligent”, that’s what he was talking about. But what he didn’t talk about was the pure Death Star. Size of the thing now emerging from hyperspace.
How Democracy Died: Mon Mothma addresses the Galactic Imperial Senate.
Credit: Lucas film
“We basically did four new Star Wars movies,” Gilroy says of the epic 12-hour season 1. “And we’re going to do four more.” Memo to all directors attached to a possible Star Wars trilogy that hasn’t seen the light of day for years: Gilroy just casually outdid you and probably outdoes you.
He had toyed with the idea of doing five seasons, Gilroy confirms: one for each year between the start of the show and rogue one. But that would be too much of a scale, even for him.
“By the end, you’re going to say ‘wow, they’d die before they could do this five more times,’” he says. Also, “Diego would be 60 when we finished them,” somewhat older than he’s supposed to be in rogue one.
You can get an idea of the Andor the scope expands on the first three episodes that Disney+ made available in the show’s first week, as the plot builds from Cassian’s family background and personal issues to (mild spoiler alert, but why)? why haven’t you seen it yet?) tense scenes of workers rebelling against corporate cops, who are as humorless, hapless and brutal as any official in Dickens’s workhouses.
Luther Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) arrives in transit literally next to a classic cockney character, and he becomes a very Dickensian sort of mentor to Cassian, mysterious, morally ambiguous, replacing his stepmother Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw). Controlling, trapped in a room, Maarva is an archetypal Dickensian stepmother.
Cassian’s stepmother, Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw).
Credit: Lucas film
As reviewers who have already seen episode 4 can confirm, next week Andor further expands the scope. It’s not a spoiler for anyone who has studied the trailers that one of the intrigues to come involves galactic senator and future rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly).
“And by the time we get to [episodes] 5 and 6,” says Gilroy, “it’s like a full orchestra playing at that point.”
“Doing it about Trump would be trivial”
Gilroy began to write Andor in 2018, slap bang in the midst of what we can now look back on (knock on wood) as the Trump era.
Theirs is a story of fighting a growing dictatorship, one that is being embraced by the petty officers of the Corporate Tactical Forces (motto: “The Empire’s First Line of Defense”) who dream of imposing law and order by rescinding rights and cracking skulls. Fiona Shaw called him a “big, weird version of the Trumpian world.”
But Gilroy adamantly denies that he was thinking of The Former Guy when he wrote Andor. Why? Because, again, that would make his range too small.
“Making the show about Trump would be trivial,” says Gilroy. “It’s not about politics at all. It’s about history. Nothing to do with the details of what’s going on now.”
Indeed, Andor it never feels like he’s preaching, even in those “cops vs. workers” scenes. Like Dickens, who unmasked asylums by showing that they don’t count, Gilroy is first and foremost an entertainer. He simply shows us a parade of “real people” who feel universal, no matter what galaxy or historical era you find yourself in.
The corporate cops are surprisingly three-dimensional – notice how, for all their big talk, they freak out when they actually shoot a worker. Stormtroopers, these are not.
Playing Soldiers: Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is an officer with a high ambition that is less than inspiring. Sounds familiar?
Credit: Lucas film
“The five years we’re healing here are when the Empire is consolidating its power,” Gilroy notes. “We are going to see that opposition and that pressure in every variation, everywhere. The first is on a corporate planet; [the Empire] will take the excuse of what is happening and say ‘We are nationalizing all the companies’. They’re reinforcing their supply lines. They are passing all their versions of the Patriot Act in the [Galactic] senates”.
Compared to what the Empire is doing, Gilroy says, this corporate tactical force of meek would-be fascists “is going to look a little sad at the end of days.”
Unusual characters abound at ground level in the Gilroy galaxy. Some are figures of fun, but Andor it’s deadly serious. “We never stop and wink at the audience,” says Gilroy. “It’s a serious, true story about people under pressure while fomenting a revolution.”
That’s a story many of us can get behind for many different reasons. Whether distracted modern audiences have the patience for 24 chapters, let alone a 1,500-page novel, remains to be seen.
But what if Gilroy manages to hold our interest through this parade of 200 characters? Well, that’s some top-notch entertainment turnout to please Charles Dickens’ Force Ghost.