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One Way Out: The Revolutionary Hero of Andor

Not just another Star Wars story set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Andor is a mature science fiction series about radicalization and rebellion against fascism and imperialism.

Doug Enaa Greene

December 2, 2022
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The surprise hit for leftwing science fiction fans in 2022 has been the release of the Star Wars TV series Andor with its themes of political radicalization, revolutionary struggle, fascism, and collective solidarity among the oppressed. This is a marked change from the majority of the Star Wars franchise, which relies heavily on nostalgia, fantasy, and myth to tell stories about the struggle between the Jedi and Sith in a galaxy far, far away. While Star Wars seems relatively innocuous in its message, there were some implicit leftist ideas on rebellion and imperialism in George Lucas’ original conception that have now been fully realized with Andor. Instead of a mythic story about a chosen hero, Andor uses the backdrop of Star Wars to show how a collective revolutionary hero emerges. 

George Lucas, Star Wars, and Disney 

In the early 1970s when George Lucas began developing Star Wars, he drew upon many diverse elements: Flash Gordon serials, World War II dogfights, Joseph Campbell’s work on the hero’s journey, Clint Eastwood westerns, and the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa (particularly the Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai). In addition, one of the central conflicts in Star Wars of beleaguered rebels fighting a galactic-spanning empire was inspired by contemporary political events. As Lucas told James Cameron in the Story of Science Fiction (2018), Star Wars emerged from his opposition to the Vietnam War:

Cameron: So it was a very anti-authoritarian, very kind of sixties against the man kind of thing. That’s the deep inside…

Lucas: It’s colonial. [referring to the American War of Independence] We’re fighting the largest empire in the world, and we’re just a bunch of hay seeds in coonskin hats that don’t know nothing. It was the same thing with the Vietnamese. The irony is that, in both of those, the little guys won. The highly technical empire — the English Empire, the American Empire — lost. That was the whole point.

While conservatives such as Ronald Reagan would later use the language of Star Wars to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” they missed Lucas’ point completely. Rather, the Galactic Empire was modeled on the United States and other imperial powers throughout history (Rome, Britain, France, etc). To further emphasize that the Galactic Empire was the antagonist, Lucas modelled its imagery on Nazi aesthetics. For example, Imperial Stormtroopers share the same name as the Nazi’s paramilitary wing, Sturmabteilung who violently fought the Communist-led Roter Frontkämpferbund in the streets of Weimar Germany. In addition, the uniforms of the Imperial Army are modeled upon those of the German Wehrmacht during World War II.

While there are clear parallels between the series’ antagonist Emperor Palpatine and Adolf Hitler, the direct inspiration for the Emperor was actually the American President Richard Nixon. During the 1970s, Lucas saw Nixon as a dangerous and charismatic figure like Caesar or Hitler, who cleverly turned a democracy into a dictatorship: “Richard M. Nixon was his name. He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a nice guy.” 1Ben Hardwick, “How the Vietnam War Inspired George Lucas’ Star Wars Vision,” Comic Book Resources, April 9, 2022.

The twin themes of rebellion against imperialism and the decline of democracy were at the center of the two Star Wars trilogies that Lucas produced. The struggle of the rebels in the original trilogy of Star Wars was filled with exciting action and defined by clear good versus evil archetypes. The prequel trilogy told the story of how Palpatine corrupted and transformed the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire. Yet the overall politics of Star Wars was rather simplistic. The rebels never fight a popular insurgency against the Empire. Nor do they possess a clear-cut political program.2There is a partial exception with the Ewoks who fight the Empire in Return of the Jedi (1983).  That is something that actual guerrilla leaders like Võ Nguyên Giáp would have found unbelievable. Moreover, the prequels’ overarching story about the fall of democracy were marred by a clumsy execution, poor writing, and a focus on special effects over substance. Yet none of this stopped the Star Wars franchise from becoming one of the most beloved and financially successful in film history. 

In 2012, Lucas handed over the rights of Star Wars to the Walt Disney Company. While Disney has made billions on Star Wars, their productions have been very uneven in terms of quality. The sequel trilogy (with the partial exception of The Last Jedi) was based more on nostalgia and fan service than telling a meaningful story. 

Yet Disney has produced a few hits such as the television series The Mandalorian and the film Rogue One (2016), with the latter written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. In a break from previous iterations of the franchise, Rogue One tells the story not of Force-gifted Jedi and Sith fighting over destiny, but ordinary and nameless rebels who steal plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s planet-killing weapon. In the end, these rebels sacrifice their lives in order to strike a blow against the Empire. It was the critical and commercial success of Rogue One that spawned the spin-off series based on one of its characters, Cassian Andor.

Tony Gilroy

The main writer for Andor is Tony Gilroy. Aside from Rogue One, he is known for his work on the original Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Legacy, along with writing and directing Michael Clayton (2007). A recurrent theme in Gilroy’s work is the politicization of former insiders within powerful institutions, who become rebels.3I owe this observation on Tony Gilroy’s work to my friend and comrade Aarón Lázaro. Furthermore, Gilroy is an amateur student of history and revolutionary struggles. 

This background means that Gilroy tells a much more politically mature and grounded story than is typical in the Star Wars universe. The characters are complex and compelling. There are few aliens or droids. Nor are there any Jedi or Sith, since Gilroy believes most ordinary people in the Galaxy are not interested in the Star Wars elite: “I don’t think they know about the royal family. I don’t think they pay much mind to that. I mean, how many beings are in that gigantic galaxy? I think the vast majority of all of the creatures and beings and sentient things that are in the galaxy, I think the knowledge of the Jedi and the lightsaber is a pretty small number.”4Maggie Lovitt, “‘Andor’: Tony Gilroy Explains Why Cassian and His Friends Don’t Know About Jedi and Lightsabers,” Collider, November 21, 2022; According to Gilroy, the absence of aliens was a deliberate creative choice to show the xenophobia that permeates the Empire: “You’ll see more as we go along, but it’s a legit question and one we’ll be answering as we go along. There is a more human-centric side of the story and the politics of it. There’s certainly no aliens working for the Empire, so that kind of tips it one way, automatically.” See Brian Davids, “‘Andor’ Creator Tony Gilroy Talks Luthen Rael’s Future and Being Surprised by Certain Easter Eggs,” The Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 2022. Nevertheless, the universe feels expansive with various planets such as Ferrix, Aldhani, Morlana One, Kenari, Narkina Five, and Coruscant all possessing their distinct appearances, cultures, and people. The Galactic Empire feels like a living fascist regime with its ever-present bureaucracy and military power. In addition, Andor shows the myriad ways that people compromise and resist the Galactic Empire’s oppression. Ultimately, Andor seems more informed by the bottom-up historical work of Fernand Braudel or E.P. Thompson than the mystical elitism of Joseph Campbell.

Cassian Andor: The Making of a Rebel

At the center of the series is the titular character, Cassian Andor and his journey from a thief to a rebel in the years leading up to Rogue One. For Gilroy, the appeal of the series was showing how a revolutionary is made: “And the idea that we can do a story that takes him literally from his childhood origins and walk him through a five-year history of an odyssey that takes him to that place, during a revolution, during a moment in history in a place where huge events are happening, and real people are being crushed by it, the fact that we could follow somebody as an example of a revolution all the way through to the end, that was the walk-in for me.”5Alexander Navarro, “Andor Creator Tony Gilroy and Lead Star Diego Luna Discuss the Development of the Star Wars Series,” MovieWeb, October 5, 2022. Diego Luna, who plays Cassian Andor, explains that this is a story about radicalization:

And for me, it’s quite relevant today to tell the story of what needs to happen for a revolutionary to emerge, to exist, to come to live, you know. What gives meaning in the life of someone to be willing to sacrifice everything for a cause, you know? What needs to happen? That journey matters to me. 6Ibid.

Unlike the main heroes in the Star Wars franchise (Anakin and Luke Skywalker), Cassian Andor is not a chosen one nor does he possess a deep connection to the Force. He has no powerful bloodline, but is an ordinary human being who is poor, obscure, and with no pretensions to royalty or greatness. Originally named “Kassa,” he was a native of the planet Kenari who lived with a tribe that included his sister Kerri. Kenari was environmentally devastated by mining operations caused by the Republic. After encountering a crashed Republic ship, Kassa was adopted by smugglers Clem and Maarva Andor. He was given a forged identity and took the name Cassian Andor, eventually moving to the planet Ferrix. 

Yet life remained a constant struggle for Cassian. When the Empire was formed, Cassian and his adoptive father Clem protested the new regime. Stormtroopers arrested Clem and hung him in public view on Rix Road as an example. Later, Cassian ended up assaulting Imperial officers and spent some time in prison. While caring deeply about those close to him, Cassian is a cynic about political involvement. He mostly lives in the underworld and makes money by stealing from the Empire.

When the series begins, Cassian is looking for his sister Kerri on Morlana One. However, he runs afoul of two Pre-Mor security officers and ends up killing them. This makes Cassian into a fugitive who is sought by the zealous Pre-Mor officer Syril Karn. Cassian manages to escape from Karn, but is permanently on the run from the Empire.

At the same time, Cassian hopes to pay off his debts and start a new life. To that end, he meets a buyer named Luthen Rael to sell valuable Imperial equipment. Yet Rael is a rebel operative who is only posing as a buyer. Luthen wants to know if there is something more to Cassian than just making money:

Cassian: What? To steal from the Empire? What do you need? A uniform, some dirty hands and an Imperial tool kit. They’re so proud of themselves, they don’t even care. They’re so fat and satisfied, they can’t imagine it.

Luthen: Can’t imagine what?

Cassian: That someone like me would ever get inside their house, walk their floors, spit in their food, take their gear.

Luthen: The arrogance is remarkable, isn’t it? They don’t even think about us.

Cassian: Us? I don’t know you.

Luthen: Fair enough. But I know you. These days will end, Cassian Andor. The way they laugh. The way they push through a crowd. The sound of that voice telling you to stop, to go, to move. Telling you to die. Rings in the ear, doesn’t it? (The Reckoning)

Seeing that Cassian is not only skilled, but already hates the Empire, Luthen hopes to recruit him into the rebellion. He believes that Cassian could fight better as part of an organized force than just by looking out for himself: “Wouldn’t you rather give it all at once to something real than carve off useless pieces till there’s nothing left?” (Aldhani)

After escaping Ferrix together, Cassian joins a rebel cell on Aldhani at Luthen’s behest. The cell is planning to steal millions from an Imperial garrison to fund the rebellion. Originally, Cassian only participates for money so he can get away from the Empire, but is clearly affected after listening to the other rebels. Following a successful heist, Cassian kills one rebel who just plans on stealing the money from the group and going out on his own. Yet Cassian is still uncommitted and leaves the rebels with his share. He travels to Niamos planning to start anew. However, he is arrested by the Empire for doing nothing. The scene of Cassian being choked by a KX droid and struggling for air recalls the image of Eric Garner saying “I can’t breathe” as he was murdered by the police. 

After escaping from prison (more later), Cassian returns to Ferrix where he encounters Luthen again. Now Cassian tells him that he wants to join the organized fight against the Empire: “No game. Kill me. Or take me in.” (Rix Road) So far, the first season has given a compelling portrait of Cassian’s overall radicalization and a different kind of hero’s journey. It remains for season two of Andor to show what Cassian’s commitment to the rebellion will look like. 

Working Towards Palpatine

Throughout most of the Star Wars films, the Galactic Empire has come off as an amorphous evil ranging from the extremes of superweapons and star destroyers to bumbling officers and Stormtroopers who can’t shoot straight. Yet Andor changes this perception of the Empire by making it appear as a functioning fascist government that people have to live under. 7The ruling Sith have a reactionary philosophy that expresses aristocratic disdain for ordinary people. The founder of the modern Sith, Darth Bane expresses his Nietzschean contempt for equality in the Star Wars non-canon novel, Darth Bane: Rule of Two:

“Equality is a lie” Bane told her. “A myth to appease the masses. Simply look around and you will see the lie for what it is! There are those with power, those with the strength and will to lead. And there are those meant to follow‐those incapable of anything but servitude and a meager, worthless existence.

“Equality is a perversion of the natural order!” he continued, his voice rising as he shared the fundamental truth that lay at the core of his beliefs. “It binds the strong to the weak. They become anchors that drag the exceptional down to mediocrity. Individuals destined and deserving of greatness have it denied them. They suffer for the sake of keeping them even with their inferiors.”

Drew Karpyshyn, Rule of Two: Star Wars Legends (Darth Bane) (New York: Del Ray Books, 2008), 40-41.
There is a bureaucracy to streamline administration, an Imperial Senate that gives the pretense of popular representation, and the need to find workers to build its vast military machine. The Empire also shows colonial contempt for local customs and the people on Aldhani and Ferrix, viewing them as backward natives. Like capitalist expansion through colonialism, the Empire views these peoples as cheap labor that is easy to exploit. On Aldhani, the Imperial officers discuss how they cleared the valley, creating enterprise zones with factories and new housing, forcing people to relocate, and thus clearing out native lands to be able to construct their own military bases.

While the Empire is powerful, it does not have total control over the Galaxy. For instance, the Pre-Mor security forces on Morlana One are independent contractors who serve Imperial interests. Only after the Pre-Mor officers fail to capture Cassian Andor does the Empire abolish their autonomy.

Alongside its fleet and army, the Empire utilizes the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) to maintain control of the Galaxy. The ISB acts as a law enforcement and intelligence agency charged with matters of internal state security and ensuring the loyalty of citizens to the Empire. The vast reach and ruthless efficiency of the ISB recalls the examples of other secret police forces such as the FBI and the Gestapo. The officers at the ISB are not your typical over-the-top Star Wars villains with lightsabers and Force powers, but are committed bureaucrats. For example, Lieutenant Blevin is ambitious in advancing his career and jealously guards his own bureaucratic turf from rivals. 

However, the ISB bureaucrats are not an example of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” used to describe figures like SS colonel Adolf Eichmann. According to Arendt, the perpetrators of the Holocaust like Eichmann were ordinary people with no ideological commitment who were just “following orders.” Yet this is not true of Eichmann (who was a dedicated Nazi) nor is it true of the ISB. While the motives of the ISB officers are complex, they are ideologically dedicated to the Empire and want to root out subversion. The following exchange explaining the purpose of the ISB illustrates this:

Partagaz: What do we do in this building? Why are we here? Anyone?

Dedra Meero: We’re here to further security objectives by collecting intelligence, providing useful analysis, and conducting effective covert action, sir.

Partagaz: Very good, Dedra. That is verbatim from the ISB mission statement, and wrong. Security is an illusion. You want security? Call the Navy. Launch a regiment of troopers. We are healthcare providers. We treat sickness. We identify symptoms. We locate germs whether they arise from within or have come from the outside. The longer we wait to identify a disorder, the harder it is to treat the disease. (Aldhani)

Partagaz’s words recall the opening scene of Costa-Garvas’ 1969 film Z where Greek fascist police officers attend a lecture on the dangers of ideological “mildew” that sap the health of the nation. 8The full lecture in Z reads as follows:

“An ideological illness is alike and requires preventive measures. Like mildew, it is due to septic germs and various parasitic agents. So the treatment of men with appropriate solutions is indispensable. The first stage occurs in the schools where, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, the sprouts are still very young. The second treatment occurs when they begin to bloom as college students or young workers. The draft is the best time to spray and save the sacred tree of national liberty from the disease of ideological mildew. Air-dropped leaflets are telling our peasants of a new kind of ideological mildew beginning to ravage our land. This new variety is spreading insidiously. It’s a sly enemy pushing us away from God and the Crown. It’s against this enemy that our action is aimed. Don’t take notes! It’s all in our pamphlet. With the outbreak of isms, like socialism, anarchism, imperialism or communism, sunspots start to multiply on the face of the golden orb. God refuses to enlighten the Reds! Scientists forecast an increase in sunspots due to the arrival of the beatniks and pacifists from certain countries such as Italy, France and Scandinavia! As head of Law and Order here in the north, I wish to tell you, who are high civil servants, we must preserve the healthy elements of our society and heal those that are ill. Tonight the enemy’s holding a meeting on our city. But we are not an ism! We are a democracy! We won’t forbid the meeting. Nor will we forbid the opposition from demonstrating! With these healthy anti-bodies, we must fight all diseases of both the vine as well as Society! That’s all I have to say. Bear it in mind during the days to come!”

The most developed ISB character is Dedra Meero, who is an ambitious and talented young woman. As one of the few women at the ISB, Meero has to constantly prove herself in a machismo and cut-throat world. Unlike the rest of her peers, Meero takes seriously the threat of an organized rebellion. Like her colleagues, Meero wants more power, but not for its own sake or even to advance her career, but to serve the Empire. She wants to locate Cassian Andor to prove her theory that there is an organized rebel network stealing Imperial equipment. To serve her ends, Meero engages in clever intelligence, tortures suspected rebels, and bureaucratically outmaneuvers her rivals. According to Denise Gough, who plays Meero, her character is a dedicated and competent fascist, making it frightening for the audience to identify with her:

At first you have to root for her, you feel like you’re rooting for her, but then you realize that no matter how strong a woman she is in a world of men, you realize that she is just a fascist in a world of fascists. Power corrodes everyone, men and women: she never apologizes, believes in everything she does and truly believes that she will save the galaxy, so she is credible and frightening.9 Mark Newbold, “Denise Gough talks Dedra Meero in Star Wars: Andor,” Fantha Tracks, October 31, 2022. 

Meero is a far more terrifying antagonist than Darth Vader, since she has no Force powers, but is a regular human being who truly believes in fascism and uses her ruthlessness skill to enforce Imperial rule. Finally, Deedra Meero also shows the hollowness of cheering an ambitious “girl boss” simply based on their gender. After all, why are fascist women something worth celebrating?

Andor’s portrayal of the ISB and fascism is not an example of Arendt’s apolitical bureaucrats but more in line with what Hitler’s biographer, Ian Kershaw called “Working towards the Führer.” According to Kershaw, there was no unified government administration in the Third Reich, but different groups scrambling to win Hitler’s favor since he was the only source of legitimacy. Those who wanted to get ahead and advance their careers did not need to wait for Hitler’s orders, but could anticipate the Führer’s desires by taking initiatives to realize them. Therefore, Nazi functionaries attempted to outdo one another by promoting ever more extreme measures that led to the Holocaust as the fulfillment of Hitler’s wishes. Similarly, it can be observed that Dedra Meero and other ISB agents attempting to outdo each other with the best methods to destroy the rebellion are “Working Towards Palpatine.”

The Exasperated Petty-Bourgeois

While the Empire employs brute force, draconian laws, and arbitrary arrest to maintain control of the Galaxy, this does not mean it relies solely on coercion. There are plenty of citizens of the Galaxy who identify with the Empire and its pursuit of order. They want a sense of belonging and community by placing themselves at the Empire’s service. None more so than the Pre-Mor officer Syril Karn. 

Unlike Meero, Karn is not good at his job. Nor is he particularly charismatic, but is an awkward speaker. We are given the impression that Karn did not have a happy childhood and resents his mother, who constantly belittles him as a failure. What drives Karn is his passionate desire for order, success, and validation. After his Pre-Mor superior ignored Cassian’s murder of two officers, Karn takes the initiative and leads a squad to arrest Andor on Ferrix. Yet the mission is a complete failure and Karn is fired, returning home to his mother in disgrace.

Without any hope for a future career, Karn developed a Javert-like obsession with finding Cassian Andor and vindicating himself. Reluctantly, he takes a position at the Imperial Bureau of Standards, but his fixation remains. He makes false reports about Cassian which catch the attention of the ISB and Dedra Meero is sent to interrogate Karn. He tells Meero that he wanted to use his limited powers to not only track down a criminal and clear his name, but serve the forces of order: “I was a good deputy inspector! I was very good. I solved a double murder and found the killer in two days. I was overly ambitious, yes, but time was slipping away, and the opportunity was real. Service to the Empire, you just said it. Can one ever be too aggressive in preserving order? I didn’t deserve what happened.” (Narkina 5)

After the interrogation, Karn returned to the Bureau of Standards, where he received a promotion for “service rendered to the Empire.” However, the meeting with Meero changed Karn who felt he had found a kindred spirit who was equally committed to order. Karn developed a new preoccupation with Meero and waited outside of ISB headquarters in the hope of seeing her again. Upon seeing Meero, who is visibly shaken, Karn expresses his sincere thanks: 

“I thought I had ruined my life. I thought I was done. After meeting you and discovering, you understood how dangerous Cassian Andor was. Just… Just being in your presence, I… I’ve realized that life is worth living. I realized that if nothing else, there was justice, and beauty in the galaxy and if I just kept going… Perhaps my deranged belief that there was something better fated for me in the future was a dream worth clinging to.” (Nobody’s Listening!)

Later, Karn went back to Ferrix in the hope of finally apprehending Andor, who he hoped would return for his mother’s funeral. Instead, he ended up saving Dedra who was nearly killed by rioters. His reason for saving her: “You were in trouble.” (Rix Road) For Karn, saving Meero was not about rescuing a damsel in distress, but rather protecting a symbol of Imperial order and justice from the demons of anarchy.

Syril Karn’s story of radicalization operates as a fascist parallel to that of Cassian Andor. Unlike Andor who is driven to take up arms in the rebellion, Karn yearns for order. Despite witnessing Imperial brutality, he identifies with their struggle to maintain control. He wants to put himself at the service of the Imperial machine and to be recognized for it. As Kyle Soller, who plays Karn, explained:

So Cyril [sic] Karn is working for the corporate security sector at the outer reaches of the galaxy and where there’s not much Imperial presence at all. And he’s desperate for Imperial presence. He is … As he is with Cassian Andor, he is a dog with a bone to get into the Empire’s good books. He would be a perfect little SS officer for them. But he really has a strong moral core, which is just misguided. He’s drunk the wrong Kool-Aid, and all the freedom and the messiness and the kind of complexity that Cassian represents, just fills him with such anger that he can’t exist within that within his own world.10Steve Weintraub, “Andor’s Kyle Soller and Denise Gough on Creating an All-New Section of the ‘Star Wars’ Universe,” Collider, September 30, 2022.

In the end, Syril Karn is also a representative of the legions of petty-bourgeois who enthusiastically support fascist regimes. They yearn for recognition, order, and belonging from the new fascist order while detesting the untamed mob. As Trotsky said: “Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois.”11Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism?” Marxists Internet Archive. 

Without a People’s Army, the People Have Nothing

Andor not only wants to tell the story of how one man is radicalized, but the emergence of an organized rebellion. Throughout the series, Gilroy draws from the history of many revolutionary struggles, particularly the Russian Revolution, for inspiration:

But the one that has the most—I mean, forget the French revolution or places where you have a whole bunch of really intellectual people with different ideas about how it should be [fought]. The Russian revolution, the 30 years, it leads up to it, the amount of infighting and the number of groups and the amount of people who end up hating each other more than they even hate the Czar, and the difficulties that they have in organizing and what Lenin does to pull them together or slap them into shape, all of that. I mean, that’s just fascinating. We’re going to get to do all of that. We get to do it.12Rodrigo Perez, “Andor: Tony Gilroy Talks The Importance Of Saw Gerrera, Luthen Rael & The ‘Original Gangsters & Maniacs’ Of The Rebel Alliance,” The Playlist, September 22, 2022.

We get to see what spontaneous revolt looks like on the planet Ferrix. The people of Ferrix are fiercely loyal to their families, communities, and traditions. Bells are rung to warn everyone when police and other dangerous outsiders arrive. On the whole, the people of Ferrix want to be left alone. They were mostly willing to tolerate Pre-Mor, but the heavy-handed nature of the Empire produced an almost immediate response. At the funeral for Cassian’s mother, a prerecorded message from Maarva calls upon the people to rise up:

“The Empire is a disease that thrives in darkness, it is never more alive than when we sleep. It’s easy for the dead to tell you to fight, and maybe it’s true, maybe fighting is useless. Perhaps it’s too late. But I’ll tell you this…If I could do it again, I’d wake up early and be fighting these bastards …from the start. Fight the Empire!” (Rix Road)

Maarva’s speech turns a peaceful procession into a riot with Imperials massacring the people. The history of Bloody Sunday in 1905 comes to mind.

The Ferrix riot shows the cauldron of revolt brewing under Imperial rule and the sparks of wider rebellion. This was something recognized by Nemik in his Manifesto: “There are whole armies, battalions that have no idea that they’ve already enlisted in the cause. Remember that the frontier of the Rebellion is everywhere. And even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward…” (Rix Road)13This passage recalls Lenin who said that revolutionaries must fan the flames of revolt wherever they appear:

“We do not and cannot know which spark—of the innumerable sparks that are flying about in all countries as a result of the world economic and political crisis—will kindle the conflagration, in the sense of raising up the masses; we must, therefore, with our new and communist principles, set to work to stir up all and sundry, even the oldest, mustiest and seemingly hopeless spheres, for otherwise we shall not be able to cope with our tasks, shall not be comprehensively prepared, shall not be in possession of all the weapons and shall not prepare ourselves either to gain victory over the bourgeoisie (which arranged all aspects of social life—and has now disarranged them—in its bourgeois fashion), or to bring about the impending communist reorganisation of every sphere of life, following that victory..” V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, Marxists Internet Archive.
Events on Ferrix are mostly localized and not part of a larger rebellion. Ultimately, the only hope for overthrowing the Empire is for an organized rebellion to take shape. In Russia, many revolutionaries understood that the scattered outbreaks of resistance had little chance of toppling the old regime without a party to coordinate and lead them.

Similar to the Russian revolutionaries, the rebels of Andor are organizationally and politically divided. The rebels are all opposed to the Empire, but little else unites them. For instance, there is Mon Mothma, a wealthy senator from Chandrilla who is secretly funding the rebels, but struggles for reform in the powerless Imperial Senate. A more extreme faction is represented by Partisan leader Saw Gerrera (based in part on Che Guevara), a self-proclaimed anarchist. Some rebels such as Karis Nemik join for idealistic motives, others such as Arvel Skeen are individualistic mercenaries. Furthermore, the rebels come from every conceivable class background.

To portray the rebel cell on Aldhani, Gilroy uses images from many real life struggles. The rebels are armed with blasters that closely resemble AK-47s that have long been the stable of leftist guerrilla movements. The rebels also wear versions of the budenovka and ushanka hats which were part of the Red Army uniform. Their raid on the Imperial garrison to steal money for the rebellion is based on the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery partly organized by Joseph Stalin to fund the Bolshevik Party. According to Gilroy: “They needed money. This shit all costs money. People gotta eat, they gotta get guns. You gotta get stuff.”14Brian Hiatt, “How ‘Andor’ Drew from… Joseph Stalin? Plus: Inside Season 2 of the Revolutionary Star Wars Show,” The Rolling Stone, November 10, 2022.

The rebels in Andor are not the morally pure heroes of the original Star Wars. Rather, they must make compromises for the sake of the cause. For example, when Mon Mothma’s illicit funding of the rebellion threatens to be exposed, she makes a deal with a shady banker to marry her daughter off. Mothma is even willing to set up her husband as the guilty party to keep ISB suspicion off her. Like real life underground revolutionaries, the rebels fear informants destroying their networks. Saw Gerrera is driven to paranoia when he suspects that his organization is compromised. One of the storylines is that the rebels plan to eliminate Andor as a potential snitch.

No one better exemplifies the shadowy world of the rebellion where all means are permissible than Luthen Rael. He leads a double life as a wealthy antiques dealer and rebel operative. Luthen keeps different factions together, cultivates assets, and distributes resources. A meticulous planner, Luthen stays several steps ahead of the Empire. He is not above being ruthless and is willing to eliminate Andor. Seeing the struggle as a long game, Luthen willingly sacrifices 50 rebels to protect a highly placed source in the ISB. In one of Andor’s best scenes, Luthen reveals the human cost of what his commitment to the rebellion means:

Calm. Kindness. Kinship. Love. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace. I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion, I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they’ve set me on a path from which there is no escape. 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. What is my sacrifice? I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude. So what do I sacrifice? Everything! (One Way Out)

These words recall Bertolt Brecht’s poem “To those born after” (1939) where he pondered the same question of ends and means: 

And yet we know: 
Hatred, even of meanness 
Makes you ugly. 
Anger, even at injustice 
Makes your voice hoarse. Oh, we 
Who wanted to prepare the land for friendliness 
Could not ourselves be friendly. 
You, however, when the time comes 
When mankind is a helper unto mankind 
Think on us 
With forbearance.15Bertolt Brecht, “To those born after,” in The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht, ed. David Constantine (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019), 736.

For all its grittiness and realism about the struggle, Andor’s rebels have no program that they are fighting for. For example, Mon Mothma wants to restore the type of democracy that existed in the corrupt Old Republic. Saw Gererra is an anarchist, but his vision seems limited to just rejecting authority without advocating anything constructive. The dominant ethos of the rebellion seems to be a popular front devoid of a revolutionary program.

Since the rebels of Andor lack a theory of what they are fighting for, their popular front logic leads them to yield power to the liberal bourgeoisie. Luthen is no Lenin with a working class ideology dedicated to the transformation of society. Thus, the political leadership of the rebels falls to wealthy senators Mon Mothma and Bail Organa who want to restore the hollow democracy of the Old Republic without addressing the conditions – the Senate being beholden to capitalist interests – that originally led to the rise of Palpatine. Arguably the New Republic of the sequel trilogy just repeats the failings of its predecessor and succumbs to the fascist First Order.

What Andor and Gilroy miss from the history of revolutions is that an organization is not enough, but it needs a coherent worldview. Nor does the knowledge of revolutionary philosophy just arise on its own. Nemik in his Manifesto believes that consciousness of freedom just spontaneously arises: “Freedom is a pure idea. It occurs spontaneously and without instruction.” (Rix Road) Contrary to Nemik, real life revolutionaries have understood that consciousness does not just appear on its own. An organization needs a scientific program and to disseminate it amongst the oppressed. As Lenin said: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”16V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement, Marxists Internet Archive. Gilroy should know that in the Russian Revolution, Marxism was the working class’s indispensable theoretical weapon. 

A weltanschauung also matters when it comes to revolutionary warfare. Historically, Marxists have recognized that the soldiers of a red army must be conscious that they are fighting for a society free of exploitation and oppression. As Trotsky said: “So, each warrior, whether he be worker or peasant, must know and understand that at the basis of the world lies the law of change of matter, that everything living is the product of a long process of change, that man has behind him an immense chain of ancestors, reaching back to the first, elementary living organism, and that this same man has, in his subsequent development, taken his destiny into his own hands, that he is going forward, opening up new worlds, casting down all rulers from their thrones both heavenly and terrestrial, and saying: ‘No, I do not need any sovereign lords – I am man, organised in socialism, I am the master and the ruler of all things…’”17 Leon Trotsky, “Listen and Get Ready, Red Army!” Marxists Internet Archive. The knowledge that the Red Army was fighting for socialism ensured their popular support and provided its soldiers with the will to win.

However, the rebels in Andor do not operate like the Red Army or a people’s army organizing the masses for liberation. The rebels are largely divorced from the people. Instead, they are akin to a Guevarist foco or urban terrorism found in the IRA or the Algerian FLN. As Luthen Rael notes, the rebel strategy is accelerationist since it hopes to provoke a heavy-handed Imperial response to radicalize the people: “Whatever our final version of success looks like, there’s no chance any of us can make it real on our own. We need the Empire to help. We need them angry. We need them coming down hard. Oppression breeds rebellion.” (Narkina 5)18In one interview, Gilroy describes Luthen’s political strategy as accelerationist: “And in a classic political sense, he’s an accelerationist. He believes in the fact that you have to make it hurt really bad in order to bring people to change.” Brian Davids, “‘Andor’ Creator Tony Gilroy Talks Luthen Rael’s Future and Being Surprised by Certain Easter Eggs.” ; For a thorough Marxist exposé on the underlying political pessimism of accelerationism see Harrison Fluss and Landon Frim, Prometheus and Gaia: Technology, Ecology and Anti-Humanism (New York: Anthem Press, 2022). Ultimately, rebel ruthlessness shows them aping the approach of the Empire in their struggle.

However, history shows that the methods of the oppressed must be different than those utilized by the oppressors. The ruling class employs methods such as torture, murder, and humiliation to maintain their rule. Yet these methods are forbidden to a revolutionary army. One can see an alternative revolutionary ethos in the film Spartacus (1960) when some of the freed gladiators want their former owners to be put in the ring to kill each other for sport. Yet Spartacus stops this practice since the revolt will accomplish nothing if the slaves simply become like the masters. By fighting war in a different way than the oppressors, a revolutionary army shows it is committed to emancipating all of humanity and transcending the methods of the past.19I owe observations in this section to conversations with friend and comrade Michael Nugent. Ultimately, the knowledge that a different military strategy must be inspired by a revolutionary worldview remains out of Andor’s reach. 

One Way Out

While Andor’s portrayal of revolutionary war falls short, the prison revolt is the clearest example of a collective revolutionary hero. After Cassian is arrested, he is sent to the Imperial prison facility on Narkina 5 (shaped like the Imperial emblem). The immaculately clean prison is different and a more insidious method of Imperial control than normally shown in Star Wars. The few guards keep thousands of prisoners obedient with electrified floors. Yet the Empire also practices divide and rule where the prisoners work with Taylorist efficiency to produce components for the Death Star. Each day, the most productive laborers are rewarded with flavor in their food while the least productive are given electric shocks. Most prisoners endure this, hoping to just get through their sentences and be released. According to Diego Luna, the Empire’s “prisoner dilemma” is meant to break the inmates and leave them unable to envision revolt:

This idea of a prison goes against every image you’ve made of prisons. It’s perfectly clean. They need you healthy, strong. They need you to believe. They need to lie to you. They need you to believe in that little number you see there every day, [your release date]. They build this fantasy of a way out that doesn’t exist; therefore, you’re always working for them. That whole place shows you how much can you be dead while you’re alive.20Erik Amaya, “Diego Luna Reveals How Andor’s Prison Story Offers a Pivotal Moment for Cassian,” Rotten Tomatoes, November 11, 2022.

Narkina 5 is a perfect metaphor for capitalism and its methods of domination.

Yet there is a dirty secret behind the Empire’s “game theory.” After the Aldhani heist, Imperial laws were tightened and nobody was released at the end of their sentences. Instead, the inmates were simply transferred to another prison to continue working there. Yet the Empire made a crucial mistake when one prisoner was accidentally sent back to his old level. To keep the secret of the rigged game, the Empire killed all inmates on that level.

While Cassian was already planning to escape, others such as the day shift manager Kino Loy planned to just serve out his sentence. After learning about the massacre, Kino’s hopes are shattered and he helps Cassian to organize a breakout. Using makeshift tools to sabotage equipment and cutting off electricity, Cassian and the prisoners are able to reach the command center and take control of the facility. Before the Empire can regain control, Loy goes on the intercom and makes an impassioned speech for all the prisoners to rise up:

Wherever you are right now, get up, stop the work. Get out of your cells, take charge and start climbing. They don’t have enough guards and they know it. If we wait until they figure that out, it’ll be too late. We will never have a better chance than this and I would rather die trying to take them down than giving them what they want. We know they fried a hundred men on Level Two. We know that they are making up our sentences as we go along. We know that no one outside here knows what’s happening. And now we know, that when they say we are being released, we are being transferred to some other prison to go and die and that ends today! There is one way out. Right now, the building is ours. You need to run, climb, kill! You need to help each other. You see someone who’s confused, someone who is lost, you get them moving and you keep them moving until we put this place behind us. There are 5,000 of us. If we can fight half as hard as we’ve been working, we will be home in no time. One way out! One way out! One way out! (One Way Out)

The Revolutionary Hero

Loy’s plea is successful and the prisoners succeed in escaping (although his fate is left unknown). Andy Serkis, who played Loy, came up with his own unique backstory for the character. No doubt inspired by his own history in the socialist movement, Serkis envisioned Loy as an imprisoned labor activist just trying to survive: “What I imagined of Kino’s backstory, before he was in prison, was that he was a union leader. He’s used to working as a foreman. I wanted him to come from a place where he was put in prison for, perhaps, standing up for workers’ rights, and then put into a position of authority because that’s what he does. He is a natural leader. But he really just wants to serve his time.”21Anthony Breznican, “Meet Kino Loy: Andy Serkis Unveils His New Star Wars Character,” Vanity Fair, October 26, 2022; During the Thatcher years, Serkis was a member of the British Socialist Workers Party. See Simon Hattenstone, “Andy Serkis: From Gollum to Ian Dury,” The Guardian, January 2, 2010.

It is Kino Loy, Cassian Andor, and the other prisoners who represent a revolutionary hero. They are all ordinary people who are suffering under Imperial oppression. No single character acts as a chosen savior, but it takes their collective strength to win. This does not negate the need for leadership since it is Cassian Andor and Kino Loy who are the key organizers, but they cannot succeed alone. It is Kino Loy’s speech that expresses this message of the revolutionary hero: that collective solidarity and struggle is the one way out of capitalism.

Part of the resonance of Andor is that it gives expression to the anti-capitalist ideas and movements that have grown in popularity in recent years. While not without its flaws and political limitations, as should be expected from a Disney production, Andor is a serious portrayal of political rebellion, fascism, and imperialism. Andor is also a subversion of the hero’s journey at the center of Star Wars where salvation comes from a Jedi “chosen one.” Instead, Andor portrays a revolutionary hero as ordinary working people struggling together for a new world. 

Notes

Notes
1 Ben Hardwick, “How the Vietnam War Inspired George Lucas’ Star Wars Vision,” Comic Book Resources, April 9, 2022.
2 There is a partial exception with the Ewoks who fight the Empire in Return of the Jedi (1983).
3 I owe this observation on Tony Gilroy’s work to my friend and comrade Aarón Lázaro.
4 Maggie Lovitt, “‘Andor’: Tony Gilroy Explains Why Cassian and His Friends Don’t Know About Jedi and Lightsabers,” Collider, November 21, 2022; According to Gilroy, the absence of aliens was a deliberate creative choice to show the xenophobia that permeates the Empire: “You’ll see more as we go along, but it’s a legit question and one we’ll be answering as we go along. There is a more human-centric side of the story and the politics of it. There’s certainly no aliens working for the Empire, so that kind of tips it one way, automatically.” See Brian Davids, “‘Andor’ Creator Tony Gilroy Talks Luthen Rael’s Future and Being Surprised by Certain Easter Eggs,” The Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 2022.
5 Alexander Navarro, “Andor Creator Tony Gilroy and Lead Star Diego Luna Discuss the Development of the Star Wars Series,” MovieWeb, October 5, 2022.
6 Ibid.
7 The ruling Sith have a reactionary philosophy that expresses aristocratic disdain for ordinary people. The founder of the modern Sith, Darth Bane expresses his Nietzschean contempt for equality in the Star Wars non-canon novel, Darth Bane: Rule of Two:

“Equality is a lie” Bane told her. “A myth to appease the masses. Simply look around and you will see the lie for what it is! There are those with power, those with the strength and will to lead. And there are those meant to follow‐those incapable of anything but servitude and a meager, worthless existence.

“Equality is a perversion of the natural order!” he continued, his voice rising as he shared the fundamental truth that lay at the core of his beliefs. “It binds the strong to the weak. They become anchors that drag the exceptional down to mediocrity. Individuals destined and deserving of greatness have it denied them. They suffer for the sake of keeping them even with their inferiors.”

Drew Karpyshyn, Rule of Two: Star Wars Legends (Darth Bane) (New York: Del Ray Books, 2008), 40-41.

8 The full lecture in Z reads as follows:

“An ideological illness is alike and requires preventive measures. Like mildew, it is due to septic germs and various parasitic agents. So the treatment of men with appropriate solutions is indispensable. The first stage occurs in the schools where, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, the sprouts are still very young. The second treatment occurs when they begin to bloom as college students or young workers. The draft is the best time to spray and save the sacred tree of national liberty from the disease of ideological mildew. Air-dropped leaflets are telling our peasants of a new kind of ideological mildew beginning to ravage our land. This new variety is spreading insidiously. It’s a sly enemy pushing us away from God and the Crown. It’s against this enemy that our action is aimed. Don’t take notes! It’s all in our pamphlet. With the outbreak of isms, like socialism, anarchism, imperialism or communism, sunspots start to multiply on the face of the golden orb. God refuses to enlighten the Reds! Scientists forecast an increase in sunspots due to the arrival of the beatniks and pacifists from certain countries such as Italy, France and Scandinavia! As head of Law and Order here in the north, I wish to tell you, who are high civil servants, we must preserve the healthy elements of our society and heal those that are ill. Tonight the enemy’s holding a meeting on our city. But we are not an ism! We are a democracy! We won’t forbid the meeting. Nor will we forbid the opposition from demonstrating! With these healthy anti-bodies, we must fight all diseases of both the vine as well as Society! That’s all I have to say. Bear it in mind during the days to come!”
9 Mark Newbold, “Denise Gough talks Dedra Meero in Star Wars: Andor,” Fantha Tracks, October 31, 2022.
10 Steve Weintraub, “Andor’s Kyle Soller and Denise Gough on Creating an All-New Section of the ‘Star Wars’ Universe,” Collider, September 30, 2022.
11 Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism?” Marxists Internet Archive.
12 Rodrigo Perez, “Andor: Tony Gilroy Talks The Importance Of Saw Gerrera, Luthen Rael & The ‘Original Gangsters & Maniacs’ Of The Rebel Alliance,” The Playlist, September 22, 2022.
13 This passage recalls Lenin who said that revolutionaries must fan the flames of revolt wherever they appear:

“We do not and cannot know which spark—of the innumerable sparks that are flying about in all countries as a result of the world economic and political crisis—will kindle the conflagration, in the sense of raising up the masses; we must, therefore, with our new and communist principles, set to work to stir up all and sundry, even the oldest, mustiest and seemingly hopeless spheres, for otherwise we shall not be able to cope with our tasks, shall not be comprehensively prepared, shall not be in possession of all the weapons and shall not prepare ourselves either to gain victory over the bourgeoisie (which arranged all aspects of social life—and has now disarranged them—in its bourgeois fashion), or to bring about the impending communist reorganisation of every sphere of life, following that victory..” V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, Marxists Internet Archive.
14 Brian Hiatt, “How ‘Andor’ Drew from… Joseph Stalin? Plus: Inside Season 2 of the Revolutionary Star Wars Show,” The Rolling Stone, November 10, 2022.
15 Bertolt Brecht, “To those born after,” in The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht, ed. David Constantine (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019), 736.
16 V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement, Marxists Internet Archive.
17 Leon Trotsky, “Listen and Get Ready, Red Army!” Marxists Internet Archive.
18 In one interview, Gilroy describes Luthen’s political strategy as accelerationist: “And in a classic political sense, he’s an accelerationist. He believes in the fact that you have to make it hurt really bad in order to bring people to change.” Brian Davids, “‘Andor’ Creator Tony Gilroy Talks Luthen Rael’s Future and Being Surprised by Certain Easter Eggs.” ; For a thorough Marxist exposé on the underlying political pessimism of accelerationism see Harrison Fluss and Landon Frim, Prometheus and Gaia: Technology, Ecology and Anti-Humanism (New York: Anthem Press, 2022).
19 I owe observations in this section to conversations with friend and comrade Michael Nugent.
20 Erik Amaya, “Diego Luna Reveals How Andor’s Prison Story Offers a Pivotal Moment for Cassian,” Rotten Tomatoes, November 11, 2022.
21 Anthony Breznican, “Meet Kino Loy: Andy Serkis Unveils His New Star Wars Character,” Vanity Fair, October 26, 2022; During the Thatcher years, Serkis was a member of the British Socialist Workers Party. See Simon Hattenstone, “Andy Serkis: From Gollum to Ian Dury,” The Guardian, January 2, 2010.
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Doug Enaa Greene

Doug is an independent communist historian from the Boston area. He has written biographies of the communist insurgent Louis Auguste Blanqui and DSA founder Michael Harrington. His forthcoming book, The Dialectics of Saturn, examines Marxist debates about Stalinism.

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