An Occasion for Just War: A Review of Andor

Author:

Cole Burgett

Article ID:

JAR1222CB

Updated: 

Jan 9, 2023

Published:

Dec 13, 2022

This is an online-exclusive from the Christian Research Journal. For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.

When you to subscribe to the Journal, you join the team of print subscribers whose paid subscriptions help provide the resources at equip.org that minister to people worldwide. These resources include our ever growing database of over 1,500 articles, as well as our free Postmodern Realities podcast.

Another way you can support our online articles is by leaving us a tip. A tip is just a small amount, like $3, $5, or $10 which is the cost for some of a latte, lunch out, or coffee drink. To leave a tip, click here


Andor

Created by Tony Gilroy

Executive Producers: Sanne Wohlenberg, Tony Gilroy, Kathleen Kennedy,

Diego Luna, Toby Haynes, Michelle Rejwan

Producers: Kate Hazell, David Meanti

Streaming on Disney Plus

(Rated TV-14, 2022—)


**Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Andor.**

Since The Mandalorian came blasting onto screens in 2019, just in time for the controversial “sequel trilogy” to draw to a close, Star Wars has been trying to find its footing in a post-Skywalker era. And the results have been fair-to-middling, at best. The Mandalorian sacrificed originality for claptrap fan service during its second season, The Book of Boba Fett (2021–2022) was a surprisingly tedious slog that had more interesting concept art than anything conjured onscreen, and the cumbersome, overstuffed Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022) is a series that was clearly brilliant upon inception but was so badly mangled after being filtered through the hands of too many “creatives” that somebody could almost be sued for professional negligence and malpractice.1

Thankfully, it turns out that Obi-Wan Kenobi was not the only hope for anybody still waiting for someone to write a Star Wars story that is actually good. Under the guidance of Academy Award-nominated writer and director Tony Gilroy, Lucasfilm has finally delivered its Star Wars showstopper with Andor (2022—). Pulling in a cadre of writers whose credits include acclaimed espionage and political thrillers like The Americans (Stephen Schiff; 2013–2018) and House of Cards (Beau Willimon; 2013–2018), Gilroy and company have dreamed up a stellar and fiercely intelligent outing that has whipped that galaxy far, far away into the best shape it has been in since the eighties.

The Anti-Star Wars Show. With his stunning 2007 legal thriller Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy quite possibly created Hollywood’s last film for adults.2 Within two years, Marvel mania would take over the zeitgeist, and the juvenilizing of mainstream cinema would be complete. Considering that George Lucas has always maintained that Star Wars is, ultimately, meant for children, selecting Gilroy to helm a series set in Lucas’s fictional universe might, at first, seem like an odd decision.3 But Gilroy’s history with the property stretches back to 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the film that first began inching mainstream Star Wars out from under the burden of established characters (and, for what it is worth, the one Star Wars film that Lucas himself supposedly enjoyed more than the sequels).4

The titular character of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) first appeared in Rogue One, for which Gilroy received a screenplay credit. So it is, in a way, fitting that he returns for a prequel telling the backstory of one of that film’s lead characters. But with the freedom to craft a more nuanced story beyond the confines of a 120-minute runtime, Andor deepens and muddies further the waters of complex, morally ambiguous storytelling first explored in Rogue One.

In many ways, Andor is anti-Star Wars — and not in the same sense that many seem to think Rian Johnson’s 2017 sequel, The Last Jedi, is anti-Star Wars. That film is subversive, sure, but Andor, by comparison, seems downright heretical. Gone is the clear sense of good and evil that defines the moral compass of the films. Gone are even passing references to the Jedi or the Sith. Forget the will of the Force, consider the willpower of the average, everyday folks just trying to make it through life under the oppressive thumb of a lazy and bureaucratic Galactic Empire. Even Johnson’s incessant moralizing about the treatment of space horses and winning wars not by “destroying what we hate” but “saving what we love” seems trite, reductionist, and hopelessly preachy by comparison.5 Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) might have become an important figure in the Resistance — her attitude would have seen her laughed out of the Rebel Alliance depicted in Andor.

Fighting the Star War. The moral ambiguity of war has become a focal point for Gilroy’s Star Wars stories. When Imperial defector Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) is unceremoniously killed in Rogue One, his enraged daughter tells Cassian, “Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.”6 Andor seeks to explore those ambiguities further, especially through the fascinating character of Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a shadowy spymaster within the Rebel Alliance who fronts as an oddball antiques dealer. His recruitment of Cassian, as well as his dealings with other rebels such as Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), form much of the drama of the series and provide context for exploring the moral mess that is the world of espionage.

At one point, Luthen tells one of his assets, “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 I know I’ll never see.”7 In other words, he is willing to fight fire with fire, all while acknowledging his own moral failures but justifying them as being necessary to get the Rebellion off the ground. When it comes to showing the cost of revolution, Andor succeeds in spades by creating aware and reflective characters who are troubled by the decisions they have made — imagine, by way of example, if The Empire Strikes Back (1980) had dealt with the moral ramifications of Luke Skywalker killing nearly two million people when he blew up the Death Star and how that weighs upon his conscience. In Andor, no one gets out cleanly.

These sorts of complexities are certainly new to Star Wars, which has traditionally been bent more toward a black-and-white (i.e., light side vs. dark side) morality scale. But Andor wrinkles this, suggesting instead that the true rebels are the ones who are willing to get their hands dirty. Mon Mothma might lead the Rebel Alliance dressed in pressed robes of immaculate white, yet her conscience is anything but clean when she sacrifices her family on the altar of rebellion. When Luke and Han receive their medals at the end of A New Hope (1977), they stand upon the shoulders and graves of characters like Luthen and Cassian, who sacrifice personal virtue for victory over the Imperial machine.

A Just War. In the fields of theology and military ethics, the so-called “just war” theory has been a focal point of study for millennia. The fourth century church father Augustine is remembered for his work in the early development of the doctrine, and the medieval era’s Thomas Aquinas built off Augustine’s foundation to expand the doctrine further, accounting for changes in the geopolitical landscape, as well as technology. Essentially, these writers (and others) sought to develop a tradition of thinking that “arose from a desire to have the Christian faith influence the terrible necessity of warfare.”8

In the modern era of globalization and geopolitics, the notion of a Christian tradition dedicated to navigating these murky waters might seem strange or even antithetical to many of the values Christians seem to uphold. But the development of this tradition should not be divorced from its historical contexts, wherein, at different points, Christianity was the dominant religion of nation states, as well as the motivation of many soldiers to march to war in the first place (i.e., the Crusades).

The doctrine is certainly not the most well-rounded, or even the best known, and has not been without criticism — sometimes for being too loose and flexible that just about any motivation can be used to justify a war, and other times for being too narrow in scope, as it was developed primarily for war between nation states.9 Yet the number of policymakers and ethicists who continue to turn to and study such a tradition when trying to determine the moral parameters for justified warfare is a testament to the doctrine’s importance. And in an age where the face of war changes as rapidly as the technology used to wage it, the just war doctrine remains one of the pivotal areas of thought in which Christianity’s strong moral center and ethical vision is valued.

Due to its exploration of the morality of warfare, Andor presents a unique opportunity for the Christian apologist or military ethicist looking to interact with a pop culture artifact. The just war tradition is particularly applicable to the discussion, helping to frame the motivations and actions of characters on both sides of the conflict. War is all too frequently dehumanizing, and few things rob a human being of their own humanity more than taking another’s life, regardless of whether the act is state-sanctioned — otherwise firing squads would never have to retain unloaded or blank-firing weapons to mitigate the psychological and emotional trauma to the trigger-pullers. Andor, being interested in these traumas, gives viewers uncommonly complex, multi-dimensional characters as civil war looms.

Imperials are no longer white-clad stormtroopers, inhuman and impersonal — Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is a competent deputy inspector whose skills are hamstrung by maddeningly incompetent bureaucracy, while his desire for order and sense of justice makes him sympathetic to the Empire. And, most importantly, his face is not obscured behind a mask. Conversely, Luthen’s cool, matter-of-fact threats to an Imperial asset are shockingly cold and inhumane, considering that he is one of the “good guys” in the fledgling Rebel Alliance. His masks are plenty, but not literal, a part of his chameleon personality that morphs into something different with every individual he meets. While it is true that Luthen comes to Cassian’s aid, he does so not because Cassian needs help, but because he wants to condition him into a working asset for the Rebellion; on the flip side, Syril is hunting Cassian out of his sense of duty and fairness after Cassian ruthlessly guns down a Preox-Morlana Authority officer.

In the context of Andor, the just war tradition gives Christians a grid through which to both empathize with characters we might traditionally pass off as “bad guys” without so much as a second thought, while reevaluating the moral culpability of the “good guys.” There are characters ruled by fear and anger literally laying the groundwork of what will become the Rebel Alliance, just as there are characters driven by a profound sense of right and wrong trying to make the Empire more efficient in establishing a sense of order in the galaxy. Is the Rebellion worth saving if it means losing one’s humanity in the process? Is the Empire made up of nothing but cruel, poorly trained soldiers who are terribly inept at shooting? Until Andor, the answer to either of those questions would likely have been “yes.” But now? Well, Star Wars has finally grown up.

This does not detract from its mythic status, or its place as a pop culture juggernaut. But the civil war between the Rebellion and the Empire brewing in Andor is not the star war that was fought under Lucas, in which Luke Skywalker killed nearly two million faceless Imperials when he blew up the Death Star — and was given a medal for it. Cassian Andor looks into the eyes of the people he murders out of fear and desperation. Luthen Rael lies, cheats, and steals in the name of insurrection. Mon Mothma sacrifices her family in hopes of bringing the galaxy out from under the thumb of tyranny. Andor represents the property’s first confident steps out from under the shadow of George Lucas. Star Wars is something different now, the galaxy a more complicated place. But, true to form, the property has given Christians yet another artifact to interact with in the public sphere, and this is an opportunity not to be wasted. —Cole Burgett

Cole Burgett is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. He teaches classes in systematic theology and Bible exposition and writes extensively about theology and popular culture.

NOTES

  1. Nathan Johnson, “Obi-Wan Kenobi Movie Trilogy Was Planned Before Disney+ (Exclusive),” The Direct, June 27, 2022, https://thedirect.com/article/obi-wan-kenobi-movie-trilogy-before-disney-exclusive.
  2. Sean Hooks, “Michael Clayton: Hollywood’s Last Film for Adults,” Bright Lights Film Journal, June 7, 2018, https://brightlightsfilm.com/michael-clayton-george-clooney-tilda-swinton-crime-drama/#.Y3-lcy-B2sp.
  3. Vinnie Mancuso, “George Lucas: ‘Star Wars’ Is a ‘Film for 12-Year-Olds’,” Observer, April 13, 2017, https://observer.com/2017/04/george-lucas-says-star-wars-is-for-12-year-olds/.
  4. Cheryl Eddy, “George Lucas Likes Rogue One More Than The Force Awakens, and Other Fun Facts We Learned This Weekend,” Gizmodo, December 5, 2016, https://gizmodo.com/george-lucas-likes-rogue-one-more-than-force-awakens-a-1789694908.
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Film], directed by Rian Johnson, written by Rian Johnson and George Lucas, Lucasfilm, 2017.
  6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story [Film], directed by Gareth Edwards, written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, and John Knoll, Lucasfilm, 2016.
  7.  Andor [TV Series], Season 1, Episode 10, “One Way Out,” directed by Toby Haynes, written by Beau Willimon, Tony Gilroy, George Lucas, Lucasfilm, aired November 9, 2022, on Disney Plus.
  8. Michael McKenzie, “Onward Christian Soldiers? Just War Tradition,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1996, https://www.equip.org/articles/just-war-tradition/.
  9. Bob Perry, “You Say You Want a Revolution?,” Christian Research Journal vol. 37, no. 3 (2014): https://www.equip.org/articles/say-want-revolution/.
Loading
Share This