'Andor' is the Star Wars series you've been waiting for : Pop Culture Happy Hour The new Disney Plus series Andor tells the story of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the rebel captain who stole the plans for the Death Star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This series takes place years before that, and traces Andor's evolution from an apolitical scoundrel to a rebel hero dedicated to the cause of freedom. The series was created by Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind Rogue One.

'Andor' is the Star Wars series you've been waiting for

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GLEN WELDON, HOST:

"Andor" is the story of Cassian Andor, the rebel captain whom we watched steal the plans for the Death Star in the Star Wars film "Rogue One." This Disney+ series takes place years before that and traces his evolution from an apolitical scoundrel out for himself to a rebel hero dedicated to the cause of freedom and more than willing to die for it. In the process, we get to see the inner bureaucratic workings of the Empire, which, trust me, is a lot more fun than it sounds, and get to know some of its petty officials as they crawl all over each other to get ahead. I'm Glen Weldon. And today, we're talking about "Andor" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

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WELDON: Joining me today is writer Shea Vassar. Hey, Shea.

SHEA VASSAR: Hey. Thanks for having me.

WELDON: Of course. And also here with us is Ronald Young Jr. He's the host of the film and television review podcast "Leaving The Theater." Hello, Ronald.

RONALD YOUNG JR: Hello, Glen.

WELDON: Great to have you both. Let's get started. "Andor" stars Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, a disaffected young man. While searching for his sister, he kills two guards, which brings him to the attention of the Empire. He then gets dragged into the growing Rebel Alliance, one faction of which is led by Stellan Skarsgard's mysterious Luthen. Andor becomes a target of the bootlicking, toady Syril Karn, played by Kyle Soller, and the ruthless imperial security officer Dedra Meero, played by Denise Gough. Also in the mix, Senator Mon Mothma, played by Genevieve O'Reilly, who's secretly funding the Rebel Alliance, even as the Empire is tightening its grip in ways that may lead to her exposure. The series was created by Tony Gilroy, who was the screenwriter for "Rogue One," and he also made "Michael Clayton." "Andor" is airing on Disney+. We've seen the first nine episodes, so we'll stick to them. Shea, I'm going to start with you. What do you think of "Andor?"

VASSAR: I want to give the disclaimer that I love it. I do.

WELDON: Cool.

VASSAR: But the first episode, I was a little worried. I think now I see its complete vision, and I'm enthralled. I'm hooked. I cannot believe this is a Star Wars show.

WELDON: OK. Ronald, what do you think?

YOUNG: I would also start with a disclaimer, and that is I recall on previous episodes of POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, you, Glen, who I dearly respect, once said that you are very into the aspect of Star Wars that is space wizards and laser swords...

WELDON: Yup.

YOUNG: ...That you were very into that aspect. I remember hearing you say that on the show and immediately saying, I am exactly the opposite of Glen. I don't care if I don't ever see another laser sword, hear another Skywalker or another Han Solo because all I want is spy intrigue, thriller, bureaucratic workings of Empire. And that's all we get in "Andor." And I am 100% here for it. I think this is - this should be the entire strategy of Star Wars now and moving into the future, which is more talking about what everyone is going through as a result of the oppression of the Empire, as opposed to thinking that one man can take a laser sword and just kill the emperor, and everything's solved.

WELDON: Yup.

YOUNG: Like, I'm glad we're moving away from that. And "Andor" seems to be doing a lot of that right now.

WELDON: Yeah, it is speaking to the current moment in a way that makes it a really smart and fitting show. Look. And you're absolutely right, Ronald, because before this, I was all about the space wizards.

YOUNG: (Laughter).

WELDON: And I came into this - it was the one I was least looking forward to because I don't care about scoundrels. I don't care about smuggling. My God, I hate smuggling.

YOUNG: (Laughter).

WELDON: But this ends up being my favorite Star Wars series of them all. No Tatooine is a factor. I'm not going to lie.

YOUNG: (Laughter).

WELDON: The fact that we never go to the planet that is the farthest from the bright center of the universe, as we were famously told, the fact that it's a workplace comedy...

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: ...And a science-fiction movie and a spy movie and a heist movie...

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: ...And - no spoilers - a jailbreak movie and a political thriller at the same time. It spends just enough time with each of those that it doesn't become muddled. There's a lot of plot lines, but they're self-contained. And when they do intersect, they don't collapse in on themselves, right?

YOUNG: Yes. Yes. I think one of my favorite parts about watching this is Disney dropped the first three episodes all together. And those three episodes had a beginning, middle and an end that still led into the next set of episodes. And for a while, especially if you go through the first six episodes, they really are contained in terms of having their own arc that still leads to the greater arc of the series. And I remember watching this and just, like, having to pause a few times and be like, Disney made this? And then I started looking at Tony Gilroy's involvement and started looking at...

WELDON: Sure.

YOUNG: ...More of the figures that are around in creating the show and understanding why it's so tightly written. And you're right. There's so many different plot lines that you think would kind of just get messy and, like you said, muddled. But again, like, in the beginning, we start with this kind of, like, action, adventure kind of escape thing. Then it turns into a heist movie, and I'm just like, whoa. I'm all the way invested in each one of these plot lines as they're going along. And I think that's a feat of writing and direction in terms of, like, how they're actually executing this show.

VASSAR: Well, and I think you're so right that the plot arcs are just so incredibly thrilling in their own way. There's so much going on without it feeling like it's ever hokey or it's there just for show.

YOUNG: Yes.

VASSAR: I also - not to get too nerdy about the production side of it - I'm a big fan of when directors have blocks of an episode. You know, so the way that this show is shot and produced is that different directors were given a set of the episodes, depending on what arc was going on for the season. And I think it's really evident because just the - how clean each arc is and how it comes together in such a way that is so intriguing, and as soon as that one arc finishes, we get going on another one that is just as clean and just as thorough and just as exciting. And, you know, there are some episodes that don't even fully focus on Cassian until the end, and yet I'm still intrigued. I'm still with it. And if anything, Cassian not being on screen just gets me ready for him to be on screen, so it's a really, really great tactic.

WELDON: (Laughter) Now, you both said the same thing in two different ways, and I want you both to unpack a thing you just said. Ronald, you said, I can't believe this is Disney. Shea, you said, I can't believe this is "Star Wars." Unpack that for me. What are you saying? What are you actually saying?

YOUNG: I think for me, I remember watching this show, and right around the seventh or eighth episode, we start to get a lot more of Denise Gough playing Dedra Meero, who is part of the ISB, the Imperial Security Bureau, which is a part of the Empire, and they're in charge of keeping the safety in the Empire, but really, they're internal spies. They're basically making sure that you're acting right and doing what the Empire tells you to do to not destabilize the Empire. And I remember watching at that point and thinking to myself, what is it about this show that couldn't make it the next "Game Of Thrones" or the next kind of, like, just spiraling big show that we're all, you've got to watch? And I feel like the only thing that stops it from being that is that it is "Star Wars" and that it is produced by Disney. And that's what I say I can't believe it, because I'm watching a show that, for me, is giving me the same feelings of, ooh, got to watch next one, we've got to talk about this. But to be honest, we're not having the same impact because it's in, like, more of a protected universe. It doesn't feel as universal as "Game Of Thrones" did, where I'm talking about "Game Of Thrones" with everyone on the way to the office, from the barista to the CEO, to my...

WELDON: (Laughter).

YOUNG: ...Co-workers, to everyone, whereas this one feels - because it's of "Star Wars," it's such a little, like, insular community. It doesn't feel as accessible from the outside, even though the show is very accessible. That's what I say when I say it doesn't feel like "Star Wars" or Disney.

WELDON: Yeah, there's a gratifyingly small amount of fan service here. We're exploring places and motivations that there's just no room for if you're stuck with a dark side, light side binary.

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: Shea, is that what you're getting at when you say it doesn't feel like "Star Wars"?

VASSAR: Definitely, because honestly, I love the original movies, and by original, I mean all six of the original.

(LAUGHTER)

VASSAR: You know, I'm at that age where I remember seeing "Episode I" in the theaters as a child. So those have a real sentimental meaning for me. And then I remember seeing the original three and being like, wow, this is just incredible. Because I wasn't a child when the newest trilogy came out, I did not have the same feeling. I felt like they copied and pasted Anakin and Luke's kind of journey and put it together to create Rey. I was not satisfied with a lot of what happened in Rey's movies. I felt like she - and other characters, side characters - just were really not treated with the respect that they should have been. I think what makes "Andor" so different is it's not a copy and paste of the same narrative we've gotten before. This is detailed and nuanced, and we're seeing motivations behind the Rebel Alliance in a way that we've never seen before. I mean, really what "Andor" is about is about the beginning of the rebels, and that is so fascinating to me. This is pre-the-Jedi-coming-back. This is, you know, obviously pre-"Rogue One," because we know what happens in "Rogue One," so...

WELDON: Yeah, we do.

VASSAR: I just think that's so cool because it doesn't have that copy paste feel the same way that the latest movies have really felt.

WELDON: In "Star Wars," there are rebels because the Empire is evil and destroys planets. You get it. It's big picture, it's mythic - intentionally so. It's macro. But in "Andor," there are rebels because of what fascism does...

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: ...To individual people. It's humanized, it's agonizing, it's micro. This show is surprisingly smart...

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: ...About authoritarianism, about the dehumanization that is necessary for fascism to exist. And it's really smart about the fact - and we'll talk more about Syril Karn, 'cause I love Syril Karn - that there are willing, even eager participants in fascism. It's not something that happens to people. It's like the showrunner is Hannah Arendt, you know, because...

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WELDON: ...This is the banality of evil, the show. And I'm going to push back a little bit on what you guys are saying, 'cause I think this works because it's a "Star Wars" universe, because in the "Star Wars" universe, over here, there's the emperor in his Party City cloak...

YOUNG: (Laughter) Not his Party City cloak.

WELDON: ...Being, you know, cartoony, kids-movie evil - the dark side. But this is about where Tarkin comes from. This is order and efficiency...

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: ...A striving to be recognized. And what a smart thing for Andor the character and "Andor" the show to realize and tell several characters over and over again that they are beneath the Empire's attention. They are beneath the Empire's consideration - that all these rebels are thinking about the Empire a lot more than the Empire ever thinks about them, because that's what fascism is. It's just really smart, surprisingly smart.

YOUNG: I appreciate you saying that. I feel like what gets me is - I know it can only exist in the Star Wars universe. But the problem is they've never explored this before, even though it was ripe for exploration.

VASSAR: Exactly.

YOUNG: I think one thing that always gets me is the fact that - if you think about the main trilogy, the fact that Finn is a stormtrooper - we find out that there's a planet full of ex-stormtroopers. That is ripe for exploration.

WELDON: Yeah.

YOUNG: And we find out even in "Andor," like, there might be more ex-stormtroopers walking around. And when you start to explore it, you do get this rich universe of stuff where I'm just like, I knew it had to exist in the "Star Wars" universe. But to see it actually executed, that's where I'm starting to get chills because you're like - everything that you just said about fascism is something that they've never talked about with the Empire. It's normally just evil empire because now I'm sitting there looking at it as I'm looking at these people compete ambitiously in a job. It feels different from just looking at people just be plain evil because I think just saying someone is plain evil is such a cop-out.

But to say that I'm doing something because I want to do better than this person at work, so I'm going to be the best torturer - I'm going to (laughter) be the best infiltrator or whatever. That kind of comes across a lot different. And then you look at the people that are just doing their jobs or the reasons why the people who are embedded with the Empire are now turning against it. Like, they're playing with all those ideas, and they're all there. And I think that's what gets me happy because I think you're absolutely right. It can only happen in the "Star Wars" universe, but, like, unpack your universe, man, you know?

VASSAR: Yeah. And honestly, what you're saying, too - it just really drives home for me the way that as a Native woman, I have never felt more seen in something that's not Native-specific because they talk about, you know, displacing people, but they'll be like, yeah, they were on this planet for centuries, centuries and centuries. And then they got moved to this other planet. And that's why they're here now. And what? Like, this is Star Wars. And other than - obviously, "Star Wars" has, like, a really rich history in different Indigenous influences. And that's really cool. And I've seen the way that Native communities have really claimed Star Wars elements. And even you talk to the certain groups of people - people will tell you Baby Yoda is Native. He is Native.

WELDON: (Laughter).

VASSAR: But this is really the first time that I felt like those people were given a real narrative. They weren't just, like, one episode in Mandalorian, or they influenced this language. And in the, you know, original "Star Wars," this was, like, actually showing a disruption of a culture and a disruption of a homeland in a way that I'm like, oh, yeah, no, this is, like, really Native.

YOUNG: Yes.

WELDON: Yeah. It's also speaking to mass incarceration when...

YOUNG: Yes, Glen.

WELDON: ...Andor gets taken to jail for just hanging out.

YOUNG: Yes. Like, I mean, we're sitting there, all of a sudden, watching the prison industrial complex in full effect. And especially, like, the minute Andy Serkis comes on screen, I'm like, well, you don't pick Andy Serkis if you don't want to at least go on a bit of a complicated journey. And as that journey begins to come to fruition - and we've left off on episode nine - when you see how it ends, like, it's just - I'm like, oh, I know what's coming next. And I'm, like - I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it now, the way they're expertly, like, picking these things to have discussions about. And again, I mean, this is Star Wars.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: So I'm, like - I'm so excited that they're able to present it in this way. It kind of reminds me of the ways in which "The Watchmen" starts with the Tulsa massacre and then tells a story out of that because there's a universe there that's, like, rich, but we can still talk about the issues that matter, like race and class and all of that. And now, like, Star Wars has, like, checked into this conversation. But, like, you didn't - no one expected to turn on "Andor" and be talking about the prison industrial complex, Glen.

WELDON: (Laughter).

YOUNG: Like, that's wild.

WELDON: It's so great. All right. That brings me - let's - I want to say a word about my guy, Syril Karn. I'm a fan. I'm sorry. I'm a fan. I'm a Karn-ivore.

YOUNG: (Laughter).

WELDON: He is the best thing about the show. He's the saddest thing about the show. He's the funniest thing about the show. He's the queerest thing about the show. I'm sorry. Episode one, he shows up. He's had his uniform tailored...

YOUNG: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...Because of course he has. You work that hard on your waist-to-shoulder ratio, you need to show off those lats.

YOUNG: Yeah.

WELDON: I get it. He's added piping - piping, people. He goes to a job interview, and he can't help it. He's got to wear a statement collar. It's got to pop.

YOUNG: Yeah.

WELDON: I know people are shipping him with Meero. I think the show is also shipping him with Meero, but I'm not buying it because you know why? Piping is why. Do you guys have a favorite character? Do you guys have somebody you are pulling for? Luthen is really interesting.

VASSAR: I mean, I hate to be that girl, but, like, have you seen Cassian? I'm sorry. Like...

WELDON: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

VASSAR: I already love Diego Luna. And so when I saw "Rogue One," it was, like, a natural transition. Like, we have a new generation of "Star Wars" characters that are nuanced. They're breaking boundaries. And that is Cassian Andor for me. And the fact that Diego Luna can do so many different roles, including being this spy - we know he becomes kind of an assassin because of "Rogue One." Like, the cool thing about this, too, is we already know so much about what Cassian becomes. So it's just about enjoying the journey of how he got to be this guy. And I love seeing Diego in this role. I love it.

YOUNG: It's funny because when you said the thing about Syril Karn and Dedra Meero being shipped, I saw that, too. But I saw it a little differently because she's my favorite character in the show even though I don't agree with her. I don't support her. But the acting and what she's doing is just - it's very subtle 'cause it starts off very much, like, a woman in the workplace and dealing with men. But there's a moment where she meets up with Syril Karn outside of her job, and the interaction between the two of them - like, it was very tense.

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DENISE GOUGH: (As Dedra Meero) I could have you arrested. You're aware of that.

KYLE SOLLER: (As Syril Karn) I want what you want. I sense it. I know it.

GOUGH: (As Dedra Meero) You're out of your mind.

YOUNG: And I think it's going to be very easy for "Star Wars" to turn this into an evil power couple. But I think that there's ways that couplings can happen without it having to be romantic. And I think they both know that they're in it for the same reasons. But she's still trying to be like, the empire - like, don't ever come here again. I don't want to talk to you anymore. And I feel like the way that's delivered, the energy there - I think that's when I was like, oh, I think I really like this Dedra Meero character. I know she probably has a tragic arc (laughter).

VASSAR: Well, I see what side you guys are on.

WELDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: I mean, all of our favorite characters, Shea, are going to end up on the Death Star at the end, so, you know, it's like - it's...

VASSAR: Newsflash - they die.

WELDON: Yeah.

VASSAR: And that's a spoiler from 2016. So...

YOUNG: Yeah.

WELDON: Yeah. So we're only going to get one more 12-episode season of this. They're only doing two seasons. And I'm looking forward to it because, you know, in "Star Wars," the empire ends because of the actions of three or four heroes. That is not how empires end. Rebellion isn't two or three people. It's collective action over time. It's a thousand cuts. "Andor" is showing us that the more they tighten their grip, the more star systems are going to slip through their fingers. We're seeing it happen live, real time. I love that. Are you guys looking forward to Season 2?

VASSAR: Oh, yeah. Again, I've been a Cassian fan since 2016. I own multiple "Rogue One"/Cassian t-shirts. I have been looking forward to this show. My expectations have been blown out of the water, and that was someone with very high expectations. I think what's really smart about the fact that we do know the fate of Cassian - it doesn't allow "Star Wars" and Disney to continue a storyline when it needs to be wrapped up. We know that there's not a ton of time because we know the timeline. So this is obviously going to happen very fast because we also unfortunately know historically how rulers and fascists do rise fast in power. So we know that the rebellion is going to also have to duplicate in a similar kind of tempo. So I'm so stoked.

YOUNG: I'm excited about the next season as well. I think that there's a lot of room for them to grow the rebellion. And I'm interested because you're right. When we get to the original movies - and I only started thinking about this as a teenager and as an adult 'cause I saw the original movies as a small child. But as a teenager and adult, I remember thinking, where did the rebellion come from, and who's funding them? And both of those questions are now being answered in front of me, which I think is important.

So I think at some point they're going to have to introduce another major character, probably in Season 2, that's doing more of the, like, bureaucratic administrative work of growing the rebellion. Like, where do we get all of the other characters that sit around that big, round table? How do they come in? How does the empire affect them? So I imagine those storylines or that storyline will be built out in Season 2. And I like that it ends with "Rogue One." "Rogue One" is one of my favorite movies, full stop. I mean, if it's on, I'm going to watch it. It always feels fresh and new, and I enjoy watching it. So I'm very interested to see the lead up into it. And, like, now "Star Wars" is in a place where we're seeing prequels happen in real time as opposed to 30 years later.

WELDON: Right.

YOUNG: That's really exciting. So I'm looking forward to Season 2.

WELDON: Yeah, I think it's a quorum. I think we all are. We want to know what you think about "Andor." Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @PCHH. That brings us to the end of our show. Ronald Young Jr., Shea Vassar, thank you so much for being here.

YOUNG: Thanks for having me.

VASSAR: Yeah, I appreciate being back.

WELDON: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. This episode was produced by Candice Lim and Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. And Hello Come In provides our theme music, which you are filing a false report to ISB about right now. I'm Glen Weldon, and we'll see you all tomorrow, when we will be talking about "Love Is Blind."

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