Andor feels like a breath of fresh air within the Star Wars universe. While the franchise has catered to nostalgia and oversaturated itself, Andor tells a grounded, compelling story that doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of the universe. This is due to the genius of showrunner Tony Gilroy. Prior to saving 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story during reshoots, Gilroy worked as a screenwriter and director of films centered around the world of espionage.
Even though he’s admitted that he’s not personally a massive Star Wars fan, Gilroy has done a great job exploring the minutiae of the universe. He has explored the infrastructural dynamics of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the impoverished worlds that are left to fend for themselves. Gilroy asks practical questions about the universe’s day-by-day operations. How does the Empire interact with corporate entities? How does the Rebel Alliance fund its splinter operations? Who is tasked with hiring new soldiers? These questions make the galaxy far, far away feel like a lived-in universe.
Injecting New Life Into an Existing Franchise
However, this isn’t the first time that Gilroy came in and injected life into a franchise. After co-writing the screenplays for the original Bourne trilogy, Gilroy wrote and directed the 2012 spinoff The Bourne Legacy. Although it was promoted as the vehicle for Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross to replace the character that Matt Damon had made so iconic, The Bourne Legacy isn’t your standard action movie. It’s a probing political thriller that explores the ramifications of the Bourne films on a realistic version of our government, military, and pharmaceutical industries. In many ways, The Bourne Legacy set the precedent for what Andor would become.
Like Andor, The Bourne Legacy takes place within a previously unexplored era of the franchise timeline. In events that take place amidst the conclusion of The Bourne Legacy, the genetically enhanced black ops agent Aaron Cross must flee for his life after Bourne leaks information about the origins of the Treadstone operation. Both The Bourne Legacy and Andor explore the consequences of previous events in their respective universes; it shows a tactility to the world that makes the story grounded in logic.
Expanding on Nostalgia
Andor has been praised for how it has avoided obvious nostalgic callbacks. Yes, you’ll see Stormtroopers and TIE Fighters. However, the emergence of familiar iconography is treated as an everyday aspect of the universe, not a crowd-pleasing moment meant to invoke cheers. This is similar to the ways that The Bourne Legacy intertwines with the original trilogy. The references to Jason Bourne and the events of the previous films are meant to inform Cross’s situation, and provide context for why he is in danger.
Although worldbuilding is something that Gilroy knows very well, he understands that all stories require a compelling protagonist. Even if you’ve never seen Rogue One, Cassian (Diego Luna) has an interesting character trajectory in Andor. He’s an immigrant who never had a true family, and his hesitations about joining causes are well-explained. He’s given room to grow over the course of the series. Cross occupies a similar space. He’s an outsider thrust into danger because of events that he had no part in. Renner’s performance is very understated; he has a self-assured confidence that distinguishes him from Damon. Cassian similarly feels unique from the more jovial heroes we tend to see in the Star Wars saga.
Engaging Non-Fans With an Original Story
While Gilroy is using both of these projects as a way to engage non-fans, he doesn’t forget the die-hard obsessives that will happily consume anything from the franchise. Andor answers a lot of questions about the origins of the Rebel Alliance and the infrastructure of the Imperial Senate that Star Wars fans have had for years. Similarly, The Bourne Legacy fleshes out how the Treadstone operation works. The first three Bourne films only filtered the program through Jason’s experiences, so it’s interesting to see how it impacts an entire generation of brainwashed assassins.
Gilroy is also unafraid to take stylistic risks. While the first three Bourne films popularized the shaky cam, quickly cut together action sequences, The Bourne Legacy is shot almost entirely in beautiful wide shots. There’s a particularly memorable sequence towards the climax of the film where Aaron and the virologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) escapes their pursuers on motorcycles. It doesn’t feel like an isolated set piece shot on a soundstage; they have to weave through an active city and avoid innocent civilians.
This is something that Andor has done particularly well. Stylistically, it has the look and feel of a spy thriller, and lacks the inherent grandiose that comes with telling a Skywalker story. There’s an ethical dilemma at the heart of each character’s journey. Is Cassian willing to risk his life for a cause he doesn’t entirely believe in? Do the violent actions that Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) takes justify themselves? Is Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) a victim of the Empire’s domination, or a self-serving elitist who deserves to be routinely embarrassed?
Unfortunately, the lessons that The Bourne Legacy taught were not heeded. Instead of moving forward with a continuation of Gilroy’s new story, the Bourne franchise went back to its roots with 2016’s Jason Bourne. Matt Damon returned to reprise his role for a film that added absolutely nothing to the character, and felt like nothing more than a cash-grab meant to capitalize on the brand name.
It doesn’t look like Andor will be disregarded in the same way. With three seasons planned, Andor has the chance to grow into one of the most distinct and compelling entries in the entire Star Wars saga. It is a call to action to other entertainment studios that are developing their franchise properties; simply coasting on familiarity is not enough. Hopefully, the template that Gilroy has set with his work will not be a novelty.