When George Lucas set out to write the very first Star Wars, he was inspired by two things: social anthropology and the Vietnam War. Lucas went on to write a movie about efforts against an imperialist regime that resorted to violence against its own people to keep order. While doing so, he was aware that the rebels that wanted to blow up the Death Star more resembled the Viet Cong than any traditional “American hero” of the 1970s. And in Disney+’s Andor, that original thesis not only shines through, but it’s also perfectly laid out in a way that Star Wars has never really been able to accomplish before.
By the end of its first season, which premiered on Disney+ Wednesday, Andor has become a reflection of a classic Star Wars idea. It’s a moral distilled in one of the series’ most memorable lines. As they’re training on Dagobah in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Master Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.” The statement is meant to be encouraging; don’t try to accomplish something, just do it. “Trying” implies a lack of confidence, whereas just setting out to “do” something means you’ve chosen to act.
While there are several reasons why this quote has such longevity in the Star Wars fandom—and beyond—the first season finale of Andor flips the iconic quote on its head in one series-defining line. In a montage that shows the remaining moments before Maarva Andor’s (Fiona Shaw) funeral, Karis Nemik (Alex Lawther) can be heard reciting what can only be his manifesto. The late rebel speaks of the rebellion and how several small fights can win a bigger war. He notes that fighting against the Empire, such a powerful entity, may sometimes feel impossible. Yet “freedom is a pure idea,” he says, and every tiny push forward is a step toward knocking the fascist regime down.
“The frontier of the rebellion is everywhere,” Nemik says, as he plainly lays out why the Empire is struggling so badly: outright authoritarianism is unnatural. “Tyranny requires constant effort,” which is why their “authority is brittle.” He rounds out his manifesto with some more truly great zingers, like “oppression is the mask of fear” and “one single thing will break the siege.”
But Nemik’s final line is simple. “Remember this: Try.”
It’s almost the opposite of what Yoda tells Luke—which makes sense, because Nemik’s maxim is a much more human notion. There’s nothing wrong with urging a padawan to just “do or do not” and forgo the idea of “trying” when you wield a lightsaber. The Jedi are also known to ask their members to override normal emotions and actions anyway. However, for rebels fighting against a political and martial machine meant to squash the human spirit, trying is all they can do. It’s all they have. “Trying” is crucial to Andor’s entire premise, which is to set up the events of the 2016 spinoff film Rogue One. It’s what won Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and the rest of that film’s squad the blueprints to the Death Star, turning the tides of war and essentially leading to the Empire’s destruction.
Thus, “try” is the perfect ending to a manifesto for a movement that is a grassroots effort at its core.
Rogue One isn’t known as one of the best Star Wars films for nothing; in just one film, fans became invested in these characters who were meant to die by the time the credits rolled. Tony Gilroy, who wrote both the 2016 film and Andor, built on what we knew and felt for Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to make Andor’s first season strong throughout. The series premiere showed Cassian as an individualistic opportunist: His friends know him as one who gets into messes, but who also has a reputation for sneaking around the Empire to get what he wants. He tells Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) that the Empire is so fat and cocky that it’s easy for him to slink around and do what he does; they don’t think anyone would dare to try, so he does and steals from them under their noses.
Throughout the course of Season 1’s 12 episodes, Cassian’s worldview and motives shift, leading to the rebellion-leading hero we recognize from Rogue One. Of course, there’s one more season and four more years in the timeline between the two Cassians, but Season 2 did a fantastic job of laying that groundwork and really showing a visible shift in his character arc.
Cassian’s life—full of loss and turmoil, first growing up during the Clone Wars and then during the Empire’s rule—would lead many to radicalization from a young age. And while his life wasn’t without fighting “the man,” he was more so interested in self-preservation, rather than overthrowing the powers that be. While his adoptive father, Clem, taught him the core of his evasion tactics, Cassian’s adoptive mother Maarva always had a rebel’s heart. Losing her husband to the fascist regime encouraged her to eventually join the rebels, eventually leading to her death in the penultimate episode. In the season finale, thanks to Maarva and Andor’s connections to the rebellion, her funeral becomes a powder keg for the Republic. The Imperial Security Bureau and Empire connect in an effort to catch Cassian and squash any rebellion coming out of the planet. But first, on a projection thanks to her droid B2EMO, Maarva states loud and clear what she wants of her neighbors and loved ones, including Cassian.
“We were sleeping. I’ve been sleeping. I’ve been turning away from the truth I’m wanting not to face,” Maarva says to the locals in attendance at her funeral. She knows they’ll live on, but she wants them to wake up and see the “wound at the center of the galaxy”—the “disease” that is the Galactic Empire that “thrives in darkness” when no one is pushing back on their total control.
Despite his adoptive parents’ ideals, Cassian isn’t fully radicalized to the point of action until this final episode. Season 1 did put Andor through the wringer: The ISB began surveilling Cassian because he killed two of their men; he was bribed to be a part of a major rebel heist that made it harder for people living under Empire rule; he was imprisoned for virtually nothing, thanks to this crackdown, and put in a hard-labor prison. Both the heist on Aldhani and his time imprisoned on Narkina 5 were parts of that ultimate transformation into “rebel scum,” but it was Maarva’s words that solidified Cassian’s drive to fight the Empire.
In telling Cassian’s journey toward becoming a history-making member of the rebellion, Andor’s first season also introduces so much more history to the Rebel Alliance we’ve known for decades. Over the course of its 12 episodes, we learned just how hard it was for Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to conduct inside work as a sitting senator in the Empire’s facade of a “democracy.” The show presented Luthen, who is ruthless and committed to the Alliance to a fault, as potentially more hardcore than even Rogue One’s die-hard rebel Saw Guerrera (Forrest Whittaker). It also, for the first time, showed the true human toll of the Empire’s fascist regime. With authority figures in riot gear and Stormtroopers firing “at will” at unarmed civilians, Andor’s first season showcased a government that kills and tyrannizes so explicitly, in all its ugliness.
The original Star Wars trilogy and Rogue One showed how much the Empire sucked. But the raw, repulsive dominion of this government makes for a very real and timely look at an authoritarian government and the need to push back on such a thing. Andor only has one more season left, but so far, it’s done a great job filling a void in Star Wars canon—a story that is sorely needed.