Charles Dickens may not be the first writer that comes to mind when you think of Star Wars. But that's kind of what Tony Gilroy aims to change with Andor.
Like the famed Victorian author, Gilroy (of Bourne franchise fame) is splitting his narrative into chapters (in Andor's case, 24 of them) for wide distribution – but says he intends a novel-like narrative that will one day be ripe for viewing as one whole.
Dickens stories feels stuffed with characters, with roughly 40 major and minor ones in Great Expectations; Andor has 200 speaking roles in the 12-episode first season alone. Dickens deliberately drew his characters from all walks of life, high and low, and usually opened with his protagonist at the bottom of the heap; so too does Andor.
"It really is Dickensian," Gilroy says. "Multiple characters, multiple plots, multiple intrigues; everybody's adventure stories colliding with one another. The idea is to start extremely small, and we are going to get huge … you have a long way to go."
Andor, Gilroy explains, "endeavors to be a 1,500-page novel by the time it's done." When Gilroy's star and co-producer Diego Luna called Andor "different" and "smart" Star Wars, this is what he was talking about. But what he didn't talk about was the sheer Death-Star size of the thing now emerging from hyperspace.
"We essentially made four new Star Wars films," Gilroy says of the epic 12-hour Season 1. "And we're gonna make four more." Memo to every director attached to a potential Star Wars trilogy that hasn't seen the light of day for years: Gilroy just casually leapfrogged you and will likely lap you.
He had toyed with the idea of doing five seasons, Gilroy confirms: one for every year between the start of the show and Rogue One. But that would be too much scale, even for him.
"At the end, you're gonna go ‘wow, they would die before they could do this five more times,'" he says. Besides, "Diego would be in his 60s by the time we finished them" — somewhat older than he's supposed to be in Rogue One.
You can get a sense of the Andor scope widening in the first three episodes that Disney+ made available in the show's first week, as the plot builds from Cassian's family background and personal problems to (mild spoiler alert, but why haven't you watched yet?) tense scenes of workers rebelling against corporate cops, who are as humorless, hapless, and brutal as any official in Dickens' workhouses.
Luther Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) arrives in transit literally next to a classic cockney character, and becomes a very Dickensian kind of mentor to Cassian — mysterious, morally ambiguous — replacing his stepmother Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw). Maarva — controlling, stuck in a room — is an archetypal Dickens stepmom.
As reviewers who have already seen episode 4 can confirm, next week's Andor widens the scope even further. It's no spoiler for anyone who's studied the trailers that one of the intrigues to come involves Galactic Senator and future rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly).
"And by the time we get to [episodes] 5 and 6," Gilroy says, "it's just like a full orchestra playing at that point."
Gilroy started writing Andor in 2018, slap bang in the middle of what we can now look back on (knock on wood) as the Trump era.
His is a story of struggle against a growing dictatorship — one that is being embraced by petty officials in the Corporate Tactical Forces (tagline: "the Empire's First Line of Defense") who dream of imposing law and order by rescinding rights and cracking skulls. Fiona Shaw has called it a "great, scurrilous take on the Trumpian world."
But Gilroy straight-up denies that he was thinking about The Former Guy when he wrote Andor. Why? Because again, that would make his scope too small.
"To make the show about Trump would be trivial," Gilroy says. "It's not about politics at all. It's about history. Nothing to do with the specifics of what's going on now."
Indeed, Andor never feels like it's preaching, even in those "cops vs. workers" scenes. Like Dickens, who exposed the workhouses by showing not telling, Gilroy is an entertainer first. He's simply showing us a parade of "real people" that feel universal, no matter what galaxy or historical age you're in.
The corporate cops are surprisingly three-dimensional: Note how, for all their big talk, they freak out when they actually shoot a worker. Stormtroopers, these are not.
"The five years we're curating here are when the Empire is consolidating its power," Gilroy notes. "We're going to see that oppression and that squeeze come down in every variation, everywhere. The first one is on a corporate planet; [the Empire] will take the excuse of what happens and say ‘We're nationalizing all the companies.' They're tightening up their supply lines. They're passing all their versions of the Patriot Act in the [Galactic] Senate."
By comparison to what the Empire is doing, Gilroy says, this corporate tactical force of meek little wannabe fascists will "look kind of sad at the end of days."
Unusual characters abound at ground level in Gilroy's galaxy. Some are figures of fun, but Andor is in deadly earnest. "We don't ever stop and wink at the audience," Gilroy says. "It's a real, serious story about people under pressure as a revolution is fomenting."
That's a story many of us can get behind for many different reasons. Whether distracted modern audiences have the patience for 24 chapters of it, let alone a 1,500-page novel, remains to be seen.
But if Gilroy can successfully keep our interest through this parade of 200 characters? Well, that's a top-notch entertainment outcome to please the Force Ghost of Charles Dickens.