Many themes run throughout Star Wars stories but one comes through most strongly: hope. Beings across the galaxy clutch the idea of a positive outcome close to their hearts. That hope helps them fight against the Empire, and later the First Order. The first Star Wars movie released got the name A New Hope. It’s not exactly a cheerful film—we see the Empire disintegrate a planet of billions—but it does end on an uplifting note of good rising above evil. Everything about the grubby, scrappy Rebel Alliance seems on the up and up, a band of heroes rebelling. It’s a propagandist’s dream, these tired soldiers as beacons of light saving the galaxy. While Andor is building to the Rebel Alliance as we know it, it’s not there yet. Andor shows what makes a rebellion, and it isn’t only hope.
We know the rebellion comes at a cost. Not everyone interested in standing up against the Empire wants to do it in the same way. Regardless of anyone’s goals, lives are on the line. Star Wars Rebels showed us some of these hardships in its later episodes. Rogue One, which Andor spins off from, is about giving up lives for the cause and for the greater good. The Rebel Alliance did not become an organization with a single decree. It took years, blood, and hard decisions. That’s what we’re seeing more closely than ever in Andor.
Set roughly five years before A New Hope, Andor takes place when the idea of rebelling against the Empire is a field of saplings that have been spreading roots from seeds planted in the years following Order 66. For those who fought occupation during the Clone Wars, it became an extension of that fight. Nothing is organized under a single umbrella. Saw Gerrera represents one branch with his Partisan fighters. Mon Mothma is another, committed to her altruistic approach that minimizes the loss of life. Andor doesn’t show how much she’s directly orchestrating at this point. Then there’s Luthen Rael who works with Mon Mothma but clearly has a more pragmatic idea of how the rebellion will gain ground.
Before explaining what he’s sacrificed for the cause to Lonni, Luthen makes it clear how much he’s willing to give up. He’ll put himself on the line, yes, but also anyone in the rebellion. He’s willing to let 50 rebel pilots fall at the Empire’s hands in order to preserve Lonni as a secret spy within the Imperial Security Bureau. We saw this willingness to lose lives with the robbery on Aldhani, too. Luthen calls it out in his speech when he says, “I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them.”
The Empire’s arsenal of tools is vast. In Andor alone the organization has wielded torture, imprisonment, and occupation. Imperials seemingly don’t blink an eye when it comes to causing harm. The story leaves no doubt that Imperials would give up whoever they need, even within their own ranks, to achieve their objectives. To imagine the Rebel Alliance, the “good guys,” picking up those tools feels uncomfortable. To see it feels worse.
But how can the rebellion win the long battle against the Empire without putting their feet in the same mud? Luthen and Saw see a different path to victory, but Mon Mothma would certainly prefer they didn’t have to sink to the Empire’s level. However, hard choices await the rebels at every turn. Even Mon Mothma has to decide if she’ll betroth her daughter to the son of an unsavory character to help the rebellion gain funds. Someone like Cassian, who is not ready to pledge to the cause, has to take in all these disparate approaches and weigh them against his own experiences and plans.
This is one of the crucial pieces of Star Wars history Andor is telling. Cassian has encountered the rebellion’s questionable morality and made choices. The audience is doing the same. Andor’s rebellion isn’t about hope, not yet. We’re watching the ugly part of the rebellion, the part that is about the power of conviction in the face of evil and the costs people are willing to pay for that conviction. We need to see it.