War by other means…
War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.ON WAR, by General Carl von Clausewitz
To be honest, Disney’s Star Wars spinoff Andor was initially a bit of a slow burn for me. I was, however, deeply impressed from the first by the seriousness and sophistication of the writing, acting, directing, and production values.
Then, in a scene between two squabbling and uber-ambitious technocrats, scrambling for promotion in the Imperial version of the KGB, this zinger line smacked me in the face:
You’ve been here, what, just over a year? You might want to steady the ladder before you start climbing.
That’s when I knew that we, as audience, were in the capable hands of someone with an acute sensitivity to the psychology of power and the moral perils of mixing politics and ambition. Someone who understood that, if war is politics by other means, the reverse is also true: politics is often war by other means.
When I went to look up Andor‘s producers and lead writers, they turned out to be (besides creator Tony Gilroy) none other than executive producer Sanne Wohlenberg (Chernobyl—wow), and lead writer Beau Willimon, the Wunderkind showrunner of the first few brilliant seasons of the cynical political thriller, House of Cards. (More on Willimon’s writing in a later “random thought” on Andor.)
Well, I thought, that explained why the political grit and perspicuity of this show is a whole ‘nother level beyond anything we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe.
Something wicked this way comes…
In one of those serendipitous coincidences life sometimes tosses one’s way, I also happened to be in the middle of Hannah Arendt’s classic, The Origins of Totalitarianism, when we began watching Andor. Maybe that’s why I’ve watched the show with one eye focused on the political themes.
But politics, like Story, is always about Character, and Arendt was also the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.[N.B.: Arendt’s book was highly controversial when it first came out. (A Rabbi friend of ours described Arendt as “radioactive” in Jewish circles for some time because of the book.) The reason: people took Arendt’s “banality of evil” phrase as a diminution of the evil of the Holocaust, as if the industrialized genocide of six million Jews was somehow “banal.” But that’s not what she meant. What Arendt was getting at was the curious phenomenon, illustrated so tellingly in the character of Adolf Eichmann, that the perpetrators of great evil are, more often than not, not colorful Bond villains, but bland bureaucrats, just “doing what they’re told” as efficiently as possible in their day-jobs, before going home to their wife and kids and dogs.]
In Andor, Siril Karn is an example of the phenomenon. At first the very definition of a gung-ho Imperial True Believer, Karn turns pouty failure when one of his Brilliant Ideas goes south. Men are killed, the rebels escape, and Karn is dismissed from his position.
Enraged that he’s been mistreated and misunderstood, and that his talents and zeal are going unrecognized, he goes home to his mama, played by the one-and-only Kathryn Hunter. Eedy Karn greets her underachieving son with a slap, then a hug. The tiny woman is a powerhouse—a nightmare version of a helicopter parent, worthy of a Dickens novel, or a Stephen King. Her scenes with her son, who is determined to get revenge on Andor, whom he blames for his disgrace, reveal that, for once, we are in a Star Wars story in which even villains like Siril Karn have a backstory.
What’s even better, given the time and patience the writers/showrunners take developing this Psycho-reminiscent mother-son relationship, in the midst of all the other action and intrigue of Andor, I can’t help but think that baddies like Karn and Dedra Meero, whom Karn comes to worship in a kinky-creepy sort of way, are going to have some interesting character arcs in their future, as well as past. I have the feeling we’re being set up, in this first season, for a monstrously scary turn or two in the next. Can’t wait.
But speaking of Kathryn Hunter, who will surely be nominated (along with half the cast of this show) for an Emmy next year, if you haven’t watched Joel Coen’s Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, I strongly urge you to do so. Hunter plays the Witches. All of them. And steals the movie clean.
Here’s a taste: (If it doesn’t load, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13WWN6rhxM4)