So how good was Andor right? In a television where all eyes (including mine) were on Amazon’s Rings of Power and HBO’s House of the Dragon, Andor came out of nowhere. Smartly written, beautifully acted and with production design that deserves all the awards, this show immediately established itself as one of the best, if not the best Star Wars streaming series. Plus, it did something I don’t think anyone really expected in the Disney Era of the franchise – it brought Star Wars back to its political roots. Make no mistake, Star Wars has always been political. I mean, it’s the story of a fascist Empire being toppled by a Rebel Alliance. One side is coded to be the ur-fascists, taking cues from Nazi Germany, and the other are the good guys fighting evil with the power of the RAF and Taoist hippie magic. And yet, despite the overtly antifascist themes, and a more lived-in approach to the setting itself, drawing on everything from 1920s Amsterdam to brutalist Soviet architecture, Andor never loses the sense that it’s a Star Wars show. A perfect example of that is how the show uses monologues as a plot point several times. And I’d like to study that by breaking one down and analyzing its use of language. So read on for that English Major nonsense, I guess.
There are four prominent uses of monologues in Andor. Two of them show up in the tenth episode, One Way Out, and two of them show up in the twelfth, Rix Road. What’s interesting is how there’re a few common threads through all four of the monologues. In each case, the speaker is using the opportunity to convince another person or group to do something. Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) has to convince a hesitant rebel informant to keep doing his job. Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) has to use his experience as a prison gang work leader to inspire his fellow inmates to rise up in open, violent rebellion. And Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw) takes the opportunity to use her own self-eulogy to inspire her home world of Ferrix to rise up and overthrow the Empire. Plus, each one of these instances is pretty much the last opportunity the speaker has to make this speech. They’re always a sort of Hail Mary play. We’re uncertain if they’ll succeed. What’s more, all three of these characters are united by a common denominator in that they are either literally or thematically ‘dead.’ Maarva is the most obvious. She’s delivery a pre-recorded message via hologram at her own funeral. Luthen and Kino are a bit different. Luthen’s monologue is actually about his admitting that he knows he’ll probably die before the Rebellion succeeds. He talks about sacrificing his own chance at happiness and glory in order to ensure the cause succeeds. Kino’s circumstances are even sadder. He’s inspired by the show’s protagonist, Cassian Andor, to motivate his fellow prisoners and he joins them as they escape the prison, but at the last moment he stops. The Imperial prison is a manmade island, apparently some distance from land and Kino can’t swim. He can inspire others to escape but he’s trapped. Which brings us to our subject today: Karis Nemik, as played by Arthur Lawther.
The first time we’re introduced to Karis in the fourth episode of the show, he’s kind of a joke. Among a squad of highly trained rebels, he’s depicted as being an ideologically pure, but somewhat naive academic. He’s clearly modeled on the type of young, student-revolutionary that has popped up in revolutionary circles going all the way back to the days of the French Revolution. In one of his first scenes we see him trying to impress Cassian by connecting a relatively mundane task like repairing a navigational device to the broader, philosophical goals of the nascent Rebellion. We’re told that he’s writing a manifesto. Sadly, Karis dies on the mission, and the manifesto ends up in Cassian’s hands. Cassian’s personal arc through the show is his journey from evasive criminal into passionate Rebel. When he meets Karis, Cassian’s ambivalent toward the kid though he takes a shine to him as they work together on the job. Hence why we see him take his copy of the unfinished manifesto in what might be a show of regret over how things turned out.. By the last episode, when Cassian returns to his home world of Ferrix, he’s much closer to being invested in the Rebellion and in a moment of quiet contemplation before the show’s climax, he listens to a segment of the manifesto that Karis had recorded. I’ve included the text below:
“There will be times when the struggle seems impossible. I know this already. Alone, unsure, dwarfed by the scale of the enemy. Remember this, Freedom is a pure idea. It occurs spontaneously and without instruction. Random acts of insurrection are occurring constantly throughout the galaxy. There are whole armies, battalions that have no idea that they’ve already enlisted in the cause. Remember that the frontier of the Rebellion is everywhere. And even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward. And remember this: the Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that. And know this, the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance will have flooded the banks of the Empires’s authority and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this: Try.”
Once again, we see the show’s primary use of a monologue at play. A dead character is using this last opportunity to sway the listener to his way of thinking. But even beyond that, and beyond Lawther’s great delivery, this is just a solid piece of writing. Fun fact about me, I actually majored in Rhetoric in undergrad. Kinda. My BA in English has a focus on Communications, Media Studies and Rhetoric, but you get the point. Plus, I’ve actually taught this stuff in a high school setting. So let’s dig a little deeper into the speech itself to see what the screenwriters have done right. In rhetoric we often talk about the different ways to appeal to your audience. In this case, we can talk about the audience as either being the fictional Cassian Andor, or the audience watching at home who are obviously the people you’re really trying to impress. Either way, the most common appeals to the audience are the trio of ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is an appeal to authority, like a political candidate explaining their credentials. Pathos is an appeal to a person’s emotions, whether that means tugging at the heart strings or getting someone really amped up. Lastly, logos is an appeal to logic, which usually means citing facts, figures and data.
Karis’s speech is obviously mostly about pathos. He’s not trying to cite Imperial taxation figures or explaining his own resume to Cassian. He (and the screenwriters) do this by employing several common rhetorical devices, primarily repetition and contrasting two ideas. The word “remember” appears four times throughout the monologue, and forms the backbone of the speech’s structure. Plus, within the speech itself, the writers use repetition to the tune of the Rule of Threes to emphasize points. For whatever reason, the human brain really likes it when it recognizes something three times. It helps to lodge something in our brains. It helps us to remember. See what I did there? Anyway, the Rebels aren’t just on their own. Instead, they’re “alone,” “unsure,” and “dwarfed…” by the scale of the Empire. The rebellion isn’t just spreading either. We go from “random acts of insurrection” to “armies, [and] whole battalions” being engaged in the fight. The Empire isn’t just vulnerable. Karis reminds us that tyranny breaks and leaks because it’s brittle. These are also examples of how the writers use contrast in that same speech. Freedom is opposed by tyranny. Random acts of rebellion are contrasted with the effort it takes to keep the Empire in order. All of this builds to a head with the last refrain of “remember” and a single word – try. That last refrain, ending on a note of repetition, but adding that twist is what lets the monologue sit in your mind. Human beings tend to remember the first and last bits of long lists or lectures. Hence why we open with “I know this” and end on a repetition of “remember.” Like I said, solid stuff. Had he not died, Karis would’ve had a bright future as a rebel propagandist.
This is just one example of how smart and well-thought out the writing is throughout Andor. It’s so good that I’m actually kind of worried for Disney’s next Star Wars show, The Acolyte. Like, that show has writers, directors and production designers who have been doing their own thing and they’re going to have to live up to Andor. I hope people give it a chance, is what I’m saying. But I think Andor works because it takes the pulpy sincerity of Star Wars and blends it with smart, incisive, and most importantly relevant writing. But that Star Wars sincerity is the beating heart of this series. It’s cynical, dark and morally ambiguous (by its franchise’s standards) but like, it’s also a series where characters deliver heartfelt monologues and it works. Every time, these monologues work. Luthen keeps convinces his informant to stay loyal. Kino incites a full blown prison revolt. Maarva’s eulogy for herself sets off a riot. And Karis arguably gives Cassian that last push to fully invest in The Rebellion. But what makes Andor clever is that we’re left unsure about the consequences of these sincere gestures. Luthen’s speech to his informant is clearly a calculated maneuver and we’ve seen Luthen ruthlessly sacrifice pieces to advance the cause. We only see Cassian and one other prison really escape the prison. And the last episode of the series, while overall triumphant, does leave the viewer wary about what reprisals will happen to Ferrix after the violence of the riot. Even Karis’ speech is loaded with implications because it drives Cassian into the arms of the Rebellion where we know he’ll eventually die after doing some really dark, morally ambiguous stuff.
There’s one last writing flourish I want to end on. In Luthen’s speech he drops a beautiful turn of phrase, talking about how he “burns [his] life to make a sunrise that [he] knows [he’ll] never see.” It’s a great moment and it gets better when you remember how Rogue One ends. Cassian meets his death when he collapses on a beach and watches the sunrise, all while the Tantive IV speeds off with the Death Star plans, and into the beginning of A New Hope. It’s a great metaphor about how rebellions aren’t all about one glorious victory but the slowly building results of actors who might not be appreciated in their time. That’s damned good writing and it’s the kind of thing I want to see way more of in my Star Wars. Thanks for reading.