Andor might be the fourth live-action Star Wars show to debut on Disney+, but it already looks miles better than The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. While those shows all had their moments with some truly breathtaking visuals, they all share one notable feature in common: they were all shot in The Volume.
The Volume is Disney’s new wraparound sound stage, created specifically for the first season of The Mandalorian. It allows directors to bring the events of a live-action show to completely outlandish locations by projecting convincing-looking backgrounds onto what is essentially a video game skybox in the background. This allows the actors to see the background their character is supposedly moving through in a given scene and lets the production team to do things you can’t normally do with a green screen.
However, The Volume also has its limitations. It’s static and flat, and no amount of movie magic can make its backgrounds look any more realistic than a video game. If you’re already along for the ride and focused on the characters in front of you, then you can forgive the overall flat look. However, when you compare The Volume to scenes from shows that were shot on location, the difference is night and day. That brings us to Andor.
Andor Turns Down ‘The Volume’
Andor, which functions as a prequel to the gritty Rogue One, followed in that film’s footsteps by insisting on physical sets and shooting on location. Naturally, this means the show’s production budget was dramatically higher than a show like The Book of Boba Fett, but the results are undeniable. Just watch any clip of footage from Andor and compare it to a clip from Boba Fett.
In Andor, you can see both distant structures and buildings in the middle of the shot. That’s because they’re real places. In Boba Fett, distant landmarks on the horizon look okay, but anything between twenty and sixty feet behind the characters just looks fake and digital. It lends the show an overall static appearance that slows the action down.
Star Wars is meant to be about spectacle. When the first film came out in the late 70s, it blew people’s minds with its practical effects and groundbreaking movie magic. In Star Wars, fans saw a fully realized, lived-in fantasy world with lasers and wizards and spaceships. However, the recent Star Wars shows have short-sold that breathtaking sense of place. Instead, Lucasfilm had opted more affordable production style that sacrifices visuals to save money.
That cost-cutting also confused some fans. Obi-Wan Kenobi, a legacy series that connects two major film trilogies, was primarily filmed in The Volume. The show brought back actors like Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor to reprise their roles from the prequel films. It also told a story that was of vital importance to the plot of the original Star Wars.
If ever a show needed to emulate the look and feel of the original trilogy, it was Obi-Wan. This is a show that was intended to bridge the gap between an iconic piece of cinema and a divisive prequel film that left critics cold and still generates controversial fan arguments to this day. Yet, for some reason, the show was given a smaller production budget than Andor, a prequel to a spin-off movie.
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There’s no way around the weird position Star Wars as a franchise finds itself in. The last big-budget Star Wars movie to hit theaters, The Rise of Skywalker, did so in 2019. In the intervening three years, there’s been no mention of another Star Wars movie, and the follow-up TV shows have all been prequels or spin-offs (or spin-offs of prequels). This creates narrative stagnation that is impossible to overlook. It feels like the franchise is playing it way too safe.
Andor Takes Risks
While Andor still falls victim to the same issues as shows like Obi-Wan and The Clone Wars by having characters with predetermined destinies, it still manages to keep things interesting by taking some visual and narrative risks. Where Obi-Wan and The Mandalorian repackage nostalgia and offer little new material to the Star Wars universe, Andor brings a very distinct energy to the franchise–something not seen in the more kid-friendly Rebels or the winking Obi-Wan.
Diego Luna reprises his role as the no-nonsense Rebel operative Cassian Andor. The show tracks his transformation from a scoundrel struggling to make ends meet to a full-fledged member of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. The Age of the Empire is a dark period in the Galaxy’s history, marked by brutal totalitarian violence and abject poverty on most planets under the Empire’s iron fist.
The show is able to convey that bleakness with its dingy, well-worn locations and spot-on costuming. Eschewing The Volume helps to give each scene a unique sense of place that feels right at home alongside the original trilogy–down to the practical puppets used to represent alien species, the lived-in sets that look like real places, and the grimy costumes that give every scene a palpable weight.
According to Andor’s showrunner, Tony Gilroy, once the team decided to make the show look realistic, The Volume was no longer an option. “There’s no way to do both,” Gilroy told reporters during a recent awards show. “Either you’re a Volume show or not a Volume show. It just didn’t lend itself to that kind of production and you can’t choose between them.”
The Volume is a great way to make backdrops of outlandish places like Mustafar and the Fortress Inquisitorius look better than a typical green screen. However, Andor’s smaller scope make it more uniquely suited to a traditional style of TV production. Naturally, this means the show was more expensive to produce than some of its siblings on Disney+, but there’s another element to those costs.
Andor only features one returning character from the movies, and that’s the protagonist. Diego Luna isn’t quite as big of a name as Ewan McGregor or Pedro Pascal, and the team didn’t need to hold the budget back for numerous star-power cameos like Obi-Wan or Book of Boba Fett did. Moreover, there are fewer non-human characters in the show, meaning the team was able to cut costs in the costume design that they could then spend on sets.
The Right Lessons?
Many fans who have grown tired of the epic, sweeping scale of some Star Wars shows and movies will likely see Andor as a refreshing change of pace. There are no Jedi or Sith rampaging about with lightsabers, and the Force is nowhere to be found. In some ways, it seems like everything fans could have wanted after the bombastic Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s all a step in the right direction, right?
Well, there is a lingering issue. The series is still a prequel. Worse yet, it’s a prequel to a prequel. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Star Wars is a snake devouring its own tail at this point. Disney has clearly grown a bit leery of making new content that isn’t somehow tethered to existing movies or narratives. This is also evident in the company’s apparent hesitance to create new films in the franchise.
Are fans getting fed up with the prequels and spin-offs? Well, judging by the overall reaction to Andor on social media, most people have been enjoying the show. It’s a gritty, well-paced, and gripping drama series, and it offers some interesting new perspectives on the war-torn Imperial era. However, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t eager to see some new stories in the Star Wars universe.
It’s a Start
Andor’s use of practical effects and real-world sets is a refreshing change of pace, as is its prestige presentation and focus on character-driven action. However, its place as a retelling of stories we’ve already seen in other shows, movies, and games makes it yet another retelling that fans have already become familiar with. The “nascent Rebellion” storyline has been covered at length in the TV series Rebels, in the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and, of course, in Andor’s progenitor, Rogue One.
How many times do we need to see the Rebellion coming together to fight the Empire? At some point, this story grows thin. So much current Star Wars media is set in this era that it’s becoming overstuffed. Obi-Wan, The Bad Batch, and the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Survivor are also tales set in the years between the formation of the Empire and the opening of A New Hope, and it’s all getting a bit exhausting.
In this way, Andor offers a compelling visual example of why Star Wars needs to move in new directions, but it doesn’t follow up its stunning looks with a surprising story. We know what happens to Cassian, the Rebellion, and the Empire. Could Star Wars take a few more risks and jump into a new era using this visual approach? If so, fans would certainly be happy to return to the beloved galaxy far, far away.