Star Wars: Andor is unique in many ways. One detail that separates it not only from its Star Wars counterparts but also from majority of other action sci-fi series is that the main character is not your average hero.
Hero Without Capital H
We usually tend to expect a show’s protagonist – the titular character, no less – to be a Hero with capital H. He would usually be the ship’s captain, the Rebel commander, the special Chosen One. Even if he starts as a young recruit, he possesses some hidden heroic quality and charisma that manifests when the time is right. Our Hero eventually gets his moment in the sun and with a rallying speech and brave example turns the tide.
Cassian, the chief protagonist of Andor, possesses no hidden qualities of this kind. No gift of leadership that would make him pick up a banner and rally the Rebellion behind him.
Sidekick Since “Rogue One”
It should not be a surprise. If we look back at Rogue One, neither does he fill the hero’s role there. Jyn Erso is the hero (and Hero she is, speeches and all) and Cassian is the sidekick.
That is probably why, when the Andor series was first announced, I wondered whether that was a good idea (and I probably was not alone). Now I understand. My perspective was wrong. I expected Cassian to be the hero. But the genius of the writing lies in the fact that in the series named after him Cassian Andor remains the sidekick.
He could have been, of course, made a Hero without necessarily being a leader-type, or even a team player. In the beginning it even looked like he could be the lonely scoundrel, Han Solo or perhaps The Mandalorian-type. But thankfully it did not turn out that way. Cassian is a team player after all (and during the series we, and maybe also he, slowly discover it), but his is the support role. A necessary support. The series is good, among other things, in showing how indispensable he is.
Cassian, The Muse
The moment when his qualities bloom comes in the Narkina 5 prison. He is actively participating in organising the prisoners’ riot, but the most important moment comes when he convinces the actual charismatic leader, Kino Loy, to lead the revolt. In the scene where Kino delivers his epic speech, it is Cassian who prompts him to do it.
Or in other words: without Cassian, there would be no Kino Loy, nobody to lead the prison riot. Just the same way that in Rogue One there would be no Jyn Erso. When Jyn decides to rally the future “Rogue One” team, in her epic speech she simply quotes what Cassian had told her before about Rebellions being built on hope. Just like Kino Loy quotes what Cassian told him moments before.
In many stories we encounter the trope of the “reluctant hero” or “reluctant leader”. Cassian is the advisor without whom the hero would remain reluctant until the end, and thus never become a hero.
Always The Support
The writers have managed to show well how this quality slowly manifests in Cassian. He is a loner in the beginning, but whenever he is made to work with others, he, perhaps unwittingly, supports their morale and helps them sort their own plans.
This can be seen on Aldhani where he fits right into the team in a role he was not really assigned. He has a couple of well-meant discussions with Vel or Nemik and that helps them move on with the tasks that are their own responsibility. In Nemik’s case, Cassian is a “muse” for the writing of his manifesto. A completely unintended effect on Cassian’s part – but a show of his “gift”.
The writing underlines Cassian’s support role in other ways too. Already in the flashbacks to his childhood, we watch him being the youngest of the kids’ group. Again: usually we would see a future hero, in such a case, manifesting some heroic qualities. Young Kassa does not.
In Alternate “Andor”…
Had the writers created a more traditional story, the main protagonist would not have been Cassian. Imagine for a moment Andor being centered on a different character, a hero. It could be for example Vel, the actual leader of the Rebel cell on Aldhani. You could write a story with her as the focal point, focussing on her worries and problems with organising the assault on Aldhani. Cassian would be present in that story as one of the many sidekicks.
By focussing on him instead we get a different perspective of the conflict itself. Through the people Cassian meets, but we also see it through his eyes. He is not the Hero whose job is to secure victory for the Good Guys. He may support the Heroes around him, and that allows us to also see the Rebellion in a more realistic – and in fact more fitting – way. Not as a hierarchic body led by one Hero (as even the original films may mislead us to think), but as a mashup of several groups each led by their own Heroes. But each of these Heroes also need their support team. By showing Cassian’s perspective the show makes us more conscious of their existence.
Another Way To Be A Hero
There are three ways we usually understand the term “hero”.
One is what we have mentioned in the beginning: the Hero with capital H, the figure in the spotlight cheered by the crowds. Cassian is not that. He stays in the shadows.
The second use simply means the protagonist of a story. Cassian is that, and the authors have correctly understood that a hero does not necessarily need to be a Hero.
But there is still a third meaning: that a hero is somebody who achieves worthy goals and for that would deserve the praise of others. In the case of Cassian, this is deeply true, despite of the fact that he stays behind the scenes. He is a true hero of the Rebellion. And because the story focusses on him, we know about his deeds, and we can appreciate him for what he does.
Andor shows that a person can be a hero (of the third kind) without necessarily being a Hero of the first type. And that is one of the aspects that make the show so refreshing.