By Sabrina Vetter
Mother figures in the “Star Wars” universe are as rare as they come – not necessarily a surprise for a film franchise built upon the central storyline of a young man in his late teens coming to terms with the fact that his biological father is the Jedi’s (and his own) worst enemy. Father figures (biological, adoptive or in a mentor role) are thus quite present in stories from a galaxy far far away: Obi Wan (to Anakin as well as Luke), Owen Lars, Din Djarin and Han Solo come to mind, not to mention Darth Vader himself. These literal and figurative father-son-relationships are well-explored over the course of several films and streaming series. And where are the mothers in these stories that play like Greek tragedies so often? From Smy (who is abandoned) to Padme (who dies in childbirth) to Leia (whose underexplored broken relationship with her son is never mended) to Leia’s adoptive mother (a very supporting character to the supporting role her husband takes on in the “Obi-Wan Kenobi”-series), mothers are not so much parents as they are the great unknown in the “Star Wars”-franchise.
And then, in 2022, along comes the first season of “Andor” which gives us both: a hero and an antagonistic figure with very present mothers who shape their children’s lives even in their adult years decisively. Despite existing at the opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil in the Star Wars universe, both sons, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), have brought trouble and sorrow to their respective mothers. Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw) and Eedy Karn (Kathryn Hunter) each live as single mothers somber, inconspicuous lives: one of them on the industrial, remote planet Ferrix, the other on the crammed city planet Coruscant. Living within different socio-economic contexts and raising their children in homes with drastically different alliances to the Empire, they were left to instill different future outlooks in their sons in terms of status, power and chances for upward mobility: one mother is laying low and is if not physically at least mentally always on the run, the other is sending her son out for a promise of bigger and better things to come.
Rebels Taking Cover: Maarva and Cassian Andor
As the initial circumstances of their first meeting have implications beyond a chosen family coming together, audiences might get a sense that Cassian and his adoptive mother Maarva’s relationship could be hardened: Landing with her husband Clem and their droid B2EMO on the planet Kenari to raid a crashed starship for contraband, Maarva comes upon a young boy whom she carelessly takes along once the trio hastily cuts their heist short in the face of approaching danger by a Republic ship. The boy is Cassian, then known as Kassa, who lives on Kenari with a group of young children without adult supervision after what is hinted at as an environmental catastrophe occurred. Since Kassa neither gives his consent (for one, he doesn’t speak Galactic Basic, second, he is unconscious after Maarva gives him tranquilizer) to be taken from his home planet nor is Maarva aware that the young boy leaves behind his young sister, the mother-son-relationship starts off with a complicated dynamic. Since the boy’s chance of survival without Maarva’s actions and the fate of Kenari’s other citizens when invaded by Republic forces is left up in the air, Maarva’s hasty however instinctive decision to bring young Kassa along with her to a secure home can be read as both: a rescue and a kidnapping. Complicated from its start, Maarva and Cassian’s relationship is as close as it can get and not one of resentment at all when we catch up with them in the show’s present.
Now in his 20s and living on his second home planet Ferrix, Cassian is shown to deeply care about Maarva who has naturally taken on the role of his mother and has made sure that her adoptive son has had a family and home to turn to. Their relationship feels quite real in its depiction of an adult child dealing with an aging parent: he chastises her for not turning up the heat in her apartment as to not to freeze, she disapproves of his restless existence and risky adventures as a petty criminal. These common as well as in parts minor quarrels underline how close their relationship is: it is all love between this mother and her son. All of Cassian’s actions are always done with his mother’s wellbeing in mind as he continuously makes clear that all money gained from his cons goes towards her, while Maarva’s overprotectiveness is a result of losing her husband to the violent actions of the Empire years ago and not wanting to see her son to share the same fate.
A decisive scene that spells out how deeply rooted this mother-son-relationship occurs in episode 7: Cassian and Maarva part for what could be the last time (since Maarva’s advancing age also goes hand in hand with worsening health). In this moment, Cassian has to leave Ferrix for a fresh start to escape Imperial rule, Maarva wants to stay to fight the more than ever ruthless Empire forces. A rattled Cassian reveals that he is reluctant to leave her behind, as he could never find peace without knowing she is safe: “I will be worried about you all the time,” he says. “That’s just love. Nothing you can do about that,” she replies. The duo’s deep-rooted love for each other is revealed, laying out how their accidental meeting on Kenari many years ago was the start of a tight-knit bond. When Maarva declares “I have never loved anything the way I love you,” it is a final reminder for the audience that even without biological relations, Maarva and Cassian are mother and son.
Up in the City: Eedy and Syril Karn
Taking the sci-fi genre as a chance to tell not only a story about good and evil but also to depict how decisively different life is like on different planets, not only in terms of cultural identity and social interaction, “Andor” very much is reliant on telling Cassian and his family’s story as part of a working-class culture. Besides their constant struggle for money, it is no narrative accident that the Andor family’s home planet Ferrix is economically and industrially reliant on scrap and salvaging starship materials, visually and narratively reminding of the mining industry of the UK in the 80s and the familiar working-class hero trope associated with it. On the other end, we find Syril Karn whose worker’s existence is solely white collar. His fall from Imperial Inspector to a desk job at the Fuel Purity sector of the Imperial Bureau of Standards is central to how his relationship with his mother Eedy is presented. While Maarva and Cassian might not be biologically related, their relationship is emotionally decisively more vibrant than Syril and Eedy’s could ever be.
As he is introduced in the show, Syril is convinced that as one of its Deputy Inspectors he is to implement the Empire’s power by all means – even disregarding the Empire’s order of power and the clear-cut borders of administrative districts. Once he fails the self-assigned task to hunt down Cassian, his purpose of life, serving the Empire, has become void. Like many who have lost their jobs and find themselves in economically dire situations, also Syril moves back in with his mother. Welcoming her son back after he his fired (or rather “relocated”), she smacks him across the face, then gives him a tight hug. It is a moment of disappointment and relief at the same time, which greatly defines this mother-son-relationship. In her depiction, Eedy comes across as a stereotypical overbearing mother – one who cannot wait for her grown-up son to leave the nest, while at the same time meddling with his life decisions and snooping through his personal belongings. Simultaneously, Syril’s unwavering sternness as well as his lack of drive seem to be overly familiar to his mother, who refuses to give into his childish sulking over consequences to a mistake he made all on his own.
Universal Experience, Exceptional Relationship
Interestingly, show creator Tony Gilroy cast both mother figures with two RADA trained actresses, who have extensively worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC): Fiona Shaw and Kathryn Hunter. Both bring a different kind of intensity to their roles, as both of their mother figures are faced with different kinds of sons. Syril, and we can only guess how he was before his demotion, is a sad sack, eerily staring out the widow of his mother’s home desiring to go back to the offices in the upper levels where he came from and slurping colorful cereal while having no outlook on what to do in the future. Maybe his mother’s unwavering reluctance to have him slack off in her apartment, instead making sure that his uncle gets him a new job, is a reaction to her son’s apathy. Maybe her never-good-enough tough love style of raising a child has driven Syril to a lack of understanding proper social interaction, instead making him hyperfocused on righting what he thinks was done wrong to him. It also is no coincidence that Cassian has turned to a life of thievery to get by financially. After all, he was raised by two scavengers, thus taking after his adoptive parents’ conviction that to make a living in uneven economic realities laws have to be bended to one’s advantage. In so many ways, Maarva and Cassian are similar: they are both criminals and like to lay low, both broken due to the loss of husband and father and both find their ways to fight against Imperial forces. Also, Cassian unwavering desire to take care of his aging mother and make her feel a sense of pride that he is her chosen son, in a way undoing all trauma of the past and the frugal living circumstances of the present, mirrors Maarva’s act of providing him with a safe home in the first place. Seemingly broken after her husband’s murder at the hand of the Empire, Maarva is still a fierce and powerful figure – to both her son as well as the townspeople. As a member and once-president of The Daughters of Ferrix, a close-knit community of women and support system, she stands as a leader figure amongst the people of Ferrix. This hints at a strong will instilled in Cassian, which makes mother and son clash at times, while simultaneously giving each other a hand of support.
In the end, Syril’s illogical insistence on righting what was done wrong in his eyes is very much a mirror of his mother’s insistence of him going on to better things than to waste his life in a crammed apartment, while Cassian’s eagerness to stay under the radar not causing commotion is as much instilled in him by Maarva as much as his eventual turn to rebellion. His mother has been both in her lifetime as well: a criminal and an iconic leader. In bringing mother-son-relationships to be foreground, “Andor” touches upon themes and centers relationships previously neglected in the “Star Wars” franchise. By drawing parallels between the quarrels mothers and sons can face, the show depicts the universal in the exceptional. At the same time, by locating their mothers and sons within different social, economic and emotional contexts, the show depicts how parents not only influence but also inspire their children, igniting sparks for their desire for a better and just future – a desire that can evolve for better (Maarva in Cassian) or worse (Eedy in Syril).