Andor Finally Justifies Our Longtime Obsession With Mon Mothma

When the first "Star Wars" trilogy came out, there weren't many women in lead roles. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was a role model for so many young women at the time, but the rest of the heroes were men. In "Return of the Jedi," however, we saw another woman in a leadership role. Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) was a former senator and a Rebellion leader. She wasn't on screen much, but she did say the pivotal line, "Many Bothans died to bring us this information." In one short sentence, this woman, this leader, reminded the Rebel fighters that their lives were on the line, not just those on missions, but the lives of the entire galaxy. 

I had a bigger reaction than one might expect when I first saw her on the big screen as a kid. She was a revelation for a little girl in footie pajamas who continually asked my parents why there weren't "other girls and ladies" in the "Star Wars" films. Mon Mothma meant that Princess Leia wasn't a unicorn. She wasn't the one girl out of all of them willing to fight for what she believed in. She was a woman who had made a career out of her fight and helped save the galaxy from the evil of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. I didn't know the rest of her story until years later, but her poise, the sadness in her voice for those Bothans, and the deference everyone gave her were powerful, even if I didn't understand why. 

A dangerous game

Fans of the animated series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars Rebels" have seen a lot more of Mon Mothma (voiced by Kath Soucie in "The Clone Wars" and Genevieve O'Reilly in "Rebels"). Even if you haven't watched those, you know her from "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," where O'Reilly was part of the Rebellion seeking to find a flaw in the Death Star plans. O'Reilly has again taken on the role in the new Disney+ series "Andor." If you've seen episode 4, you know how important she is to the new series. 

In a time of political upheaval, Mothma is playing a dangerous game. She's a senator working secretly with the Rebellion, using subterfuge to meet with criminals like Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), and hosting dinners for political rivals. She's using her influence to fund the Rebels and making deals that could get her killed. The walls are beginning to close in, and "Star Wars" fans know her time as a senator won't last forever. 

Even in the few scenes we see her in, O'Reilly shines. There is something haunted about her face — haunted but determined. She's risking everything, every second of her day. The game she's playing is, in a way, far more dangerous than the one Luke, Leia, and Han do later in the timeline. It's not just her life on the line here, and you quickly gather that she would be more than willing to sacrifice herself for the Rebellion. She's putting other people at risk. Some people will die because of her decisions, even if she makes all the right ones. Even worse, some of the moves she makes on the galaxy-sized Dejarik board will require her to sacrifice other people for the good of the galaxy.

A more complicated heroine than we'd seen before

I remember my parents talking to me about her role when I asked about those Bothans. "Couldn't she save them? She runs things," I asked. They tried to explain that sometimes people have to make tough decisions. In real life, there aren't always "right" answers. Sometimes the best you can do is hope that everyone will understand. You hope that they won't hate you or, at the very least, will know what it costs you to do what you must. It's a harsh lesson we all learn at some point, but up until "Return of the Jedi," I'd never seen it. At the time, I'd never seen a woman — even in the short time she had on screen — be faced with something like this. 

For Princess Leia, choices were easy, even if the execution wasn't. Things were black and white for her. The Empire is bad. The Rebellion is good. Hers was a fairytale where the good guys win, and the villain is vanquished, at least through the first three films. Mon Mothma didn't take that path. She was a commander and a woman, and in the 1980s, that meant a lot to a little girl like me. Brave as Princess Leia was, in a way, she was still a fairytale princess. Don't get me wrong. I will adore Leia and her bravery forever, but for me, Mon Mothma was braver. There was no medal ceremony for her. No one would be able to cheer for all her choices. People would suffer because of them, and so would she, knowing what her actions caused. 

For me, that is real bravery. I'm so happy that Mon Mothma will finally be able to show us more of it.

"Andor" is currently streaming on Disney+.