The Big Speech of the Andor Finale

This post contains spoilers for episode 12 of Andor. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to, please come back later.

I don’t normally post fan analysis, but the posthumous speech that Maarva gave in the final episode of Andor season 1 really was very good and I wanted to try to break down why it worked. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot over the last couple of days. The text can be found fairly freely via Google and on Twitter, but I’ve also reproduced her words here for convenience:

In the rest of this post, I’m going to analyse it as if Maarva were a real person who delivered it, and pretend the writers’ room doesn’t exist.

The first thing is that the style is fairly informal, but this is not a spontaneous monologue. It’s a speech Maarva gives from beyond the grave, via hologram, recorded in her final days. She chose to spend what little time she had left on it. It’s a speech that she may have refused medication in order to be in a condition to give well. It must be a speech that was carefully considered and put together to achieve the intended effect. What it actually achieves is to trigger a riot against the Imperial invaders, although Maarva could not have predicted the exact circumstances of her funeral when she recorded it.

And who is Maarva? She’s a community leader on Ferrix, and she’s an ex-president of the Daughters of Ferrix, which seems like a space version of the Women’s Institute. She’s a retired politician in a way, although not the kind that runs for national public office before an electorate of millions.

And Ferrix is a community where local leadership matters. It’s a backwater community used to managing its own internal affairs, seemingly modelled on the traditional industrial and mining towns of the UK (up to and including a colliery marching band!). The formal governance of Ferrix before the Empire impose a colonial administration is not described, but even if Maarva had no formal administrative or judicial power when she led the Daughters, she was one of the major hubs in the social network of the town. You don’t become a community leader without being able to speak persuasively.

Which is not to say that the speech is false. She has legitimate personal and communal grievances, and legitimate concerns for her community. Various evolutions of the external authorities hung her partner/husband for doing nothing wrong, they sent her adopted son off to some kind of youth detention centre and then to be cannon fodder, and then they invaded Ferrix and her home to try to take him away again. After the failure to capture Cassian, the Empire took over the local administration, killed and tortured some of the local residents in their attempts to find him, and even denied them permits to hold their traditional celebrations and funeral marches. These things are a direct attack on almost all the major parts of her private and public life. It makes sense that she would be angry.

But the art of giving a speech is the art of taking the audience with you, or drawing them into your framing and logic until your conclusions seem inevitable. If Maarva had recorded a speech where she just listed her grievances explicitly and then demanded everyone blow up the local Imperial headquarters, it wouldn’t have worked as well. It would have sounded selfish or unhinged.

That’s why the first half of the speech, the entire first two paragraphs, are devoted to building a frame in which communal action is a logical conclusion. For half the speech she doesn’t even mention the one thing she really wants to talk about. She draws her audience in. She reminds them of the community elements of a funeral, and she indirectly reminds them of her place as a long-standing member of that community. She emphasizes the meaning of these recorded speeches as a traditional, long-standing way for the dead to inspire the living, and that such an act is intended to be selfless. I’m sure that, in the world of Andor, everything she says in those two paragraphs is true, but they’re not the message, they’re intended to build a mental space to allow the audience to receive the message that the collective good requires Ferrix to resist the Empire.

And when she does finally get to the message she wants to give, she’s still easing them in. She doesn’t just jump to the heart of her truth. She reminds the audience of how things used to be, how they should be, when Ferrix was left alone. She tells her audience “we’ve been sleeping”, and lets the crowd contrast the present, with storm-troopers watching them mourn their dead, with the past. And she persistently includes herself in those who made the mistake of sleeping. She says “we” to include herself in the collective mistake and to avoid drawing a line between herself and the people she’s trying to inspire.

It’s only in the final paragraph that she even mentions the Empire explicitly. In paragraph 3, the threat had just been “they”, with no antecedent. It’s only when the audience has been collectively reminded that now is worse than then because of “them” that Maarva freely names the problem that the community needs to solve, but even then she does it via metaphor. The Empire is an illness, a disease, a wound, or, very appropriately for an working-class industrial town, it’s rust, wrecking the social machinery. And she cleverly reuses her previous conceptualisation of passive acceptance as sleep and ties it in to her argument.

And then finally, when she’s hopefully given them a common view and urgency about the problem, she defuses the most obvious criticism of her speech. Maarva is dead, she doesn’t really have anything at risk in the fight anymore. She concedes that it might be too late or pointless. But it’s what she would do, if she still could.

The final thing to note is the use of repetition. Repetition used well is a favoured rhetorical device in most languages and cultures. The text seems quite finely balanced there, repeating words and concepts well to strengthen them without becoming tedious.

All in all, on screen it’s one of the best speeches in a series with a lot of well written and delivered speeches. I strongly recommend Andor, and if you happen to have Disney+ and haven’t watched it yet, you should give it a try. Just be aware that it’s slow to get started, so if you start you should make it to at least episode 3 or 4 before deciding whether to continue.