I’ve already written a lot about how Disney+’s Andor is redefining what it means for a story to be a Star Wars story. It’s dramatic, it’s personal, it’s patient, it’s intense — it’s a serious show about serious stuff. There’s something else going on in Andor though, something that’s less serious and more fabulous. I’m talking about Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as Luthen Rael, a relentless leader of a rebel cell who will stop at nothing to topple the Empire (or die trying).
And honey, Episode 4 revealed that Luthen is also doing drag. He’s doing draaag, mama! He is serving looks and stunting pretty, he’s the bitch from Coruscant city!
Star Wars context: Luthen normally looks like a no-frills commander of a resistance movement, all dreary earth tones and scowls. But that’s the look he serves out in the galaxy while he’s setting up missions and planting bombs. Back home on Coruscant? Our boy Luthen is all-frills all the time!
Drag context: Drag is not reserved specifically for cisgender men dressing up as women. Drag has grown to encompass all performance of gender, to varying — and often extreme — exaggerations. That can include women dressing up as men, nonbinary individuals dressing up as women, trans men dressing up as women, trans women dressing up as women — even women dressing up as women and men dressing up as men. Basically any time you — yes, you — are putting on any clothing that will be seen by others, you are doing some form of drag. Maybe you never turn the dial up past 2 whereas drag queens exist at an 11. Still, everything you put on your body communicates something to the people who see it, whether you intend for it to or not. As RuPaul repeatedly says (and sometimes sings), we are all born naked and the rest is drag.
So… Luthen Rael is doing drag.
And to use the sliding scale I just made up, Luthen’s doing drag at, like, a 9. A 10 or 11 would involve rhinestones and some Landon Cider-esque beard makeup, but our divo is still turning a lewk. And in Andor Episode 4, we get to see him actually get himself together!
He has a skincare routine!
He’s got an unclockable lacefront!
The doll only wears the finest of robes and jewelry!
And most importantly: Luthen Rael is about to lip sync for his life on Coruscant, and he’s gotta practice.
That is the most important part of the whole gig, though. The fact that Andor pauses to show Luthen not only getting all dolled up, but they also show him getting into character. He is literally about to hit the stage and perform as a foppish antiques dealer on the Imperial throne world. He’s here to rendezvous with Imperial Senator Mon Mothma, improvise a scene wherein he’s showing her some ancient weaponry, and then go backstage and spill the tea on payments to rebel factions. And if he slips up? If he doesn’t know the words? He sashays away. Permanently. No comeback challenge for Luthen.
There is a potential twist to this drag persona, though, and it’s one we may see should Andor ever delve into Luthen’s backstory. Who’s to say that this dandy character is even a character? Knowing how Imperial rule pushes individuals past their limits and forces them to make extreme decisions, it’s entirely likely that this fancy gent is the real Luthen Rael — or rather who Luthen Rael was 15 years ago before the creation of the Galactic Empire. And if that’s the case, then the gruff-as-nails, battle-hardened macho man who’s running covert ops across the galaxy could be seen as another one of Luthen’s drag personas!
This speaks to the other truth of drag, one that RuPaul often says but hasn’t written a song about (yet): drag doesn’t hide who we are, it reveals who we are. Calling either one of Luthen’s personas drag doesn’t mean that one of them is fake and the other is real. The truth is that people contain multitudes and making your outside look a certain way can naturally bring out a part of you that maybe you didn’t even know you were suppressing. It’s still you.
So Luthen could be a stylish, fastidious purveyor of art who, after witnessing a dozen Imperial atrocities over a few years, grew more and more radical and pragmatic — and then developed a practical, intimidating look that brought out his inner machismo. Or maybe he’s a former Galactic Republic general turned spy who set up a luxury antiques shop in the shadow of the Imperial senate in order to gather intel, and this role allows him to be as dapper as he’s always wanted to be. The Luthen that we see in the back of his shop, the one who’s dressed to kill and plotting sedition against a fascist regime, could be Luthen at his truest.
Whatever the case, Luthen Rael puts on a good show.
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