Star Wars is branching out more and more—not just with movies now, but with TV shows, too. One of the latest is a “Rise of the Empire”-era spy show starring Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. But it’s also the perfect opportunity to bring one of Star Wars’ most iconic, but so far unseen, aliens to life for the first time.
The Bothans have been around for ages, ever since Return of the Jedi gave them their one and only name drop in canonical Star Wars media: Mon Mothma informing the gathered Rebellion that many of their kind died to bring the group detailed plans about the construction of the second Death Star (and not the first, as we repeatedly had to remind everyone in the run-up to Rogue One, like the nitpicky nerds we are).
That’s it. That’s literally all we’ve officially had about the Bothans for decades, outside of little nods here and there in books and comics. Hell, we’ve never actually seen a Bothan!
The old Expanded Universe, because of course it did, took that mention and ran with it, making the Bothans—and their singular trait of being spymasters—an integral part of galactic civilization, not just during the time of the Rebellion, but beyond it into the age of the New Republic. The Bothans of the old EU were furry humanoids, with pointy ears and doglike snouts from the planet Bothawui, itself a hub of information-brokering in the galaxy far, far away.
When I joked that the EU defined the Bothans by literally the one thing we know of them in the movies, I wasn’t really kidding. The EU Bothans were kinda assholes most of the time (the most infamous of them all, master politician Borsk Fey’lya, was known for basically being the wooooooorst), down to the fact that their entire culture and civilization hinged on the fact they were paranoid, status-obsessed spies who revolved their entire sense of being around collecting and trading information. Hell, biologically it was part of them, with their fur acting like a natural mood ring that delicately shifted in relation to their moods and intent, basically becoming a secret language between Bothans when dealing with other species.
They were selfish, isolationist jerks who cared more about political machinations and personal power (which, of course, on Bothawui was driven by what you knew) than they did the wider world and galaxy. And yet, through the Spynet, they aided the Rebel Alliance with one of the most comprehensive intelligence networks around, stealing information from the Empire to benefit the Alliance’s cause. Plus, in a hilarious act of Star Wars’ need to tie everything together, the old EU also even explained the “many Bothans died” line into the acquisition of the plans for the first Death Star, too, making it just seem like whenever a superweapon’s plans got leaked, a bunch of Bothans were bound to spontaneously expire.
So why, after telling you for several hundred words that the Bothans used to be massive jerks known for doing one thing, should they get a spotlight in Cassian’s new streaming show?
Well, firstly, the obvious point: It’d make sense. Cassian was a member of Rebel Intelligence, so we’re bound to see him engaging in a bit of spycraft in his TV show—and it’s a perfect way to integrate an iconic Star Wars alien (iconic, despite the fact we’ve never seen them officially!) into Disney’s version of the Star Wars canon. And, given that Star Wars (for better or worse) is ceaselessly fascinated with wrapping in on itself and constantly contextualizing every single part of what we’ve already seen, setting up and getting to explore the Bothans as an integral ally of the alliance in the time of the Empire’s rise to power retroactively adds a little more weight to Mon Mothma’s declaration of their deaths in Return of the Jedi.
It’s a contextualization that would actually add something more to Star Wars than dumb nonsense like “Oh, thank god I know why Han Solo’s name is Han Solo” or “Wow, Leia got that trick to use a thermal detonator as a bargaining chip in Return of the Jedi because Han did it as a youth on Corellia” (look: it’s not my fault Solo is bearing the brunt of this dumb nonsense, its sole reason for existence was to contextualize things we know about the past of a character we’ve spent years getting to know). If Star Wars is going to be so ensorcelled by that trivial minutiae, why not at least explore minutiae that’s still so barely explored?
But there’s another reason, and it’s down to the fact that, as previously mentioned, the Bothans were basically huge dicks: The Rebel Alliance of the current canon desperately needs itself some ethically questionable dicks. Remember, part of Cassian’s storyline in Rogue One—a film at large about presenting a much grimier and grimmer angle on the Star Wars universe—is that he is a man who has crossed a great many lines in his duty to the Rebellion. He’s killed contacts, he’s assassinated targets, and he is not a shining knight of the daring Rebel Alliance, like we’ve seen everywhere else. By presenting the Rebels as something more varied than just a bright and homogeneous group of scrappy do-gooders—something the animated series Rebels also started getting into in its latter seasons as it brought disparate cells together into a singular alliance—Rogue One made the band of heroes that much more intriguing. Having the Cassian show explore that too, both through its lead character and a group of assholish spies like the Bothans of old, would help further that portrayal, and make Star Wars’ endless tussle between light and dark feel a little more complex than it often does.
The Bothans are an inherently fascinating drop in the ocean of Star Wars canon. For a group so unexplored they are, canonically speaking, vital to saving the entire galaxy far, far away—and it’d be great to learn more about them. But specifically with the lens of Cassian’s new Disney+ show, they also represent an exciting opportunity to delve into a more morally murky side of the usually squeaky-clean heroes of the Rebel Alliance. After all, even the brightest of lights can still cast a bit of shadow, and that’s more than enough for the Bothans to play around in.
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