Despite being a massive Star Wars geek, I’d be the first to admit that Lucasfilm has had a rough ride since being purchased by Disney. This extends to their TV streaming offers, which have ranged from the awesome Mandalorian and Clone Wars revival, the decent Obi-Wan Kenobi and the somewhat disappointing Book of Boba Fett. But all of those shows had some hype around them, making the more toned-down excitment around Star Wars’ latest seem a little anti-climactic. But after seeing the first three episodes of Andor, I think it’s safe to say Lucasfilm are into something special here, which is a relief as I’ve been championing this show for a while now.
Andor is a prequel to Rogue One, the Disney-era Star Wars film that’s actually aging quite well. Diego Luna returns as Cassian Andor (and as a series producer) some five years before the Battle of Yavin as a different character than we last saw him. Not yet part of the Rebel Alliance, Cassian is a somewhat shady individual searching for his sister while making a living selling goods and other stolen properties on the black market. When an investigation goes sour and results in the accidental death of one person and the execution of another, Cassian will find himself being hunted and forced to go on the run.
The tone of Andor is remarkably quite different from anything we’ve seen in live-action Star Wars before, in that it feels quite gritty and mature. The opening scene feels like it was ripped straight out of Blade Runner as Cassian searches for information in a brothel at nighttime in a city full of blue neon, contrasting with the pouring rain. There’s also some profanity, murder, suggestive themes and shady deals in shady-looking spots, just to round it out. The pacing is also slower than say Mandalorian, which opted for brisk episodic pulpy adventure. Andor isn’t operating that way and is telling a much more methodical tale. All that combined means that younger Star Wars fans may not be at home here, either in terms of content or engagement.
The world that Andor takes place in over the course of the first three episodes feels alive though. Opting to film on location as opposed to using the volume, Andor feels much more like a movie than Mandalorian or Kenobi did. Sets feel lived in and dirty, as do the costumes of the many citizens of this planet. It’s a stark contrast to the Corporate Security faction, a security detail and local authority working under the jurisdiction of the Empire, who have grown complacent, despite their cleaner image. But complacency isn’t going to cut it for Syrill Karn, the chief antagonist for Andor. Karn is a by-the-books kind of guy and he grows disgusted about the lack of interest surrounding the murder of two of their own. Higher up would rather hush it up and not deal with the work, but Karn isn’t built that way. He follows the rules and believes in the rule of law, but isn’t a terribly imposing or scary individual. He’s kind of a nerd, which is why he’s so different compared to other Star Wars villains who are often seen as cool and scary. But we should never disregard blind obedience either and this guy will likely climb through the ranks quickly, gaining power as he does so.
Tony Gilroy is the showrunner and a writer on Andor those who are fans of the original Bourne films will no doubt see his DNA in some of the scenes. A group of highly motivated figures with modern technology unfolding a conspiracy to hunt down a dangerous individual on the run. It certainly borrows elements from Bourne, especially the sense of chase and conspiracy coupled with a more grounded approach to action, but it feels more like a WWII spy thriller set in France, just with a sci-fi skin. The action also feels much more grounded than the western-inspired adventures of The Mandalorian. The show isn’t here to hold your hand either, as it chucks you into the deep end with little exposition or setup, so be prepared to pay attention.
While there is the core story set in 5 BBY, there’s also a flashback story set when Andor is a child in a remote mining colony. He was part of the native population and their world, language and culture reminded me of the remote indigenous tribes in Brazil. This was cemented when Andor leaves a lush rainforest only to find a huge mining operation that’s killed all the local fauna. Andor is eventually found by Fiona Shaw’s Maarva, a scavenger who rescues (abducts?) the child for fear the Republic would kill him after she and her colleague find Cassian Andor in a downed Republic ship. In the Rogue One novelization by Alexander Freed, Cassian reveals that he grew up in a Separatist environment during the Clone Wars, so I wonder if Maarva will have ties to that faction during the conflict.
Disney+ opted to release the first three episodes of Andor all at once, which was probably a good thing as they felt like they were meant to be one longer episode or even a movie. The episodes kind of just end and pick back up where they left off, which could have created a disjointed feeling when watching them apart. I do hope that future episodes won’t have this feeling, but I can’t help and wonder if they should’ve just made one ninety-minute episode, as opposed to three different episodes running the same length of time. All three episodes were written by Gilroy and directed by Sherlock and Black Mirror’s Toby Haynes, so stitching them as one episode could have been possible, especially with all three out at the same time.
But honestly, the abrupt cuts and runtime of the show are the only real issues I had. I’m invested in the world and the characters already and the script does a solid job of throwing us into this world that feels lived in and alive. Andor might be a little radical in terms of its level of maturity for the Star Wars franchise, but I think that’s kind of fitting considering the show is about the early days of rebellion. I’ll also admit that I don’t think the slow burn and serious tone will work for everyone, nor will it be as popular as The Mandalorian without the star power of a cute little sidekick like Grogu. But honestly, that’s okay. Star Wars has been something of a one-trick pony as of late thanks to the trope of “older grizzled figure mentors a young and important character” but Andor seemingly throws that narrative out the window, along with a whole starship worth of expectations and tropes. It makes Andor feel surprisingly fresh and nuanced and the show could be exactly what Star Wars has been missing lately.