Some noticeable pacing issues notwithstanding, Andor feels like a determined effort to tell Star Wars stories without leaning entirely against pandering, weaponized nostalgia, and that should count for something.
This review of Andor season 1 is spoiler-free.
I say this as someone who has loved The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Disney+’s small-screen Star Wars offerings have been calibrated in a very specific way to appease a very specific type of fan. After all the – wildly overblown, for what it’s worth – controversy that sprang up around the sequel trilogy, but especially The Last Jedi, there was clearly an attempt being made to play things safe, and in the context of Star Wars, that means certain things – nostalgia, cute creatures and droids that are easy to merchandise, so-called redemption arcs for long-time fan favorites, and cameos from various corners of official Star Wars canon that are designed to give die-hard fans who watched, say, The Clone Wars, the satisfaction of being able to point at the screen and say, “Hey, look, that’s him!”
It’s because of this that we got several great moments that were also, in a way, deeply facile and cynical. It’s how we got Baby Yoda, a semi-convincingly de-aged Luke Skywalker hacking combat droids to pieces, and live-action versions of Ahsoka and Cad Bane. It’s how Star Wars has not just remained in the cultural consciousness despite the absence of any feature films but how it has managed to send the internet into a tailspin more than once.
And it’s the opposite of the storytelling principles that seem to guide Andor.
I suppose, in a way, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since the show is a prequel to Rogue One, which was a prequel to the Original Trilogy, but is also, inarguably, the most visually, tonally, and thematically distinct movie in the franchise; a seedy sci-fi espionage thriller in Star Wars paint. Andor is more like that than any of Disney+’s recent offerings, but even then it’s also something a little bit different entirely.
Guided by this anti-hype, anti-nostalgia style, the first episode introduces us to Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as a struggling scavenger five years before he became a rebel hero, and the next two – this review is based on the first three, all released by Disney on September 21 – find him on the run from both the corporate authority of Morgana One and the Empire at large, personified here by Syril (Kyle Soller), a whiny Imperial security official on the come-up.
In writing that down, it occurs to me that none of it sounds all that interesting. And the show isn’t exactly in a hurry to get anywhere that would sound interesting written down, which turns out to be very much to its benefit in a strange way. Morgana One, Andor’s home on the mining planet of Ferrix, his efforts to swerve his debts and sell purloined Imperial tech through a middleman who turns out to be Stellan Skarsgard (the character’s name is Luthen), all conspire to create a surprisingly grounded portrait of a man with a disdain for authority trying to carve out a hardscrabble existence within the grip of tyranny.
Whether this adds legitimately new contours to the character is another matter entirely, since we knew all this about him already, and flashbacks to his childhood on a written-off planet suggest the whole thing will become important later but remain purely superficial for now. His relationships with people like his pal Bix (Adria Arjona) are only thinly sketched. Luna’s great, and the character’s predicament is intriguingly atypical for this franchise, but there’s nothing here yet that strongly suggests this needed to be a series about Cassian Andor as opposed to anyone else.
But! The sense of place and tone is quite noticeable, and more importantly, feels almost calculatedly anti-Star Wars in its staunch refusal to include anything remotely cute or lighthearted. Even the droids are ugly. And that must mean something in our culture of weaponized nostalgia and pandering adherence to utterly anodyne and uncontroversial storytelling. Andor might not feel like your typical Star Wars show, and maybe that’s for the best.