Series Created by Tony Gilroy — Available on Disney+ now.
Since Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, it has been somewhat of a bumpy ride. Their so-called sequel trilogy features a safe-but-satisfying opener (The Force Awakens), an excellent and thrilling second film that divided the fanbase and revealed toxicities (The Last Jedi), and a conclusion that, in trying too hard to satisfy toxic fans, went back on what the previous film had set up and ended the trilogy on a whimper (The Rise of Skywalker). Even the spin-off films have divided opinions due to them over-explaining things that needed no explanations. As live-action Star Wars has embraced streaming, it has been with similar ups and downs. The Mandalorian is a bonafide hit (but in its most memorable moments it has still clung to fan service). The Book of Boba Fett was good in glimpses but its best episodes are essentially episodes of The Mandalorian. Finally, though richly satisfying, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a safe and fan-service-laden limited series that was yet another reminder of how insular Star Wars storytelling can often feel. As a huge Star Wars fan, it pleases me greatly to be able to affirm that ANDOR, a prequel spin-off series of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is a breath of fresh air in that it is a mature, dark, and gritty series that makes the Empire and the Rebellion feel real again.
Set five years prior to the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, ANDOR tells the story of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna), a thief and victim of the Empire, who, at this point in the story, has been made cynical and wants absolutely nothing to do with revolutions or rebellions. While searching for his long-lost sister, Cassian makes a decision that puts him on the radar of ambitious people devoted to the Empire. In trying to cover his tracks and stay out of sight, he seeks the aid of someone deeply invested in the Rebellion, but in exchange for helping Cassian, this mysterious individual needs him to take part in a mission for the good of the Rebellion. Cassian has no idea how much trouble he has gotten himself into.
When Disney+ first released episodes of the show, they were smart to release the first three episodes of the show at once. This is because this 12-episode first season is mostly structured around these three-episode mini-arcs, over the course of which the central character, among others, goes on a journey and reaches a mini-conclusion. Precisely because this is an odd season structure to wrap your head around on first viewing (and because the first mini-arc is by far the slowest of them all), it was wise to release the first mini-arc immediately. As the season goes ahead, each new mini-arc is more gripping than the previous, and they all feature both dramatic personal stories and epic galaxy-wide consequences. There is a heist, a prison arc, and always a focus on the act of coming together in a united front to fight to preserve life and justice in the face of grim control, surveillance, and systems that are put in place to keep the common man under the boot of the Empire. It features excellent monologues, dramatic line readings, and even some Star Wars firsts. To add to that, on-location sets and smaller personal stakes help to make the show feel real.
In my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I noted that I needed more backstory for characters like Cassian Andor, but that I expected his story to be “destined to be told in comic books and novels.” However, I’m so glad this is how Lucasfilm has decided to tell Cassian’s story. The show improves his character hugely. The title may indicate otherwise, but ANDOR is actually not as single-hero-centric but rather a rich ensemble series featuring uniformly great performances (from regular cast members like Luna and recurring cast members like Andy Serkis). The series gets a lot out of juxtaposing people deeply invested in the outcome of the Rebellion — like Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma — with ambitious or cruel individuals working for Imperial control — like Kyle Soller’s Syril Karn and Denise Gough’s Dedra Meero. In fact, though this entire series is about Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, his is not the most interesting character of the bunch. That feels intentional, though. Though the series front-loads a subplot involving his search for a sister, the over-arching story is really about seeing him realize his role in the good of the Rebellion. The show accomplishes this by showing a variety of planets, Imperial cruelty, and by drawing these rich supporting characters.
It is a show that embraces that Star Wars has always been political, and it is also a show that reminds you that the Empire is a despicable fascist dictatorship. It sees representatives of the Empire commit injustices through everything from the way they talk about other cultures to physical atrocities like torture, and I suspect many people will be reminded of the way some governments and law enforcement officers treat law-abiding citizens today. In that regard, it isn’t the safe cookie-cutter show with its edges sanded off that you may have imagined. Rather it is a smartly written (by Tony Gilroy but also Nightcrawler’s Dan Gilroy, The Americans’ Stephen Schiff, and House of Cards’ Beau Willimon) and brilliantly scored (by Nicholas Brittell, who has even made a Miami Vice-esque Star Wars theme) series that reminds you exactly how powerful Star Wars storytelling can be. It is exactly what Star Wars needs right now, and it features some of the best storytelling we’ve gotten for this franchise in years, if not decades.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.
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