The new Star Wars live-action series begins this week with the premiere of Andor, a series that feels markedly different, but no less awesome.
Recently, I had the chance to enjoy the first four episodes (out of 12 coming this season) for Andor on Disney+. In short…it’s really damn great. I will NOT be posting any major plot spoilers from the first four episodes in this review; but I know how some people don’t want even the most minute of details. If you want to go into the series premier knowing absolutely nothing, then that’s not a bad place to stop reading.
The longer version is Andor brings a lot to the table that changes up some of the things we expect to see out of Star Wars, without losing any of the heart.
As we know, the overall story of Andor is about how Cassian became the Rebel spy/assassin we saw in Rogue One. Where the show starts, puts him in a very different place and state of mind. Sure, he hates the Empire, but he’s not looking to do anything altruistic. Rather, he simply wants to survive, and sometimes that means stealing from Imperials and being an all around scoundrel.
Cassian lives on the planet Ferrix. It’ss essentially one big scrapyard of a planet, with those living on it going out to strip the decommissioned ships/equipment, for anything of value. While the planet is technically part of the Empire, they’re far enough out to still mostly take care of themselves even as they must remain careful. They’re subjugation is clear, as they must eek out living in some harsh conditions and sneak around in order to do certain things.
The show kicks off with Cassian venturing out in search of information; he’s looking for his sister. We don’t know how they separated or what the story is about that (at first), but it sets the stage for everything coming. His outing is not without incident, however, and the repercussions of what happen set in motion everything that happens next.
Without getting into details on it, Cassian finds himself the subject of investigation by the local Corporate Security (who serve as extensions of the Empire’s control in outlying systems). He needs to get off of Ferrix quickly, and that desperation leads him to try and call in some old favors.
This isn’t exactly easy. While it’s clear Cassian is generally well liked, he’s also has a reputation. He owes money to quite a few people, and is running on his last goodwill with more than couple of them. For his current predicament, his first stop is with Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona). She runs a successful shop and scrap running business, and it’s clear the pair have a long history with one another…A close history.
While Bix has moved on, she has special contacts Cassian needs to help him escape. Namely, a specialty buyer who pays out big credits for items that aren’t exactly legal for non-Imperials to possess. Cassian has a big item he’s been saving for a rainy day, and implores Bix to call the buyer to come pick it up, which would give him enough money to run out and lay low for a while.
As luck would have it, this buyer, Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), has been wanting to meet with Cassian for some time. His arrival brings more than an opportunity for money to escape his current problems…but to do something bigger.
Meanwhile a young, overly eager, Corporate Security detective (played by Kyle Soller), is closing in on Cassian and ready to make his move/prove himself loyal. And well…anything else would be diving pretty deep into spoiler territory, but that’s the gist of the main story driving things forward in the first three episodes. I don’t wanna talk much about the fourth episode (which is my current favorite of the bunch), as I’d have to giveaway what happens in the previous episodes. Suffice it to say, things get a bit heated and intense.
Slow Burn, Full Investment
As you’ve likely gathered from many of the first impressions posted about Andor via socials (myself included), the series is bit of a slower burn in terms of the story coming into focus. The first two episodes in particular are all about the setup, and establishing Cassian’s current life situation and how he affects/impacts those around him.
This is far from a bad thing, however. In fact, it’s quite refreshing to see. While I absolutely love the Star Wars shows we’ve gotten so far (many in different ways), they all follow an all too familiar mantra of “faster, more intense.” It’s a guiding principal for much of Star Wars in general, being a favored directing point of George Lucas while filming the original movie.
The issue, is that too often the idea is applied to the story elements and character beats (something Lucas kept plenty of intact), rather than just on the action and world-building. To be fair, Obi-Wan Kenobi managed to have it’s slow moments which gave us some of the best character beats around. Generally speaking, however, the plot moved at a breakneck pace.
Andor slows things down. It lets shots on characters linger, rather than cutting away the moment things aren’t as “exciting.” The best example I can give, without spoiling anything, is how the new droid, B2EMO, is introduced. The squat droid is shown rolling down an empty alley at a leisurely pace by himself when a pack of dogs (similar to the ones we saw in Solo: A Star Wars Story) comes racing through the streets. B2EMO hunkers down, closing up all the gaps in his frame as they rush past, only peeking out when it seems the coast is clear.
It’s a small moment, one that seems inconsequential to the larger story being told, but it’s stuck with me nonetheless. In this scene where “nothing” really happens, we get a better sense of the town/community living conditions; an understanding of the droid’s overall nature; and a sense of what a daily routine looks like before the story throws it all into chaos.
Subtle worldbuilding and character moments like this are peppered throughout the early episodes. Hell, there’s not even any big action until around the third episode. While the lack of “pew pew” might seem a bit of a downer, the result is a level of investment into the characters and story like I haven’t felt in a very long time.
Because we feel like we’ve seen snippets of their lives (not just periods of time when the story forces things onto them), there’s a stronger connection to their plight when things begin to go South. Moreso, even in smaller moments where we see them struggling under the yoke of the Empire, there’s a greater level of empathy in watching it unfold.
The result is that when those big action moments DO happen, they feel all the more tense and impactful. Because we’ve already become so invested/engaged with these characters through the slower moments, there’s greater threat and menace behind the action.
Seriously, when things kick off in the third episode, I was on the edge of my seat. The pacing, the cuts, and the character development to that point builds to an incredible amount of tension that left me anxious about what might happen. Which is crazy considering this is a prequel to Rogue One and we KNOW Cassian makes it to that point!
Perhaps one of my favorite things in Andor so far, is how the show treats its worldbuilding. From the outset, you’re immersed in the galaxy far, far away but the show doesn’t go out of its way to hammer that home.
In many ways, Andor feels the most evocative of the “lived-in” world established in the original films than any other Star Wars show. There are super cool designs and sprawling shots showing off some gorgeous (obivously Sci-Fi) landscapes, but it’s presented in a way to feel as if it’s no big deal. It’s something these characters live with and deal with on a regular basis. What’s extraordinary to us, is mundane to those within the story.
The show isn’t concerned with showing off the various neat tech/aliens they’ve designed. Rather it lets those things simply exist, making the world feel more alive. You get a sense of history; a feeling that this world and characters were doing things well before we’ve dropped in on them, and will continue to do so after we’ve moved on.
This same principle applies to some of the overall lore and Easter eggs present throughout the episodes. Contrary to what some may have claimed online, there are actually a number of Easter eggs present throughout the show; along with some references to seriously deep cut lore. I won’t detail them here, but the difference here is they seem far more lowkey than Easter eggs in other shows. Once you notice/figure them out, however, it’s pretty impressive to see the connections being made and fun nods that exist for long-time fans.
It’s funny…so much of how Andor comes together feels opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. Yet, in eschewing some of the tropes the franchise has come to be associated with, Andor manages to feel the closest to the feeling we got while watching the original films. I’m sure I’m not explaining this right, but I was impressed at how the show managed to feel distinctly different from Star Wars, while also feeling like the MOST Star Wars show.
Star Wars for “Adults”
I hate this phrase, I really do. The implication being that adults can’t enjoy the fun and important themes in Star Wars since they’re built as all ages blockbusters. That said, it’s tough to describe Andor any other way. It doesn’t shy away from certain things (like smooching and…you know, murder) and revels in some of the grittier aspects of Star Wars.
I know I won’t be the only one to say so, and it may seem a bit cliche to even bring up…But, Andor feels much more like a “prestige” drama you’d find on HBO, just set in the galaxy far, far away. It’s the result of a combination of things.
The slower building of the story and focus on the characters is one. The ridiculously impressive acting from everyone, is another; and the overall production quality goes beyond what we’re accustomed to seeing on ANY television show. Combine all that with a tightly scripted story riddled with heavy themes of oppression and classism, along with more personal action/stakes and you’re left with a show that fits that prestige mold pretty damn well.
Even so, I think Andor will still have some appeal to younger audiences, though I wouldn’t suggest too young for this one. There are still compelling characters and important themes, with enough to keep teens engaged. It’s prestige, but more accessible than other shows would be in terms of violence and sex.
“Star Wars for adults” doesn’t feel like the right phrase. Perhaps it’s more that Andor is structured more like a story that would appeal to audiences who wouldn’t normally care about Star Wars. It pulls them in on the drama side, while still using the world, setting, and characters fans will be able to identify with.
As I said, the short version of my review is that Andor absolutely rules. It’s visually stunning and packed with impressive performances. Despite taking a little longer to get rolling on the story, the time isn’t wasted, and has me hooked into the story on a level that goes far beyond simply wanting to see what happens next. It has so much going for it that both fans and non-fans will be eager to return week after week.
Andor premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, September 21st with the first three episodes (which do work better when watched all together), and new episodes every Wednesday after that!