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‘Andor’ is the first really great ‘Star Wars’ TV show

'Andor' is the first really great 'Star Wars' TV show

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This post covers episodes 1-3 of Andor, without major spoilers.

Screenwriting was not a priority for the first three live-action Star Wars show. Taking advantage of fandom nostalgia and Baby Yoda’s charm, these spin-offs combined beloved characters with shallow, clunky scripts. Andoro changes the game, delivering a sharply characterized thriller that prioritizes clever storytelling over nostalgia.

Andoro
Publication date:
September 21, 2022
Creator:
Tony Gilroy
Stream:
Disney+
Diego Luna stars as Cassian Andor in this gritty prequel to ‘Rogue One’. Starting before he became a Rebel spy, “Andor” delivers the kind of complex storytelling and visual flair that has been missing from previous live-action “Star Wars” shows.

Re-introduced a few years earlier Rogue OneCassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a well-known figure – manipulative, self-sufficient, constantly on the brink of disaster – in an unexpected situation. Rather than being a rebellious spy, he is currently a thief living on the planet Ferrix, in a working-class city of shipbuilders and merchants. Diego Luna – always a magical presence on screen – strikes a delicate balance between sympathetic vulnerability and the obvious fact that Cassian is a nervous, dangerous bastard.

Ferrix soon feels as well-drawn as many of the iconic planets in the Star Wars films, with a tangible sense of community. And while the town/shipyard locations are somewhat distracting, they’re filmed with much more visual flair than we’re used to seeing on Disney+. Much to my relief, Andoro ditched the artificially murky VFX in favor of outdoor locations, textured production design (Chernobyl‘s Luke Hull), and a vibrant palette of costumes (Michael Wilkinson).

Andoro has been described by some as a slow burn, which seems to me to be a misnomer. The first three episodes keep audiences on their toes, delivering an unpredictable cat-and-mouse thriller with witty dialogue and a quirky supporting cast. This ranges from the kind of small but fascinating background roles we like to see in Star Wars (a man whose job it is to ring a giant bell) for key figures in the life of Cassian (an elderly woman played by the fantastic Fiona Shaw).

Written by Tony Gilroy (Rogue One), AndoroThe introduction of Cassian demonstrates an immediate understanding of Cassian’s dark morals and precarious lifestyle, aligning with… Rogue Oneanti-fascist themes. Reflecting earlier depictions of Imperial troops, the villains are a team of corporate agents led by an ambitious young officer (Kyle Soller) and a veteran clearly out for blood (Alex Ferns).

Unlike Stormtroopers – whose incompetence and lack of identity drive out their intimidation factor –AndoroThe police make a more personal impression. Some are regular Joes with little investment in their work; others are openly eager to get involved in police brutality. The show seems aware of the racial dynamics at play, with a predominantly white police force opposing two Latin American protagonists. (Adria Arjona stars as Cassian’s friend Bix; a more rewarding role than she’s gotten elsewhere.) “They can’t imagine anyone like me ever coming into their house,” Cassian remarks in one scene, explaining how he got away with stealing the realm.

Crucially, the police are not very impressive on an individual level. They have galaxy-spanning resources and legal power on their side, but they are paralyzed by their own stupidity and selfishness. They’re also the butt of some of the funniest jokes on the show, starting with a joke about the dweeby commander customizing his own uniform. The whole point of stories like this is to show how the little guy — or a group of little guys working together — can topple the toughest realms, one sneaky trick at a time.

Judging by the popularity of Obi-Wan Kenobi and The MandalorianDisney+ doesn’t have to produce good television to keep Star Wars fans on the hook. These shows thrive on their audience’s passion for the franchise, even if the stories are worn out as hell. In this context, Andoro feels wonderful.

Matched to the title character, Andoro focuses on grim situations full of moral ambiguity and tragic flaws. Of course, that’s not what makes it great; many of the best Star Wars stories are goofy and uplifting. But with its cast of distinctive, nuanced characters, Andoro delivers a level of complexity we haven’t seen since The Last Jedi.

A striking detail is the way in which Andoro dealing with violence. The big action scenes are well choreographed and unique, but the action isn’t all about suspense. At one point, Cassian kills a few Imperials, and instead of dismissing them as forgettable cannon fodder, we see the fear, pain, and sorrow that accompany their deaths. We are meant to recognize that Cassian Andor is a murderer, unlike the way others Star Wars spin-offs cover up the death toll of their heroes. Death and violence carry more weight here, and as such the stakes automatically seem higher.

That does not mean Andoro however, is too bleak. Some moments are deceptively hilarious, and with music by the brilliant Nicholas Britell (Moonlight; succession), these introductory episodes already offer a touching glimpse into Cassian’s past—and a tantalizing glimpse into his future with the Rebellion.

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