It was just over the weekend that I finally admitted something to a friend that I had been denying to myself for far too long. Are you ready? *deep breath*
Rogue One is my favorite Star Wars movie.
No more hemming and hawing about The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi, both also great. But Rogue One does some things that neither of those do, and I doubt we’ll EVER see in a Star Wars movie on the big screen again. For one, it’s the only film in the franchise that actually feels like people are fighting in a war. But second, and most crucially to the new Disney+ series Andor, it began to show the actual costs of that war on the people fighting it, and those who are caught up in it.
That is essentially what Andor, a prequel to Rogue One starring Diego Luna as future rebel spy Cassian Andor, is all about. The four episodes I was allowed to screen are vastly different from every Star Wars series that has come our way thus far. There are no lightsaber battles, there aren’t even Stormtroopers. No threat of Darth Vader rolling up with a Force choke.
Set a few years prior to Rogue One, the series is basically a Cassian Andor origin story. When we first encounter him, Andor is ekeing out a meager existence on the salvage planet Ferrix, getting by as a petty thief who is content to stay quiet while the Empire begins to tighten its hold on the galaxy. At this point, the vast majority of people have no idea how bad things will get; how deep the connection to the Dark Side of the Force really is. But people like Andor know. The blue-collar shipyard workers and salvagers know all too well the casual cruelty that is inflicted on people like them by an overpowering force bent on domination.
In Rogue One, Andor is a hardened Rebel Alliance espionage agent, and he knows that sometimes he must kill to get the job done. It’s a lesson he also knows quite well at this early stage, although his motivations are less in the service of a greater good. So in the opening minutes when he blasts a pair of Imperial security officers, we’re not exactly shocked. However, this version of Andor is less prepared to handle the fallout of such an action. And there definitely is fallout.
The bright blue-suited officers of the Imperial security team are led in part by Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who investigates the murders and this is set on Andor’s trail. Syril is an interesting character; one of those mediocre men who inevitably rises to middle-management. He’s eager to please and quick to failure, details of which are rolled out sporadically like so much else in this delibarately-paced series. The same goes for higher-level Imperial officer Dedra Meero, played by the terrific Denise Gough. Like so many Imperial officers, her dedication is self-serving and will make her a real threat. Eventually. Disney is debuting Andor with three episodes, a wise decision because there is practically no action until much later on.
And that fact has me wondering how Andor will be received. The slow dishing out of details will turn off those accustomed to the frequent battles of The Mandalorian, or the nostalgia-infused fan service of The Book of Boba Fett. There doesn’t appear to be much of an overall plot, at least not a cohesive one, until the arrival of Stellan Skarsgard as the mysterious Luther Rael. A genuinely exciting fight breaks out that features blaster fire, falling ship parts, and an entire garage worth of mistrust.
While the opening episodes drag along at a glacial pace, they aren’t without significant pleasures. Not the least of which is watching Andor as he starts to figure out what truly matters to him. Lessons imparted to him by his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) begin to take hold, and of course he has a loyal droid companion, B2EMO (Emo is right!), because there absolutely must be one that Lucasfilm can turn into toys. Also quite good is Adria Arjona as Andor’s friend and love interest, Bix, whose trust in him is rewarded with, what else, peril. Andor learns that there are things out there bigger than himself, and the people he cares about must be protected from it.
It’s the details that matter most in Andor, weaving a compelling story about the real impact of never-ending conflict. The ordinary people are already under the Empire’s thumb, the wealthy have everything and the poor are left fighting for scraps. While it isn’t spelled out explicitly, the threat of the in-construction Death Star looms large. There’s the sense of people being forced to dig their own graves. Most of them, including Andor, cope in the harmful ways we expect them to. All of this contributes to a dire atmosphere that, really, only Rogue One was able to make feel genuine.
I’m almost hesitant to judge Andor after only four episodes because it’s clear this is a series that is telling one complete narrative. And from there, it must be judged on how well it complements Rogue One. On that final point, the two are perfectly aligned. Series creator Tony Gilroy, who swooped in to rescue Rogue One in the final weeks of production, knows where this story is going and where Cassian Andor will end up by the time of its conclusion. The journey will be slow, maybe a bit meandering, but is compelling
The first three Andor episodes will hit Disney+ on September 21st.