Star Wars: Andor Review: The Spy Series We Never Knew We Needed

It doesn't feel like a generalization to say that, in the realm of live-action Star Wars TV series, there has been the least amount of excitement in the fandom about Star Wars: Andor. This is surely no slight to the character or anyone involved in the series, but The Mandalorian was the first story being told in the live-action serialized space, Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett finally chronicled the untold adventures of the iconic bounty hunter, and Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi gave fans the return of Ewan McGregor as the Jedi master that they've been clamoring for since Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Despite not having the same excitement or expectations as other series, Star Wars: Andor showcases the untapped potential of the galaxy far, far away with a compelling and complex exploration of the grey areas between good and evil.

During a seemingly innocuous attempt to learn more about his past, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has an unexpected run-in with members of an Imperial-backed corporation that has fatal consequences. This ignites a manhunt for Cassian, forcing him to decide whether he will fully embrace his anti-Empire ideals or continue his quest to uncover mysteries from his past.

For every Star Wars fan you talk to, you'll get a different definition of what a "Star Wars" story truly is. For some, it's specifically the events of the Skywalker family, while others will note it's about the conflicts between the Jedi and the Sith, as others will claim it's all about a specific storytelling style as opposed to the specifics of the narrative. Given the longevity of the series, all of these perspectives are correct, and in some respects, Andor might be the least "Star Wars-y" project to come from Lucasfilm, which is exactly what makes it so refreshing: it doesn't give us what we think Star Wars is, it gives us what Star Wars has the potential to be.

While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was an immersive look into the adventures of lower-stakes missions of members of the Rebel Alliance, feeling more in line with movies like The Magnificent Seven or The Dirty Dozen more than the Skywalker Saga, Andor embraces a neo-noir tone. The opening sequence alone is riveting, both visually and narratively, rivaling the best tech-noirs in cinematic history and immediately intriguing audiences. We don't know much about Cassian, his surroundings, or his motivations, with this opening sequence showcasing that compelling writing is compelling writing, regardless of how much familiarity audiences might have to it. Showrunner Tony Gilroy is proving that, more important than recognizable characters or iconography, the best Star Wars stories are the best stories that don't require relying on familiarity to be a success. He's taking the story ideas he first started exploring with his screenwriting work on Rogue One and venturing even further down the rabbit hole, putting the engaging story at the forefront of the concept and allowing the story to unfold from there.

One of the major issues that some fans who have been dismissive of Andor has been that this was a prequel that we "didn't need" and, while that might be true (admittedly, there's no fictional story that we actually do "need," but that's besides the point), using the normalcy of Cassian is what makes this story thrilling. Luna is immensely watchable, whether he's embarking on a covert mission or merely asking his friends to cover for him. By centering the overall storyline on such a low-level member of someone rebelling against the Empire, we get a more insightful look into how ideals can spark massive revolutions. Writer/director Rian Johnson similarly touched upon these ideas with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and its "Broom Boy" character, with Andor similarly evoking the idea that anyone can be the spark that ignites the fires that lead to major changes. 

Mirroring Cassian's subtle immersion into the Rebellion is Syril Karn, played by Kyle Soller, who works as a member of the security division investigating what happened to the individuals who had that run-in with Cassian. Despite his employer having its ties to the Empire, he's merely a man trying to do his job and bring someone to justice who he believes has impacted his livelihood. This isn't to say that Karn's objectives are honorable, but he is far enough removed from the orders of the Empire that he isn't as abjectly nefarious as other Star Wars villains we've encountered.

The dynamics of Andor and Karn are what make this series so fascinating and relatable; rather than these characters being the metaphorical frogs being tossed into pots of boiling water, they are the frogs who are in pots of water where the heat is slowly increased. Andor isn't attempting to draw direct comparisons between the sci-fi series and the contemporary political climate as much as it's reminding us of how cyclical and universal the rise of tyrannical and fascistic organizations are throughout history and how subtle and nuanced such a rise can be. While some viewers will decry Andor for incorporating politics into its narrative (despite the entire series literally always being political since Star Wars: A New Hope), the narrative does so in ways both broad and subtle, tragically reminding us how much of our reality and sci-fi stories exist in either the prologue to or epilogue of war.

Andor and Karn aren't the only figures we meet in the story, as the first four episodes also showcase Adria Arjona's Bix, James McArdle's Timm, Fiona Shaw's Maarva, Stellan Skarsgård's Luthen, and Genevieve O'Reilly's Mon Mothma, just to name a few. Each character feels fully realized and layered, with all of their tangles with either the Rebellion or the Galactic Empire becoming evident through how they engage with Andor and Karn. Whereas other Star Wars series like The Mandalorian or Obi-Wan Kenobi center around their title characters, the ensemble of Andor all exist in the character's orbit yet aren't defined by their connections to him. With Season 1 featuring 12 episodes, there's a lot of opportunity for audiences to get an even more colorful exploration of this point in time in the Galactic Civil War.

Viewers who enjoyed the grittier visual storytelling of Rogue One are sure to enjoy the look and feel of Andor, both in its quieter moments and in its more high-octane experiences. The accomplishments of the technical aspects of filming in The Volume on other Star Wars series are undeniable, but Andor's embrace of practical sets and creatures makes for a much more lived-in experience. From the claustrophobic corporate interiors to the ruins of bustling communities to the expansive meadows and pastures, these environments manage to feel both otherworldly and authentic, as if this is a reality that exists parallel to ours. And more specifically, the third episode of the series has a highly impressive sequence of stunts and action that feels reminiscent of Rogue One's Jedha scenes, though stretched out to almost an entire episode. Lucasfilm clearly knew what they were doing by making the first three episodes available on launch, as the culmination of this triad of chapters will leave audiences thirsty for more.

Due in large part to his sacrifice at the end of Rogue One, Cassian wasn't a character many Star Wars fans were hoping to learn more about, which is what makes him the perfect conduit to tell a broader story about the small stories that make grand adventures possible. Much like how Cassian's actions in Rogue One made the events of A New Hope possible, Andor is taking an even more macro approach to the realities of living under a fascistic regime and diving deep into various perspectives. This story might not be the series fans demanded, but that's what helps make it so refreshing, unexpected, and gripping.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

The first three episodes of Star Wars: Andor premiere on Disney+ on September 21st.