Chris Connor reviews the first three episodes of Star Wars: Andor…
After the warm if not glowing response to Star Wars: Obi Wan Kenobi and a more middling reception for Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett, Disney+ returns to the galaxy far, far away in the shape of Star Wars: Andor, a new series leading up to the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and exploring the birth of what will eventually become the Rebel Alliance.
Andor has been in development for several years now, with a second season of twelve episodes set to complete the story, so needless to say hopes are high and there is a lot riding the rascal Rebellion hero and his journey to become the man we first encounter in Rogue One.
Immediately, Star Wars: Andor feels more grounded than the last few Disney+ series with its focus in the initial episodes on the community of the planet of Fest where Cassian has been working and residing. We get a sense of the downbeat morale and lack of opportunities there, with work seemingly built heavily around industry and construction.
The Empire we encounter in Andor isn’t the beast we know from the Original Trilogy; here it is still flexing its muscles and spreading its influence to all corners of the galaxy. We don’t actually encounter any Stormtroopers in these first episodes but the Imperial presence is clear for all to see. Perhaps the biggest strength of these opening three episodes is showing the Empire’s smugness and care-free attitude. As Cassian says “They’re so fat and satisfied”. The Empire has yet to taste defeat or any sense of resistance which will come to fruition throughout this series.
The first two episodes kick us gently into gear showing us what scrapes the young Cassian got himself into, with an opening reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in a rain drenched neon-lit city where Cassian finds himself in a brothel and entangled with two local patrolmen – a far cry from the franchise’s family friendly roots. This darker side to the show is a welcome one, doubling down on the murkiness that has made The Mandalorian such a standout and that was one of Rogue One’s biggest strengths.
The slow build up of these episodes shows us who Cassian was before he joined the Rebellion – someone unsure of his place in the galaxy and seemingly jumping from one scrape to the other. We get to know some of his local community and there is more a sense of world-building and growth to the Star Wars universe than we’ve seen in the past few live-action shows. While the tone is dark, there are welcome moments of levity which for the most part feel earned and not cheap throwaways, the sign of a community banding together against adversity.
Episode three is where the action kicks into gear with the arrival of Stellan Skarsgård as the mysterious and compelling Luthen Rael, someone who is out to take the fight back to The Empire and encourages Cassian to see the bigger picture. The action sequences in this episode especially feel thrilling and innovative with surprises and good use of the surroundings the characters find themselves in. It should come as no surprise that the series boasts impressive action coming from Tony Gilroy who was heavily involved in the Bourne franchise and Rogue One.
Nicholas Britell’s score is a welcome departure from the traditional music of the franchise, featuring more modern sounds and pounding drum beats on multiple occasions. Along with Ludwig Göransson’s stellar work on The Mandalorian and Natalie Holt’s on Obi Wan Kenobi, this offers further proof the music of the franchise can evolve beyond its iconic ties to John Williams on the Skywalker Saga.
Andor’s first three episodes represent a more-than-promising start with a dark, espionage feel to proceedings and a true sense of urgency that hasn’t been present in the franchise’s last few projects. The balance of the tone and worldbuilding are some of its strengths, fleshing out a corner of the universe we haven’t seen much of previously and really giving a sense of life under Imperial rule that has only been touched on briefly to this point.
Diego Luna has grown into the role of Cassian, helping us get a sense of his background and his own stake in the fight, while Fiona Shaw and Skarsgård command the screen and feel like they truly belong in the franchise. There is a real sense that Andor could be something special and what fans have been wanting to see for some time. This is television of truly epic proportions and the next nine episodes are surely going to have fans enthralled.