A blood-pumping spy thriller that might be the best Star Wars show yet: Andor review

Andor: key information

– Launches on Wednesday, September 21
– Three-episode premiere on Disney Plus
– Set five years before Rogue One
– Diego Luna and Stellan Skarsgård among its sizable cast
– Written by Rogue One’s Tony Gilroy
– First season comprises 12 episodes
– Second season set to begin filming soon

Star Wars live-action shows haven’t been the runaway successes Disney and Lucasfilm hoped they would be. Sure, The Mandalorian has been a critical and commercial success for the legendary sci-fi franchise. However, The Book of Boba Fett and even the highly anticipated Obi-Wan Kenobi’s standalone series have largely struggled to match the popularity of their TV sibling.

So it falls to Andor, the next Star Wars Disney Plus series, to try to deliver a suitably gripping tale in that famous galaxy far, far away. Like the Star Wars prequel movie trilogy, though, Andor has the potential to tell a superfluous story. Thanks to Rogue One, fans are already aware of how Cassian Andor’s journey ends – a similar problem (among many) that affected the end of the Star Wars prequel movie saga.

Yet, where that trilogy failed in its objectives, Andor soars. The latest Star Wars series is a masterclass in storytelling, delivering thrilling set-pieces, exploring the duality of its complex characters, and providing suspense-fuelled drama that’ll immediately hook viewers. Simply put, it might be the best Star Wars show – The Mandalorian included – so far.

The revolution will be televised

Andor charts the rise of the Rebel Alliance. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

Set five years before Rogue One, Andor tells the story of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the deadbeat scoundrel-turned-rebel spy who eventually plays an integral role in the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans for the Death Star.

The show begins with the titular character fleeing from the Galactic Empire after a run-in with two corporate security guards turns deadly. To fund his escape, Andor enlists the help of engineer and close friend Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), who puts him in touch with Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a businessman interested in buying an object Andor stole from the Empire.

Rael, though, isn’t solely interested in Andor’s wares – he wants to recruit the Ferrix-dwelling rogue for a bigger cause. With the Empire’s forces, led by Imperial officers Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) and Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) closing in on him, Andor accepts Rael’s offer –setting him on the path to becoming the revolutionary that the Rebellion needs.

From the outset, it’s clear Andor isn’t your traditional Star Wars TV show. Paralleling Rogue One, Andor is tonally different from what viewers have seen from Lucasfilm. It’s more grounded and rugged; a street-level-style series that feels suitably apt for the emergence of an underground resistance, but one that quickly bears the hallmarks of an operatic cosmic adventure.

Syril Karn pursues Cassian Andor early on in the TV series. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

It doesn’t look like a Star Wars production, either – early on, at least – but that’s a good thing. Unlike other Star Wars shows, Andor isn’t intrinsically tied to iconic elements of the franchise’s extensive history. There are no Force wielders here, nor the need to pick up story threads from a pre-existing film or series. Subsequently, it isn’t weighed down by the expectation of including such narrative components, which help its novel storytelling approach.

A large part of what makes Andor successful is how meticulously crafted its story is. Yes, it’s a slow burn, with early episodes laying the groundwork for its overarching plot before the fun really begins, but it needs to be methodically paced. Andor has a lot of new characters and locations to introduce – rushing through them would be detrimental to its plot pacing and structured character arcs. Other Star Wars projects have been criticized for their fast-paced stories, leading to the emergence of frustrating plot holes or dependency on exasperating plot devices.

Andor’s combat sequences are explosive and nerve-jangling

This isn’t a fault you can level at Andor. It doesn’t race through its multiple narratives and character setups to unite its lead with other Rebel Alliance members. Instead, Andor favors precise world-building and plot establishment. These provide viewers with a breadcrumb trail of events that show why Cassian Andor is a lost soul at the start of the series and how his rebellious journey begins to reshape him. The former story is presented in flashbacks, showing how Cassian Andor eventually ended up on Ferrix in gripping and heart-wrenching fashion. Pleasingly, these backstory aspects are drip fed throughout Andor’s opening episodes, ensuring the show doesn’t give away too much revelatory content early on. Meanwhile, the latter begins to play out from episode 4; an entry filled with narrative expansion that opens up the main story and its various subplots.

It helps, too, that Andor is set in its own pocket of the Star Wars universe. The franchise’s TV shows have been criticized for their overreliance on Tatooine as a primary location, which is warranted when you consider the vastness of the Star Wars universe. Thankfully, Andor opens things up. It explores new planets like Ferrix, Kenari, Aldhani, and Morlana One; worlds that show off the natural beauty – and the Blade Runner, cyberpunk-inspired, and seedy underground locales – of various settings to satisfying effect.

Thrills, spills, and automobiles

Andor’s early episodes are light on action. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

Andor doesn’t wait to establish every character and story thread before it ramps up the tension and delivers absorbing action, either.

The show’s first 10 minutes are proof of this – Cassian Andor verbally sparring, and physically engaging, with two Empire goons in what winds up being a pretty dark entry point to a grown up-positioned Star Wars story. If that makes Andor sound aggressively un-family friendly, it isn’t. It’s just that this series feels more mature than previous live-action and animated Star Wars projects, such as The Bad Batch or all three film trilogies.

Episode one’s opening sequence aside, Andor is a bit light in the action department. That’s a pity because, when things really kick off in episode 3, Andor’s combat sequences are explosive, nerve-jangling, and will have you on the edge of their seats. It’s a lengthy shootout that turns into a vehicular-laced set-piece filled with suspense and thrills, and gives an enthralling insight into how frenetic and fraught Andor’s action set-pieces may be in future episodes. Still, even if Andor will provide more spectacular action sequences in future installments, a little more in the way of clashes between the Empire, Cassian, and company early on wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite their commonalities, Andor’s Rebel Alliance members have fraught relationships with each other. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

Andor offsets its lack of action sequences with fascinating verbal conflicts between its morally gray characters. There’s the occasional interaction between Empire employees and the masses it tyrannically rules over that make for riveting viewing. However, it’s the disputes among individuals on the same side of the fight that are truly captivating – incidents that wonderfully exhibit the level of mistrust that exists between characters and communities, particularly those with a common cause.

From the strained relationship that exists between Luthen and key Rebellion member Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to the charged atmospheres on display in different divisions of the Empire, Andor is packed with drama. The show juggles its various character associations with aplomb, giving its major players plenty of screen time so audiences can invest in their respective arcs and character development. Thanks to the murky area that many operate in, and the vulnerabilities they display, Andor makes it easy for viewers to sympathize with and relate to its colorful cast. Like Game of Thrones, you’ll find yourself unexpectedly rooting for characters on each side of the line – Empire personnel included. 

Carrying the torch

Andor will flesh out Mon Mothma’s Star Wars backstory. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

It helps that Andor’s main cast do justice to their characters, regardless of which side they’re on.

It’s great to see Luna reprise his role as Cassian Andor, albeit as a younger, instinctive, and more brooding version of who we see in Rogue One. The series’ early episodes humanize him in a way that Rogue One couldn’t due to time constraints, showcasing him as a damaged but dangerous individual who’s drifting through life. That said, he’s also a devilish charmer in a manner reminiscent of Han Solo, Star Wars’ most famous scoundrel, which adds an entertaining dimension to Cassian’s persona.

Of equal intrigue are the parallels between Cassian and Syril Karn. Despite the juxtaposition between them – they’re fighting for different sides – the two are strikingly similar. Both are out of their depth at the series’ beginning; naive individuals who think they know how the universe works but soon find themselves catapulted into the eye of the storm. It’s a shared affinity that makes for intriguing viewing, even if they don’t share much screen time in early episodes. It’ll be engrossing to see whether their respective arcs make them more analogous or not as the series progresses.

Andor presents a fascinating insight into middle management areas of the Galactic Empire. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

Andor’s veritable mix of new and revisited characters also largely get their due in the show’s early episodes.

O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma and Gough’s Dedra bring a sense of regality and authoritative bureaucracy to proceedings, but it’s the pair’s relative isolation in their workplaces that will spellbind audiences. Despite their obvious expertise, they’re outsiders in the Senate and the Empire, which makes them dangerous pawns in Andor’s cat and mouse story, but ones who are always looking over their shoulder. It’s equally intriguing to get an insight into how the Empire’s middle management operates through Dedra. It’s an area of the galaxy-spanning autocracy we’ve rarely seen and, based on what Andor reveals, it’s as cut-throat and heinous an environment as any other Empire sector. 

Andor favors precise world-building and plot establishment

Cassian’s volatile relationships with Bix and his mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) make for compelling viewing whenever Luna shares screen time with the duo, too, but it’s the burgeoning dynamic between him and Skarsgård’s Rael, though, that steals the show. It’s an embryonic relationship fraught with tension and appears as if it’ll become a key, albeit fractious, father-son-style bond throughout the series.

In fact, Skarsgård’s scene-stealing performance as Rael lights up every scene he’s in. He’s a suave, calculating, chameleon-style individual who blends into every environment and always tells people what they want to hear. Sure, it makes him somewhat manipulative, but his commanding presence, coupled with his master of disguise tendencies, make him a mesmerizing character to watch. Here’s hoping he plays a more active role as the show proceeds.

Andor is full of wonderfully constructed sets. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

It’s not just Andor’s enchanting characters who carry the torch for Star Wars’ illustrious history. The show’s practicality is mightily impressive, ranging from prosthetics to an expertly crafted, full-size set depicting Ferrix’s main city. There are plenty of instances that call for CGI and VFX use, which delightfully articulate the sense of scale and scope of Andor’s locations. It’s the physical effects, though, that shine brighter, bringing authenticity to the show and making Ferrix feel like a lived-in metropolis.

Nicholas Britell’s soaring score illuminates proceedings in a similar vein to John Williams’ legendary works in the Star Wars universe, too. It’s individualistic enough to stand apart from Star Wars music we’ve heard before, but retains the pulsating and subdued vibes that elevate the scenes they’re married with. It’s more nuanced than Michael Giacchino’s work on Rogue One, but equivalently enjoyable and emotive to listen to.

Our verdict

There’s a reason why Rogue One is routinely named in the top five best Star Wars movies of all time. Its uniquely dichotomous tale of hope and tragedy, ambiguous characters, and rollicking, lionhearted adventure single it out from the more mystical, superpowered entries in Lucasfilm’s iconic franchise.

Andor fulfills a similarly superb role in Star Wars’ back catalog. It’s a terrific thrill ride; a show that juggles its sizable cast and numerous plot threads with aplomb. In some ways, it feels like the chapters of a book, slicing its narrative up into manageable chunks that maintain the cohesiveness of its plot structure. At times, it could use a bit more humor to alleviate the tension but, alongside its lack of action, these are small gripes in the scheme of things.

Equally, it’s a series that retains the overarching appeal of Star Wars through its clever use of Easter eggs and other referential callbacks. It doesn’t stray from what makes the franchise so beloved, but it’s different enough that it could feasibly entice non-Star Wars fans to check it out. 

Save for its lead character and occasional references, Andor could exist as a non-Star Wars property and still be compelling. It isn’t afraid to be distinct in a franchise that could use some individuality – and that’s what makes Andor a tremendously enjoyable watch.

Andor’s three-episode premiere airs on Disney Plus on Wednesday, September 21.

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