At this point, even the most enthusiastic Star Wars fan might be feeling fatigued by Disney’s assembly line of content; from Rise of Skywalker to The Book of Boba Fett, there’s only so far nostalgia can carry mediocrity.
But Andor is different – the show is far removed from Disney’s usual shtick of reference-heavy, poorly written slop, packed with easter eggs to distract from lack of substance.
Andor actually feels like it takes place in another world, an interesting place filled with janky, retro-futuristic technology and discontented rebels; at points, it almost feels like Blade Runner, a gritty, grounded look at the lives of the regular folk living under the boot of the Empire.
Disney has a penchant for putting prequels inside of prequels, wrapped inside origin stories, a never-ending stack of nesting dolls, packed with backstory we never needed to know. But by working backwards, telling the story of the rebels who secured the blueprints to the Death Star, now telling the origin story of Cassian Andor, Disney has, somehow, created something that feels fresh.
Andor begins with Cassian (Diego Luna) coldly murdering two of the Empire’s brutish thugs; the murder is far removed from the meaningless slaughter we’ve seen so many times in this franchise, where Stormtroopers are swatted away like flies (even by former recruits).
Cassian’s actions are framed as morally gray, and hugely consequential, sparking a crackdown led by the young Imperial officer, Syril (Kyle Soller), who disobeys an order from his superior to let it be. Syril seems genuinely bothered by the two murders, motivated by principle, rather than logic, and soon finds a like-minded grunt, Sgt. Kostek (Alex Ferns) to lead the charge.
The relationship between the two is fascinating, as Syril is highly determined, but inexperienced, while Kostek is a battle-hardened meathead who despises the underlings. The two are like a couple of mall security guys on a petty power trip, wielding a terrifying amount of authority – what could go wrong?
Cassian himself is a likeable mess, a far cry from a pure-hearted Jedi; he’s a rugged survivalist trying to dig himself out of the problems he keeps creating.
The planet Ferrix is grimy and industrial, the stench of desperation (and fumes) in the air, a working class planet filled with laborers who have no reason to love the Empire. It’s a beautifully realized world, a textured place that feels alive – and frankly, it’s a relief to get away from the dull sands of Tattoine.
Andor’s polish stands in stark contrast to the Star Wars shows that have come before – why was the writing of Kenobi and Boba Fett so on-the-nose, and why did the CGI scenery seem so unconvincing, the planets so lifeless?
In Andor, all of the machines, droids and ships looks so weighty and practical, with the foreboding scale of Rogue One still intact; you can see the rusted rivets holding these titanic machines together, and get a sense of the immense effort behind their construction.
It feels like an extension of that cruel, dangerous universe we glimpsed in A New Hope, far removed from the sillier side of Star Wars, without losing sight of the starry-eyed hope – there is no Jedi magic in Andor, but there is resistance.
Like the animated Star Wars shorts, Visions, and to a certain extent, The Mandalorian, Andor uses Star Wars as a sandbox, rather than a nostalgia-fueled marketing machine, and is all the more memorable for it.