Review: ‘Andor’ Is, By Default, The Best Disney+ ‘Star Wars’ Show Yet

Andor (2022)

Lucasfilm/TV-14/12 episodes

Created by Tony Gilroy

Starring Diego Luna, Genevieve O’Reilly, Stellan Skarsgård, Adria Arjona, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller and Fiona Shaw

Debuting September 21 on Disney+

Like The Mandalorian before it, the first three episodes of Andor make up a glorified three-part pilot, so it makes sense that they would all be released concurrently tomorrow morning. That said, those first three episodes are padded and redundant, to the point where (like the Rings of Power) one could skip straight to the second episode without missing much plot and character context. That’s an issue with ‘paced for the binge’ streaming shows, as in this case, the first 35 minutes merely set up what we already know about the status quo and the respective protagonists. Our hero is introduced reluctantly murdering two Imperial attackers. This presumably positions him as a man on the run and contrasts this earlier incarnation with the guy we meet in Rogue One, where he was introduced… reluctantly murdering a guy to avoid Imperial detection.

The show is visually ambitious and exceptionally well-acted. It also has yet to break free from the notion of spending its entire episodic running time answering questions that were never asked. We don’t need to know how Andor (Diego Luna) went from a scrappy underdog to a top-tier Rebellion hero. We don’t need an entire showing offering the same grim ‘life under the Empire’ status quo which gave Star Wars: Rebels its borderline-subversive kick. The best material thus far concerns the inner workings of the Empire itself. Still, even that essentially presents itself as Ben Mendelsohn’s arc in Rogue One (a working-class Imperial leader striving for the respect of his posh superiors) extended into an entire television show. The first four episodes have a sensibility akin to a BBC spy drama like Little Drummer Girl or The Night Manager, but one could simply be watching those shows.

This is a common problem among the latest batch of MCU shows, which lean so far into the whole genre appropriation schtick that it becomes a matter of appealing to audiences who no longer consume the genuine article. It’s interesting that Andor, filled with grim political tiddlywinks and a gritty ‘regular people within a spectacular narrative’ beats, tries so hard to not be like a stereotypical Star Wars adventure. However, with no Jedi, no lightsabers and little to differentiate itself from the genuine article beyond the IP branding, the question becomes why audiences aren’t just catching up on Homeland or Spooks. There is a skewed irony in that Andor is probably the best Disney+ Star Wars show thus far while also feeling like the least essential and least must-watch among those for whom the mere idea of new Star Wars content isn’t an automatic selling point.

This is all not entirely fair to the show, which was a case of Tony Gilroy using the protective shield of an IP to craft something within his wheelhouse. Luna is terrific, and his (eventual) interplay with Stellan Skarsgard (as a leader of the still-burgeoning ‘rebel alliance’) delivers grown-up, dialogue-driven thrills. At its best, it’s closer in spirit to Michael Clayton than The Bourne Legacy, even as I mourn for the notion of audiences just watching a non-IP movie or show like Beirut which plays in the same sandbox. Yes, Andor is technically ‘Star Wars for adults.’ It has the promise of delivering something that justifies itself beyond the content soup demands of the streaming era. However, it’s another example of today’s adults both refusing to let go of their childhood favorites and insisting that those brands and franchises be tailored to their grown-up interests as well.

If you watch a new Star Wars show because it’s a Star Wars show, there’s much to appreciate about Andor, even as it takes four episodes to tell two episodes of storytelling. The show feels grounded and authentic and seems to be shot on location with tangible production values blending seamlessly with the post-production effects. It has good actors (including Fiona Shaw and Denise Gough) treating the material like an Emmy-bait HBO miniseries while existing mostly sans the expected fan bait, easter eggs or related in-continuity bells and whistles. It is perhaps the platonic ideal of a Disney+ Star Wars television show, even if much of it (thus far) repeats previously dictated material. On a Star Wars/Disney+ curve, it’s a cut above. But graded purely within the realm of its chosen spy games genre, it’s still “fine, I guess.”

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