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‘Star Wars: Andor’ (Season One Episodes 1-3; review)

Gritty. Mature. Character driven.

Star Wars: Andor delivers what is sure to be a controversial new take on the franchise. You’re either going to love it or hate it.

The tone is set immediately.

Cold. Dour. Andor visually feels more like Blade Runner than a series from a galaxy far, far away.  It opens with Cassian Andor walking into a brothel and immediately sets the tone that this isn’t your father’s Star Wars.

With the mood set, creator/showrunner Tony Gilroy wastes no time revealing Cassian Andor’s mission; he’s searching for his sister, Kerri.

Right there, within moments of the start of the series, we’re given a solid reason to get behind Andor.

Certainly far more than any character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Cassian Andor’s first appearance which Gilroy also co-wrote.

We’re off to a solid start.

Information about his sister in hand, Andor is shaken down for credits by a pair of corrupt security bureau agents. Forced to kill them, this incident sets into motion a chain of events which spans the course of the premiere three episodes.

This where we truly depart from the Star Wars that’s come before.

Andor utilizes a different kind of storytelling than we’re used to from Star Wars. It’s a slow burn with multi-episode arcs. Each arc spans the course of one standard galactic year. The Clone Wars animated series employed the multi-episode arc in later seasons, but the intricate character development resembles the expertly crafted formats of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. It’ll not doubt be jarring for some.

Unlike his appearance in Rogue One, here Cassian Andor is a fully fleshed out character giving Diego Luna far better material to work with and he knocks it out of the park.

Andor is desperate. He knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s connected to the dispatched security agents. But he can’t just disappear. He has family to take care of in the form of his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw.)  This is a guy we can root for, in spite of his flaws.

Desperate for credits, Andor’s forced to set up a meeting with a mysterious operative allegedly connected to the rumored rebellion forming against the oppressive Empire to sell a valuable piece of stolen Imperial hardware.

Hardware that Andor stole.

This sets up the arc for these three inaugural episodes which serve as your basic origin story that also world-build everyday life under the Galactic Empire’s exploitative rule. Complacency and hopelessness are an ever-present foe. A series of flashbacks to Andor’s childhood with his missing sister give us more of his and his mother’s Maarva’s backstory and insight as to what drives Cassian Andor.

Of course, Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without the charm that appeals to that sense of wonder that draws us all into our favorite galaxy.bb

Cassian Andor’s droid B2EMO is sure to earn his place as a beloved sidekick along-side of R2-D2 and BB-8. The expected array of alien creatures and eccentric supporting characters flesh out this well lived in universe in only the way that Star Wars can with humor and delight.

Disney Plus was smart premiering the first three episodes together. As I said, it’s a slow burn. The first episode on its own will undoubtedly leave some wanting. Even I questioned if the closing scene was the strongest note to leave off on.

But, hang in there. It’s worth it.

The third episode finale is excellent, plain and simple.

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.

Episodes one and two skillfully move all the characters, friend and foe, into place bringing Andor face to face with the Rebel operative played by the perfectly cast Stellan Skarsgård. The security bureau has found Cassian, betrayed by a close friend, and is closing in.

The tension created is real. A stunning feat given that Andor is a prequel and we already know how things turn out for our hero. The resulting sequence is exciting and superbly executed, Star Wars at its best. And this is just a down payment for what is to come in the remaining nine episodes.

And this is before we even see one Star Destroyer, TIE Fighter or Stormtrooper which don’t even appear in this premier event. Nor does Mon Mothma.

But ultimately, what makes it great is its characters.

Andor arguably introduces us to some of the more complex characters in Star Wars canon in the form of Cassian Andor’s friends Bix (Adria Arjona,) Timm (James McArdle,) Brasso (Joplin Sibtain,) his mother Maarva, his droid B2EMO and particularly in antagonist Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller.) It’s their actions that drive the plot making the Andor experience more visceral than anything that’s come before.

These characters, combined with the lack of any mention of Jedi, Sith or that energy field that surrounds us and binds us, make this Star Wars feel like no other. It feels more like real life filled with real people. This alone ups the stakes for us all.

Andor is a different Star Wars experience from what you’re used to. Not everyone is going to embrace it.

That’ll be their loss.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Kate Hazell, Kathleen Kennedy, David Meanti
Created and Written by Tony Gilroy
Star Wars Created by George Lucas
Directed by Toby Haynes
Starring Diego Luna, Genevieve O’Reilly, Stellan Skarsgård, Adria Arjona,
Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle, Joplin Sibtain

 

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