Andor Series Review (Season 1)
A flawed if capable Star Wars story that brings everything down to street level.
Of the many releases from Disney’s Star Wars catalogue, Rogue One obtained the highest recognition from fans. The 2016 film offered a more rugged and gritty take on the rebel alliance, opening the door for new creative directions. The latest small screen effort focuses on Cassian Andor, a key player in the hunt for the death star plans. It has problems here and there but offers up a capable adventure.
The titular protagonist (Diego Luna) is already on the run when we first find him; laying low on the planet Fairfax, Cassian finds a potential way out with Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), who is putting together a heist on a major imperial stronghold. With several teammates and a couple of childhood flashbacks sprinkled in, the roguish soldier starts to fight for something more than personal gain. What makes Andor work is its focus on the ordinary men and women who lit the spark of rebellion. The series takes place with the empire at the height of its power and unlike previous live-action shows, this one takes the time to show both sides alongside a sense of contrast. One moment we’ll see Cassian hiding from his pursuers and the next we see the bureaucrats who manage security on far-off worlds. It’s a great way of both showing the Imperial grip on power alongside putting their own roles and motivations on display. Interspersed between the two sides are diplomatic engagements in the galactic senate. Rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) takes the stage here, but these are easily the weakest elements of the series. You could remove these background segments and they wouldn’t change much of the overall plot. The series also suffers from a slow start with the build-up to a heist taking up the earlier episodes. Twelve episodes does feel like too many and they should cut the length down for the planned second season.
Diego Luna slips back into his role seamlessly and his performance is based on Cassian’s interactions with others. For some time the man has gotten by on his own initiative and some tensions emerge with his compatriots. Luthen Rael is a suitably devious character, navigating both Coruscant politics in disguise and the encroaching imperial patrols in space. On the other side, we have Syrill Karn (Kyle Soller), a security officer in a privatised imperial company who struggles to maintain order. His story did have some potential, but he ends up being put aside as the series goes on. Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) fares better; as a higher ranking official, more time is dedicated to her mission of catching Cassian and stamping out any guerrilla operations. Admittedly, many of the side characters on Fairfax are lacking in depth, but the series portrays them as a collective, one that eventually chooses to stand up against their oppressors. Some light cameos from the likes of Saw Gurrera (Forrest Whittaker) are thrown in briefly, but they don’t amount to much in the narrative. This side-story has some distance to go to get audiences fully invested.
The varied environments enhance the story, showing the distance between Cassian and those at the top of galactic society. Through the use of more run-down, backwater planets, Andor adopts a grittier tone, moving itself away from the traditional heroics of the franchise. This is perhaps the biggest variety Star Wars has had on the smaller screen as we journey to a forest world with its own religious festival and even an imperial prison out in the middle of an ocean planet. In turn, we also receive a range of set pieces that emphasise Cassian’s place at the bottom of the pecking order; it’s very much a David vs Goliath scenario as the characters rely on numbers and ingenuity to come out on top. The action is well shot and edited and on occasion characters will pause to take in the violence that unfolds, a clear focus on murky morals. Some characters and their plot threads may be underdeveloped but the presentation does show the rebellion slowly growing into a competent fighting force. The final episode hammers home the themes of freedom and revolution and the soundtrack also reflects this. A funeral procession builds up to the climax with a hard-hitting impact.
It does take time to get moving, but Andor successfully delivers a Star Wars story down on street level. It picks up the pieces from Rogue One and taps into the thriller genre for a worthwhile diversion. If you’re looking for another tale that puts aside the Skywalkers and Palpatines of the galaxy, this series has what you’re looking for.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Good)
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