Andor holds a promise not seen since The Mandalorian debuted in 2019.
Like that landmark, Emmy-bedecked drama, the new series is crafted to stand apart from the tangled lore of the rest of the Star Wars universe, and even though it’s a spin-off of the 2016 movie Rogue One, it never gets weighed down by fealty to what has come before. Instead, the first three episodes, which premiere September 21 on Disney+, are masterfully-designed jewel boxes overflowing with spies, intrigue, stunning visuals, and honest-to-god gravitas.
The always-smoldering Diego Luna stars as Cassian Andor, whom we meet a few years before the events of Rogue One and the formation of the Rebel Alliance. His smoky good looks, arrogance, and paranoia put him in the gruff mold of Han Solo, and as such, the show opens with a scene that’s more film noir than space western. As he steals through an urban, "used-future" environment on a secret mission, Cassian navigates brutalist architecture, noirish watering holes, and freaky aliens sprouting from bubble-like storefronts in a red light district. It’s moody and immediately gripping.
All this blighted beauty is backed by sophisticated writing from Rogue One screenwriter and Andor creator Tony Gilroy. His spare dialogue credibly invokes the everyday people living under the Empire's thumb, as well as the rusty ecosystem in which they struggle to make ends meet. Pro-Empire characters are not cartoonishly evil, but rather company men driven by duty and self-interest. Recognizable virtue is in short supply.
To that end, this is arguably the least kid-friendly Star Wars in memory, considering the first few minutes feature brothels and point-blank laser headshots. Plus, Andor devotes time to reflection and doubt, as opposed to racing through set pieces that are meant to keep fidgety younger viewers glued to the screen. Instead, we see Andor’s inner life develop as he uneasily juggles lies to his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw), his friend Brasso (Joplin Sibtain), and a fellow shady character named Nurchi (Raymond Anum).
Andor trusts its viewers to sort out the characters' moral hierarchies. We can enjoy the same slick, homage-laden design that’s present in any recent Star Wars property, but here it's lathered atop an unabashedly sexy, violent, and psychological thriller. Those things aren't automatically great on their own, of course, but coupled with the minimalist dialogue and moral ambiguity, they create a sci-fi universe in line with Dune or Blade Runner — a troubled worldview for troubled times. Ignoring Star Wars' rancorous fanboy culture almost feels revolutionary at this point, and by avoiding what the most intractable fans think they want (or what Disney thinks they want), the show delivers something all of us can enjoy: shadowy, open-ended sci-fi with a heavy dose of grit and zero hand-holding.
The first three episodes of Andor stream Wednesday, September 21 on Disney+. New Episodes Wednesdays.
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John Wenzel is an arts reporter and critic for The Denver Post who has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Atlantic and Vulture. He grew up in Dayton, Ohio, worshipping Guided by Voices and The Breeders, and has a hobbit garden in his front yard.
TOPICS: Star Wars: Andor, Disney+, Diego Luna, Fiona Shaw, Joplin Sibtain, Raymond Anum, Tony Gilroy