Andor Gives Star Wars Fans the Spy Thriller They’ve Always Wanted

TV Reviews Andor
Andor Gives Star Wars Fans the Spy Thriller They’ve Always Wanted

“Don’t you want to fight these bastards for real?”

That’s the key question Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) poses to Cassian (Diego Luna) early in the first season of Andor, but it’s a perspective the young scavenger has never really considered. For Cassian, life is about getting by, about being so forgettable that you can sneak into a rebel base, steal something small, and no one will notice. It’s never been about “sticking it to the man,” it’s about survival, and using the Empire’s arrogance for his own benefit.

Even though Cassian never verbalizes an answer to Luthen’s question, viewers already know the answer. The journey from ruffian to rebel leads to a layered thriller that makes show creator Tony Gilroy’s new series a unique and addictive look at yet another fascinating aspect of the growing Star Wars universe. It’s also an excellent examination of an indelible character that first made his mark in 2016.

Star Wars fans first met Cassian Andor in what is arguably the best film in the franchise since the original trilogy. In Rogue One, which was co-written by Gilroy, Cassian is the hardened leader of a group of Rebels that steal the plans to the Death Star. The older version of Andor is no-nonsense, cold, and willing to give his life for what he believes in. That’s not who we meet in this new series.

Set five years prior to the events of Rogue One, Cassian Andor has a much different life. The adopted son of scavengers, he’s grown up on the planet of Ferrix, in an industrial town that looks like a mix of Nevarro from The Mandalorian and Bacca from the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Cassian has friends but often strains relationships. He’s the type of guy who avoids you when he owes you money, but will hit you up for another favor once he’s paid you back. Initially, Cassian has a lot in common with another Star Wars scoundrel that would eventually become a Rebel leader: Han Solo.

Being a scavenger is dangerous work, and Cassian’s luck quickly runs out when he kills some overly aggressive sentry guards while doing the same thing he was doing at the start of Rogue One: looking for someone important. The death of two guards from the Pre-Mor Corporation, a company the Empire hires to handle security in Outer Rim territories, would normally be swept under the rug to avoid Imperial entanglements, but Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is the epitome of a company man and determined—with his superior’s permission or not—to find the killer. This leads to acts of betrayal, firefights, a daring escape, a fall from grace, and the beginning of a new journey for Cassian.

I won’t spoil the first four episodes, but just know that Academy Award nominee Tony Gilroy’s screenwriting fingerprints are all over this series. The writer of all four Bourne films, Michael Clayton, Proof of Life, and Beirut (let’s just forget sports-romantic-comedy The Cutting Edge ever happened) knows how to build dramatic worlds, and Gilroy does just that with Andor. In fact, it’s his world-building that stands out as one of the most impressive features of the series.

In many ways, Gilroy painted himself into a corner with Andor, which is essentially a prequel to a prequel (Rogue One). Star Wars fans all know Cassian dies (spoiler?) and there’s a finite five-year window to get the character from where he is to where we know all he ends up: dying on the planet Scarif while embracing Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Amazingly, Gilroy manages to keep viewers intrigued through two easy-to-think-up-but-hard-to-pull-off methods: building incredible worlds and layered characters.

Through four episodes, Gilroy does more planet hopping than pirate and smuggler Hondo Ohnaka, visiting several different and unique planets that all play an important part of the story. None more so than Kenari, Cassian’s home planet, where we learn about his childhood and background. Andor is at its best, however, when constructing memorable characters.

There are 195 speaking roles in the series, but Gilroy makes sure each one has purpose and assists in making the world he’s designed feel authentic. It helps that multiple characters are deftly developed early. Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw), and the aforementioned Luthen Rael (my favorite) all have nuance and complexity. And there’s just something about Deputy Inspector Karn that feels like there might be more to him than meets the eye. But when it comes right down to it, Andor, is Cassian’s story, and Diego Luna more than delivers.

Despite being set in a fictional world, Cassian’s journey feels real. His home planet was abandoned by the Empire after a mining disaster left it useless. He’s an immigrant on a planet full of people scrounging for work and struggling to make ends meet. He’s lost his family and is beaten down by a lack of opportunities. All Cassian needs is a union card and a wedding coat and he’d be a Bruce Springsteen song. Personifying this complex character, Luna manages to channel rage, disappointment, and the will to keep fighting with either a skillfully delivered line or an adroit facial expression. He is masterful in Andor.

The Skywalker Saga may have run its course but the world in which it is set still holds a fascination for fans, and is full of more untapped treasure than a yet-to-be-discovered kyber crystal mine. Rogue One was a great example of that, and with a stellar cast and clever storytelling, the hope that there’s more to Star Wars than Skywalker stories continues to grow with the absolutely magnificent Andor.

The first three episodes of the 12 episode season of Andor premiere Wednesday, September 21st on Disney+.

Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot and aspiring hand model. When he’s not rebelling against the Empire, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.

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