At its worst, Star Wars: Andor is a sanded-off, PG-13 version of some of the best TV dramas of the past decade. It’s easy to see traces of The Wire, Lost, and Breaking Bad in this story of Star Wars-adjacent scum and villainy. However, as you might suspect, such nuanced TV inspirations can only go so far in a franchise that regularly features chirping droids and action figure tie-ins.
At its best, though, Andor plays out like no other Star Wars film or TV entry to date, and it bodes well for the series’ post-Skywalker future. Andor flexes its adult-ish aspirations to better resemble the gritty content that has made series sidebars like comics, novels, and video games beloved. While its momentum takes a little too long to kick in, enough quality coalesces by the end of the series’ first 100 minutes to make it a worthy recommendation for fans of compelling sci-fi television, let alone Star Wars loyalists.
At Disney+, an initial release of three episodes says a lot
This series “follows” the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the only way Lucasfilm really could: by building a prequel out of its likable anti-hero Cassian Andor. (Spoiler alert: If this series had been a direct timeline sequel to that film, it would, uh, include far fewer characters.) Since his name’s in the title, Andor features as the star, and the events rewind to both his biggest adult and childhood adventures.
Disney+ typically debuts new TV episodes on a once-a-week basis, and while a few series exceptions have launched with a bonus episode (most notably Marvel’s WandaVision), Andor is the first to approach a “binge” on launch week. Wednesday’s three-episode debut feels like a major admission from Lucasfilm: ‘Hey fans, pretty please watch all three episodes before rushing to judgment.’
If your preferred Star Wars adventures feature shady deals in alleyways, dubious-sounding no-questions-asked favors, and cold-blooded killings, Andor wastes no time bearing its dark heart. Andor begins the first episode on a fact-finding mission, and while he’s clearly been on his search for a while, this TV series opens with his quest going awry. Within minutes, Andor returns to Ferrix, his veritable home base where he typically picks up and sells scrap to get by. It’s time to run one last deal, he tells his few accomplices, and they need to tighten their alibis about it, just in case.
And he would’ve gotten away with his scheme, too, if it weren’t for a meddling middle manager inside an Imperial operations outpost. Deputy Inspector Karn (Kyle Soller) is the series’ first standout new character, as he bristles with impotent rage while trying to make a name for himself inside an otherwise bureaucratically restrained Empire. Karn alternates between obnoxious smugness and chest-puffing BS as appropriate, and his resulting unlikability is magnetic to watch as he bears down on Andor’s escape plan. His place in the story is probably as close as the Star Wars universe will ever get to resembling the broken law enforcement ecosystem of some of modern TV’s biggest hits.
After the first episode sets the tone, and the second episode expands the lore, Andor‘s third episode clinches everything that came before it with equal parts action and filled-in story beats. By this time, the supporting cast that Andor has been contending with shows up for a major showdown—and each person in his orbit either proves their loyalty or falters in a fascinating fashion.
Andor‘s third episode is also the exception to the series’ green-screen aesthetic. This improvement is best evidenced by a showdown in a visually arresting room full of chains, pulleys, and explosions. Otherwise, production corners are cut regularly through the series’ opening episodes, and it’s hard to miss. Many times, tight town passages reuse market vendor stands and other detritus, often enough to elicit deja vu, while one distant vista catches young Andor’s eye—for long enough to reveal that it’s a hand-drawn background taped beyond a cliff’s edge.
Thankfully, Luna continues to prove himself an asset to the Star Wars series, and his voiceless effort to sell his character’s vulnerable-yet-dedicated edge is a series highlight. Andor often opts for a staredown—either directly into an ally’s eyes or up into the terrifying void of rain-filled nighttime—to express his character’s anxiety or fear, instead of drowning viewers in exposition, and other characters follow suit. In particular, Maarva (Fiona Shaw), the series’ apparent sage and beating heart, eventually proves to have more of a stake in our hero than she initially lets on. (Coincidentally, her importance to the story only emerges by episode three.)
Compared to the ultimately zero-stakes stuff of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor at least has a new and intriguing story to tell. Its plot thus far recognizes considerable meat left on the bones of Rogue One, and its titular hero is surrounded by people who tease out his greater connections to the central Jedi conflict of the series. For that alone, I will continue watching the show, even if I worry that this initial release hints to further boredom and botched momentum in future episodes.
The first three episodes of Star Wars: Andor are live on Disney+, with further episodes debuting once a week until the season’s conclusion.