Andor review: Star Wars gets political in a gripping, gritty thriller
James R | On 21, Sep 2022
This review is based on the first three episodes.
It’s always telling how many episodes of a streaming series are released at once. If a show debuts with just one episode a week, or a whole box set together, that can be an indicator of confidence that people will be willing to wait or that they won’t want to. When multiple episodes are released on day one, that’s normally an indicator that it will take that many episodes for viewers to become invested. Andor, the latest Star War series to land on Disney+, arrives with three episodes in the barrel.
The show is a prequel to Star Wars spin-off Rogue One, which spelled out in grim detail how exactly many people died to secure the Death Star plans that led to victory for the Rebellion in Episode IV: A New Hope. Set fives year before Rogue One, Andor charts how Cassian Andor, a top spy for the Rebellion, earned his stripes. If that kind of origins story sounds like a boring trek, rest assured that the momentum is strong with this one, thanks to a gritty tone that’s darker than the inside of a Jawa’s robe.
When we first meet Cassian, he’s a thief on Ferrix trading in Empire space components. But while trying to track down a missing person on the nearby security outpost of Morlana One, an encounter in a neon-lit alley leave him a wanted man on the run. Except, we gradually learn, Cassian has always been a fugitive of sorts, as childhood flashbacks reveal how he ended up leaving his home planet for his current existence – where he frustrates the warm and wily Maarva (Fiona Shaw – brilliant as always), confounds the malfunctioning but loyal droid B2-EMO and shares tense exchanges with won’t-they mechanic Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona).
The cast are excellent, with Diego Luna rarely better than as the likeable lowlife who makes all the wrong decisions. He’s charismatic when he needs to talk his way out of trouble but his eyes swim with anger and loss when he’s silent. That brimming well of resentment is the heart of the show’s success, as it not only chronicles Cassian’s growing involvement with the Rebel Alliance but also the wider beginnings of the revolution.
Crucially, Cassian is already a rebellious character, he’s just lacking the purpose and focus to – as Stellan Skarsgård’s veteran fighter Luthen Rael puts it – “fight these bastards for real”. What becomes clear is that the same is true of everyone else on Ferrix, with writer Tony Gilroy capturing the sense of an unequal society teetering on the breaking point of radicalisation. It’s a timely and tense landscape, populated by actors giving each nook and cranny a lived-in grubbiness, from Ron Cook as a talkative local to Kieran O’Brien as a junkyard trader to Alex Ferns as a gruff soldier. A brilliantly cast Kyle Soller is a weaselly delight as a loathsome bureaucrat whose childish craving for self-importance demonstrates how selfish entitlement can pave the way for undemocratic rule.
The result plays out more like a sibling of Blade Runner than a sidekick to The Mandalorian – a grounded thriller that’s a galaxy far away from the fan service its prequel-based premise might promise. Accompanied by an immersive soundtrack from Nicholas Britell, it’s a slow-burn slice of world-building that feels like an introduction to a new corner of the George Lucas universe, and a reminder that Star Wars has always been by its very nature political. Balancing a careful pace with snappy episode lengths, Andor hits its stride with its thrilling, action-packed third chapter – but the truth is that it will have you hooked long before then.