When we were kids back in the 80s we all played Star Wars. We all wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, we all wanted to fight Darth Vader and be part of the Rebel Alliance. We flew our spaceships, shot our blasters at stormtroopers and we did this all safe in the knowledge that we would win and everything in the universe would be consequence free and easy.
Since its inception in 1977, the Star Wars universe has used the theme of heroic rebellion as one of its core values. The idea of a small group of underdogs fighting against the huge industrial machine that is The Empire became central to everything that followed. The notion of us against them, David versus Goliath, and the almost staggering levels of odds-defying bravery frame the saga in all its many forms.
Rebellion is, in many ways, Star Wars, and Andor looks to address this and shake it to its core.
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What is Andor about?
Set before the events of the 2016 film Rogue One, and working as a 12-episode prequel, Andor follows our Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as he rises from small time crook, thief and murderer to become a cunning and lethal central part of the Rebellion. A rebellion still in its infancy and still unknown to a bloated and arrogant Empire.
While attempting to sell on a particularly valuable piece of stolen empire equipment, our Cassian is brought into contact with the mysterious figure of Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) and our story begins in full. Luthen is focused, driven and seemingly devoid of emotion to those around him. He, we learn, is a major player in the infancy of the Rebel Alliance, a man who lives a double life. Publicly a rich, enigmatic arts and antique dealer and, in private, a ruthless agent building networks and planning operations to damage the Empire in whatever way he can.
Through Luthen, the audience is shown what I believe to be the central theme of the show: sacrifice, and what men will do when faced with absolute adversity. Star Wars has been based on the idea of men and women giving everything they have, including their lives for the Rebellion. Everything for a free galaxy out of Empire control.
I won't go into details but rest assured there are enough twists and turns, stand-out moments and beautifully crafted and shot set pieces to keep even the most hardcore Star Wars fan happy. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a fantastic main character, fully engaging and well-rounded and as the show progresses we see him develop into what we already know he is from Rogue One.
What makes Andor different from other Star Wars shows?
After the success of Rogue One the decision was made to keep Andor in the hands of the original creator and writer Tony Gilroy. With a long history of writing for serious mature movies and television series, many saw this as a possibly dangerous move for a long-form Disney Plus television franchise show.
Thankfully, the decision was a good one. With a heavy and intricate plot, pacing bordering on glacial and new-found maturity, the show feels fresh and exciting. The choice to film mainly on location and sound stages at Pinewood was also the right one.
Andor feels real, gritty, alive and beautiful, with huge sweeping landscapes just as impressive and immersive as run-down shipyards and Empire prison facilities. We visit multiple planets, cities, camps, and facilities but they at no point look fake and distracting like they have done before.
Too much CGI and sets dominated by The Volume (the wrap-around HD projection screen) had become a huge critical problem in recent Star Wars shows and Gilroy and his teams creative choice to go old school seems not only logical but visually representative of the tone of the show.
This is not a show aimed at the younger Star Wars audience. Its target is older and perhaps those now jaded with the saga after years of missteps. It is an adult show, dark, gritty, disturbing, political, thoughtful and realistic. Good people die, bad people survive, and in the background, a rebellion is formed. One based on brutality and the willingness to kill, survive, sacrifice and be as bad as the Empire they are looking to destroy. There’s no Force, no Lightsabers and the show is all the better for that.
Should I watch Andor?
Andor is a magnificent piece of sofa cinema. It is mature, intelligent, thoughtful, perfectly paced and, in many cases, cinematically beautiful. It embraces the lore and history of the Star Wars saga but shifts it to a new and very welcome older audience. It is everything that previous shows have not been and gives a huge lift to the franchise in terms of the future.
Regardless if you are a Star Wars fan or not, Andor delivers a solid 12 episodes of great television that lifts the genre and shows what can be done when the right choices are made in terms of tone and message. It was a brave decision to take a Star Wars show, slow it down and aim it at an older audience, but I fully believe that in this case, it has worked perfectly. The only fear now is that this has set the bar too high for the shows that follow it.
Andor is available now weekly on Disney Plus