They did it.
Disney has besieged the Star Wars franchise with a series of self-inflicted wounds – a combination of cynically engineered nostalgia, awkward easter eggs, and a wildly irritating desire for every franchise to have an interconnected universe. These wounds wouldn’t even be so ghastly if the stories were capable of having their own character, their own personality, but for the most part Disney’s Star Wars is a case study of a company so afraid of alienating anyone that it manages to create content that is mediocre or passable at best.
The creative team of The Mandalorian dragged down the potential of its series with cheap nostalgia tricks, the most garish of which was a de-aged CGI Luke Sykwalker (Mark Hamill, kind of). The Book of Boba Fett looked like the result of a team who watched The Godfather and then turned out a story that had none of its even basic sophistication. Obi-Wan Kenobi similarly felt like a disaster that even Ewan McGregor’s significant charisma couldn’t save. So my expectations for Andor were low.
Tony Gilroy’s Andor, however, is distinct. In its first three episodes, there isn’t a desperate series of callbacks to the original trilogy. There isn’t a cantina band or some preposterous appearance by characters who have no organic reason of being in that particular environment. There’s the Empire, there are corporate cops desperate to prove their worth through doggedly following the rules for no good reason, and a group of people whose lush forest home world was destroyed by Imperial mining and has now become toxic.
At the center of it all is Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. He’s just a guy, albeit a really good looking one, trying to carve out an existence on a planet where options are exceedingly limited. He owes several people quite a bit of money, gets in some trouble with the law, and the story lets slip just hints that he may be involved in something unsavory but doesn’t feel the need to spell out too much about him and the life he is living in that moment.
Andor feels confident. Tony Gilroy’s story switches back and forth between the past and present effectively, without explicitly spelling out that it’s doing so. It provides just enough characterization to where these characters feel like real people and also manages to surprise as to who makes it out of the first three episodes alive. It keeps the story moving along at a brisk enough pace that manages to slow down when it needs to breathe and make its environment come to life.
It isn’t flawless, of course. It is still a Star Wars show on Disney+, which brings with it certain limitations of the company’s own making. When Diego Luna’s Cassian shoots a man point blank to save his own skin, it feels honest about what a character like him would do when put in that situation. It’s a thrillingly effective moment but the rest of the three episodes at random points feel like they’re straining up against what Disney+ shows allow in terms of adult content and therefore imbues the show with an unnecessary split sense of self at times.
The show’s other weakness is characterization. Cassian is the star of the show but even a character study can’t be as effective as it ought to be if the secondary characters are not drawn from a similar cloth. It doesn’t have to be a lot of screen time, it just has to be effective.
But for the most part, the first three episodes of Andor are an excellent start to a franchise that has grown complacent and started to feel stale. The scripting is largely effective, the directing is assured, and it appears confident in the story it wants to tell. Whether the show maintains that confidence is up in the air, but as the final moments of the third episode crescendoes the two timelines together in an emotionally affecting climax, I got the feeling that it will.
+ Diego Luna, call me
+ The design of the night lounge in the opening scene is really well done – I would have a drink there!
+ This show is gorgeously shot – filming on real locations versus an all digital set makes a difference and you can tell
+ It is so refreshing to not see Tatooine AGAIN.
+ I will do my best to write reviews weekly, but am strained for capacity so you might get the reviews for Andor and The Rings of Power in chunks – thanks for understanding!