‘Andor’ Flexes Some Serious Prequel Power in its Premiere

Here is the Star WARS story Rogue One promised to be.
Andor Series Premiere Review

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry reviews the first four episodes of Andor, the latest Star Wars story.

How you like your Star Wars will determine the enjoyment you pull from Lucasfilm’s latest franchise selection. If you come for comfort and nostalgia, the Andor premiere could repel. If you’re eager to challenge the rosy memory of your childhood space fantasy, Andor will satisfy. Show creator Tony Gilroy embraces prequel mechanics, leaning into our smug assuredness while providing a vibe unlike any other in the series.

Diego Luna‘s title character is a dead man walking, but as Gilroy has already pointed out, so are we all. Let’s stop pretending that knowing a grand outcome means anything to the small players trapped in its inevitability. We know how World War II ended, but we still keep making movies set in its history. Why should Star Wars be respected any less?

Andor is a prequel to a prequel. Deal with it. Set roughly five years before Rogue One, not counting the numerous flashbacks to Cassian Andor’s childhood, the new Disney+ show charts how an angry, apathetic youth transforms into a righteous freedom fighter. Gilroy’s approach is deadly serious, supplanting George Lucas‘ sci-fi serial trappings atop something you’d almost expect to play on BBC Select. Andor is more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than The Mandalorian. Easter Egg hunters get scraps rather than meals.

We meet Cassian Andor while he’s scouring the system for his sister. His questions take him into seedy bars, not cantinas. When his inquiries catch the attention of two Imperial reprobates, Cassian concludes the scuffle with their deaths. Using movie logic, we can call the killings self-defense, but the further we move away from the event, the more damned our hero appears.

Cassian holds a hatred for the Empire, one justified through the show’s repeated trips to his past. Throughout the first four episodes, we witness Cassian’s peaceful memory of Fest, his homeworld. We understand early how the Empire is pilfering their resources and how the reckless speed with which their sucking them up will cause doom to everyone around them. His escape from the destruction is somewhat miraculous and puts him on a path that will eventually lead to Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård).

The only thing in common between the two is their disdain for their masters. When on Coruscant, the galactic capital, Rael wears a curly wig and a bright smile. From his antique shop, he meets with dissidents like Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and captures political intel. Off Coruscant, Rael funds terrorists with credits and information. In Cassian, he sees a deadly instrument; a mean bastard willing to kill the enemy. Rael can massage some purpose into the boy later.

Andor lacks the good time in a bad time spirit often associated with Star Wars. These episodes are not an adventure. They’re terrorist fiction. Darkness surrounds everything. The characters have suffered tremendous loss, and they don’t just carry it on their faces or in their body language. Their trauma seeps out of them and fills the frame. Adriano Goldman and Frank Lamm‘s cinematography is naturalistic but filtered through a broody, grim gauze.

Even Rogue One found levity amongst the Dirty Dozen assembled around Felicity Jones. There isn’t even a K-2SO to throw comical, hurtful barbs. The Andor premiere is a war show, maybe even the one Gareth Edwards initially promised when Rogue One was first pitched to us.

In pulling his actors out of ILM’s StageCraft, aka the Volume, and planting them on location, Tony Gilroy seemingly jams Star Wars into its most recognizable warzone: planet Earth. Andor is shaking us by the shoulders, screaming, “Star Wars has always been about rejecting fascism.” The only difference is that in 1977 the audience and probably George Lucas thought it could not return to our shores. Andor, as we should all understand today, underscores democracy’s fragility.

Diego Luna is charismatic as hell. Nothing’s changed there. His Cassian in Andor is not the Cassian in Rogue One, but you can see the thread that binds them. Here, Cassian is less controlled. Without a mission, anger is his neutral emotion, but Luna can’t stomp out charm completely. The manner in which he reflects and deflects Skarsgård’s manipulative antagonism is endlessly watchable. Whenever they’re onscreen together, you want the whole show to be about their relationship. When Skarsgård slinks away for plot purposes, you’re disappointed, but you’re still hooked on following Luna wherever he travels.

The closest Andor comes to delight is with Syril Karn, played snidely by Kyle Soller. His Deputy Inspector is the first to fall on Cassian’s trail after the show’s opening murders. Those with the higher pay grade would rather him forget the crime as something petty. They don’t see a need to raise the alarm or point a spotlight on them, but Syril’s the office jackass who can’t help himself. Soller plays the bootlicker with relished superiority. Dismission is the deadliest action you could commit against him.

Syril has enough punchability that you’re aching to see him finally come into direct contact with Luna’s Cassian. Still, you’re equally having as much fun watching Syril raise the temperature under his Imperial cohorts’ collars. Hovering above him is Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), an ambitious officer in the Imperial Security Bureau. Wherever she walks, you’ll find Nazis, Nazis, Nazis eating at each other’s hot-collard throats. Their sequences are merely the Death Star boardroom bit from A New Hope extended for several more minutes. Also addictively intriguing.

What’s less successful is Cassian’s relationship with Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona). What they mean to each other is a little unclear. She sympathizes with Cassian’s Imperial disdain and aids him in securing secret material, much to the chagrin of her frowny-faced boyfriend. There are enough longing looks passed between them that you’re left to wonder about their romantic possibilities, but Andor doesn’t have the energy just yet to make the likelihood interesting.

The Andor premiere matches the first steps Cassian makes to joining the Rebellion, although their resistance doesn’t have a catchy name yet. It’s firmly set in the Rogue One universe but feels refreshingly removed from what Jon Favreau and Dave Fioloni are doing over in Mandalorian land. This is not a knock or an endorsement of either property as superior. It’s simply nice to see another filmmaker seeking goals apart from the others while still using the Star Wars framework.

Certain fans will undoubtedly prefer one over the other and spend hours arguing back and forth. Thankfully, the Star Wars franchise, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can withstand some differentiation. In fact, they actually require variety to sustain the machine. Andor‘s premiere arrives oppressively with its wartorn and bleak outlook, but it’s a blanket I’m happy to wrap myself within.

Star Wars: Andor premieres on Disney+ on 9/21

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)