Cassian Andor means a lot to me. His grit and his dedication are elements I see myself in. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, he’s a rebel spy whose past is marred by enough tragedy to harden him, making the resistance his only mission. But we don’t see that past, only moments of how it’s impacted how he sees the world, primarily with his spirited argument with Jyn Urso. And that’s why I was excited but hesitant about a series, given my lukewarm reception of this year’s Star Wars offerings. But now, in Andor, we get to see his past and it’s well crafted beyond my expectation.
The series comes from showrunner Tony Gilroy, with episodes directed by Benjamin Caron, Toby Haynes, and Susanna White. The series sees the return of Diego Luna as Cassian Andor and also features a cast that stars Kyle Soller, Genevieve O’Reilly, Adria Arjona, Wilf Scolding, Antonio Viña, and Fiona Shaw.
Andor premiered with three episodes and with that has effectively built enough excitement without giving away the entire plot in one go. But the synopsis of the series doesn’t do justice to the life that we’re seeing built out in these premiere episodes. Ultimately, Andor, as a series will explore a new perspective from the Star Wars galaxy. Cassian will move from a man just trying to survive under an unjust system to a man in a growing rebellion. Instead of being a story about grand moments, it’s a story about people in an era filled with danger, deception, and intrigue.
The largest issue that I was worried about with Andor was that the episodes would feel hollow since we know that Cassian winds up dead in the end anyway. But that worry is completely unfounded. In Andor Episodes 1 through 3 the foundation is set for a series that is expanding the darkness of the galaxy, and how those without special powers survive under the oppression of the Empire.
This darkness is not only shown in the world that Andor has to push against but how he has to do it. Cassian is okay with killing, just like we see in Rogue One, only here, it has a deeper impact with the guilt on his conscience on display from the moment he takes the first life on screen. But guilt is balanced against survival which allows him to remain empathetic.
The pacing in just these first three episodes alone is quick and to the point, pushing adrenaline from the first 10 minutes on. The stakes are high unlike other series so far, and the content is easily the most mature to come out of Disney so far. Every moment ups the anté on the last one as we move towards something bigger.
Unlike what we’ve seen in the other Star Wars series so far, the imperial grip is wielded by companies and those outside of them are subjected to their whims, forced to work and labor and try to scrape by to survive. While the premise of Andor is about embarking on Cassian’s journey towards rebellion, these first three episodes don’t cast him as a hero. He’s a man trying to survive, connected to rebellion, yes, but he’s self-interested and self-motivated first. This allows his character to start a wide arc of growth towards the finale we know is coming in the timeline.
This is done by seeing how things affect adult Cassian, but also through flashbacks on his home planet of Kenari that show him as a child, what hardened him, and how innocence was lost. Cassian is fully realized in just two episodes and I can’t wait to see how much deeper we go in the next 10. But the flashbacks do something else as well, it introduces Cassian’s people with a language that clearly borrows from Spanish and Mesoamerican dialects and other elements that call out indigenous inspiration.
Another stunning element of Andor is the score. This series uses more grounded folk-inspired music, more organic, which plays in flashbacks as a beautiful contrast to the alien world and galactic squalor we see in the present day. In addition to an emotional score, the series is also filled with phenomenal acting from every single member of the cast.
While Deigo Luna is a fierce presence on screen with a commanding presence and physicality, we knew he would be. His ability to pull your attention first with his charismatic presence and second with his voice is what helps make Cassian compelling. That said, it’s the way that Adria Arjona as Bix, Cassian’s ex-wife, watches and challenges his intensity in their exchanges that pushes the story and helps define who Cassian is as a character toward the people who matter to him. Additionally, Fiona Shaw’s Maarva brings wisdom with her seniority and passion just the same.
To say that I’m elated to get this look at a larger struggle within the galaxy far far away in Andor is an understatement. In fact, the casting of the major antagonist being a corporation in line with the Empire instead of the stormtroopers we know is a choice that helps separate this series from the pack. And in doing so, we get to see a science fiction story that is digging deeper into class and expectations as it intersects with rebellion instead of the usual space fantasy-focused story.
Here, we see science fiction expand and tap into the grimier elements from a different perspective. I mean, even when we get bounty hunters, the force is still present even if it’s just in Grogu. Here though, there is no magic in the world, just strife that is playing out and pushing the people in this story towards extremes to survive.
In stark contrast to the MCU television series on Disney Plus, Andor feels lived in. Droids and alien fauna feel and look real, showcasing the beauty of practical effects and how seamlessly blend digital effects with the things that are handmade. The blending between computer-generated sets and landscapes and holograms is perfectly brought together with practical elements, which is to be expected from a Star Wars series. But regardless, it’s one of the best series when it comes to visual effects that are out right now.
With nine more episodes in Andor to go, I only wish the episode length was longer. I want more time unpacking the intricacies of living under the watchful eye of a corporation with employees that feel they have carte blanche on the planet. I want more time exploring Kenari and Cassian’s past. But I want more without feeling like something is incomplete. While Luna said he viewed this series as a 12-episode movie, each episode’s conclusion feels like a direct lead into the next. It leaves you something to desire from next week without feeling like just set up or like something is missing, which has been my issue with other weekly series.
Andor is everything that I didn’t know I wanted. A science fiction drama series with building elements of espionage, it manages to succeed by embracing its genre in the same way other successes have as well. With pacing that feels natural, it also feels like a slow wrenching up of tension, a build to something more that I can’t wait to see. Andor is mature, spectacular, and a deeper look into the people left behind while Jedi hide, bounty hunters succeed, and the Empire rules.
Andor Episodes 1 – 3 are streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting September 21, 2022, with new episodes airing each Wednesday.
- Rating - 10/1010/10
Andor is everything that I didn’t know I wanted. A science fiction drama series with building elements of espionage, it manages to succeed by embracing its genre in the same way other successes have as well.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.