Review – Andor: Season 1

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Overview

Directing Toby Haynes, Susanna White, Benjamin Caron

Writing Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, Stephen Schiff, Beau Willimon

Starring Diego Luna, Kyle Soller, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Stellan Skarsgård, Denise Gough, Genevieve O'Reilly, Faye Marsay, Varada Sethu, Elizabeth Dulau

Genre Science Fiction/Action/Drama

Platforms Disney+

Release Date September 21 - November 23, 2022

Happy May the Fourth! Stars Wars, as ever, remains complicated, controversial, and disagreeable. After eight years of Disney Star Wars, this is not new. The recent dustup over the creative failures in The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi have only stood to continuously sour fans of Star Wars who felt put off by the sequel trilogy, to the point where it can feel somewhat hard to publicly celebrate even the original Star Wars films anymore.

Thankfully, a recent Star Wars series has broken the mold and received surprisingly positive reviews!

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: TV-14 action violence, characters are shot, killed, tortured, and harmed in ways that are grizzlier than some other Star Wars content
Language/Crude Humor: Some heavy language throughout, harsher than usual Star Wars content
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol
Sexual Content: Several scenes implicitly involve sexuality, although no nudity or activity is depicted, a character visits a brothel in one scene. Two female characters are in a relationship, but nothing explicit is shown.
Spiritual Content: The series does not grapple with the nature of the Force or the spiritual consequences of these character’s actions
Other Negative Content: Some very dark content, heroes threatening to kill families, main characters committing casual murders and crimes without much consideration, the show’s morality is very grey
Positive Content: Themes of justice, family, and truth

Review

It has been five years since Disney announced its plans to make a Rogue One prequel series based on the character Cassian Andor. The movie remains one of the brightest spots of the new Disney Star Wars canon. This is almost universally agreed upon, next to The Mandalorian and Jedi Fallen Order, to be the best new story to come out of the last eight years of original content.

That doesn’t mean Andor felt like a good idea at first. I didn’t understand at the time why Disney was spending half a decade and $300 million to develop a five-season spin-off series for a character who gets (SPOILER) killed at the end of his first movie. What was the logic there? It felt like a desperate fan film project or a retroactive attempt to redo elements of the film that didn’t work.

As such, I, like a great deal of Star Wars fans, initially skipped the series when it dropped in the fall of 2022. In the aftermath of Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett, my enthusiasm was at an all-time low and the early episodes did not catch my attention. That said, the series may have bombed in viewership, but a small yet dedicated fanbase worked hard to hype the show-up and draw in new viewers.

Having finally watched the series, I now agree. Andor is the best original Star Wars content on Disney+ at the moment. While it starts slow, it blossoms into an intense and detailed series with multiple compelling storylines, dramatic consequences, and nuanced characters who have to make morally complicated decisions in light of the state of the galaxy at this time in the lore, years before the destruction of the Death Star.

A More Adult Take On Star Wars

The story of Andor can be cut into four smaller story arcs, with the overriding story being Cassian Andor’s dramatic choices spiraling out of control, catching him in the agendas of figures larger than himself, and slowly radicalizing him over time into the man we meet in the original movie — a cold-blooded spy who will kill his allies on a whim in the name of fighting the Empire.

With his fate set from the outset, Andor is not focused on telling a story about redemption or salvation. It instead chooses to spin multiple yarns and thread them together into a larger tapestry that explores the realities of life under a brutal fascist imperial war machine while showing what actions are necessary to teach people to stand against it.

From the outset, Cassian is a very normal and unassuming figure, but it is clear he comes from a very rough background. He starts the film searching through brothels to see if he can find his lost sister before brutally killing two men in cold blood who are harassing him and fleeing. This quickly spirals out of control, as a low-level security officer for a large interstellar space corporation begins an obsessive quest to find the random criminal responsible for killing two of his colleagues and bringing him to justice.

Before long, rebellious members of the upper class on Coruscant take note of Cassian’s skill at performing heists and start seeking him out for a heist that could shock the galaxy out of its complacency and purposely bring down the wrath of the Empire, spurring more star systems and rebels to fight back.

The Three Major Themes

Part of what makes Andor so appealing is how interested the series is in adult topics and mature storytelling. This isn’t to say Star Wars is immature, but it has always been a family franchise meant to be safe enough for children to watch. The series very rarely deals with the serious implications of crime, sex, moral complexity, and death. Yet Andor does all of these things, capturing a story that highlights some of the darker realities of life under a brutal fascist dictatorship.

Each of the major story arcs of Andor focuses on a different theme, exploring how various areas of the galaxy respond to the top-down structure of a galactic bureaucracy. The opening stories explore how interstellar corporations function in a fascist system, suggesting that they become puppets and extensions of the existing power structure. The series subsequently explores the impact of an Imperial conquest against a small indigenous people that is having its sacred lands and ceremonies suppressed by a casually racist local governor.

Some of the series’ best work comes in the third story arc, with Cassian Andor being unintentionally arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to serve years in a prison labor camp, dealing with daily threats of beatings and electroshocks for disobeying orders. These episodes create the best dramatic work of the entire season, exploring how Cassian grapples with his own internal radicalization after the events of the story and showing how he can become a leading voice within the rebellion by inspiring others.

The Moral Politics of Revolution

There is a level at which the politics of Andor are “too real.” Disney Star Wars has not shied away from taking some very decisive stances on hot-button real-world issues, depicting same-sex relationships in several stories and subtextually tying the rise of the First Order and the Empire to real-life political movements like the Alt-Right and Nationalist movements. Andor stands above these, being the most aggressively hostile and radicalizing story to come out of the Disney staple — directly tackling issues from an anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-police, and antifa perspective.

I should note I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, per se. For all the online handwringing over “wokeness” in media, the problem with “politics” in modern entertainment is not that it’s there. Artworks should communicate a positive worldview or an idea, just as the original Star Wars Trilogy did (subtextually implying the Vietcong were in the right, according to George Lucas). I’d go as far as to say the show is better because Tony Gilroy wanted to communicate these ideas through Star Wars, as opposed to making another nostalgia rehash.

But more so even than in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Andor is arguing real gritty violence against our oppressors is either necessary or virtuous, which any Christian should find questionable. We are not called to be violent revolutionaries, but martyrs — and the conspiratorial web of moral relativism the series spins reflects the moral convolution of our times, where violence in the name of the good justices evil, and where violent radicalization is justifiable.

The show does acknowledge this, giving Stellan Skarsgård one of its best soliloquies about the way opposing evil can require damning one’s own soul in the process, and it’s sometimes a price that is necessary.

In our modern age, though, one always fears they are staring down the barrel of a powder keg. Andor takes pride in being a story about why it is morally virtuous to be radicalized against walking-talking representations of everything our culture deems evil. But one should always be wary of what media is advocating for us to do, even when our “enemies” are as morally simple as the Empire; especially when it becomes easy for us to declare our own neighbors as such.

Conclusion

While I find some of the assumptions and instincts behind Andor to be somewhat questionable (obviously Nazis are bad), there is no denying the series accomplishes everything it sets out to do and succeeds. The show feels gritty and lived-in, its ideas are fresh, and it manages to find an elaborate story that doesn’t feel out of place with the established canon. Michael Clayton and Rogue One scribe Tony Gilroy digs into the Star Wars universe sandbox and paints a portrait of a new side of the franchise that has never been depicted on screen with more panache and drama than this show.

I understand after seeing it why Disney was so passionate about this project that they want to make five seasons out of it!

The Bottom Line

 

Andor stands among the strongest stories Disney has told with the Star Wars universe, capturing something timely and a bit controversial for good measure.

 

8.5

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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