Review – Andor Season 1

When George Lucas created Star Wars, he was harkening back to an escapist fantasy, one that was personal to him. Lucas’ parents owned a stationary store, and the expectation was that Lucas would take over the business, but that’s not the future he foresaw for himself, he didn’t want to be stuck in Modesto for the rest of his life, he loved art and began loving film. When Luke looks out over the binary sunset in Star Wars, that Williams score swelling, that’s Lucas looking for a world outside of Modesto, I mean, that’s all of us too, looking for something more in our lives. Luke would go on to be a hero, joining the Rebellion to fight against a fascistic Empire, but Luke wasn’t political, at least not outwardly. The thing is George Lucas is, he couldn’t help himself but look at the world around him, look at the state of American imperialism, and put it into his work, something that he would double down on the more he worked on the franchise, no more so than the prequels (of course, to various degree of effectiveness), where Lucas looked at the state of Bush era America and the accumulation of power and set it as the primary backdrop for the fall of democracy.

Star Wars has always been political, but that has always felt somewhat secondary to its escapism, its adventurous nature, its spiritualism, ever present due to the nature of the worldbuilding in Lucas’ galaxy, but maybe not as front and centre. That is until Andor, until Tony Gilroy saw an opportunity to openly discuss the very nature of rebellion, the oppression of fascism and the human impact of tyranny, through the lens of a man who is just trying to survive, until he realises that surviving under the cruelty of this kind of rule is not surviving at all.

I’ll say it straight up, Season 1 of Andor is a masterpiece. There’s no other word to describe it so simply. It is an unbelievable, unmatched piece of television, not just within Star Wars, but beyond the confines of the franchise, pitting itself as one of the years’ most impressive and brilliant shows. Thematically laser focused, dramatically enthralling and as fleshed out and lived in as the franchise has ever been, Andor brings to the forefront a side of Star Wars unseen before as it pulls off what Rogue One tried to do with far more nuance, depth and ideological understanding, to create an enthralling, mature and complex depiction of rebellion.

Taking place 5 years before the events of Rogue One (and subsequently the original film), Season 1 follows Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who at this point is just young man trying to survive under Imperial rule, all the while he searches for his sister who he was separated from as a kid. When Cassian gets into a fight with two corpo officers, the local Imperial employed security, on Morlana One, resulting in the death of the officers, Cassian is suddenly set on a path that sees him go head to head with a particularly determined corpo officer, Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) and an ambitious Imperial intelligence officer, Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), while finding allies in his adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw) and her faithful droid B2EM0 (Dave Chapman), old friends Bix (Adria Arjona) and Brasso (Joplin Sibtain), the mysterious rebel middle man, Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), among others as we see Cassian turn from survivor to rebel. Meanwhile on Coruscant, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) struggles to balance her worlds, as she fights in the Senate to prevent Emperor Palpatine’s overreach, deals with a strained home life with her husband, Perrin (Alastair Mackenzie) and her daughter Leida (Bronte Carmichael), while secretly funding Luthen’s complex web of rebel sects.

Tony Gilroy, creator and showrunner for Andor (who also rewrote and oversaw the reshoots for Rogue One), along with his team of exceptional writers, Dan Gilroy, Stephen Schiff and Beau Willimon, creates a corner of the galaxy rife with intrigue and political complexity. The show is rich and multifaceted in every layer of its writing. The character work and dialogue is as beautiful and multifaceted as any show this year, every word uttered (as well as every word unspoken) is full of meaning and humanity, especially as the show leans into some impeccable monologues further into the show. 

The show is split up over four arcs, three three-episode arcs, with a bridge episode in between the second and third, and a two-episode finale. These arcs were blocks distributed across the writers (Tony Gilroy penning the first and final arc, Dan Gilroy taking the second, Willimon the third and Schiff the bridge episode) and the directors also split into these production blocks (Toby Haynes directs the first and third arcs, Susanna Wright takes the second, Benjamin Caron the final arc as well as the bridge episode), and while they function together as a single story, it is never at the behest of good TV storytelling. These aren’t movies split into episodes (at least not structurally, cinematically the show rivals the best films), deliberately paced and structured, which makes it all the more compelling to spend episode to episode, building up to a climactic finale in the third part of the arc. I’m not afraid to admit that on several occasions in these third parts that I completely lost my mind at the sheer quality of storytelling and filmmaking on display. The build-up to these points is so well done that the execution of them become utterly exquisite, an explosion of immaculate dialogue, brilliant action and thematic richness, that continued to one up themselves from each arc.

It is in the scripts that Gilroy, as well as his team, show off a full understanding of the political ideas they’re playing with. In Andor, Gilroy brings forward Lucas’ anti-fascist stance to the thematic and narrative forefront, not just depicting fascistic oppression, but opening a dialogue about the way in which authoritarianism crushes the people who live under it, the bureaucratic decision making designed to squash dissent and basic humanity. Each arc takes aim at a different idea in this regard, from militarised policing, the stripping of cultural identity, the industrial prison system and martial law, and the response from the common man. That’s the brilliant thing about Cassian in this show, watching his journey from a man trying to get by in a domineering system to become someone who is willing to take up arms against said system. Cassian’s journey is a fascinatingly one as much of the show is him taking action for his own benefit while people around him rise up in revolt against the Empire, understanding and learning from the people around him, influenced by the knowledge and the words of the people who have come to believe in revolution. Gilroy’s razor-sharp focus and narrative understanding in how to show the birth of a rebel is immaculate, magic even, it fully realises Lucas’ underlying political themes into the most emotionally and thematically mature entry into the Star Wars canon.

Andor: Season 1 sets a high new bar for the franchise to rise to, an immaculate and utterly compelling depiction of a society under the boot of tyranny, that breathes a different kind of life into the Star Wars franchise. Andor succeeds where Rogue One faulters in its storytelling, refining the strengths of the film’s political focus and narrative structure, and doubling down on it all. In the process, Andor becomes one of the best entries in the franchise’s long and storied history, with the most sharply written scripts, astonishingly gorgeous filmmaking and some of the best performances in the franchise, notable mentions especially to Luna, the quiet stunner, Skarsgård, with one of the most complex performances of the year, O’Reilly, with an emotionally devastating performance, Shaw, a staunch and heartfelt presence through the season, and Serkis (a surprise appearance in the third arc), who brings an incredible sense of pathos to the show. Andor: Season 1 stuns from start to finish, only getting better episode by episode, bringing a new layers to Lucas’ world.

Andor season 1 is now streaming on Disney +

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When George Lucas created Star Wars, he was harkening back to an escapist fantasy, one that was personal to him. Lucas’ parents owned a stationary store, and the expectation was that Lucas would take over the business, but that’s not the future he foresaw...Review - Andor Season 1