Disney’s stewardship of the Star Wars brand has been somewhat spotty in its handling. I’m going to spare you my opinion on the subject because we would be here all day but I was a Legends fanboy and religiously cultivated my love of the Expanded Universe for a good ten to twelve years of my life. Suffice to say, my opinion of the sequels was less than stellar and I feel like with the exception of Lost Stars, the novels have been nothing of particular note either. Thankfully, Disney has been doing somewhat better with the television shows as both The Mandalorian and Kenobi were pretty good. I’d even go so far as to say that Kenobi should have been a movie in theaters rather than on Disney+.
Andor, by contrast, is its own beast and I honestly think it may be among the best Star Wars media ever created. I bring up all of my above Star Wars experience because I’m putting that into context. I’ve read everything from The Lost City of the Jedi to the New Jedi Order. I’ve watched Droids, Ewoks, Clone Wars, and Resistance. I can tell you the difference between a Quarren and a Klantooine. What I’m saying is I know shit.
I don’t know if Star Wars: Andor justifies the existence of Disney’s Star Wars but it is a compelling argument by itself. The Mandalorian is what I wanted from a Boba Fett series since I was eight years old but Andor does something different. Andor is actually of artistic merit. That’s a bit of a loaded pair of buzzwords but it’s the best way to describe what this show does for me. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment that exists to entertain but Andor manages to do that while also actually having something to say. A lot of things to say actually. All of which it does with imagery, storytelling, and strong characters.
The funny thing is that I was going to give this one a pass. I mean, who the Nine Corellian Hells cares about Cassian Andor? He was okay in Rogue One but it’s not like he was a particularly important character that I was dying to learn more of. If I had to choose any character from the Disney movies I would want to watch a series about, I’d probably choose Jyn Erso, Rey, Finn, Rose, Q’ra or Tobias Beckett. Hell, I’d watch an office comedy starring Admiral Krennic. Not that I was dying for any of these movies but Cassian didn’t leave much of an impressive. Here, he does.
Getting into the actual review, Andor is ostensibly the story about the titular character. It’s not quite twenty years into the reign of the Empire and he’s a petty thief working on the planet Ferrix as he’s struggling to find his lost sister. Cassian is an indigineous native of a planet that got separated from his family due to the Clone Wars and thinks he can track her down. The different kind of story this show is can be summarized by the fact he looks for her in a brothel and ends up murdering two cops, one of them begging for his life, in the first five minutes.
Now that might give you the impression this is a grimdark show or ridiculously gritty but this is definitely a far more grounded show than the typical Star Wars universe. This is not Luke Skywalker or even Han Solo’s Star Wars. This is maybe not even Wedge Antilles’ Star Wars, this is Uncle Owen and Rebel Soldier 271’s Star Wars. There are many people who have 9-5 jobs under the Empire, Stormtroopers are terrifying, and you can have your life ruined by an Imperial beach cop sending you away for six years for loitering.
This is the first Star Wars work to really give us an idea of what “normal” life in a galaxy far far away is like. The oppression of the Empire is everywhere but it’s just close enough to what we experience in our day to day life to be disquieting. The Empire has put the squeeze on everyone but Cassian, like many others, is determined to keep his head down until events actively prevent him from being able to do so. We get to see what life is like on worlds occupied by the Empire, how the upper crust live, the inside of a minimum security prison, and more.
Strangely, my favorite part of the story is Mon Mothma’s part. They somehow got Genevieve O’Reilly back twenty years later after only a walk on cameo for Revenge of the Sith with most of her story removed from it to reprise the character. The founder of the Rebellion isn’t doing much founding, though. Instead, she’s doing the infinitely less glamorous role of financing petty rebel cells while hoping to be able to do more. Her husband and child don’t know what she’s up to and they’re put in danger with every act she does.
This is a Star Wars show that reckons with the politics of fascism and how it is an insidious and not always overly visible force. It’s not about Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine but the petty prison wardens and smug rent a cops who revel in the power their positions grant them. Resistance to tyranny is something that goes beyond simply shooting up baddies and it is sobering how easy it is to believe things aren’t “that bad.”