Taking place five years before Rogue One and the Battle of Yavin, the first season of Andor changes Star Wars as we know it.
Through the years, the Star Wars canon has opened up in ways that audiences could not have imagined. George Lucas certainly could not have dreamed it up even if he tried. We know that Lucas is a great world builder but it’s taken many people to expand on what Star Wars could be as Lucasfilm has grown the universe through Disney+. In revisiting Cassian Andor’s (Diego Luna) life before the Rebellion, we see just how vast the Empire really is.
Andor might not have a feature film budget but what this series has been able to do is nothing short of impressive. It’s gotten audiences talking in a way that we didn’t see with The Book of Boba Fett. While I found myself staying up for new episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, it wasn’t the same with Andor. No, in fact, it was different. They sent press four episodes to review ahead of launch. For a live-action Star Wars series, this is unprecedented for Disney and Lucasfilm. Aside from the season finale’s post-credits scene, they even sent the final two episodes of the first season ahead of their launches on Disney+! At 12 episodes per season, this is their longest season by far for a live-action series.
I didn’t initially review the series because of having a headache while watching the first four episodes. It wouldn’t be fair to me, readers, cast, or crew if I had written a review while fighting a headache and probable cold. As such, I held off on writing anything…until now. While watching some of the Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) episodes, I found myself rewatching his episodes of Star Wars Rebels. He knew something was going on with regards to the Empire building a superweapon but didn’t quite have all the details. What we picked up from Rebels was that the Death Star’s construction moved from Geonosis to Scarif at some point. Where Rebels focuses on Lothal and then some, Andor adds much more to the story.
It isn’t just that the series is focusing on Cassian Andor. It’s what we learn about the Rebellion in the process. The Rebellion is fully formed in 2 BBY when Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) leaves the Imperial Senate. Until then, there wasn’t a formal Alliance to Restore the Republic but Rebel cells working by themselves. It takes a bit before the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) is able to put the pieces together. When they finally do, all eyes are on Cassian. Little do they know that Luthen places a spy within their own ranks. Audiences get a first-hand look at how the Empire really treats the people with regards to oppression and whatnot. They’ll change sentencing punishments in a moment’s notice! Even though we haven’t watched the second season yet, we understand Cassian as a character in Rogue One.
Somebody has to help finance the Rebellion, right? That’s where Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) comes in. The shop owner is in constant communication with Senator Mon Mothma. Tony Gilroy and company really help flesh out her story. It’s watching the series in which we see just how much of a toll it took on her marriage. Does she still talk to her family at all? I’m sure we’ll learn more as more Star Wars books are published. The series is not as heavy on easter eggs as other Star Wars series but Luthen’s shop is the place to spot them. And yes, those are a trio of stones from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Similarly, given E.T.’s reaction to Yoda in the 1982 classic, I’m of the firm belief that E.T. is a Jedi and uses the Force. But I digress.
I want to talk more about Luthen Rael. We never hear about him in the original trilogy or sequel trilogy. And yet, here’s a guy who is putting everything on the line to rebel against the Empire. In episode 10 alone, he delivers one of the most standout moments of the series when he delivers a monologue to his ISB spy. The spy wishes to leave but Luthen reminds him of why they’re sacrificing their lives.
“Calm. Kindness. Kinship. Love. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace. I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion, I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they’ve set me on a path from which there is no escape. I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost and by the time I looked down there was no longer any ground beneath my feet.
“What is my sacrifice?
“I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude.
“So what do I sacrifice? Everything! You’ll stay with me, Lonni. I need all the heroes I can get.”
The fascinating thing about the series is that it’s not heavy on cameos. Obi-Wan Kenobi is not walking through the door to aid Cassian and company. Not yet, anyway. Where a lot of Star Wars lives and breathes through the Skywalker family, this is a series that takes the focus back to the people, no matter which side they’re on. We get our biggest look at the Empire in this film more than any other film or series. This series that takes us into the ISB Central Office, which spans multiple blocks on Coruscant. I got to give credit to Tony Gilroy and company for shooting the series in the same way that they did Rogue One. These are massive sets and while the Volume may have been a more efficient way of shooting, Gilroy opts for old school filming.
During the prison scenes on Narkina 5, I found myself wondering what Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), Cassian Andor, and the other prisoners were building. Surely, it couldn’t have been parts of the Death Star? Patience paid off as we waited to watch the final episode and kept watching until the end of the credits. We see droids installing the parts on the surface. I was always curious as to who built the Death Star after the initial construction on Geonosis. This turns into pieces of the Death Star as the camera slowly pans out. There’s a real human price that came with building this superweapon of mass destruction. Little did we know that Andor himself was participating in what we ultimately know will become his demise but he doesn’t know that at the time.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Britell steps in to compose the score for the series. Britell is one of the best composers working today and he brings the sort of score that we’ve never heard before in the universe. It’s for the best, too, since the series is not heavy on Star Wars nostalgia. How often do audiences watch a series where the theme song changes slightly from week to week? Aside from WandaVision, of course. I’ll be curious to see what Britell brings to the second season.
Andor is proof enough that Star Wars is bigger than the Skywalkers. This character-driven spy thriller introduces us to other heroes who might never get the credit they deserve.
CREATOR/SHOWRUNNER: Tony Gilroy
DIRECTORS: Toby Haynes (Episodes 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 — Executive producer for these episodes), Susanna White (Episodes 4, 5, 6), Benjamin Caron (Episodes 7, 11, 12)
SCREENWRITERS: Tony Gilroy (Episodes 1, 2, 3, 11, 12), Dan Gilroy (Episodes 4, 5, 6), Stephen Schiff (Episode 7), Beau Willimon (Episodes 8, 9, 10)
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Kathleen Kennedy, Tony Gilroy, Sanne Wohlenberg, Diego Luna, Michelle Rejwan
CAST: Diego Luna, Stellan Skarsgård, Genevieve O’Reilly, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Andy Serkis, Faye Marsay, and Forest Whitaker
All episodes of Andor’s first season are now streaming on Disney+. Grade: 4.5/5
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