There are few Star Wars productions with the same measured sophistication as Andor. More of a political thriller than an all-encompassing action vehicle, Tony Gilroy’s magnificent TV series offers a decidedly grown-up look at that galaxy far, far away, one based on sharp dialogue spoken in dark alleys by people on both sides of keep the law. Some found this approach boring. I thought it was compelling.
So why did Season 1 of Andor work so well? Let’s break it down.
Carefully developed characters
Andor focuses on several fascinating plots packed with unique characters who solve their problems. Cassian (Diego Luna) is a drifter/con artist who spends his days doing odd jobs to survive long enough to find his sister. Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) is a senator adjusting to the reign of Emperor Palpatine. She mingles with outlaws like Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), whose rebellious ambitions to restore order to the galaxy often require tough choices and leaping headfirst into the darkness. Peripheral characters such as Bix (Adria Arjona), Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw), Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay), Cinta Kaz (Varada Sethu), Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), and Saw Gerrera (a recurring Forest Whitaker), ensconce in unique subplots that further increase the tension.
Gilroy also conjures up a unique assortment of realistic villains whose actions stem from personal preservation rather than moustache-twirling malice. Lieutenant Dedra Meero of the Imperial Security Bureau (a great Denise Gough) seizes an opportunity to strengthen her position within the Galactic Empire; Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) tries to improve his reputation; Major Partagaz (Anton Lesser) is a practical leader who takes his job seriously. Scenes involving the ISB are sharply edited and always fascinating, even when characters usually scream dry exposition.
Gilroy takes the time to develop each character and storyline so that we give a damn when the action kicks in, which goes against lesser Star Wars efforts like the sloppy Obi-Wan Kenobi and goofy Book of Boba-Fett.
Plus, Andor doesn’t lean on nostalgia or cameos to keep our interests afloat. There is a notable scene where the bad guys look down on a group of protesters during a funeral. I kept waiting for an old character to show up and steal the spotlight from Andor’s main cast. It never arrives. Thank God. We don’t need Han Solo to save the day, because Andor’s characters are strong enough to carry the show on their sturdy shoulders.
Andor presents real people with real emotions, real problems and real growth. Hell, even the droids have depth. It is awesome.
Action that matters
When Andor steps into action, the sequences are short and well executed. In episode 11, Luthen takes on an Imperial cruiser. Instead of taking out a massive armada of tie fighters or star destroyers, he makes calculated decisions that allow him a plausible escape – it helps attach friggin’ laser beams to the plane.
Most of the spectacle doesn’t rely on clunky CGI or overpowered heroes and villains. No one goes beyond their means – it’s as if the writers sat down and set rules for the episodes to abide by, keeping the action grounded and gripping.
Even more impressive is the cinematography, which matches the same aesthetic as in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. More than any other Disney+ Star Wars series, Andor looks and feels like a huge movie and not an original series from a Sci-Fi channel. Crazy what happens when you bring in a production team that cares about the material and has the talent to bring it to life.
A captivating plot
As mentioned above, the various story threads woven by Andor are all captivating in their own right.
That said, Cassian’s plot is the weakest of the robust roster of characters. This mainly has to do with the character, who all too often falls backwards in every chapter. Syril Karn’s storyline also twists and turns. I noticed my attention slipping every time we were talking to him and his mom (Kathryn Hunter) over breakfast.
Does not matter. The smaller plots around Luthen, Mon Mothma, Maarva and Dera are sharp enough to hold our gaze even as the episodes exceed 45 minutes.
The many twists and turns were also surprising, especially one involving an ISB officer associated with Luthen and his rebellion. Here we have a show where every decision our courageous characters make has consequences; every action results in a counter-action.
Far too often TV shows rely on contrived plot threads and over-the-top spectacle to keep viewers interested each week. Andor goes for something deeper, ultimately lending more weight to the rebellion seen in A New Hope. Imagine a prequel series that increases our appreciation for the OG trilogy. All it takes is a little love and care, Disney.
I imagine it will take some time for the Star Wars community to fully embrace Andor. The Star Wars saga, stretching back to George Lucas’ horrifying prequels, has primed audiences for rousing action over well-developed plots and characters. Who needs complicated heroes and villains when we can see a CGI Yoda spinning like a Tazmanian Devil? Who needs a nuanced storyline full of emotion and intrigue when a well-timed Luke Skywalker cameo can tie up all the loose threads? Who needs good writing, acting, or character development when we can have Aunt Beru suddenly pop up as an action hero?
Personally, Andor is the Star Wars I’ve always wanted – a captivating, character-driven saga punctuated by intense action and robust effects. If I were Disney, I’d give Tony Gilroy the keys to the kingdom.