Andor (Season 1)
This spin-off of a spin-off ends up being a triumphant space spy thriller
It’s hard to ground multi-entry blockbuster franchises, where fans expect explosive special effects and magnified stakes. And yet this is what Tony Gilroy set out to do with his Star Wars series Andor (2022-).
Andor follows the character of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a renegade thief, who first appeared in the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). This series takes place before Rogue One and finds Cassian become embroiled in the conflict between a burgeoning oppressive empire and a sparking rebellion.
Tony Gilroy, whose previous projects included Michael Clayton (2007) and the mentioned Rogue One, brings together a true murderer’s row of writers to his show. His brother Dan Gilroy of Nightcrawler (2014) fame and Beau Willimon who famously helmed the best seasons of House of Cards (2013-2018) are under his wing. This array of writers crafts a Star Wars show that isn’t afraid of shrugging off the planet-hopping, light-saber wielding, and force shenanigans. It instead focuses on the deeper theme of the first Star Wars film, which was an allusion to authoritarian fascist regimes. Gilroy centers Andor in a much grittier and dangerous atmosphere, garnering a neo-noir tone that will inevitably have some viewers comparing the show to Blader Runner (1982).
Andor works well as a compact set of various sequences that unfold over the course of two to three episodes tranches. In many ways, the filmmaking background of many of the show’s writers mold Andor into feeling like one over-long film. This makes the episode breaks appear more jarring as there is no self-contained arc within each entry, but it also makes every scene and character crucial by the conclusion of the first season. Each scene is meant to show a range of complex moving parts: from the bureaucratic ways that the empire controls its citizens, to the piling misgivings that make the galaxy’s citizens become increasingly frustrated with their overlords. This theme is perhaps best encapsulated in an episode arc within a prison, which produced some of the most satisfying TV moments of the entire year.
Andor isn’t afraid of going down dark paths for its protagonists, not showing us the goody-two-shoes jedis, but instead a compromising rebellion that is willing to selling friends out if it means getting back at the empire. This makes for a more interesting character in Cassian, who is not the inspiring rebellious leader you would expect from a Disney property, and instead is more of a reluctant bystander who is roped into a wider conflict. This provides a needed depth to the protagonist, which Luna plays to perfection. The Mexican actor is perfectly paired with the type of slow-burn and character-focused drive that Gilroy is seeking. Gilroy likewise brings together an impressive array of British actors who rise to the occasion and deliver some of the best performances in TV within and without the Star Wars universe this year. Highlights include Andy Serkis as a fellow prisoner, Fiona Shaw as Cassian’s surrogate mother, and Stellan Skarsgård as a slippery rebellion leader.
Andor is beautifully lensed and crafted, thankfully using on-location shoots and as little special effects as possible, helping further ground it from its CGI-laden franchise siblings. This along with a soundtrack by Nicholas Britell that finally is brave enough to shrug off imitating John Williams, makes Andor a truly refreshing series that feels less like Star Wars and more like a space spy thriller. Gilroy’s fabulous writing and thematic focus help keep Andor on track and flesh out its characters and narrative. Who would have thought that the spin-off to a spin-off would end up being the best Star Wars since the first two films?