Phew! After relentlessly rubbishing the recent Star Wars output featured on Disney+ it’s something of a relief to say in some confidence that Andor looks like the best thing to hit the Star Wars universe in some time. Disney may not sell a lot of toys on the back of Andor, a prequel series based on the Cassian Andor character previously featured in Rogue One, but they may win back some of the ill-served adult fans of the franchise. Those whose minds were blown by the ‘dirty space’ look of the 1977 film will appreciate how Disney have doubled down on the notion; we open in a brothel, there’s a sex scene, and people of various degrees of innocence and guilt are gunned down and stay dead. That’s very much the touch that Bourne–scribe Tony Gilroy brings to the tough, slow-burn feel of Andor; with the first three episodes dropping in formation onto on streaming, viewers can play straight through to a feature length Star Wars movie that, for once, plays deadly serious.
We open in a brothel, Amsterdam style, with potential alien partners displayed in dingy lit windows. Cassian Andro (Diego Luna) is seeking information about his sister from the madam, draws a blank, and is accosted by two corporate thugs on the way out, killing one by accident and executing the other in an alleyway skirmish. But while Andor already has a lengthy criminal record, this inciting incident sparks a man-hunt that forces Andor’s hand to get outta Dodge, or rather the planet of Ferrix, before the private security goons doing the Empire’s bidding come after him. Through his resourceful ex Bix Caleen (Ardia Ardrona), Andor manages to organise a trade for credits of some high-tech kit he’s pilfered from the Empire, and she arranges a meeting with Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård). Caleen‘s Glaswegian boyfriend (James McArdle) has his suspicions about Andor’s activities, as well as a jealous nature, and shops him to the authorities, who promptly send of squad of 12 men and two officers to intercept the meet. All parties converge in a health and safety nightmare shootout in a room full of hanging anvils, and the only way out is being good with a blaster…
So based on that description, you forget all about the Jedi, ewoks, Boba Fett, midi-chlorians, sand, Jar Jar Binks, force ghosts, baby yoda and all that guff; we’ve no time for that kind of whimsical sentiment. Even the Empire is a gauche early state, and when Andor and Luthern finally meet, there’s dialogue that ingeniously retcons how many key mistakes we know the Empire would go on to make. ‘When you steal from the Empire, you just walk in like you belong. They’re so proud of themselves, so fat and satisfied.’ That complacency is not yet seen, but Gilroy deals himself plenty of good cards, retains his ability to create scenes that reflect an eclectic knowledge of history; it’s very noticeable that this feels like the first time that the Empire’s subjugation of the galaxy has been seen in economic terms, and Andor is more wary of the local goon squads than the Empire itself. There’s also a flashback story for Andor himself that carries some of the desperate mood of Alejandro Landes’ harrowing child soldier drama Monos.
Andor suggests a universe on the edge of a revolution, ‘pockets of fermentation’ as one character observes, the onset of a fightback by the rebel alliance that hadn’t yet begun, and that’s a potent notion for 2022. With tonnes of fun ideas (from time-stamp BBY, to Nog, Revnog or Caf?) and a stark noir feel, Andor picks up the strongest suit of the Star Wars franchise (Rogue One) and makes it work as tv; for once, there ARE the droids we’re looking for, and for Star Wars fans, if you can’t find it here, it’s probably not worth looking for….