As the Star Wars galaxy grows ever larger across various Disney+ shows, it becomes increasingly difficult to do something different with the series. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a prequel tale with new characters and a pre-determined tragic ending, but its strict two-hour running time left little room for its large ensemble cast to breathe. Enter Andor: at first a curious choice for a TV spin-off (do we really need a prequel to a prequel?), but one that quickly showcases a new side to the Star Wars galaxy than what we’ve seen before.
While previous Star Wars spin-offs have suffered from what I’ve felt to be an over-abundance of fan service, Andor – so far at least – isn’t at all interested in putting on nostalgia goggles, instead opting to use the pre-established mythology as context for the narrative. The series travels to unfamiliar planets with new characters and unique antagonists, and feels like the most detached and standalone Star Wars story for a very long time. The pace of these first few episodes is slower and more methodical than expected, but takes the time to establish a large ensemble cast of characters, begin their stories, and establish their worlds. Andor is perhaps a more adult-oriented Star Wars series, and while some fans will question this creative decision (it arguably goes against George Lucas‘ conceit for the franchise), it does at least set it apart from the variety of other instalments in this universe. Tonally, Andor is quite dour and po-faced, although it’s not entirely devoid of humour and features some trademark quirky aliens and droids.
Flashbacks to Cassian Andor’s backstory are scattered throughout these early instalments, providing a much greater insight into this character than a two-hour film ever could, but also allowing for him to develop over the two planned seasons, leading up to his role in Rogue One. Diego Luna showcases a younger, more reckless Cassian who’s not yet a part of the rebellion, alongside a terrific ensemble cast including Adria Arjona as Bix, who unwittingly becomes wrapped up in the events, Stellan Skarsgård as an ambiguous potential mentor to our lead, Fiona Shaw as his adopted mother and Kyle Soller as main antagonist Syril Karn – an awkward, rule-following officer of the law intent on finding Cassian. It’s a smart move for Disney+ to release the first three episodes on one day, as these instalments comprise an initial story arc, resulting in what feels like a more satisfying introduction to the series than just the first episode alone. Watched back-to-back, this opener feels more like a Star Wars movie than a TV series.
Andor is easily the most cinematic Star Wars TV series to date: the emphasis on location work and outdoor sets give the episodes a gritty, grounded feel that simply can’t be replicated with CGI, although there is some very impressive Visual FX work throughout. The attention to detail in the show’s production design is fantastic, especially considering that the team are creating new worlds in the well-known galaxy; the design work is consistent without feeling overly-referential. Nicholas Brittel‘s score may not be as iconic as John Williams‘ or as hummable as Ludwig Göransson‘s, but makes for a more understated accompaniment to the visuals. When it kicks in though, it’s really terrific and helps to carry the mood of the story.
Overall, Andor is off to a very strong start. It may be taking a slow-burn approach for now, but with nine more episodes to work with (not to mention a whole second season already in development), it can afford to take its time and builds the characters and worlds further than in a feature film. While audiences will already have a good idea of the ending, it’s great to find a Star Wars series that truly expands the galaxy further (and hopefully won’t return to Tatooine). Inevitably, the show will have to keep up this level of quality to stick the landing, but if it can, it will make for not only a great companion piece to Rogue One, but a great standalone Star Wars story in its own right.