As I sat down to watch the opening salvo of the new Star Wars TV series Andor, I had some preconceived notions. I'd be seeing exactly what I've been taught to expect. Villages ravaged by Imperial forces. Civilians screaming and running from flames. Some families slaughtered. All leading to prompt ealry-life mobilization of one Cassian Andor, freedom fighter.
That was my advanced take from a couple of "ok looks cool but let's not get excited" views of the trailer. What followed would be visually pleasing, a bit interesting, but rote. Cassian doing stock rebel stuff for stock rebel reasons.
I'm not the only one who was feeling cautiously lukewarm about this newest Star Wars series. Disney has taught us what to expect with recent releases The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan. A broken main character, some questionable-to-dubious retconning, and decent action scenes.
But Andor did not deliver what I knew I would get. In fact, it was excellent. And if the show continues to make good on the promise of its first three episodes, it could redeem Star Wars.
The Legacy of Rogue One
Rogue One gave us the ending we needed.
As a whole, Rogue One is the best of the Star Wars films to come out in the past 8+ years. It was a little darker, a little grittier. It was a little more willing to paint the rebels as realistic insurgents. It was also a little less reliant on The Force as an ally in the service of entertainment. It featured characters estranged from family (and at times, decency). Characters willing to go to extreme lengths to destroy a totalitarian regime.
Let's refresh your memory. In Rogue One rebel superspy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) teamed up with Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). They go deep spy-mode to steal the Death Star schematics, which included an easter-eggy engineering fault planted by architect-turned-saboteur Galen Erso, Jyn's dad.
Cassian and Jyn die obtaining the plans. But their sacrifice set the Rebels up for success in taking down the Empire. Rogue One gave us the ending we needed. But it also gave us the encore we wanted— an unexpected scene with pissed-off Darth Vader going full pissed-off Darth Vader.
Cassian Andor, Origins
Andor has the scoundrel vibe we love.
THE BATTLE OF YAVIN is the one where the Death Star got wrecked, and it occurred mere days after the close of Rogue One. Andor begins in BBY5 which is basically '5 years Before Battle of Yavin'.
Here we see Cassian, in his pre-rebel days as a man adrift. He's a small-time-yet-highly-skilled thief living on the planet Ferrix. The planet has a junkyard feel— it's the butthole of the Preox-Morlana Corporate Zone, a corporate conglomerate that runs the "Free Trade Sector" in the Star Wars galaxy.
Cassian is looking for a connection to his past— his sister. But in a scene nobody ever thought they would see in Star Wars, he picks the wrong night to visit a brothel(!) to look for her. Unfortunately, he draws the attention of a pair of off-duty patrons (space cops). They shake our man Cassian down but end up dead in the scuffle. The result is a cops-after-a-dude scenario that calls to mind the brilliant Gattaca, a film that doesn't get its due.
Andor has the scoundrel vibe we love in our best Star Wars characters. But he's a man without a life plan to go with his obvious angst and I'm-not-from-here backstory. We learn about this in well-paced flashbacks. He's from a tribe on Kenari, deemed uninhabitable after an Imperial mining accident.
Cassian does have a solid adopted mom, Maarva Andor (and robot bud) on Ferrix. But we learn his adopted dad was executed by the Empire. So we know he's got significant bottled-up feelings to channel towards Imperial destruction. You know, just in case he needs to use them to f*&k up some Imps.
Path of a Rebel
THE MURDER OF THE SPACE COPS does set Cassian in motion, however. Andor is as quick-witted as he is quick with a blaster. He plans to sell an untraceable, mint-condition NS-9 Starpath unit, one he pilfered straight from the Empire. With those funds, he will peace out to parts unknown and lie low til the heat blows over.
Through a local ladybro, Brix, Cassian locates a buyer for his stolen tech, Luthen Rae. We quickly come to find out that Rae has ties to the Rebellion. And he wants Cassian to leave this junky planet to use his talents to further the cause of galactic freedom. Cassian doesn't jump at the chance. But "Corporate Tactical" is closing in, and an incredibly-entertaining shootout with the fuzz starts his path to freedom-fighting.
MUCH AS THE BATMAN DID, Andor successfully uses the murder-mysterday framework to start the show of on the right note and catch the viewer by surprise. The flashbacks are quick and well-paced; a technique also leveraged by The Book of Boba Fett. But the stakes are higher here. And we're seeing fresh things—Tatooine is old hat. New planets, new cultures, new costumes and new vehicles that feel authentic? Now that's a Star Wars fan's dream.
All dat has started this series off on the right foot, and I can't wait to see what comes next. We already know we'll see solid rebel role players like Mon Mothma and Saw Gerrera in the series. Will we see Leia Organa? Wedge? Captain Rex or any of the cast of the animated Rebels? Only time will tell, but you can be sure that after the first three episodes of Andor, I'm now fully down for the ride.
Andor is now streaming on Disney Plus.