“Andor” is not your typical Star Wars series. It is not based on a big name like Obi-Wan. It does not give out a “cool old school” vibe like The Mandalorian. The protagonist is a nobody - we just happen to know him from Rogue One.
Yet already before its release some critics have claimed that it may be the best Star Wars show this year. Seriously? A story about a “nobody”? Have you forgotten Obi-Wan?
But after watching the show’s beginning, one can perfectly understand where such opinions are coming from. And they are well-justified.
A Star Wars Character Walks Into A Brothel…
Andor has Diego Luna playing his five-years-younger Rogue One self before having joined the Rebellion. It does not start as an epic story. Young Cassian is a character living on the fringe, pursuing his own agenda and caring for his own survival - because he has to. Only an incident that makes him a wanted man in the eyes of local law enforcement sets him on the course that will end the way we know him: the agent of the Rebellion.
We have seen the grim outskirts of the Galaxy before in The Mandalorian. Yet Andor goes a step further. The Mandalorian has gunslingers, warriors, dangerous gangsters. Andor has common people, workers in scrap yards and petty bureaucrats on insignificant worlds who think themselves important, but who had hardly even caught the attention of local Imperial overseers. The Mandalorian‘s fringe worlds resembled the Wild West, a place where tough criminals walk and sparks from blasters fly. Andor shows a different edge: that of the mundane existence with all its shadows.
Case in point: the show’s very first scene has Cassian walking into a brothel. No, this is not Game of Thrones, and it is not portrayed in THAT way - he just goes there to ask for information. But it illustrates that Andor does not shy away from portraying any kinds of environments. It does it gently, but realistically, baring the truth that remains outside the spotlight of heroic Coruscanti vistas.
Nobody: A Star Wars Story?
In the beginning the show follows two storylines. The aforementioned five-years-younger Cassian spending his time on a scrapyard planet, and even younger Cassian (portrayed by Antonio Viña) in flashbacks in a tribe of kids struggling for survival. There is no glory to either storyline. Both show mundane life at the fringe of society. During the first couple of episodes, both the Empire and the Rebellion (and in flashbacks, the Republic) are mentioned only as distant forces.
Yet those are the forces that, however distant and unseen, influence the lives of the characters. That is something Andor has managed to portray perfectly. Cassian’s initial steps show just that - a slow transformation from a piece of dust on the board into a figure in the game. We first see him as a nobody in order to understand why would he decide to even take part in the Rebellion.
Selfish, But Not “Solo”
Cassian in Rogue One was a complicated character - probably the reason why the filmmakers thought he was worth having a backstory. His first appearance in Rogue One involved him killing an allied informant rather than having him fall into the Empire’s hands. Andor does not stay behind in that respect. Cassian is as far from a hero in shining armour as you can get. He is a survivor. Lying and deception is part of his daily existence, and there is blood on his hands.
If we remain at the comparison with The Mandalorian - the main character there is a honourable warrior. Young Cassian is more of a Han Solo type. But unlike Han Solo we see him firmly placed within a network of relationships - there are people he cares for and others who think of him as a friend, even though his actions towards them are not always fair. The fact that we understand Cassian also by seeing him through others’ eyes is another aspect that makes the show remarkable.
Overall the writers have nailed the character. Cassian feels very much in line with how we know him from Rogue One. That much is apparent on first sight: Andor is a well-written backstory for an existing character.
And the show is not only about Cassian. The first couple of episodes have introduced a plethora of interesting characters, more I daresay than most other shows would manage within a season. And that all despite the fact that they are just common people. Neither of them is a Jedi or even an Imperial commander. Even the Rebel recruiter (portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård) is an unremarkable type in a shabby jacket. The primary antagonist - if we can call him that - is a zealous security officer, but even he is deeply human.
But Nothing Happens?
Star Wars: Andor was originally supposed to air already at the end of August 2022. It was later delayed until 21st September, but then three episodes were launched at once.
One can see this as a good choice in retrospect. Let me say one thing: Andor is a great show. The characters, the environment, everything feels real. There is action and the story keeps one glued to the screen, because you become invested in the characters.
But at the same time it is a fact that during the first two episodes, literally nothing major happens. Or perhaps it would be better to say that nothing happens, period. People working in the scrapyard live their daily lives, sometimes interrupted by Cassian asking them to give him alibi for last night. That is it - that is literally about 60% of the screentime.
But let me reiterate: it is worth it. It is great and it may be, indeed, one of the best Star Wars shows out there.
Is It Even Star Wars?
With only a little caveat. If you removed the references to the Empire, the Rebellion etc, you could end up with a story that has nothing to do with Star Wars whatsoever. It is a complaint that has its merit.
So far all the Star Wars elements that are in any way relevant for the story are the fact that there is the Rebellion (but that could be swapped for any totalitarian setting equivalent) and one droid character. Even space travel is not essential for the story - you could easily rewrite Andor to happen on Earth. The mundane people’s lives are just the same as on Earth.
Does that make Andor bad as a Star Wars series (or even as a sci-fi)? I think it makes it better. Will it make hardcore Star Wars fans upset? I don’t think so. Sure, if all SW series looked like this, it would be a problem. But if this remains Andor‘s specialty, then it is a plus - it makes Andor unique and not just umpteenth run-of-the-mill story of space wizards swinging their glowy swords without much depth behind it.
Showing Something New
Andor did not fear to be different and to show the part of the Galaxy we have not seen before. The environment is unique (not another desert planet!). The characters have depth and relationships. Andor does not shy away from portraying “working class” people, from showing the existence of brothels, from portraying (or implying) people having sex while at the same time not explicitly showing anything, let alone making a spectacle of it à la Game of Thrones. It shows people dying - even “bad” people - as a real, sad thing. It shows antagonists feeling uncertain or scared about going into battle, not just as a bunch of evil soldiers who are here to fire at the heroes and get shot in return.
Summa summarum, if The Mandalorian was perceived to be something unique and refreshing at the time of its release, Andor manages to be unique and refreshing in yet another way. Let’s hope it will only continue to up its game.