Andor: Season One premieres on Disney Plus on September 21st.
Led by Tony Gilroy, Andor is a smart, reasonably mature take on the Star Wars franchise. It’s still Star Wars, don’t get me wrong, but it’s closer to The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi than anything else.
By discarding any references to the Jedi, The Force, or any sort of lineage, Gilroy strips the iconography to its bare essentials. Anchored instead by a nuanced, compelling performance by Diego Luna, Andor is Star Wars which finally allows for the franchise to breathe and expand.
Living on a remote scrapyard of a planet, Andor (Luna) is a tough guy looking for a bullet with his name on it. His sister disappeared years ago in shady circumstances, and time has only increased the loudness of her absence. So Andor roams the streets and bars, tracking every clue with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He executes those that get in his way and lies to those who’d trust him. He’s charming when the situation calls for it; lethal even when it doesn’t.
In short, he’s the perfect type for a simmering rebellion.
Only Andor wants no part in it. His interests rarely go past making it to the end of the day. Not even when his closest friends and adopted family try to help. There’s only one end to his story, and Andor races to meet it.
Gilroy has written these characters before. His superlative Michael Clayton comes to mind in particular. An ode to the archetype, he's the quintessential bad guy who sometimes looks in the mirror and catches a trace of someone that once cared. One of those people who try to outrun their past, even if it means going headfirst into a wall.
In Andor, Gilroy implants that misplaced anger into a man brimming with potential, but with the equal talent to squander those gifts. He can't risk making a change in this world. The weight of that could crush him. Luna deftly carries the contradiction, delivering a beautiful performance that makes for an anti-hero for the ages. This isn’t a plucky Han Solo. He is carved from the same driftwood that Benicio Del Toro’s DJ came from.
The tragic irony is that we know where Andor ends up. We know who he becomes. It’s a testament to the performance, writing, and directing that Andor, the series, makes us question. There’s no way this wastrel could lead or shoulder the burden. But this is not a series about the destination. It’s a story of the journey.
With four episodes available at the time of review, Andor sets up an explosive first season that isn’t afraid to let the fuse simmer. Much of the first two episodes are set up. When the weapons go off, the series relies more on its roots in samurai films and westerns rather than large-scale fantasy. It finds as much humor in malignant bureaucracy as it does in droids that behave like golden retrievers. Whatever you expect of it, Andor takes the other way. Some might find the tease of the first half-season frustrating. I couldn’t get enough of it.
There is more character, wit, nuance, and life in a single episode of Andor than in any previous Star Wars series to date. It’s a triumph that showcases what a crew of smart filmmakers can do with the franchise. Especially when they’re not burdened by legacy.