If You Gave Up on ‘Andor,’ It’s Time To Give It Another Shot
If I did not help run a website that covers Star Wars, I would have given up on Andor after two episodes. That was likely clear if you read what I wrote the week of Andor’s debut, “If You Like Watching Diego Luna Walk Around, You’ll Love Andor.” Reader, I do not like watching Diego Luna walk around, at least not at that length or with that much frequency. I thought big chunks of the three-episode premiere were flat-out boring.
Six episodes later, I think Andor, created by Tony Gilroy, has evolved into one of the best Star Wars shows on Disney+. It’s certainly the most interesting.
Admittedly, it’s still not the most thrillingly paced. For the second straight week, the show’s title character has spent the entire episode locked up as a prison laborer for the Empire. His main adversary, an Imperial Security Bureau officer named Dedra Meero (Denish Gough), made very little progress in her investigation into Rebel activity — and she still does not know that Andor has already been imprisoned (under an alias) for a minor crime. (Andor, meanwhile, does not even know Meero exists.) Several key characters, including Stellan Skarsgard’s Luthen Rael, do not play a role on this week’s Andor. This is not a Star Wars TV series for people who want non-stop action. (Or, for that matter, intermittent action.)
But there are plenty of Star Wars movies and shows that provide that sort of stuff. Andor, like its title character, has taken a different path. It focuses on the nuts and bolts of life in the Star Wars galaxy, showing the step-by-step process by which the Rebel Alliance grew — and the step-by-step process by which the Empire controlled its citizens through fear and overwhelming power. Although the show does not treat the Rebels and Empire as moral equivalents — the Rebels are fighting for freedom while the Imperials torture their enemies and imprison them in perpetuity after sham trials — it does empathize with the mindset of the individuals within the Empire, who must navigate the personal and professional pitfalls of life within a corrupt and sadistic organization. While Andor remains in a literal prison, all of its main characters are trapped in one way or another.
While Andor’s time in prison hasn’t been especially eventful from a story standpoint, it’s been a tonally effective chapter of the series’ overall story. His work on an assembly line building pieces of Imperial technology (likely for use in the Death Star) serves as a metaphor for the entire show: How repressive governments create a system of control, and how they make their subjects accessories to their own oppression as cogs in an enormous machine designed only to enrich the few at the very top of the chain of command.
In hindsight, these prison scenes also add interesting context to those early episodes where Andor wandered endlessly on the planet Ferrix. Now Andor’s freedom has been stripped away; one wrong step in any direction can get him fried by the Imperial prison’s deadly, electrified floor. The way Andor’s existence has been upended serves as a microcosm of the way the Empire is tightening its grip over the entire galaxy. It’s bleak stuff — like the final act of The Empire Strikes Back stretched across multiple hours.
Another pleasant aspect of Andor: It is a prequel that is almost impossible to anticipate from a story perspective. Sure, Cassian Andor himself can’t die; he’s got to escape that space jail eventually and show up at the start of Rogue One to steal the Death Star plans. But from episode to episode, his journey, along with the evolution of many of the supporting characters, has defied prognostication. (Did you think Andor would spend two episodes in prison hanging out with Andy Serkis? I sure didn’t!)
The season’s final three episodes (and Andor’s upcoming second season) will wrestle with many enticing questions. Will Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), the obsessive former “corpo” who first recognized Cassian Andor’s illicit activities, convince Meero to help him? Will Syril rise through the Imperial ranks, or will he grow so frustrated with his inability to navigate its bureaucracy that he eventually joins the Rebels? Will Serkis’ character aid Andor’s budding escape attempt or expose it? We just don’t know — a refreshing change of pace from just about everything else in Star Wars in the last few years, which has been occasionally fun and exciting, but rarely this unpredictable.
I’m still not sure Andor couldn’t have worked just as well at, say, nine episodes instead of 12. But I will admit I have gone from dreading having to watch this series every Wednesday to actively looking forward to it. And suddenly I find myself thinking the plan for the rest of the series — which will supposedly compress the next four years of Andor’s pre-Rogue One life into a quartet of three-episode arcs — does not seem like an expansive enough palette to conclude this story in satisfying fashion. Then again, if Season 2 features this caliber of writing with a lot less aimless walking, it could be the perfect Star Wars TV show.
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