“Save the Rebellion! Save the dream.”
“Rogue One” was definitely one of the best things to happen to the galaxy far far away. It is easy to place the film into a compartmentalized space and say, “Hey, it’s nothing but a story set before the Original Trilogy envisioned by George Lucas”. But the truth is, it is more than just a glorified prequel.
Indeed, the team of Gareth Edwards, Tony Gilroy, Chris Weitz, and the rest of the talented crew brought their A-game as they crafted a franchise favourite. We still find ourselves marvelling at the holy intricacies of Jedha City and the lagoon-like beaches of Scarif, which make for an interesting setting amidst the fierce battles that ravaged the sand during its climax.
Of course, who could let the ultimate scene slip from memory? Oh, that one beautiful sequence where a red flash of light emanates through a hallway as the terrified Rebel forces look at one another in terror. The Sith Lord, Darth Vader, towering over every man in the room, as he saws away at their forces, hoping to destroy their last hope.
A story like this could have very well been a cookie-cutter, cut-and-dry experience that no one would remember in a heartbeat. After all, these characters perish by the end of said feature. This is a singular point for them as they went as quick as they came. There is no turning back. Furthermore, the only way forward has already been explored.
Nevertheless, it is firm writing that establishes a ground for these characters to dance accordingly without toppling over. Jyn Erso, combined with the devastating nature of her father’s journey was turned into a warrior because there was something compelling to fight for. A character like Chirrut Imwe could have easily become a throwaway martial artist but was heightened due to deeper dialogue and backstories as a Guardian of the Whills.
Truly, “Rogue One’s” strengths lie in its heart, world, and lore, making for a compelling watch each and every time. Hence, the idea of telling more stories from this, dare we say, sub-universe, is pretty darn exciting.
For this occasion, Diego Luna’s spy-warrior, Cassian Andor was chosen to headline such a project. Truth be told, we did frown when news broke back in 2018 that a series was going to be centred around Andor. Nevertheless, we can’t blame ourselves as the state of “Star Wars” television was next to none save for the animated projects like “Clone Wars” and “Rebels”. Only after “The Mandalorian” was released we were a tad more confident, but still had our reservations.
Cassian’s story began as questions that writer and later showrunner, Tony Gilroy slept on. ‘How did Andor end up with an important role within the Rebellion?’ ‘How has he become the battle-hardened warrior-spy in “Rogue One”?’ Taking place five years before the fateful events of “Rogue One” and ”A New Hope”, Andor” sets its course onto the scrap world of Ferrix.
We’re dumped into a rain-laden landscape as Cassian struts his way through damp and dim plunging alleys. As he steadily nears the end of that path, he’s presented with a choice…
For Andor, he rashly makes his decision and with that comes a price. Now, Cassian is left to run from the law, as he tries to maintain a low profile from the enforcers. Bix (Adria Arjona) and his adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw) are the only people he can turn to as he writhes in the muck he has gotten himself into.
Yes, it is great that Andor isn’t just alone as his character starts off on a dark path. He evokes the cries of the solitary wolf, having learnt to trust less and be as wary as can be. Without a doubt, the loyalty showcased by his closest allies is what provides inner conflict for his character. These people have served him well, and yet, he doesn’t reciprocate the favours as well as he can.
As the story progresses, we get glimpses into our hero’s past as a child. Born into a tribe none the wiser of the Empire’s control over the galaxy, there is much awe and surprise when an Imperial cruiser crash lands on their planet. It’s a stark contrast with what the Empire has, as sticks and blowpipes can only do so much against firepower. As all these are being shown, it interpolates with an adult Cassian. The mirrors of the past catch up to this version of Andor.
As the show progresses, more elements, either grey or antagonistic, come into play. As previously mentioned, Andor’s refugee status is declared by the corporate authorities. One particular Inspector, Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is so bent on finding the ‘murderer’, that he vows to pursue Cassian, no matter the cost. At one point, he commands an entire unit but loses almost everyone in a battle, which then brings about a turning point in his morality.
Having different shades of authority in play makes for an interesting watch although we do have to say some of it does not flow entirely well (yet). The Imperial Forces also make their mark, with ambition and relentless tactics being employed on the field. One particular standout is Denise Gough’s Dedra Meero, who aspires to gain favour with the Empire and employs incredible insight into the psyche of the Rebel alliance.
We mentioned grey, and grey it is when it comes to Stellan Skarsgard’s character calculating Luthen Rael. He’s the grandmaster behind the operation. He’s the man who has the information, yet maintains an influential hold so as to not divulge much of it. He has something of a double life, delegating with politicians, yet having that battle-worn scruff to him when it comes to fighting a regime.
Andor’s initial meeting with him is not merely what it seems to be. With Rael’s enigma, there is no telling what might happen next. What are his best interests? What is his actual deal in taking Andor under his wing? If there is one standout performance from this show, it definitely has to be Stellan’s, as his chameleon-like portrayal aims to provide calculated chaos to this Rebellion.
On the other end of the spectrum is Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), the legacy hero who got an updated appearance in “Rogue One”. For the actor and for that character, “Andor” is now a gold mine to explore what makes the Senator tick. We’ve only particularly seen glimpses of her leading the Rebels alongside Bail Organa. Hell, her first appearance was in a deleted scene in “Revenge of the Sith”.
So, what is the deal with Mon Mothma? We look at this Senator having to talk about the idea of political warfare. It is reflective of how, we as people have to put on various masks to provide certain impressions, to give the best outlook upon delegates and peers. It’s all an intricate political game that she has to play, and she moves those chess pieces accordingly.
It is interesting to see this corner of the “Star Wars” universe brought back in live-action – we don’t just mean Coruscant (hurrah!). It’s not just about Jedi and their religions or just revolving around the Skywalker family. There are civilizations involved, people that have to climb a societal ladder, and dirty tactics at play. It’s all grounded and reminiscent of what life on Earth can be at times.
“Andor’s” structure harkens back to what “The Mandalorian” does. Unlike “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, “Andor” opts for a 12-episode order and this particularly changes the narrative pace altogether. Its slow burn immerses the audience in the world that it is trying to build. That might work for some but could be a bane for others.
It’s worth noting that not everything goes about as smoothly as one would want. As mentioned earlier, some of the characters with antagonistic personalities might seem a little one-dimensional. Then again, it’s still very early on in the series. What sort of great villains would they be if their arc was merely concentrated in the first third of the project?
Indeed, “Andor’s” strength lies in it taking its time in telling the story it wants to tell and not necessarily what the audience might want. It’s not going to be another thrill-of-the-week type of narrative. We don’t expect the characters to fly to the Outer Rim to look for Master Yoda in a bog, or find Bo Katan slinging her way into their path. Rather, it’s a slow churn of the mixing wheel, with boiling conflicts, ideologies, and political games all attempting to make their mark in this series.
Another aspect of note – which will probably go over many heads – is the production design, which is in fact, exemplary. Hearing stories of how they built a full town for the Ferrix set, along with ditching the screen volume popularised by “The Mandalorian” to shoot on location is a testament to what the crew envisioned in terms of realism. Yea, the scenes where they pan the wide shots are just beautiful and immersive.
All in all, the first four episodes of “Andor” provide an immersive new experience into the sub-world of “Rogue One”. It’s a little flawed with its pacing and characters for now, but we’re sure the narrative tension will keep rising. The pieces should fall into place as we go along.
This season, in particular, will only span one year of the Rebellion. Based on the explosive nature of the promotional footage, we can only assume that tensions will continue to rise throughout this year. There are still space dogfights to look forward to. We’ve still not caught up with a young and healthier Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), whose guerrilla forces might clash with the larger Rebellion. The premise itself holds such promise.
With Season 2 already on the way – which will span four years and lead directly to the events of “Rogue One”, we’re excited to see what comes next. We already know how this story ends… yet, there is still a Kyber mine to explore by going back to where it all began…
Be sure to catch the first three episodes of “Andor”, available to stream on Disney+ today. Subsequent episodes drop every Wednesday.
Bar a few narrative bumps, "Andor" is a solid spinoff off of its predecessor, allowing for discussions about ideologies, societal disparities, and political games all while playing in this tried and tested fantastical setting.
- "Andor" Review