I read a tweet recently from a critic lamenting about how Star Wars has been picked apart for parts and thus it’s no longer special to him. I can relate to that sentiment and it’s obvious Disney has been milking that franchise dry that even if they had bought Star Wars for 14 instead of a mere 4 Billion, they’d STILL make a heap of profits!
In any case, a new SW series is arriving on Disney+ this Friday with yet another Latino actor in the lead, Mexican-born Diego Luna, as rebel spy Cassian Andor, but unlike Chilean Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian, we do get to see his handsome face in this one. ANDOR is a prequel of Rogue One, chronicling the formative years of the Rebellion. So it’s another origin story that seems to be the premise template for Disney+ series. One of Rogue One’s screenwriters, Tony Gilroy (responsible for all the Bourne movies) is the showrunner and main writer of the series.
I’ve only seen two episodes so far and right off the bat, I like the earthier, more grounded look of the series. Obviously, it looks familiar to the SW universe in many respects, but yet different enough and definitely grittier. I immediately thought of Blade Runner which I know has become a bit of a cliché with the bleak, solemn vibe and rather grungy aesthetics, but appropriate given that it’s an era of growing rebellion in the galaxy against the Empire.
The series marketing promises a time filled with danger, deception and intrigue and it’s quite evident even from the first time we meet Cassian on a planet called Morlana One. He’s in hiding as he constantly has his hoods up and somehow got mixed up in the death of two employees of Preox, a mining corporation run like a military operation. Cassian is not exactly a virtuous man, reckless and aimless, still searching for his purpose and somewhat haunted by his past as a young teen, shown in a flashback when he and his group of friends see an object falling from the sky.
The tone is more of a spy adventure against the powerful status quo that exploits everything else in the planet, as the Galactic Empire and their allies are metaphors for corporate greed. Yes, we already know the fate of the Empire and the Death Star space station, but there is still something so satisfying to see just how the Rebel Alliance is finally able to break free from the Empire’s clutches and eventually destroy it. Gilroy sure knows how to write a compelling espionage thriller filled with political intrigue and covert missions. As with Jason Bourne, Cassian and his cohorts are being oppressed by a ruthless, powerful regime and this series shows the journey towards the Empire’s day of reckoning.
As for the cast, Diego Luna is wonderful to watch, he’s got an earnest quality about him that’s easy to root for. He’s not all cool swagger like the Mandalorian but he’s not supposed to be… he’s relatable in his flaws and lack of direction, even in his righteous anger against the injustice of the Empire where he does something reckless that endangers his own life. The supporting cast is terrific – I just saw Adria Arjona in the first episode of Irma Vep and she’s got such a magnetic presence. Here she stars as mechanic Bix Caleen, Cassian’s close friend (and possibly romantic interest?) who has her own set of secrets. Kyle Soller gets a lot of screen time in the first two episodes as a lead figure in Preox’s security force, hellbent on finding the one responsible for the employees’ death.
I’m always glad to see veteran British actors in these series. I’m a big fan of Fiona Shaw who plays Maarva, a mentor figure in Cassian’s life who I can’t wait to learn more about in future episodes. Genevieve O’Reilly (whom I first saw in the BBC series MI-5 aka Spooks) hasn’t been seen yet in the first two episodes, but she’s reprising her role as Mon Mothma, a Senator in the Galactic Senate. There’s of course Stellan Skarsgård as a key character that’s introduced in episode 3.
Despite all the positive aspects, I still can’t help thinking why this show is necessary. I mean it’s a prequel to a prequel… man, only a corporate behemoth like Disney would do that, which is ironic considering the show is about the journey to destroy a corporate empire. The show also takes a while to build momentum, and there’s an overwhelming sense of gloom thanks to the gray, murky cinematography.
That said, the deliberate pace does allow for a deeper character study for the lead and other key characters. I personally don’t mind the slo-burn start instead of immediately diving into action at breakneck speed. There have been endless movies/series featuring spaceships and lightsabers, but in the end, it’s the human story that makes a show worth watching.
As to be expected with these big-budget series, the production design is top-notch, and I especially love Andor’s grungy costume design by Michael Wilkinson. I’m liking Nicholas Britell’s percussion-heavy score and it perfectly complements the story about a tribe of dissidents banding together to defeat the more established, well-organized Empire.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of the series. The espionage aspect allows this oversaturated franchise to walk off the beaten path a bit, and as a fan of the spy genre, it’s definitely a welcome change.
What are your thoughts of ANDOR series?