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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Andor has a chance to make Star Wars feel fresh

After the long road starting from the lead character’s inception in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to the series’ announcement in 2018, Andor has finally premiered on Disney+ with the potential to be the most ambitious show on the streamer since The Mandalorian. The three-episode premiere made a solid first impression, showcasing exciting new elements to see front and center in a Star Wars production.

It’s grounded, grittier, and setting the stage for tantalizing character drama and political intrigue across its cast of characters. At the same time, it’s still early days for this 12-episode season (and 24-episode series overall), and Lucasfilm has been falling back into the trap of timeline overfamiliarity. The budding age of the Rebellion on its face is far from original for a franchise with such boundless possibilities, but Andor‘s moving pieces could make this era worthwhile — at least one more time.

The post-Revenge of the Sith, pre-A New Hope dilemma

Split image of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope posters.

Andor seems to be off to a strong start with three episodes already under its belt in one go, and it helps that Diego Luna’s leading man has a compelling air of tension and mystery to him. However, it was, at times, difficult to shake the concept of what Andor ultimately was — a prequel within a prequel. The aforementioned Rogue One is a direct prequel to the movie that started it all — Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope — and it ends mere minutes before Episode IV starts.

It’s an exciting take on the concept of another precursor to a beloved trilogy of movies, especially by giving Rogue One a more grounded and Star Wars-themed war epic/heist wrapping. However, as concepts, both Rogue One and Andor represent the seeming obsession Lucasfilm has with the post-Revenge of the Sith and pre-A New Hope era of Star Wars canon.

That fixation becomes even more apparent when you look into supplemental materials like video games and comics. As solid of a game asJedi: Fallen Order was with its intimate story filled with a likable cast of characters, the stakes can only feel so high. And as exciting as the mini MCU-like nature of The Mandalorian is, how long before the post-Return of the Jedi and pre-The Force Awakens era starts to feel similarly?

Obi-Wan Kenobi was arguably the rare prequel exception for many veteran fans, as Ewan McGregor is a beloved Star Wars icon since becoming the new face of the revered Jedi Master, even if the series would’ve likely fulfilled its potential as a movie. Though, there’s a certain fan cut that does the job surprisingly well.

But that’s why, in a way, Andor comes off as being even more impressive. In its three episodes so far, the series has risen to the unique challenge of justifying its existence in a crowded field. It also had a unique set of challenges facing it, from a certain point of view: The show is another Original Trilogy prequel and Cassian Andor isn’t a big legacy character.

A welcome dosage of drama and political intrigue

Cassian Andor and the supporting cast in an Andor promo poster.

There will eventually — or at least one hopes — come a time when Lucasfilm needs to move on from the Skywalkers entirely, but for the time being, Andor‘s characters, atmosphere, and blending of genres are doing an impressive job of making an otherwise familiar timeline feel exciting. Where Rogue One was a sci-fi war epic and The Mandalorian was a sci-fi/western hybrid in terms of tone, Andor follows that ingenuity by mixing with the spy-thriller genre.

And while all three of these Star Wars projects have different subgenres to complement their respective stories, what Andor shares with the other two through its espionage angle is a refreshing sense of drama and grit.

It’s certainly been alluded to elsewhere and could easily become something hyperbolic to say, but it’s not unreasonable to think that elements of what the series has shown so far are shades of HBO-like political intrigue. Though it’s obviously not a new invention, the likes of Game of Thrones have popularized the drama of intertwining plot threads across a diverse cast of characters scattered around its world.

That’s something especially important for a show like Andor to have, given its place in a well-worn part of the Star Wars timeline. The looming tension of a spy who’s perpetually on the run, the Empire’s puppets trying to snuff out insurgents, and political drama make the show’s stakes feel genuine despite most fans knowing the outcome.

A charismatic star and a bright future

Part of this once again goes back to Luna’s convincing performance as this hardened thief turned Rebel spy, and Andor expectedly shines a light on his backstory. Most importantly, it weaves in his origins tastefully through flashbacks as they become relevant to the “current” timeline.

Origin stories are another narrative approach that fans have grown somewhat weary of, whether it’s Star Wars or superhero adaptations, but seeing Cassian’s early years sprinkled into the main story hasn’t hurt its pacing.

The dramatic and tonal elements of Andor have successfully gotten the series through the door, now it’s all about consistency across its eventual two seasons and 24 total episodes. Cassian is a relatively new character for a 40-plus-year-old franchise, so he’ll have quite the burden to shoulder to make this a rewarding story from beginning to end, but these early days of Andor have done an encouraging job of showing how the Rebel spy can throw his weight around a crowded room.

The first three episodes of Lucasfilm’s Andor season 1 are available to stream now on Disney+, with the remaining nine episodes streaming on a weekly basis.

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