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Returning to a galaxy far, far away once again, “Andor” plants the seeds of the beloved Rebellion that has captured audiences’ imaginations since May 1977. The first episode of the newest addition to the well-known franchise premiered on Sept. 21 on Disney+. Since Disney’s acquisition of “Stars Wars” in 2012, the franchise has struggled to find the right balance between telling new stories and relying on its established mythos. “Andor” seeks to right the scales and offer a compelling story that dovetails with the movies.
The show ties directly into the 2016 film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” one of Disney’s first forays into the “Star Wars” universe. “Rogue One”’s story focused on the Rebel Alliance’s acquisition of the plans for the Empire’s super weapon, events that catalyze the action of Lucas’s original 1977 film. “Rogue One” introduced audiences to characters like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Rebel spies who sacrifice their lives for the greater good of the galaxy. Reception of the film was mixed; it earned less than anticipated at the box office but garnered positive reviews from critics, who praised its adherence to the source material. In the time since its theatrical release, it has grown more popular among fans, especially against the shaky track record of Disney’s other “Star Wars” offerings.
The new series is set years before “Rogue One” and further develops the backstory of Cassian Andor, with Diego Luna reprising his role as the titular character. From the outset, “Andor” strives to both illuminate a new side of the galaxy and to appeal to fans of George Lucas’s original film trilogy. The title card hearkens back to the wide space shots of “A New Hope”’s opening scene, but after that, the series immediately sets about establishing its own distinctive style. The show’s first episode mixes neo-noir aesthetics with spy thriller story beats to create a wholly new atmosphere amongst the “Star Wars” canon. This unique visual presentation grounds the story’s exploration of several complex themes including responsibility, guilt, and whether the ends justify the means.
The show depends on its titular character to grapple with these questions. Cassian Andor’s moral ambiguity is a welcome departure from the binary good-versus-evil narratives that have dominated “Star Wars” since Disney’s takeover. Many of the complaints leveled at Disney’s sequel trilogy focused on poor characterization and development, but “Andor” largely avoids that issue, creating a hero that defies flat stereotypes.
Throughout the premiere, Cassian grapples with the consequences of his actions. In one particularly well-acted scene, Luna conveys the inner turmoil Cassian feels through a series of facial expressions before he decides to kill someone threatening his anonymity. The strain of the decision and Cassian’s guilt are both evident, demonstrating Luna’s impressive range and control. His performance largely carries the first episode, giving audiences a sketch of a rougher, more aimless Andor than in “Rogue One”.
The show stumbles a bit, however, with its other characters. The introduction of another droid sidekick and strange alien animals feel like tropes for “Star Wars,” and “Andor” has both. Andor’s droid sidekick, B2EMO — an innocent and naive salvage droid — clearly emulates both R2-D2 and BB-8. While Andor seems to care about the droid, B2EMO adds little to the story that Andor’s other allies, namely Bix and Brasso, do not. Meanwhile, the hounds roaming the planet Ferrix might as well be scenery. Their inclusion seems to be Disney’s attempt to continue merchandising the lucrative franchise. Fortunately, their inclusion does not distract from the story.
More concerning is the characterization of the show’s antagonist, Syril Karn. A corporate underling whose ambition directly clashes with his robotic adherence to the rules, Karn’s villainy is underbaked. His desire to do what he views as right complicates his status as the enemy, but a lack of nuanced motives undermine audience sympathy. In addition, the show so far has not illustrated what power he actually possesses to endanger the hero, so his relentlessness comes off as an empty threat. Hopefully, the rest of the season explores more of his motivation and creates a compelling foil to Andor.
Despite these minor criticisms, the show as a whole appears poised for success. Audience members who have seen “Rogue One” know where Cassian’s story will end, but this new series offers compelling hints toward how he became the selfless Rebel spy they know. For more casual fans, the central mystery of the story, alluded to in flashbacks throughout the premiere, will likely draw them into wanting more.
Much as how “The Mandalorian” — Disney’s other major “Star Wars” success — used the trappings of the galaxy far, far away to tell a new story, “Andor” explores a different side of the universe without abandoning the themes of Lucas’s vision that continue to resonate with audiences today. The “Andor” premiere succeeds in charting its own path into the gray underworld from which our protagonist and the Rebellion emerge.
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