Let me be clear: I like the Marvel shows on Disney Plus. Heck, I love some of them. But nearly 2 years after WandaVision started us off, I can clearly see that something's missing. The good thing is that Disney Plus just proved it can get the job done.
I say this because I definitely didn't go into Andor expecting it to be as good as it is. Andor, the pre-Rogue One series that is all about the rise of the rebellion and how Cassian Andor is becoming radicalized, is actually my third-favorite TV show of 2022 (right below Station Eleven and Better Call Saul season 6, two of the other best shows of 2022).
And while the consensus is out there that Marvel's Disney Plus shows have ranged from OK to great (though the dislike of Moon Knight is prominent), a truly excellent show has been rare. Which is why I'm hoping that one of the 2023 Disney Plus shows offers us the one thing we've yet to see: inarguable excellence.
Where Marvel's Disney Plus shows have faltered
To be frank, I want to see a Marvel series that doesn't care about the MCU. A Marvel show that doesn't have any fan service. A Marvel show that's willing to avoid the canon and continuity that is hard-coded in every Marvel Studios release. Even though What If...? isn't exactly canon, it's all fan-service to the comics, and bled into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with Captain Carter and Strange Supreme.
We almost got that with WandaVision, which I believe is the best Disney Plus series to date, as it got to focus a lot of its efforts on the story of Wanda Maximoff processing grief. Until it was about pretending to re-cast Quicksilver. This wasn't a bad scene. It certainly got my fan brain excited. But a truly great TV show is often a stand-alone piece of art. Something that doesn't need contextual clues from previous releases.
This isn't exclusive to the Marvel shows, either. Watching Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness for the second time, I've realized that the best parts of the movie are the ones that don't require fan service.
Sure, the Wanda Maximoff in that movie is highly informed by that character in WandaVision, but it's Sam Raimi's beautiful horror tricks and Olsen's performance when she reunites with her sons that truly makes that movie sing. I still wonder if there's a better version of that movie that doesn't lean into the fan service of the Illuminati scenes.
Moon Knight, one of the most divisive Marvel Disney Plus shows, could have been one of the best outings — as it really had little connective tissue. Instead, it spent its time telling us the story of an insomniac who made a deal with the wrong god. It was just too serpentine and confusing and trippy.
Ms. Marvel reached for the brass ring as well, focusing its efforts on just letting Kamala Khan be a kid, and letting itself be a YA (young adult) adventure series. Again, it lost me a little during the time-travel portions, and fell prey to Marvel's worst tendency on Disney Plus: wasting good momentum with a penultimate episode that explains backstory.
And both Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel suffered for lackluster CGI.
Andor is a winner because it doesn't need Star Wars
First off, Andor beats the allegations that the shows on Disney Plus have cheap budgets. Gorgeous, and dripping with care throughout, the stories of the people on Ferrix, Kenari, Aldhani, Coruscant and — most particularly — Narkina 5, are delivered with a pristine look, even when they're gritty and dark.
Nothing looks too green-screeny, which I guess is the benefit of a world without super-powers beyond "The Force." Which reminds me.
Yes, I'll say it: Andor is (partially) great because there are zero Jedi in it. The entire concept of the Midichlorian-laced warriors who duel with their dark side counterparts has been played out exhaustively. And it's completely unrrelatable. Nobody has this magic. Instead, Andor is all about something wholly understandable and sadly relatable: being under the thumb of fascist powers.
And because Andor got to tell that story in so many ways, and at so many angles — even giving us Dedra Meero, a character on the wrong side of history who we may still think has good points — it is a consistently evocative series. From Nemik's manifesto that we hear near the end of the series to working life in the prisons of Narkina 5, Andor uses every bit of its time to bring you into its story.
If you find Syril Karn's quest for justice at all costs to be boring, you might fall in love with the story of how Mon Mothma is struggling to fund a rebellion, and how she's forced to make a deal involving her daughter.
Andor has a very Star Wars-ish message to deliver, about fighting against what's wrong, but it does so on its own terms. In the process, it shows how lesser means can be needed to get to noble ends. While it's a prelude to Rogue One, and other characters, it only truly links back to the Star Wars we know in brief moments, such as a reference that signals someone may be about to due, and that brutally poetic post-credits scene.
Andor, I'd argue, has all the makings of a great series of any kind. It just so happens to be in the Star Wars universe.
Outlook: The 2023 Marvel shows that give me hope
Of the upcoming Marvel shows in 2023 that we know about (What If ...? season 2, Secret Invasion, Loki season 2, Echo, Ironheart, X-Men '97 and Agatha: Coven of Chaos), there's two shows that seem like they could meet my hopes (and a third I'm hopeful about). And much like Andor, they're about characters that don't have huge roles in all things Marvel.
Echo, which spins out of Hawkeye, sees the deaf butt-kicker Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) finding her own origin story. Here, she's leaving New York and re-engaging with her Native American roots. The only problem is that Kingpin and Daredevil are following her to her home town. So, Echo could have the She-Hulk problem, and it may not be "her" show.
Then, there's Ironheart, starring Dominique Thorne. She's already got me hyped by proving her charisma in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. While Riri Williams' story seems a little too familiar (we already have a college-aged student who's still stuck on her father's death, and her name is Kate Bishop), her story of invention and genius should still be great.
Lastly, there's Secret Invasion. I have hopes for this Samuel L. Jackson-led espionage series, but Secret Invasion was already a wide-stretching crossover event in the comics. So I doubt Marvel Studios can resist that here. But remember how great Captain America: The Winter Soldier was, primarily because it was a tense and taut thriller that brought memories of similar classics to mind? Secret Invasion could do that.
Why is this so important? Because Andor made Star Wars novel again. It shook up the definition of Disney's Star Wars ventures. And, most importantly, because it was simply better than anything Star Wars since Luke stared into Vader’s burning body.