The Mandalorian has been good, but its use of Luke Skywalker as deus ex machina felt lazy. If it wasn't for having to watch The Book of Boba Fett for work, I never would have gotten through it. Obi-Wan Kenobi? It got good, but its over-reliance on Bail and Leia Organa made it eye-rolling.
In part, Andor succeeds in ways Rogue One did. This isn't entirely surprising. Andor comes from showrunner Tony Gilroy, the maestro behind Rogue One. But since Andor primarily sits in unexplored parts of the galaxy far, far away, and doesn't do anything to reinvent any characters, it thrills by creating new and exciting moments. A wide shot of Kenari's mines is gorgeous. Each new character arrives with crisp, snappy dialogue that keeps you glued to the screen.
Immediately, with a tone set from its opening shots, Andor is intriguing because it's a very cool-looking show. A show that had me writing this Andor review with excitement. And after I finished its first four episodes (Disney only sent those four to the media), I went back to watch them again. That's because it's not just a great Star Wars show, but a great show period (that said, the Andor fan reactions are notably mixed).
This Andor review is spoiler-free. Do not worry about what lies below. For more about what comes next, check out our Andor episode 9 preview.
Andor review: Why it's my favorite Star Wars show
No offense to Grogu (Baby Yoda), but so far Andor is the best Star Wars show. Throughout its first four episodes, Andor evolves and continues to offer interesting surprises to its audience.
The planet of Ferrix, where Cassian lives, is crucial in this part of the storytelling. A red-brick planet of laborers, Ferrix is brand-new for Andor, and it's instantly one of my favorite Star Wars planets. Andor is light on the Star Wars references, so you'll lose little if you're a casual fan like myself who didn't watch the animated programming.
I've only seen the nine Skywalker Saga movies, Rogue One, Solo and the Disney Plus shows — and barely any of those are actually relevant here. Instead, Tony Gilroy has created a world within the famed galaxy, and one that's alive with tension.
The primary reason I put Andor above The Mandalorian is that it doesn't feel like a series of optional side-quests in a video game. Instead of being a series of incidents where Din Djarin has to simply protect Grogu, Andor is a working class Star Wars show, putting a spotlight on the people of a planet, and how authoritarian rule inspires rebellion.
Chief among those villains early on is Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), an emotionally stunted middle-manager/task master. Not only does he deliver one of the most awkward but realistic speeches in TV history, he makes Michael Scott look motivational. Soller told the D23 audiences that Karn is the latest addition to "a history of villains you love to hate." And so far, that is so very true.
Karn's support comes in the form of Sgt. Linus Mosk (Alex Ferns), who is even more hateable. His vitriol and eagerness to violence — declaring the world needs a stronger hand, and wanting to "keep the blade sharp by using it" — almost makes Karn look better. These two, though, are a prime example of what makes Andor so great: everyone (or seemingly everyone) gets great dialogue to deliver. Nothing sounds like boilerplate. And that's frankly impressive when Andor has 195 speaking roles.
That said, I should not go any further without praising Diego Luna's work as Cassian Andor — the king of the Star Wars TV leading men. Sure, he's got a less thankless position than some of his fellow leading men of Star Wars shows, as Pedro Pascal and Temuera Morrison were always wearing helmets. Still, Cassian has more sizzle and crackle to each line than even Ewan McGregor did as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Every scene Cassian is in — especially the one where he first meets Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) — is a chance for Luna to express his character's frustration and desperation to one degree or another. Sometimes he's able to hide it, when he's trying to make sure his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) doesn't worry about him. But Luna plays Andor with an imperfect poker face.
You may see his story — a skilled ne'er do-well who is recruited for a bigger mission — as similar to Han Solo's, but Cassian is a much different person. Sure, he tries to look confident to his friend Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), but Luna often plays Cassian with a quiet plead for help, such as when he's requesting a convoluted favor from Brasso.
And all of the talents I've mentioned above deserve their flowers too. Fiona Shaw is highest among them. Shaw's Maarva exudes emotion in the way any anxious parent would. There's a very short moment where she's looking at a staff that belongs to Cassian, and I'll admit that the sadness she radiates is utterly affecting. And while I'm talking about Shaw, I can't forget to shoutout Andor's B2EMO, the droid that lives with her and often steals scenes. An amazing addition, with great dialogue, and I barely even care about droids.
The last large plus about Andor is one of its littler things: Nicholas Britell's scored theme songs. Minimalist and stirring at the same time (remember, Britell's the guy behind Succession's theme song song), these songs get you ready for a fantastic episode of TV. And, yes, that's no typo, I meant to write 'songs.' Each of the 12 episodes features a variation on the original. I'm not sure if I've picked up a pattern, though one is there according to Gilroy, who's quoted in the press materials as saying "I’m sure people will parse them and figure them out, what he’s done. I think they’re just absolutely beautiful."
Andor review: What I don't like
Star Wars shows have one recurring sin in my book: unnecessarily bringing in characters from the past movies (Young Luke in Mando S2), using those characters in ways that feels dissimilar to the movies (hi, Boba Fett!) and how Obi-Wan Kenobi's young Princess Leia plot felt glaringly weird at first.
I mention that here because there's a moment in Andor episode 4 that worries me about how the series may bring in a classic character. For now, though, they're on the right side of this mistake.
The actual problems I have are simple and arguably nit-picking. In many scenes, we see the actions of human children on a planet called Kenari (also the name of the language they speak). These scenes can't exactly be explained without spoilers, so I'll only go so far as to say I found it very weird that the Kenari dialogue isn't actually translated with subtitles. The specifics of what they say is not exactly necessary — much of it can be implied — but it would have been great to know what they were saying.
Also, Andor has what may be an unavoidable issue in sci-fi and fantasy these days. There are the rare shots (often involving Stellen Skarsgård) that just look green-screened. They're not long shots, and they don't happen too frequently, but they break the visual flow of the show, which is earned with the amazing sets of Ferrix.
Andor review: What's odd
Two small notes, of things that are neither good nor bad (but things I thought I should note). I want to know why Fiona Shaw's character is named Maarva. Probably because it sounds like "mother" but it also sounds like "Martha," which made my pop culture-addled brain concerned because of memories of Bruce Wayne/Batman mourning by shouting "MARTHA!"
Again, this is neither good nor bad, but Andor is an incredibly British show, at least in terms of its casting. Fortunately, the casting is so great that nobody should have a problem with this. Andor's cup runneth over with excellent performances both small and large, pushing me to pay attention to the credits to learn names such as Faye Marsay, Ron Cook and Rupert Vansittart.
Outlook: Andor is already delivering solid potential
As I've explained in this Andor review, the series (or at least its first four episodes) thrives by giving us a look at the working lives of regular people in this world. We even see bad guys at work at their day jobs, with officers scarfing down blue noodles in a paper takeaway container before their boss comes to annoy them. The word "overtime" is even muttered. Nobody is too low-rung on the totem pole to not be shown. And everyone, even the grunts tracking down Cassian, is interesting.
I hope Andor stays this strong, even as its scope likely grows and expands. And I desperately hope that its looks at the planet Ferrix aren't limited to its first three episodes. The scenes with a rhythmic clanging in the belltowers felt like a moment that could happen at the start of each episode, but with minor differences in the performance of said clanging, for audiences to look for like they're spotting differences in the Simpsons intro. that kind of thing that could be the start of each episode, but they choose not to be.
There is so much more I could say, raving about each moment from Stellen Skarsgård (including his "costume change" scene). But that's the great thing about Andor: you'll have a hard time keeping track of your favorite characters, moments and locations.
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