There’s never been a Star Wars protagonist quite like Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the Rebel Alliance spy who gives his life to retrieve the Death Star plans in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In that film, Andor was the main supporting character to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and the film’s incredibly wonky screenplay downplayed the darker elements of his character despite describing him succinctly as “a killer with the face of a friend.” In the new streaming series Andor, premiering tomorrow (September 21) on Disney+, the bleakness of Cassian’s persona is on full display.
He isn’t inherently heroic. He does not seem to have a bright future ahead of him. Simply put, he’s a lowlife, a con artist, a small-time hustler whose only goal is surviving the week with whatever money he can get from anyone trusting enough to give it to him. He’s not Han Solo, a smuggler with a heart of gold, and he’s not Lando Calrissian, a hustler … with a heart of gold. Cassian lives beneath the floorboards of the bottom of the galactic food chain, and he’s not that concerned with breaking his way out.
Thanks to Rogue One, we know the Cassian we meet in the premiere of Andor (the first of a 12-episode first season and a promised 12-episode second season to air in a few years) will eventually grow into an ardent supporter of the Rebel Alliance, willing to assassinate, steal and lie in service of defeating the Galactic Empire. Simply put: He’s still not Han Solo and he never really becomes a hero in that sense. That alone makes him a different kind of character to follow in a galaxy primarily comprised of operatic heroism. We know how his story ends, and he’s complicated until the last moment.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Rogue One, principally due to its complete mishandling of the core characters’ arcs, but Cassian was always the best of them. In some ways, it’s better to view Andor with a hazy recollection of Rogue One despite the latter having been heavily rewritten by Andor showrunner Tony Gilroy. In that film, Cassian learns to put aside the desperation of small-time rebellion and make a big move. He learns to trust again and to inspire, which means the story told across 24 episodes of Andor will have to trace the character from this small-time beginning on the industrial planet Ferrix to becoming a Rebel Agent and explore how he became so loyal to the cause.
It’s a small story, and after watching the first four chapters, it’s clear Gilroy’s mandate was to focus on immersion rather than the epic-scale adventure Star Wars traditionally provides. I’m not sure I care all that much about Andor’s arc, but the world around him? In 12 weeks, it’s possible the cult that forms around this show might praise it as one of the most thoughtful additions to the Galaxy far, far away, even as the broader audience has tuned out due to the show’s glacial pacing and, frankly, lack of fun (which would be reasonable).
The first three episodes, which together form a roughly 100-minute film, are fantastic. The show is by far the highest quality Lucasfilm production seen on the Disney+ platform. Visually, it puts the Volume-set Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett to shame, and it gives The Mandalorian a real run for its money, given how set-bound that show truly is. The music by Nicholas Britell (best known for Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk and HBO’s Succession) is maybe the most memorable and non-traditional we’ve had in a Star Wars project, encompassing a really wide range of sounds and adapting tonally for the different settings seen in the chapters provided.
Gilroy’s scripts introduce a different side of the Galaxy than most viewers are familiar with, given the franchise’s general emphasis on high-stakes storytelling of good versus evil and Jedi versus Sith. The story opens on Morlana One, a mining planet on which Cassian searches for a woman in a local brothel. Tonally, it’s made to feel a lot like Blade Runner, with neon lights and electronic music. He’s accosted by two company men and finds himself on the run from corporate law enforcement. There’s precious little of the Empire in the first three episodes; it’s much more of a story about a man up against industrial powers who control his local world. The scale of the story isn’t out of place to fans of the franchise, who have seen such “local Rebellion” tales in spin-offs like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, but it’s nice to watch a show that embraces the everyday difficulty of a Galaxy built entirely to feed endless war.
Attentive fans might point out that a lot of what happens with Cassian’s backstory in these first three episodes echoes Rose Tico’s great monologue on Canto Bight during Star Wars: The Last Jedi, almost to the letter, but I know there are still people who pretend Rian Johnson didn’t know what he was doing with that subplot, and I don’t want to upset them.
Although it’s not technically unprecedented to tell this type of story in the Star Wars galaxy, Andor is still the first to make it the driving focus of its narrative. In fact, the weakest episode of the chapters provided for review is the last of them, episode four, which starts to introduce more Empire-adjacent characters and villains. The fourth episode is also the first to feel a little long in the tooth in a way many prestige dramas tend to feel these days, with a lot of dialogue that isn’t particularly clever but nonetheless given far too much focus. Contrary to a lot of critics, Andor doesn’t feel like The Sopranos just because more characters talk than shoot; if we were comparing it to a vintage cable or HBO drama, it would probably be more accurate to invoke something like Hell on Wheels than Deadwood. That’s not a dig, but come on, now. Let’s be real here. This isn’t genre-defining work.
That being said, as an ardent fan of Star Wars who has been sort of disappointed by most of the Disney+ side of things, Andor opens with a strong set of premiere episodes that I hope blooms into a standout piece of the franchise canon. It has more going for it than Obi-Wan did after four chapters, but I also loved that series’ initial premiere, so I’m hesitant to make big statements about Andor yet. I hope I feel this enthusiastic about it in a few months. It’s quite a feat to make a compelling grim & gritty take on a Rebellion that ultimately only succeeds because of sentient teddy bears, but it seems Gilroy & co. are on the right track.