It was almost the end of the second episode of Andor when I started actively thinking, “where is this all going because it seems to be going nowhere?” And to add to my confusion, the day I was watching these episodes (four total so far), was the day that last trailer premiered that everyone loves. So my entire Twitter feed was full of people declaring Andor the most incredible thing they have ever seen, while I’m watching the actual episodes, let’s say … not feeling quite so confident. I’ll save the suspense and say, by the end of the second episode, things do start to pick up. And by the third and the fourth episode, Andor feels fully in gear.
And that’s when I remembered two things: First, with something like Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s quick six-episode season, meandering kind of feels like filler. “We only have six episodes, get on with it already!” Andor is a full 24 episodes. (Cut in half into two seasons.) It has the luxury of meandering a bit, setting the stage. Also, the showrunner for Andor is Tony Gilroy, who likes to take his time and meticulously set up characters for payoffs down the road. By this point in Gilroy’s career, if he needs almost two episodes of character study with not much else going on, well, I guess that’s what he needs.
Whereas other Star Wars properties can feel like a story made in a committee (the word offender being The Rise of Skywalker, a truly terrible movie), Andor feels like one person’s vision of what a Star Wars series based on Cassian Andor should be. This is an incredibly focused series. And you might think I’m contradicting myself because, earlier, I used the word “meandering,” but we learn that the early meandering is a focused part of the plot (I’ll get to this in a bit).
We first met Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor in Rogue One, a movie credited to Gareth Edwards, but somewhere during production was handed over to Tony Gilroy. I truly believe that movie is a happy accident that it works at all because Edwards’s and Gilroy’s directing styles are not much alike. So we get weird scenes like the gross alien that does something to Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook with basically no payoff, then we get a very meticulously shot sequence of Rebel Fleet Troopers handing off the stolen Death Star plans to each other like a relay race, trying to avoid a rampaging Darth Vader. There’s no way this movie should work under its circumstances, but it does. (This reminds me of a moment during Star Wars Celebration 2016 in London. The publicists wanted a few of us to go in and “hang out” with Gareth Edwards for a bit and kind of gab about Rogue One. The last thing he wanted to talk about was Rogue One. I found out later he had just gotten the Gilroy news not long before. It reminded me of a student who is being asked by his parents about his grades, but already has his report card and knows it’s bad news and wants to talk about anything else. (I may be speaking from experience with this example.)
But now here’s Andor, and Gilroy isn’t sharing a vision with Edwards. And Gilroy isn’t the type of filmmaker who would take on a project like Andor without almost complete control. Set five years before the events of Rogue One, Cassian is … well, he’s kind of a loser. And the first couple of episodes spend a lot of time having Cassian’s friends and adoptive family telling him he’s a loser. This is not the dashing hero we meet at the beginning of Rogue One, calmly assassinating a source instead of letting him get captured. Cassian basically works at a factory and keeps screwing up.
One night, early in the first episode, two local corporate security guards try to shake Cassian down for some credits. Cassian and a guard start to tussle and the guard, accidentally, winds up dead. The second guard, who witnessed this, also winds up dead, but that’s not so much an accident. So now Cassian knows he’s probably in a pickle here and spends the next couple of episodes asking friends for money so he can get out of Dodge. (That’s a figure of speech, Andor is not set in Dodge, Kansas.) At the same time, we are given brief flashbacks to Cassian’s childhood on his more primitive homeworld. He sees a Republic ship crash landing in the distance, and this event will lead directly to why he lives where he does during the events of Andor.
In the second episode, we are introduced to Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen. And his presence signals that Andor is about to kick into something else. Cassian’s “local trouble” (as Han Solo would say in the first Star Wars) has escalated to the Empire itself, who has put out a full all points bulletin for Cassian’s capture. Luthen is also looking for Cassian, but for different reasons that you might be able to guess if you’ve seen Rogue One. Though, Andor isn’t all about Cassian Andor. Eventually, we do meet Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma who is still very much a senator and is trying her best to, quietly, help “some sort of secret organization that doesn’t like the Empire very much,” while also having to deal with her lousy husband who keeps inviting her political enemies over for dinner because he finds them “fun.”
What’s interesting is, counting only live-action Star Wars, when it’s all said and done, between the 24 episodes of Andor plus Rogue One, we will (I think), have spent more time with Cassian Andor than any other Star Wars character. This seems significant. And my hunch is Tony Gilroy wouldn’t want us to spend that much time with one character unless Tony Gilroy had something to say. In the four episodes I’ve seen, it’s not quite all mapped out yet, but the groundwork is there for something truly special. Andor will be meticulous in what it does. I am a big admirer of Gilroy’s work, so I have faith he knows where this should go and how the politics in Cassian’s world might resemble ours.
It took me a couple of episodes to get there (and I suspect it will for you, too, if you are expecting it to start with anything resembling action) … but four episodes in, I’m all in on Andor.
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