Andor review – the best Star Wars show since The Mandalorian

It’s all laser guns and hoverbikes in this gritty, kinetic spy thriller which gives us the backstory to one of Rogue One’s heroes. Once a couple of slow episodes are out of the way, that is …

When word of mouth spreads about a new streaming show, viewers tend to tell each other not how many episodes are in the season, but how many you have to watch before the thing gets good. In the case of Andor (Disney+), the latest addition to the Star Wars TV universe, the magic number is three.

In its third instalment, Andor finally becomes the gritty, kinetic spy thriller it has been billed as, after a surfeit of thoughtful world-building. Thankfully, somebody at Disney+ has their head screwed on, because Andor has debuted with a triple bill. Make it through that opening marathon and you have what’s shaping up to be the best Star Wars show since The Mandalorian.

This is a prequel to the movie Rogue One, which was a prequel to the Star Wars film A New Hope. In Rogue One, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is a top intelligence agent for the Rebel Alliance as they plan to attack the Death Star. As Andor begins, it’s five years earlier and Cassian – still played by Luna – is merely a thief who likes to liberate Galactic Empire spaceship parts. When he recklessly leaves his home planet of Ferrix to visit Morlana One, a corporatised hellscape, he ends up as a wanted man who can stay under the political radar no longer.

Raymond Anum, Diego Luna and Ian Whyte in Andor.
Raymond Anum, Diego Luna and Ian Whyte in Andor. Photograph: Lucasfilm Ltd./Disney+/AP

At some length – every scene takes four minutes to say something that could have been wrapped up in two; even the opening bit where ANDOR fades up in the cool Star Wars font goes on for 35 seconds – we familiarise ourselves with Cassian, the lone wheeler-dealer whose ducking and diving frustrate his adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw, hurrah), faithful robot companion B2EMO and Cassian’s lost love, headstrong mechanic Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona).

Showrunner Tony Gilroy – best known for scripting Jason Bourne movies, which makes Andor’s initial sluggishness a surprise – has expressed the admirable intention not to burden Andor with “fan service”: in other words, the references and backstory gap-plugs that genre experts like to sift through. The comforting nostalgia of the most recent Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, has been replaced with something gnarlier. This has more dirt under its nails and colder blood in its veins. Those first two episodes are almost all atmosphere, but they evoke a convincingly shadowy dystopia.

Andor does, however, uphold at least one beloved tradition of the franchise, which is to cast sturdy British character actors in slyly funny supporting roles. There’s Ron Cook as a chatterbox on a rickety local bus, Gary Beadle as an authority-fearing bandit, and Kieran O’Brien as a grumpy scrapyard proprietor. Now it’s Alex Ferns, his stock risen since his memorably nude turn in Chernobyl, as a bustling soldier, concerned that the plebs are about to revolt: “It’s fomenting out there! Pockets are fomenting!”

Most delicious is Rupert Vansittart, a serial embodier of cynical senior management types. Here, he’s a guy who is high up in Morlana One security, telling an underling that pursuing Cassian isn’t worth the hassle. But the underling is Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who sees the case as his chance to ascend to the rank he believes he deserves. A pedant who has had his uniform re-tailored to expunge any slackness, Karn is not going to rest until he brings Cassian to heel.

Soller is perfect as the sort of seething inadequate a fascist movement needs plenty of if it’s not to become understaffed, and, although Star Wars is always about ragtag rebels getting one over on pitiless authoritarians, Andor promises to be more direct, and perhaps more timely, than most franchise stories in its portrayal of oppressed people being pushed too far. Admittedly, the show doesn’t really come alive until the eventual arrival of Stellan Skarsgård as Luthen Rael, a charismatic visionary – but those early scenes, ponderous though they are, sketch out schisms among ordinary folk living under the cosh. While others on Ferrix melt and betray their loved ones, Bix and wily old activist Maarva are solid comrades, holding the line at home. Andor’s earthy wisdom extends to more general observations, too, such as the explicit identification of rampant commercialism as a key component of the malign force that is about to reach tipping point.

Such theorising can’t sustain a Star Wars show on its own, which is why it’s such a relief when Andor whips out the laser guns and hoverbikes in episode three. With that combination in place, it is set to be one of the smarter shows in the galaxy.

Contributor

Jack Seale

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Star Wars: the Bad Batch review – badass clones strike back
Following on from the long-running animation Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this new Disney+ series boasts mutant renegades and action-packed fight scenes. May the fourth be with you!

Jack Seale

04, May, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Andor star Diego Luna: ‘I thought I could do whatever I wanted after Rogue One. I was naive’
As the Mexican actor reprises the role of Cassian Andor for the latest Star Wars spin-off, he talks about the the ups and downs of working with the franchise, and the film that made his name, Y Tu Mamá También

Ryan Gilbey

28, Sep, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Disney planning Star Wars spinoff series starring Diego Luna
CEO Bob Iger also announces that Tom Hiddleston will star in a Marvel-related programme for Disney’s forthcoming streaming service

Andrew Pulver

09, Nov, 2018 @11:13 AM

Article image
Darren McGarvey’s Class Wars review – the truth about social mobility
McGarvey – AKA Scottish rapper Loki – offers an intelligent look at the British class system, from Greggs to Lauriston Castle, and asks whether it’s ever possible to move within it

Lucy Mangan

10, Feb, 2021 @11:00 PM

Article image
The Mandalorian season two review – gun-slinging action with TV's coolest dad
The Star Wars spin-off from Disney+ is back with its signature mix of violent toughness and attentive parenting – but can Mando keep Baby Yoda safely in his armoured pushchair?

Jack Seale

30, Oct, 2020 @3:05 PM

Article image
Obi-Wan Kenobi: series one, episodes one and two recap – enter the wily old gunslinger
The acting’s better than the prequels (although it was a low bar), the Daiyu mission’s a Blade Runner-channelling joy and Disney have nailed the Inquisitors. We’re lapping up this spin-off so far

Andy Welch

27, May, 2022 @6:00 PM

Article image
Friday’s best TV: The Definitive History of Star Wars; Alex Polizzi’s Hire Our Heroes; Rollermania: Britain’s Biggest Boy Band; The Graham Norton Show
A delve into the difficulties George Lucas faced in developing his masterpiece; life after warfare for UK veterans; there’s tartan mayhem in Rollermania, while Graham Norton meets Tarantino, Kurt Russell and Tina Fey

Graeme Virtue, Andrew Mueller, Ali Catterall, Jack Seale, Julia Raeside, David Stubbs, Paul Howlett

11, Dec, 2015 @6:20 AM

Article image
Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn: ‘Star Wars is a childhood dream come true’
It’s taken the actor 30 years to reach the A-list. But with his role as bad guy Orson Krennic, he’s about to go galactic. He talks about being awestruck by Darth Vader – and his lederhosen-wearing youth

John Patterson

08, Dec, 2016 @1:40 PM

Article image
Sherwood review – the cleverest, most compelling show I’ve seen in years
James Graham’s crime drama about a crossbow killing rocking an ex-mining town is the TV equivalent of bowling a strike. Everything you could hope for is here

Lucy Mangan

13, Jun, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Better review – this moreish bent copper show gets stronger and stronger
Ignore the anti-climactic intro to this police drama. Its tale of a dodgy detective who wants to change really starts to blossom as it goes on

Rebecca Nicholson

13, Feb, 2023 @10:00 PM