The actually dark side

Published date27 September 2022
Publication titleSignal
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 itself 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.

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”, or 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...

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