You’re sleeping on ‘Andor’

Contributed Photo by Disney. Poster for the Disney+ original series “Andor.”

This isn’t a review. It’s a plea to every Star Wars fan who needs to hear it. 2022 was rough for live-action Star Wars shows, but please, give “Andor” a chance.

While they’re better than their worst detractors say, “Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” were both plagued by cheap production value and terrible pacing from translating canceled film scripts into streaming series. Neither came close to “The Mandalorian” in quality. Hell, “Book of Boba Fett” literally turned into “The Mandalorian” season 2.5 halfway through, and even those excellent episodes didn’t help.

So, I get where you’re coming from if you think you’re not interested in a “Rogue One” spinoff about rebel hero Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). If Disney failed to live up to expectations for hyped stories about two of the most beloved characters ever, why would you trust a relative no-name? But you’ve done this before, and I’m asking you to do it again.

Many fans have said they won’t watch it because they’re sick of this cinematic universe, but they aren’t. Complain all you want about “franchise fatigue,” but the actual problem is being fatigued by bad stories until we get something good. We all groaned about how “Rise of Skywalker” killed the franchise in 2019 and then immediately tuned into “The Mandalorian.” If you want the franchise’s best, “Andor” needs that same support.

Contributed Photo by Disney. Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) visits Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Riley) on Coruscant.

Season one of “Andor” takes place in 5 BBY (five years before the Battle of Yavin in “A New Hope”). Although the “Rogue One” protagonist returns, he’s one part of an ensemble cast depicting how the Rebellion formed, both on and off the battlefield. No Force users appear whatsoever; instead, the show’s focus is everyday citizens – from blue-collar workers to Imperial officers – and how they’re affected by (and/or upholding) the Empire’s oppression.

We see the Rebellion’s moral gray area through the perspectives of several characters combatting the Empire in different methods. One of the show’s biggest selling points is Luthen (Stellan Skarsgard), a grizzled recruiter with contacts everywhere. There’s also the returning Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Riley), who navigates senate corruption to finance rebels, and Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay), her cool lesbian cousin who manages a heist on the Imperial payroll.

Contributed Photo by Disney. From left to right: Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is interviewed by Dedra Meero (Denise Gough).

I feared that this moral gray area would be unfairly placed on antagonists Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and Syril Karn (Kyle Soller); in an attempt to have more dynamic characters, Disney’s Imperial villains have often received rushed or undeserved redemption arcs, with the worst example being Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) in “Star Wars Rebels.” Thankfully, “Andor” makes its villains compelling without making them sympathetic, exploring their obsession with order and bureaucracy.

“Andor” doesn’t have the big-name original trilogy characters who attracted you to the last couple mediocre shows, but that works in its favor. It wasn’t engineered to be a massive financial success riding on established characters, leaving more room for creative risk and more time for polishing. Essentially, this is what happens when major franchises don’t have to cater to the crunch of annual release schedules.

One major improvement from the last two shows is the pacing. Instead of awkwardly extending film scripts from two to six hours, “Andor” was filmed in multiple blocks of episodes that have their own story structure of introduction, buildup and payoff: Andor’s recruitment (episodes 1-3), the Aldhani heist (4-6), a mid-season breather, the Narkina 5 prison (8-10) and the finale (11-12). Like the iconic multi-episode arcs of “The Clone Wars,” this structure strongly paced.

Contributed Photo by Disney. A meteor shower known as the Eye of Aldhani, which the Rebellion uses as a front to steal the Imperial payroll.

Compared to the insufferable shaking cameras from “Kenobi” and the sluggish action scenes from “Book of Boba Fett,” “Andor” would be the best-looking 2022 live action Star Wars show by a landslide as long as it was mildly competent. Even when separated from lackluster competition, though, the cinematography is anything but the bare minimum. In fact, it’s downright impeccable.

Contributed Photo by Disney. Rebels escape the Empire by maneuvering through the Eye of Aldhani.

From the striking turquoise sky during the Eye of Aldhani to a tense dogfight in the penultimate episode, I lost track of how often I was awestruck by how beautiful “Andor” looks. However, many of the show’s best visual moments lie in the mundane. The show’s theme of bureaucracy upholding fascism extends to the framing of Imperial buildings, Corporate Sector offices and even the repetitive cubicles Karn visits after being fired.

Disney’s projects often have the highest production value available when they aren’t being rushed, yet it won’t matter whatsoever if the story is weak. Thankfully, this is where “Andor” sets itself apart from high-budget failures like the sequel trilogy: its writing. I cannot stress enough how engaging the dialogue is. Though not as quotable as the more lighthearted adventure shows, some of these lines were written and delivered so impactfully that they’ve stuck with me weeks later.

Now, you might be asking: if “Andor” is so great, why haven’t I mentioned Andor himself? Does the production value and ensemble cast overshadow the titular character? Certainly not. He has a satisfying character arc that gradually builds throughout the series; while I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite character, I need to discuss my actual favorite to showcase Andor’s growth.

Consider this your spoiler warning for the show’s second half if I’ve already convinced you. If I haven’t convinced you, my last-ditch effort to do so is the Narkina 5 prison arc.

Andor first appears vastly different from his personality in “Rogue One.” He recognizes the immense harm the Empire causes, but being tired of fighting, he keeps his head down. After Luthen recruits him for the Aldhani heist, Andor uses his cut of the earnings to escape to what I can only describe as “space Miami.” (It makes sense when you see it.)

Contributed Photo by Disney. From left to right: Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) hold their hands behind their heads in the prison on Narkina 5.

Although they don’t know it’s the same man from Aldhani, the Empire arrests Andor for extremely petty charges and throws him in Narkina 5, an eerily sterile slave labor camp where prisoners are forced to walk barefoot so an electrified floor can punish misbehavior. It’s here where Andor meets Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), a prisoner who directs his floor to complete tasks.

I’m ecstatic that “Andor” gave Serkis another chance at this franchise after the sequel trilogy wasted his performance as Snoke, because his magnificent acting is finally put to good use. Loy is a perfect foil to Andor’s attitude about escaping the Empire; since he believes nothing can be done to stop the Empire, he becomes complicit with systemic issues like prison injustice as he focuses on finishing his sentence.

This forces Andor to reflect on his choice to stay on the sidelines, completing his transformation into the rebel hero who will eventually sacrifice himself for the Death Star plans. He organizes a breakout with other prisoners, even convincing Loy to help once they learn that the Empire arbitrarily extends their prison sentences so nobody leaves.

Contributed Photo by Disney. From left to right: Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) escape from Ferrix on a speeder bike.

Andor starts off reluctantly recruited by Luthen to fight the Empire, and by the climax, Andor becomes a recruiter himself. This is beautifully reflected when he encourages Loy to use his authority and galvanize other prisoners over the intercom. Loy echoes a powerful line from Andor’s speeches to him: “I would rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.”

The Narkina 5 arc isn’t just my favorite part of “Andor” – it is “Andor.” If every episode block has its introduction, buildup and payoff, Narkina 5 is the payoff of the last three blocks. That’s why I need you to give this show a chance; you can’t just judge it based on the first couple episodes and deny yourself the payoff.

With the season finale out today, you can watch the complete season over Thanksgiving break. I personally recommend watching one of the aforementioned arcs per day so the buildup and payoff of each block hits even harder. But however you want to watch it, please give “Andor” a shot. You won’t regret it.

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