“Andor” is the first Star Wars live-action show that does not star a Jedi or a bounty hunter. Instead, the series focuses on the beginning whispers of the Rebellion through the eyes of Cassian Andor, an assassin and a Rebel spy introduced during the last days of his life in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” And it’s all the better for it, resulting in one of the best “Star Wars” stories yet told.
The series chronicles the five years leading up to the events of “Rogue One” and takes place just four years after “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the most recent Star Wars live-action series to debut on Disney+.
In the four episodes released to the press, there are no Skywalkers or Sith yet, no light sabers or force users. Instead, “Andor” is the incredible story of everyday heroes that fan the initial embers of Rebellion and offer a glimpse of the Empire that oppresses them, and the career military men within their ranks.
We follow Cassian Andor as a young salvage runner and part-time machinist on the scrapper planet of Fennix. We never see him do his job, however, because in the series’ opening moments, he’s on the planet Morlana One searching for his sister when two drunk Imperial corporate authority guards or “Corpos” attack Cassian. When they end up dead, Cassian races off-world back to Fennix to hide.
Cassian’s Kenari background is a mystery, told in flashbacks (and hinted at in “Rogue One”). We see him as a pre-teen as part of an indigenous community who have saved their language and culture but appear to have lost most of their community and planet to the Empire.
Fennix is where people choose their family. Cassian is only close to a few, including Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), a close friend and trader, and Maarva (Fiona Shaw), the woman who raised him and their sweet stuttering bot B2EMO. But don’t mistake kindness for weakness, as the tight-knit scrapper community gives the small group of Corpos a run for their money when they land on Fennix to flush out the culprit behind the deaths of their comrades.
On the other end of the spectrum is Corpos’ Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who led the initial hunt for Cassian and is subsequently thwarted by him. First appearing as an overzealous cop, Karn turns more sinister and ignites a vendetta that will surely be one of Cassian’s biggest challenges. Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), an Imperial Security force leader and one of the few women in her unit, can also sense a rebellion coming and uses what little power she has to fight through patriarchal hubris to explore the growing rebel threat.
This glimpse of the characters who work in the cogs of the Imperial system are just as fascinating as those attempting to dismantle it. Luthen Rael, masterfully played by Stellan Skarsgard, is a flamboyant historian and collector on the tourist planet of Coruscant by day and a calculating rebel architect by night. He regularly conspires with Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) — who has not yet defected from the Empire to the Rebellion — to supply weapons and intel to various rebel factions. And with Imperial Corpos on his heels, Rael offers Cassian an offer he can’t refuse.
This series is about the questionable alliances and messy morals at the foundation of most rebellions. Thoughtful exposition woven throughout the dialogue subtly frames characters so efficiently that the audience doesn’t need an entire syllabus of Star Wars knowledge to keep up.
Visually, “Andor” is stunning, and the start of the series looks more like “Blade Runner” than a “Star Wars” show as Andor moves through the streets of Morlana One. From the cool steel colors of Fennix to the warm tones of the forest of Kenari and the glitz of Coruscant, each location boasts high production value with a distinct look and feel.
Luna gives a stellar performance as he walks the strained tightrope between selfish and desperate, his hatred of the Empire simmering below the surface. And Soller is so sincere in his pursuit of justice as Karn that you almost root for him at one point. Finally, Skarsgard’s Janus-like Rael is fascinating to watch as he lures Cassian to the rebel cause.
Showrunner Tony Gilroy (who oversaw the extensive reshoots of “Rogue One”) has said that “Andor” will end mere moments before “Rogue One” begins (the second and final season begins production in November), and Cassian’s trajectory is clear. Many more characters will join this story, including the rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and an appearance by actor Ebon Moss-Bach whose character remains a mystery almost halfway through the season. However, with 12 episodes, the longest of any Star Wars live-action show, we have plenty of time to find out.
“Andor” is shaping to be the best Star Wars story yet. With better pacing and character development than its sequel “Rogue One” and a higher production value than “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the series lets us see how the rest of the world lives under the thumb of the Empire before the Death Star was even a thought. Fans, both old and new, will find much to enjoy.
The first three episodes of “Andor” premiere on September 21 on Disney+.