By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
Earlier this year, the Mandalorian and Grogu reunited to defeat a Rancor on the loose in Mos Espa with the help of none other than Boba Fett in The Book of Boba Fett. The latest Star Wars series to hit Disney+ Andor is not that. In an age of cinematic universes and so many new franchise titles arriving each year, diversification of stories is key to keeping franchises like Star Wars fresh and successful. The clear tonal, aesthetic, and narrative distinctions between The Mandalorian and Andor highlights just that.
The very first scene of Andor is a good indicator of where the story, and the title character, are going. Playing out more like a scene from Blade Runner than a scene from previous Star Wars stories, a grizzled Cassian Andor (once again played by Diego Luna) enters a space brothel looking for someone of importance. The dark rain provides a neo sci-fi vibe that Blade Runner captures, the setting is shady, the conversations are seedy, and Cassian is surrounded by unsavory characters that are more unnerving than the “hive of scum and villainy” Ben Kenobi once spoke of. It’s evident very early on that Andor is a decidedly different story from one’s previously seen in a galaxy far, far away. There is a maturity, an edge and roughness that Andor exhibits from the very beginning.
Head writer and showrunner Tony Gilroy is responsible for this mature take on a Star Wars story. Gilroy is well versed in Star Wars and in the main character of Cassian Andor having conducted reshoots of the screenplay for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which he co-wrote. Gilroy is joined by returning star Diego Luna, who plays a man far from the Rebel hero sacrificing himself at the end of Rogue One. Diego Luna has stated repeatedly on the press tour for the new show that audiences won’t believe that Cassian is capable of making the sacrifice he does in Rogue One, and it’s really impossible to emphasize how accurate that is. He’s still Cassian, but this is a far cry of the man on Scarif five years later. This is an interesting story choice, particularly as Andor could have simply been a Rebel Alliance series focusing on the adventures of Cassian and K-2SO before the original trilogy. That arguably seemed the easier choice, but not necessarily the right one. Adria Arjona, Genevieve O’Reilly, Kyle Soller, Denise Gough, and Stellen Skarsgaard round out the diverse cast.
But it is with Gilroy’s writing and the tone that he establishes, rather than the story itself, that sets Andor apart. This is not The Mandalorian. This is not even Rogue One, despite the fact that this series is a prequel to that film. These statements are not to pit Andor against these other Star Wars stories, just simply to acknowledge the stark tonal differences on display. In the past few years, a few different Star Wars titles have been labeled as ‘mature’ and ‘dark,’ particularly Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. That film carried a weight to it given the heaviness of its themes and, despite the presence of consistent humor, also had a maturity as well. Story wise, Andor is about as dissimilar to The Last Jedi as could be, with not a lightsaber or Jedi in sight. However, the most comparable tonal comparison to Andor in the Star Wars universe is probably The Last Jedi. A more apt comparison may be a mature, HBO drama, rather than a Star Wars movie or series.
Coupling this tonal shift toward the dark and mature is a decidedly different pace than the frantic pacing of The Rise of Skywalker or the seamless flow of The Force Awakens or The Mandalorian. Andor begins at an extremely slow pace, with the plot not really kicking in until episode three (that Lucasfilm opted to have a three episode premiere will make a lot more sense to audiences soon). Audiences are reintroduced to Cassian, they see his friend Bix (played by Adria Arjona), his new (old?) droid B2EMO, and quite a bit of Kyle Soller’s villainous character Syril. There are new and interesting elements introduced into the Star Wars galaxy, and the inner-workings of the Empire are shown like never before, but everything doesn’t really come together until the third episode. While still a relatively entertaining watch in its first two episodes, for better or worse, Andor labors a bit at the start. This contrasts the excellent episodes three and four, however, emphasizing how important it is to not rush to judgment.
Throughout these first four episodes, Cassian remains a compelling character and Diego Luna once again shines in the role. Fans took to his Rebel spy right away in Rogue One, even when the character was given such limited background. The charm and mysterious element that Luna brought to the character in Rogue One returns here in Andor, albeit a little less on the charm and a little more on the shady, mysterious aspect of the character.
Aligned with this shadier version of Cassian and the more mature tone, Andor has it’s fair share of real-world parallels. This has been a staple of the series since the very beginning in 1977 as George Lucas admits to have incorporated elements of the Vietnam War and the Nazi Regime in World War II into his story, both aesthetically and thematically. Andor follows suit in rather interesting fashion. Cassian’s history, and the reason why he’s been in this fight since he was six years old (as he states in Rogue One), appear to have major parallels to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster – an oppressive regime taking control of a remote location only for a massive gas and/or chemical spill to force them to shut it all down, and silence the natives who saw it all happen. It’s in this way that Andor doubles down on its real-world parallels in ways Star Wars projects of the past haven’t done. Cassian being hunted as a migrant, an illegal immigrant of sorts, and needing to lie about where he’s from is a more overt example of these parallels, but it’s far from the only one.
Mon Mothma’s scenes highlight the political comparisons as well, with the Senator and Rebel once again played by Genevieve O’Reilly, who first appeared as the character in a deleted scene of Revenge of the Sith. Mothma makes it clear that she needs to hide who she really is in order to survive in the era of the Empire, and is being followed and watched at every turn. The danger she puts herself in in order to fight for freedom and to take down this immoral regime, along with the way in which her personality shifts so drastically when she’s alone or in the presence of trusted individuals, are some of the highlights of these political parallels. It’s clear even in these first four episodes that Mothma is central to this spy thriller story as the character carefully navigates a tumultuous political arena.
Mothma’s scenes also a highlight another point of uniqueness for Andor, which is its use of more nuanced dialogue that previous Star Wars projects. Scenes between Mothma and Skarsgard’s Rael character, in addition to scenes featuring Denise Gough’s ISB officer Dedra Meero, feature more mature, subtle dialogue than what fans have grown accustomed to in Star Wars stories. Think of dialogue more like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones than The Mandalorian or Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Andor’s first four episodes are a solid start to a Star Wars series vastly different in tone than what’s come before it. While the first two episodes are frustratingly slow and lack a certain charm and feeling that most other Star Wars titles have, things pick up significantly in episodes three and four. Cassian remains an interesting hero, particularly with his grey morals at this stage in his life, and he’s joined by the welcome additions of side characters like Bix and Luthen Rael. Andor sets itself apart with decidedly more mature tone than previous Star Wars projects that makes it feel more akin to an HBO drama than other Star Wars series.