Andor is a revelation and easily one of the best shows of the year

There’s a clear winner in the Rings of Power versus House of the Dragon showdown. It’s Andor. The new Star Wars series is a revelation, parsecs ahead of the latest offerings from the duelling Lords of the Rings and Game of Thrones franchises. All three shows, which have had overlapping weekly schedules that emphasised their contradictions, are prequels to blockbuster works, yet only Andor has found freedom in its parameters. At this point I don’t watch its episodes, I savour them.

Andor is a comprehensive retort to the ascent of nostalgia amongst popular culture’s biggest names; the series doesn’t kowtow to intellectual property, it infiltrates it. Beginning with George Lucas’ original movie in 1977, Star Wars has been irrevocably connected to childhood: how old were you when you saw your first movie? Was it in a cinema, on VHS, or DVD? But that glow has gotten sickly, trying to summon it so that adults can experience Star Wars as a streaming age throwback to their youth has been debilitating.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) first appeared in 2016’s Rogue One. Andor, which is set five years prior to Rogue One, charts his progress from disillusioned thief to dedicated intelligence operative serving the Rebellion.Credit:Lucasfilm

Similarly, both The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon don’t want to merely appear familiar to viewers, they’re determined to evoke every element of Middle Earth or Westeros. In the case of the former it’s made for a dutiful rendering of Tolkien’s realm, while the latter is now a substantial failure that’s starting to resemble the failures of fan fiction. The unspoken aim is reassurance, not surprise.

Andor turns Star Wars upside down. Our view of a galaxy far, far away has always been from the very pinnacle; the Skywalker family – a clan of all-powerful warriors who harness otherworldly powers – who determine the fate of trillions of lives through their personal endeavours and familial rifts. Andor is about how fragments coalesce – ordinary people, political discontent, career opportunities, the seeds of rebellion – and how those at the very bottom find a way to be seen and heard and felt.

Across two seasons of 12 episodes each, Andor will chart the journey of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) from disillusioned thief to dedicated intelligence operative serving the Rebellion. The character was central to 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a film notable for mostly sidestepping the Skywalker clan and the mystical Force to depict the desperate endeavour that was required of those opposing the authoritarian Galactic Empire. The show charts Cassian’s five years prior to Rogue One, and the work of those who wanted to launch an armed uprising.

“Revolutions are expensive,” notes one of those instigators, Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard), who sets Cassian on the path of an Imperial payroll heist that reached a thrilling climax in episode six. Throughout the series people act with purpose, with flawed intent and with recognisable hubris. The series has held onto a bit player, Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), a corporate security guard bested by Cassian, whose hatred and obsession are festering after he was subsequently fired. Waiting for them to cross paths again just adds to the tension.

Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Andor.

This approach stems from Andor’s creator, Hollywood veteran Tony Gilroy, who wrote Rogue One and has also penned action scenes for Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne filmsand monologues for Al Pacino’s Satan in The Devil’s Advocate. Gilroy is a master of his craft and has matched his guile and economy to genuine world-building. Andor, which was filmed in Britain, has an overwhelming physicality, with everyday objects and practical living spaces, and life and death stakes. The digital effects are seamless and the scale is telling: getting buzzed by a single TIE Fighter is more striking than a vast space battle.

Gilroy, whose writers’ room includes his filmmaker brother, Dan (Nightcrawler), and Beau Willimon (House of Cards), is slowly working in Star Wars staples, be they exotic aliens or Stormtroopers. But he never stops explaining how these rival systems function. One view of the nascent Rebellion is from inside the Inside Security Bureau, where a driven new supervisor, Deeda Meero (Denise Gough), is mapping out how it’s developing. She excels at her job, complete with workplace rivalries, but her motivations are open to interpretation.

Good and bad aren’t binary choices in Andor. Part of Luthen’s plan is to make the Empire lash out, fermenting further dissent despite the cost to civilians. The show’s depiction of authority sliding into outright dictatorship is telling. The exploitation or expulsion of native populations is a recurring element, while the harsh hand of repression is tangible. Formal announcements at an Imperial Security Bureau meeting translate into profiling, brutality, and unjust charges on the streets. The roughness comes with regulations.

The bonds Cassian has, whether with his ex-girlfriend, Bix (Adria Arjona), or adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw, masterful as ever), are woven throughout the storytelling. Andor is compelling at every turn. To call it the best Star Wars show of the year is damning praise, given how poor The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi were. It’s simply one of the best shows of the year. We’ve finally got an iteration of Star Wars for adults. What a revelation.

Andor is now streaming on Disney+.

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