Andor, the Disney+ Star Wars series about Cassian Andor, the rebel intelligence officer played by Diego Luna who was introduced (and died) in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn’t have to be as good as it is. Until Andor, the Star Wars show offerings were in an unpromising flop era. The Mandalorian season two betrayed what we thought it was (a Star Wars show free of Skywalkers) by bringing in… Luke Skywalker. The Book of Boba Fett was basically The Mandalorian: Skywalker Saga, and while Obi-Wan Kenobi had its moments (more specifically, it had Ewan McGregor’s beard) it ultimately flopped harder than a belly on water as the result of a bad dive by trying way too hard to be what it thinks people want to see from a Star Wars show.
Andor, from creator Tony Gilroy (you’ve probably heard of his excellent thriller Michael Clayton) is everything a Star Wars show should be: it is completely detached from the Skywalker Saga we’ve followed for decades but it simultaneously adds more depth and value to it. It’s both inconsequential and essential, an example of a creative using the franchise as a playground, not allowing it to betray their aesthetic. Andor is filled with Gilroy’s sharp, intelligent, quick dialogue and the political intrigue that would be very boring if anyone else was behind it.
Andor tells the story of the early days of the Rebel Alliance before it even had a name, and documents the brutality of the sprawling, militant Empire and their fight against the growing rebellion. The rebellion is very small and struggling to get funding and to recruit trustworthy, loyal members. The Empire is shown primarily through ISB (the Imperial Security Bureau) and in doing so is completely absent of its overlords. Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are still terrifying figures but in their absence, the Empire is even more terrifying.
Stripped of the icons we already know, the series focuses on normal civilians of the empire on both sides: business owners and Imperial employees who don’t know or care about the Force or Jedis. Andor depicts people who are just trying to get by under a fascist regime that’s oppressing them more and more each day, and it portrays the Empire as a violent corporate nightmare. Star Wars films and shows including The Phantom Menace and The Mandalorian have tried to depict the lives of normal people in the galaxy before, but the impact gets lost in the shadow of a Jedi or a Skywalker who inevitably swoops into the narrative.
On Andor, there are no Jedis keeping anyone safe and therefore no Skywalkers who show up on a ship to save the heroes in their most desperate hour. The stakes are higher than ever because the Empire is at the peak of its oppressive, abusive power. Through the lens of Andor, Senator Mon Mothma, their friends, and their Imperial enemies, there’s a deeper, richer understanding of how awful the Empire really is to the galaxy, which enriches the entire franchise. Knowing about Narkina 5, the horrifying Outer Rim prison/factory Andor is in later in the season, the Empire’s torture methods, and the rebellion’s early days, the sacrifices the rebels we already know such as Princess Leia make more sense. Andor makes the Empire way, way worse than the wrinkly old man in a cloak and the helmeted guy with a creepy voice, a choking kink, and a red lightsaber. Mon Mothma, the only character intrinsically connected to the original films, is secretly leading the beginning of a rebellion, but rather than giving the character the iconic moments Disney might think people want, a majority of her storyline is dedicated to her strained relationship with her teenage daughter and her fraught marriage to her Empire-loving dirtbag husband.
Andor is a show about discovering who you really are. Cassian Andor, once a thief who only cared about himself and those he cares about, is, slowly but surely, radicalized the more he learns about the Empire’s oppressive influence throughout the galaxy. Mon Mothma is already radicalized but learns along the way that she’ll have to get even more radical if this rebellion is going to get anywhere. ISB officer Dedra Meero gets even more radicalized by the Empire’s brutality.
Andor is an adventure, a political thriller, a family drama, and a showcase for the best actors the little United Kingdom and Ireland have to offer, plus a Skarsgård and Diego Luna’s incomparable brooding. It is both not a Star Wars show at all and one of the most essential entries in the franchise. Andor isn’t trying to be Star Wars, which is what makes it so Star Wars.