For over 20 years, Lucasfilm has been trying to recapture the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy. Some projects have come closer than others, but the only movie that fans seemed to universally enjoy without inviting endless controversy was Rogue One. As such, expectations are high for Andor, the Star Wars spinoff series hitting Disney Plus this Thursday.
After slogging through The Book of Boba Fett and most of Obi-Wan Kenobi, I opted to temper my own. That makes what I’m about to write all the more shocking: Andor might be the best live-action Star Wars project since Return of the Jedi.
Andor review: The best Star Wars series yet
From the opening moments, Andor strikes a different chord than anything else we have ever seen from this franchise. To put a fine point on it, the opening scene of the series takes place in a brothel. That wasn’t on my bingo card for a Star Wars show made by Disney.
As we learned in Rogue One, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is neither a mischievous rogue nor an altruistic hero. He’s a warrior that will do whatever it takes to survive. He is also capable and clever, but when we meet him in Andor, he lacks direction.
This series serves as a prequel to Rogue One, kicking off five years prior to the events of the movie. But while The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi all feature large casts of interesting characters, Andor’s scope is unparalleled in the growing Star Wars canon. Cassian is but a single cog in the enormous machine that is the galaxy far, far away.
Game of Intergalactic Thrones
Cassian is the star, with the show exploring his origins and charting his path to becoming a key player in the fall of the Empire. But unlike other Star Wars shows, the title character isn’t always the most interesting character on screen.
Creator Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton) surrounds Cassian with some of the most empathetic, conflicted, and real characters that Star Wars has ever seen. And he’s far more interested in showing us who these people are than telling us.
Early in the first episode, we meet Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), a mechanic on the planet Ferrix who clearly has a complicated history with Cassian. The show does not quite spell it out, but we see it in their interactions – a mix of flirtation and frustration. We also see how Cassian treats her new boyfriend, who neither he nor Bix seem to respect.
The inciting incident of Andor is relatively unremarkable in the grand scheme of the galaxy. Cassian dispatches two corporate guards who stalk him once he leaves the brothel from the opening scene. Even their commanding officer is unsympathetic when Deputy Inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) brings the murders to his attention.
But Cassian’s encounter with those guards is much more than just a robbery gone awry. In reality, his decision to kill the guards in that alleyway is the first domino to fall in the creation of the all-powerful Empire that we remember from A New Hope.
A second wind for the franchise
The scope of the show expands promptly in the third and fourth episodes. New characters debut at a rapid clip as the stakes get higher, but Gilroy manages to keep the pace in check. There are dozens of people with speaking parts (and at least one droid) who matter deeply to the story, but you’ll never lose track of the plot. It’s a masterclass in TV storytelling, the likes of which no other Disney Plus series has achieved.
The story is mature, compelling, and surprisingly deep. This isn’t a procedural adventure — Andor is a serialized thriller with nearly as much political intrigue as Game of Thrones. There’s plenty of action, but some of the tensest scenes are conversations in board rooms.
Most impressively of all, Andor looks more like a movie than a TV show. Gilroy was determined to use as many physical sets as possible and not rely too heavily on CGI. The results are stunning, as Andor features some of the most impressive set designs of any TV series this year. Everything feels so tactile. Even when the show does employ CGI, it never feels gratuitous. It allows us to see the true scale of the worlds upon which our characters reside.
The highest praise that I can heap on Andor is that you don’t need to be a fan of Star Wars to be invested in the story of this show. In fact, I’m not even sure you need to see Rogue One first, despite the fact that this is a direct prequel to that movie.
This is a new high-water mark for live-action Star Wars storytelling, at least through four episodes. But my hopes are sky high, especially knowing that Gilroy already plotted out this season’s remaining 8 episodes as well as the 12 episodes coming in season two. Andor capitalizes on the potential of Star Wars in a way that none of the prequels or sequels ever did, and I can’t wait to see the ripple effect throughout the franchise in the years to come.
More Disney+ coverage: For more Disney+ news, check out our coverage of the best Disney+ movies to watch this month.