Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn’t the most controversial Star Wars movie ever made, but it still inspires plenty of passionate debate among fans about the place it holds in the beloved sci-fi saga. A gritty, standalone war story set in the period just before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 2016’s Rogue One was always a risky bet, but it was one that paid off as it became the third highest-grossing film in the entire franchise.
Now, the studio is doubling down on that bet with Andor, a prequel-of-a-prequel that explores the formative years of Diego Luna’s rebel spy Cassian Andor from Rogue One. And much like the film that inspired it, Andor delivers a very different — but welcome — Star Wars story with its simmering tale of espionage set in the early days of a galactic rebellion.
Created and co-produced by Rogue One co-writer Tony Gilroy, Andor isn’t the action-packed adventure rooted in franchise lore and packed with deep-cuts that Star Wars fans have come to expect with The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Instead, the series offers a more thoughtful, slow-developing story about the conditions and events that led to the environment we’re thrown into in A New Hope, with a small alliance of rebels engaged in a seemingly un-winnable war to overthrow the Galactic Empire.
Andor has you experience life under the Empire through Cassian’s eyes, doled out memory by memory and through one bad turn after another under a harsh, authoritarian regime. It’s the sort of ground-level perspective we haven’t seen nearly enough of in the Star Wars universe, and Andor reveals what life is like for the people who aren’t jetting around the galaxy on grand adventures or wielding superhuman powers in epic battles.
From rank-and-file members of the Empire to the inhabitants of overlooked planets that have become just another cog in the Imperial machinery, Andor does a nice job of not only reminding us that these characters exist, but also that they can have big parts to play in some of the saga’s most important moments.
It takes almost four episodes of Andor for Luna’s character to find his way to the still-forming rebellion, so it will be interesting to see how patient Gilroy and the series’ creative team can be with the story that will, at some point, need to connect with the events — and characters — of Rogue One.
Although Luna’s character wasn’t necessarily the star of Rogue One — Felicity Jones did a wonderful job leading the film’s ensemble as Jyn Erso — he makes for a compelling and unique lead in the series. Cassian is a product of his environment, and that particular environment forces you to either fall in line or live every day on a razor’s edge, where one slip can put you on the wrong side of an Imperial blaster. Luna’s Cassian can’t help being the latter, and feels like a character in the mold of A New Hope-era Han Solo, with a moral compass that generally hovers on the side of good, but just barely.
Andor does introduce a few intriguing supporting characters along the way, too, who serve to bring his trajectory closer to the point when we meet him in the film. Among them, Stellan Skarsgård’s mysterious rebel agent Luthen Rael is as reliably fascinating and layered as so many of the actor’s roles, and will hopefully play a bigger role in the series as the season progresses. As an ambitious, but naïve, local law-enforcement agent, Kyle Soller’s Syril serves as a nice counterpoint to Luna’s Cassian, exploring what life is like for someone on the ground level who buys into the Empire completely rather than rejecting it.
Andor’s first four episodes barely scratch the surface of the character’s arc and what brings him into the events of Rogue One, but they still deliver plenty of rewarding moments.
Where The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett blended pulp sci-fi adventure and classic Western themes, however, Andor filters the Star Wars universe through a much grittier, wartime espionage lens. It’s a decidedly different vibe from the live-action Star Wars shows we’ve seen so far, stripped of the fantastic alien environments and outer-space ship battles, and it might not be the show some fans are anticipating.
Still, there’s a lot to like about where Andor is taking the Star Wars saga. Projects such as the Star Wars: Visions anthology series and various canonical video games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order have all proven there’s plenty of flexibility in the franchise as far as the stories and cast of characters it can encompass. Andor does something similar, and builds on the themes and tone that set Rogue One apart from other Star Wars films as it carves out its own, unique place in the Star Wars canon.
The Star Wars series Andor premieres September 21 on the Disney+ streaming service.