Put away the lightsabers and prepare for a Star Wars series that puts its narrative and characters above all else. Andor is effectively an espionage thriller set in a galaxy far far away. It follows the titular Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) before his days of fighting for the Rebel cause.
The Star Wars fandom (almost as a collective) has been praising this series as the most well-written piece of streaming Star Wars content, if not the best all-round. I agree with that sentiment about the writing, to an extent. The fact that it’s more focused on crafting a tense, meaningful story as opposed to focusing on the spectacle, is what makes it so refreshing. That’s not to say the more spectacle-driven series’ like The Mandalorian aren’t fantastic, it’s just nice to see some variety. It doesn’t matter that most episodes go by without a single burst of action because the dialogue is strong and the tension is gripping (for the most part). Anyone not on board with a slow-moving pace should not watch this series – it takes its time with every single one of its key arcs and doesn’t rush to a climax. Broken up into 3-4 main arcs, there’s always an episode or two dedicated purely to setting up the main players and foreshadowing what’s to come. It gives the characters plenty of time to grow, and makes it easy to really get invested in their respective journeys, which is something I loved.
When looking at the story as a whole, I loved the first half of the season a lot more than the latter. The first two arcs that unfold are great. They contain two huge climactic set-pieces, with one episode in particular being one of the best in all of Star Wars TV. I was riding a high with this series, as indicated by the above paragraph, that is until the third arc got underway. From episode 8 is where the series really started to lose me. Combined with the subsequent episode 9, these two episodes lacked the gripping tension and espionage vibes of the earlier episodes, resulting in less of an interest in the show overall. These episodes certainly had their moments, featuring some genuinely impactful character-focused scenes, but as a whole I felt they were a little lacklustre.
I mention these episodes specifically because it marked a turning point in the season. Unfortunately I just wasn’t able to bounce back and become re-invested in the character of Cassian Andor at the same level I was in the season’s early episodes. Of those final five episodes, there’s only one that I’d consider to be outstanding, while the rest just didn’t hit quite as well. Even the Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) content had some tense political-drama scenes, but even that started to run dry with time. I’ll reinforce that I never thought the series got to the point of being outright boring, it’s moreso that the slow approach to storytelling started to wear down as the season progressed.
As much as the writing is impressive and the few action sequences are exciting, I believe the success of Andor is in its performances. Firstly, there’s no doubting the talent of Diego Luna, who has turned a character I had absolutely no interest in following Rogue One into a strong piece of the Star Wars universe. The emotional obstacles he faces in this series bring layers to the character, and Diego does really well to depict the complexity of the character and illustrate what drives him. I also want to credit Genevieve O’Reilly, who is finally getting her time to shine and really make the character her own. She excels in showing the inner moral conflict that Mon Mothma is experiencing on the daily, fleshing out the character more than we’ve ever seen.
There’s even the occasional supporting performance that makes an impact. Firstly, Denise Gough is a powerhouse when it comes to playing Dedra Meero. You need to have a certain edge when portraying someone within the Empire, and she has exactly that. She plays the objectively evil role so damn well that you almost want to root for her, while simultaneously wishing the empire fail. I have some issues with the character of Syril Karn, mostly with how he’s handled throughout the show, but Kyle Soller is good in the role… so credit where credit’s due. Then there’s Stellan Skarsgård, who is incredible in every single scene. He has this on-screen presence that commands the screen, sometimes even stealing the show from Diego Luna.
One nicely refreshing element of the series is being able to see some serious brutality and gritty action within the Star Wars universe. The lightsaber fights and giant space battles are certainly fun, but it’s nice to witness some action where there’s genuine stakes. Yes, you know Cassian isn’t going anywhere, but almost everyone else in here is fair game, enhancing the suspense during the action.
In the end, Andor is a good series that has a lot to love. It’s a strongly-written character-focused story that highlights some great performances along the way. It’s very understandable that this series has really hit with a large audience. For me, I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t quite reach that legendary status, with the latter half of the season feeling somewhat lacklustre. As time went on, the pieces started to fall apart, but it still remains a worthwhile watch for its tense dramatic elements and few specific episodes that are nothing short of amazing.