I had high hopes for Andor but nothing prepared me for how outstanding this gritty Star Wars rebellion show would actually be. The sixth episode of the series, titled ‘The Eye’ (ironically, the same episode title as the seventh episode of The Rings Of Power) was nothing short of brilliant, and it makes me kind of sad if we’re being honest.
In the right hands, this is the level of quality we could have been getting for all the Disney era Star Wars entries. Had this galaxy far, far away been entrusted to the right people from the get-go, we could have avoided so many disappointments and controversies. Because this is what Star Wars ought to feel like. Between Andor and The Mandalorian, we’re getting the best live-action entries since the original trilogy.
For one thing, Andor—like Rogue One—really taps into the feel of the OG films, which were crafted with WWII in mind. The Empire is, in effect, Nazi Germany in space. The rebels are the last bastions of freedom and liberty in the galaxy, fighting against a powerful, well-oiled machine of destruction and brutal order.
You felt this most when watching the Imperial officers discuss their plans in the original films. Grand Moff Tarkin sitting with his lieutenants discussing the Death Star. Or, in Rogue One, with Krennic and his lackeys. Star Wars Pillow often feels a lot like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films—adventures, heists and Harrison Ford taking on Nazis/Stormtroopers.
It’s no wonder that Andor feels more like this version of Star Wars than most of the Disney era offerings. Tony Gilroy, who wrote Rogue One’s script, is writer and showrunner on Andor. His approach to Rogue One was to make it less of a space opera and more of a war movie.
“I don’t think Rogue really is a Star Wars movie in many ways,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “To me, it’s a Battle of Britain movie.” Andor feels very much the same, with its sixth episode tracing a similar path as classic war films like The Guns Of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen.
Andor has a very unique narrative structure. Its 12 episodes are divided into three-episode arcs, each with a mini-finale. Each arc has its own co-writer and director.
The first three episodes (which Disney wisely released all at once) were written by Tony Gilroy and directed by Toby Haynes. These focused on Cassian Andor’s (Diego Luna) backstory as a child and his initial predicament as he was pursued by corporate security and ultimately had to flee with Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) culminating in an action-packed third episode.
The second three-episode arc was written by Gilroy’s brother Dan Gilroy and directed by Susanna White. This arc focuses on Andor’s arrival on the planet Aldhani where he meets with a team of rebels planning a daring heist to rob an Imperial garrison and steal an entire Imperial sector payroll in the process. The trick is in the timing. To get the slow cargo ship away in time, they have to carry out the heist at the very moment a celestial event called ‘The Eye’ takes place.
This event is considered a religious experience by the planet’s much-diminished local population, who view it from a holy place located just below the Imperial base. We’ll talk about The Eye itself more down below—it’s one of the most visually awe-inspiring moments in all of Star Wars.
Andor goes by the name Clem (after his adoptive father) and meets a group of rebels that is anything but welcoming. He’s been brought in at the 11th hour without anyone’s knowledge, and the rest of the team has their doubts—and near-crippling jitters—as the day of the heist approaches.
The group is led by the hard-nosed Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay who you may recognize as Arya’s tormenter in Game Of Thrones) and is comprised of several other team members:
- Cinta Kaz (Varada Sethu) who is equally adept as a healer and a killer;
- Ex-Stormtrooper Taramyn Barcona (Gershwyn Eustache Jr.);
- Criminal deserter Arvel Skeen (Ebon Moss-Bachrach);
- And freedom-fighting philosopher Karis Nemik (Alex Lawther).
This ragtag band is working alongside Imperial officer-turned-rebel turncoat Lieutenant Gorn (Sule Rimi) who was demoted for falling in love with a local woman and has never forgiven his compatriots for their treatment of the local population, who they view almost as animals (again, leaning into the racial superiority themes of Nazi Germany).
The Eye takes place on the same day every three years and lasts for a short period of time. The sky fills with myriad crystals that explode into the atmosphere in a colorful display that looks like a rainbow meteor shower crossed with the Northern Lights. Escaping through this at the exact right time will make pursuit by TIE-Fighters impossible—if everything goes off without a hitch.
With Gorn’s help, the team has uniforms and can access the base—which is built into a dam—while the locals watch The Eye from below at their holy site. Many of the soldiers will be watching the event as well, leaving just a skeleton crew guarding the payroll.
What follows is one of the best heists and best action scenes in Star Wars history. Andor, Nemik, Skeen and Barcona dress in Imperial uniforms and follow a group of locals up the road to the holy site where Gorn meets them and orders them to escort Commandant Jayhold Beehaz (Stanley Townsend) back up to the base after he meets with the locals. Meanwhile, Vel and Cinta make an aquatic approach from the other side.
The rebels take hostages and bring down comms before making their way to the vault. They surprise the soldiers there and have them begin to load the Imperial credits onto the cargo ship. Cinta, meanwhile, stays above with the hostages—including the wife and son of the Commandant, who the rebels threaten to kill should anyone interfere.
Things go haywire when the comms officer realizes the comms are down and gathers a group of soldiers to go investigate. A tense, well-choreographed shootout ensues in which both Barcona and Lt. Gorn are shot and killed. Rather than just have the bad guys be terrible shots, this scene’s intensity derives from just how dangerous it all feels—far more dangerous and edge-of-your-seat than any similar scene in Obi-Wan Kenobi. The rebels are constantly pinned down. Two die in the fray.
Another perishes after they finally take off. Andor, who insists on piloting the cargo ship after he realizes nobody else actually knows how (“What would you have done without me?” he asks earlier in disbelief) accelerates hard out of the base and a pallet of credits rushes toward the back, smashing into Nemik and pinning him against the wall. Nemik is crucial to their escape, having the flight plan on his little vintage computer, so Vel spikes him with a stim shot after they pry him loose.
TIE-Fighters quickly pursue as the rebels blast out of the base and into a sky filled with streams of color and light. It’s an action-packed, jaw-dropping scene that’s as tense as it is beautiful. Below them, the Aldhani people watch the lit up sky as they sing and dance, tears running down their faces. Cinta, still in uniform, marches out into the night, hopefully making her escape, but still stranded on an alien planet.
At this point, Skeen and Vel disagree on what to do next. Skeen wants to stop at a secret doctor to try to save Nemik’s life. Vel doesn’t want to compromise the mission. She doesn’t think Nemik will make it even with a doctor. Andor sides with Skeen. The doctor is four-armed and works fast with Vel by Nemik’s side.
Skeen and Andor sit outside talking and Skeen reveals his true colors. He offers to split the take 50/50 with Andor. But Skeen mistakes Andor’s nature, thinking he’s just a mercenary in it for himself. Andor draws his blaster and shoots the traitor dead. Then he goes into the operating room with his gun drawn. Inside, Nemik has succumbed to his injuries.
Andor tells Vel he just wants what he’s owed. He gives the Kyber crystal necklace that Luthen loaned him back to her and offers to buy the doctor’s ship so he can leave. Vel can take the credits to the rebellion. She gives him Nemik’s book—the treatise he was writing on liberty—and tells him that Nemik specifically asked for him to have it.
Earlier, Nemik held forth on his beliefs on freedom and why he believed the Empire’s grasp on the galaxy was so frail despite its show of force. “Our elemental rights are such a simple thing to hold,” he tells his companions, “they will have to shake the galaxy hard to loosen our grip.”
Have I mentioned yet how terrific the writing is in this show? Because it’s really damn terrific. The dialogue is consistently fantastic and even though we meet and lose many of these characters quite quickly, we get to know them pretty well in a short span of time simply through their interactions with one another.
Nemik the idealist, eager to espouse on his beliefs, always looking to make sense of the universe. Even when he discovers that Andor is in it for the money, his impulse is to square the need for mercenaries against his earlier beliefs that the important thing was being in it for the cause.
Skeen, meanwhile, was perhaps the most distrustful of them all when it came to Andor’s presence in the group. This, however, was not because of some deep loyalty to his compatriots but because he could sense a kindred spirit—another man who might try to make off with the spoils.
We get a sense of each of these characters over only three episodes, and we care about their fates.
Meanwhile, the cinematography is perhaps the best it’s ever been in Star Wars. I don’t just mean TV Star Wars, either. The shots of the Aldhani faithful making their long trek through the misty highlands; the overhead shots of Coruscant; the lights of The Eye reflecting on the faces of the penitents below, or glimmering on the wings of the TIE-fighters. The quality on display here is simply breathtaking.
In the second storyline, we discover that Luthen’s day-job is as the owner of a rare artifact shop in Coruscant where he meets with Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to coordinate their efforts. Luthen dons a wig and a smile and presents himself as a flamboyant dandy, eager to sell his high-end goods to wealthy customers. Mon Mothma and he discuss plans in the back room in hushed tones—she’s worried her driver is a spy, that everyone is a spy—while his assistant Kleya (Elizabeth Dulau) distracts the driver.
Mon Mothma “purchases” a gift for her husband Perrin Fertha (Alastair Mackenzie) and heads home. The upper levels of Coruscant are ritzy and glamorous. Mothma’s ride looks like something out of golden age of Hollywood. There’s an Art Deco look to her lavish townhouse. All of this lends to the feeling that we’re watching a WWII movie—set in space. The Imperial uniforms, the Art Deco interiors, the glamorousness of Coruscant’s wealthiest district, the Imperial officers sneering over the stupidity and smelliness of the natives.
We get a bit of a glimpse into Mon Mothma’s domestic struggles as well. Her husband is a playboy without a care in the world, more concerned with being bored than the fate of the galaxy, confused by his wife’s passion. Her daughter, who has clearly given up on getting much-wanted attention from her careerist mother, has moved past the angry and sullen stages to being downright dismissive of her mother. It’s a nice touch, this little window into the future rebel leader’s ritzy, imperfect life.
Finally, we come to the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) where we meet Supervisor Dedra Meero (Dense Gough) who has been keeping track of various, seemingly unrelated activities that she thinks are all linked to a larger rebel plot. This story essentially picks up where disgraced corporate security officer Syril Karn’s (Kyle Soller) left off—though we haven’t done with him yet.
When he returns to his mother Eedy Karn (Kathryn Hunter) she talks his head off about getting help from his uncle Harlo, who remains a mystery—though one we will get answers to. Tony Gilroy, unlike many modern TV and film writers, once said “I don’t like to have holes in my story. I like to be rigorous.” (If only The Rings Of Power’s showrunners had similar values!)
The ISB’s leadership is dismissive of Meero’s interest in Cassian Andor and her belief that a larger rebel plot is in play—dismissive until the heist on Andhuli is pulled off, rocking the Empire to its core and giving them their first taste of vulnerability.
Earlier on, Andor tells Nemik that they mean nothing to the Empire. When the young revolutionary replies that this job could change all that, Andor replies: “Be careful what you wish for.” It seems that Nemik’s wish has come true—if only posthumously.
In its first six episodes, Andor is everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s not just that it’s a grittier, more down-in-the-mud version of Star Wars, though I enjoy that aspect as well. I also enjoy that we have no Skywalker cameos, no Jedis come to save the day, and no magical MacGuffins at work. Mainly, however, it is this show’s attention to detail—both in its writing and cinematography—that impress me. The excellent writing and pacing allow the cast to really shine, and the story unfolds at its own speed, in rising swells through each three-episode arc.
This also allows us to spend time in each place. One of my chief criticisms of Rogue One—and of so many Star Wars projects since the original trilogy—is that it moved between locations too quickly. We never had a chance to really get to know these places the way we got to know Tatooine or Degoba or Hoth. In Andor we get to spend three episodes in these locations.
In the first three episodes we got to spend some time on both Andor’s home planet of Kenari and the industrial planet Ferrix where he ended up residing with his adoptive mother Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw). In this next arc we spent time on Aldhani and in the glitzy upper echelons of Coruscant. This sense of place adds a richness to the experience that you lose when you planet hop too quickly, and allows the story and its characters to settle into a rhythm.
Set and costume design is also top-notch. The all-white uniforms of the ISB officers in their all-white meeting room, walking down their pristine, all-white hallways. The colorful shepherds of Aldhani in their wool cloaks. The dam-base perched in the grey-green highlands and the hard, symmetrical lines of Mon Mothma’s dining room. Every inch of this show is a visual delight.
All told, Andor has blown away not merely my expectations, but pretty much everything that came before it, though I have a special fondness for Mando and Baby Yoda that this show hasn’t replaced. I doubt we’ll get the cuteness and charm factor here, which is fine. The Mandalorian is excellent in its own way, and between the two these are my favorite Star Wars outings since Disney took over (along with Rogue One, which was the best of the films).
Lucasfilm and Disney need to take note. This is the standard fans will hold you to now. No more Obi-Wan Kenobi or Boba Fett disasters. No more sequel trilogies, written haphazardly and filled with holes. This is what Star Wars can be with a little talent and a little TLC. Make it so.
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