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Andor: how a Star Wars deep cut became one of the best TV shows of the year | Television

OOf all the streaming Star Wars and Marvel spinoffs that are shuffled off the Disney+ production line, few have arrived with less anticipation and lower stakes than Andor. The series is a prequel to a prequel and explores the origins of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a captain of the Rebel Alliance who was introduced in the 2016 war heist movie. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set right before George Lucas’ original Star Wars films, Rogue One ended pretty decisively when – very old spoiler warning – Andor and his henchmen died in a bittersweet blaze of glory while stealing the plans for the Death Star.

When Rogue One got stuck in reshoots, Lucasfilm enlisted Oscar-nominated writer-director Tony Gilroy, of Michael Clayton and Bourne franchise fame, to bail it out. Gilroy was reportedly the one to point out that the most obvious and satisfying way to end the picture was to kill everyone. With Gilroy hired as showrunner on Andor, that sort of somber yet bold approach to storytelling sets the show’s tone: no one is safe and no sacrifice is too great.

The trailer for Andor

We meet Cassian as a sharp, sloppy but selfish young thief. Haunted by his past, he harbors a healthy hatred of the Empire and becomes a prime target for recruitment by a shadowy rebel organizer named Luthen (a stunningly duplicitous Stellan Skarsgård).

After a slow but manageable start, Gilroy has been raising the bar week after week with a clear vision that makes Andor not only the best of Star Wars television, but also one of the most compelling shows of 2022. In another way, after 45 years of films about an intergenerational civil war between space fascists and resistance fighters, Andor offers an inventive and utterly refreshing look at what life is like under an authoritarian regime.

We see a population subjugated by economic exploitation, a creeping surveillance state and draconian policing that feeds a gigantic industrial prison complex. We see the Imperial regime reimagined as a series of workplace power struggles and meet the workers and associates who drive it: from an aspiring Imperial Security Bureau supervisor (Denise Gough) to a security rank and file (Kyle Soller). , whose on-the-job diligence is rooted in the petty tyrannies of his domestic life.

Supervisor Dedra Meero (Denise Gough).
Supervisor of the Imperial Security Bureau Dedra Meero (Denise Gough). Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd

These mid- and lower-level Imperials are no longer background figures waiting to be subdued by Darth Vader, but are motivated by ambition, self-preservation, and bone-deep grudges. The threat they pose becomes more complex, more insidious and more recognisably human than any large, planet-killing laser or cackling Sith Lord – and even more terrifying.

We also see different kinds of rebellion than what we’ve seen in Star Wars before, from disillusioned Imperial deserters to spontaneous acts of community solidarity. Then there are characters like Luthen and Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who keep up appearances as members of the galaxy’s wealthy elite while secretly funding and organizing the underground resistance. “I have given up all chance of inner peace; I turned my mind into a sunless space,” says Luthen in a breathtaking monologue that evokes Rutger Hauer’s final scene in Blade Runner.

But some of the strongest stuff comes from the ground up, like the episodes Andor spends with a small rebel cell that’s low in the mountains on the planet Aldhani. Filmed in the Scottish Highlands, they could almost be mistaken for 16th century Jacobites were it not for the occasional Tie Fighter flying overhead.

Andor (Diego Luna), disguised as an Imperial soldier on Aldhani.
Andor (Diego Luna), disguised as an Imperial soldier on Aldhani. Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd

Among them is Nemik (Alex Lawther), a tech whiz with a sideline in political awareness raising. “It’s so confusing isn’t it, so much goes wrong, so much is said and it all happens so fast,” he tells Andor as he explains the rebel manifesto he is drafting. “The pace of suppression exceeds our ability to comprehend it – that is the real trick of the imperial thinking machine. It’s easier to hide behind 40 atrocities than a single incident.”

Such moments of praxis add flesh to the bones of the battle between good and evil in Star Wars and speak to a host of fascist regimes on the Earth side. They also run around the leaden dialogue of his contemporaries on small screens (Power rings) and big screen cousins ​​(The Rise of Skywalker).

The series saves its best for the second half of the season, when a fugitive Andor ends up in a huge floating work prison along with a career-best Andy Serkis. With relatively few guns or guards, this sleek, brightly lit Alcatraz-in-space and its 5,000 human captives become a scale model for the galaxy; the men keep themselves in line for fear of punishment, hopes of their eventual release, and competing quotas that fragment the workforce into ever smaller units, unable to grasp their own collective power.

Best Career… Kino Loy (Andy Serkis).
Best Career… Kino Loy (Andy Serkis). Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd

Like the Aldhani arc, Gilroy’s team of writers — including Beau Willimon (House of Cards) and his brother Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) — let the tension simmer over several episodes. When the tipping point arrives, it makes for 40 unforgettable minutes of television – and perhaps the most anti-establishment to come out of the House of Mouse since Christian Bale sang about solidarity and scabies in the 1992 children’s musical Newsies.

For better or worse, Disney’s past experiments with live-action Star Wars TV, from The Mandalorian to Obi-Wan Kenobi, have often felt like watching lifelong fans play with their action figures in a sandbox. From an aging Mark Hamill to a highly anticipated rematch between Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, some of their greatest moments have come from interweaving beloved characters and Easter eggs as they tiptoe around the established canon of a galaxy far, far away.

Gilroy, on the other hand, seems to care little about what lay ahead. Instead, he’s focused on human drama, visually stunning set pieces, and foolproof writing. The result adds a weight of history to Cassian’s final destination – and gives Star Wars its first piece of universally excellent television.

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