Star Wars: Andor, premiering Sept. 21 on Disney+, gleefully throws out the rules. The story begins in an alien brothel (get ready to explain that to the kiddos), after which our hero murders a surrendering security guard execution-style. Several long flashback sequences play out entirely in a fictional language, without subtitles to translate the dialogue. The rock-infused score frequently calls attention to itself, leaning into synths and drum solos. Unlike The Mandalorian's standalone adventures, Andor's episodes seem to break at arbitrary moments — confidently a concept album, not a collection of singles.
But in spirit, Andor channels the essence of Star Wars more directly than any of Lucasfilm's previous TV outings. George Lucas' cornball humor, bureaucratic politics, and Campbellian journeys quickly make themselves at home. Most essentially, this is a story about recognizing the threat of fascism, dedicating yourself to the cause, and uniting to overthrow the system at any cost.
Andor is the fourth live-action series in Lucasfilm's modern shift to television but shares absolutely no connective tissue with the others (at least in the first four episodes TV Guide was given for review). It's also a prequel to a prequel, offering the origin story of Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) before his mission to steal the Death Star plans in the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — itself a direct prequel to the original 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope. Other than that direct tie-in, however, Andor is refreshingly self-contained, free of franchise bloat with nary an Easter egg in sight.
While the series is marketed as an epic origin story for the Rebel Alliance itself, the first three-episode arc takes its time in a blue-collar pocket of the galaxy far far away. This is a grounded world of petty thieves, scrapyard workers, and greasy mechanics. Even the overarching villain is basically a glorified mall cop with big Dwight Schrute energy.
Unfortunately, the first two episodes are a bit of an exposition slog. Keeping track of the political factions and dozen-plus named characters will probably take multiple viewings. To follow the plot at a bare minimum, Andor expects you to memorize half a dozen place names: Preox-Morlana, Pre-Mor, Morlana One, Ferrix, Fest, and Kenari. It's all much more complicated than it needs to be, but at least Andor commits to building an expansive, self-contained world rather than plopping down on Tatooine yet again.
Thankfully this hyper-local focus finally pays off in the third episode, a bombastic slingshot into a much larger universe. As a police crackdown foments a popular uprising on Ferrix, fed-up residents start pounding rhythmically on all sorts of metallic objects, and the cadence spreads like wildfire. As the din crescendos throughout the episode, the spirit of revolution ignites within Cassian Andor. "That's what a reckoning sounds like," one character declares. Seeing the character cross the threshold from fugitive to Rebel is genuinely stirring. Andor makes you want to enlist in the Rebellion.
Andor begs comparison to other recent Star Wars live-action series in two major ways. The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi lived at the scale of individual stakes, often fueled by "child in peril" scenarios. Andor starts at a similar ground level — a man trying to rescue his sister — but its guiding star is no less than the stakes of a galactic revolution. Once the groundwork has been laid, Andor feels fundamentally different because it's unapologetically political. That's not to say it's an allegory for real-world politics, because it isn't quite. But it also is. It's about injustice, and struggle, and collective action. It's a fiery middle finger to fascism — both far far away and close to home.
In the words of Stellan Skarsgård's character, Luthen, "Don't you want to fight these bastards for real?"
Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 21 on Disney+ (first three episodes drop at once, followed by new episodes each Wednesday)
Who's in it: Diego Luna, Adria Arjona, Genevieve O'Reilly, Stellan Skarsgård, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, Fiona Shaw
Who's behind it: Rogue One co-writer Tony Gilroy (creator)
For fans of: Rogue One
How many episodes we watched: 4 of 12