Orion Bress, Contributing Writer
Disney has recently released their newest “Star Wars” show, “Andor,” a spy thriller focusing on “Rogue One” character Cassian Andor as he joins the rebellion while observing the perspectives of both Empire loyalist bureaucrats and rebel leaders alike. What strikes me most about “Andor” is how different it is from the rest of the “Star Wars” franchise. While other big media franchises have gone in unconventional directions, like the meta-sitcom homage of “Wanda Vision” or “Star Trek’s” foray into adult animated comedy with “Lower Decks,” “Andor” is the show that is most out of step with the rest of its franchise. “Andor” is a show where one does not have to understand other “Star Wars” stories to follow it. So if you take the “Star Wars” out of “Andor,” what are you left with? Well, you are left with a generic spy drama/political thriller with divided characters operating with very gray morality.
“Andor” is a welcome break from the comfortable and stale “Star Wars” stories of Jedi, the Force, bounty-hunters, lightsabers and strict moral binaries. For the first time in “Star Wars” history, we have antagonists that are competent with understandable motivations and perspectives, not cartoon chaotic-evil villains who may or may-not get a last second redemption only to die at the end. For the first time we see the boring and banal evil of the Empire as it grates on people, making them lose hope or breaking them. For the first time we see an Empire that is not just evil but corrupted to the core with negligence, incompetence and infighting. These changes represent “Andor” as a “Star Wars” show that is not only truly different from what came before, but also a daring risk for a billion dollar franchise owned by a company notorious for playing it safe and predictable. For these reasons, “Andor” should be commended for helping the “Star Wars” franchise grow.
Two questions remain: is “Andor” good and how does it compare to similar shows? When compared to other “Star Wars” shows, “Andor” is an undeniable success with solid performances, direction, story, compelling side characters and action that puts a unique spin on the “Star Wars” universe we have not seen. However, if we compare “Andor” to other spy dramas like “The Americans,” “Homeland” and “Counterpart,” “Andor” pales in comparison. While “Andor’s” writing is leagues better than “I don’t like sand” and “somehow, Palpatine returns,” it still lacks the refined storytelling and character writing that the aforementioned shows possess. “Andor” introduces nuance and shades of gray into the “Star Wars” universe, but lacks truly unique perspectives as seen with “The Americans’” reflections on the Cold War’s legacy or “Counterpart’s” compelling interrogation of the nature of ‘free will.’ While the performances of “Andor” are competent, they are often forgettable compared to the impressive performances in the other shows. This becomes especially apparent in “Andor’s” leading man, Cassian Andor, who is flat and unmemorable, especially compared to the multifaceted performance of J.K. Simmons’ Howard Silk in “Counterpart.” While the action sequences and scene setting is impressive, “Andor’s” direction is otherwise unremarkable.
What makes “Andor” unique is not necessarily the show itself, but the fact that a show like it is taking place in the “Star Wars” universe. However, as with “Rogue One,” using “Star Wars” to tell a sci-fi war story, “Andor” is using “Star Wars” to tell a sci-fi spy thriller that has fulfilled my itch to see stories about war, politics and espionage set in a space opera world, and for that “Andor” gets my recommendation.