Andor season 1 review!

Now that the full first season of Andor has been released, we can take a look back at the season as a whole. And, quite simply, it was one of the finest Star Wars stories we’ve seen in a long time.

The season centers around a number of different storylines, most of which wind up converging as the season goes on. There’s obviously Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and as the titular character the main development of the season rests with him: it’s about Cassian coming to embrace the rebellion. He starts as someone out for himself, who has no love for the Empire but who just wants to keep his head down and try to survive. But through the events of the season, he comes to join the cause. It happens as he meets up with Luther and escapes Ferrix, then being assigned to a team planning a heist on Aldhani. There, he’s introduced to others who believe in the fight against the Empire – most notably Nemik, whose manifesto plays a key role later on. But he takes his money and leaves, and despite his mother’s passion for the rebellion Cassian tries to run… all the way to Niamos, where he is wrongly arrested and sentenced to prison. Seeing their mistreatment by the Empire further drives Cassian deeper toward the fight, and he works with Kino Loy to lead a rebellion as the prisoners break free. He is eventually led back to Luthen, wanting to join the cause.

Luthen (Stellan Skarsgard) is another major player in the series, and he is rightly nicknamed “axis” by the Imperial Security Bureau because he is at the center of so many connections. He’s the central link right now between the rebels we’ve seen in the show, like Cassian, Mon Mothma, and Saw Gerrera. Luthen has many connections and plenty of resources, and he runs a covert operation. He seeks to unite these rebels together, but he also believes that the only way for this rebellion to succeed is in driving the Empire to a point of such overreaction and overreach that people can’t ignore it any longer. So, as the events of Aldhani cause the Empire to tighten their grip, more star systems do slip through the regime’s fingers… but people suffer in the meantime. Luthen has resigned himself to this being an inevitability.

The counterpoint to this is Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who is the poised and powerful Senator from Chandrila who in private works to fuel a rebellion against Palpatine. She uses her charitable work as a distraction, enough of a thorn in the Emperor’s side that they’ll miss what she’s really up to. But we find her with her back against the wall: her family life is strained, her driver is an ISB plant spying on her, and her finances will soon attract unwanted attention. She’s being hunted, and one wrong step would lead to her downfall – and with it perhaps the downfall of the galaxy. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and she manages to stay one step ahead of everyone even while she struggles with how much this fight will cost her.

Speaking of the ISB, as I’ve mentioned them a few times already, the most notable figure from the Bureau in this season is Dedra Meero (Denise Gough). She’s a lieutenant assigned particular jurisdiction under Major Partagaz, but she begins to suspect that the disappearance of Imperial tech is more than just coincidental and part of a more organized rebellion. She’s met by resistance from within the ISB, but it’s interesting – and refreshing – to have an Imperial who is quite competent and an actual threat to the heroes… if only she were listened to. There are times during the season that she’s actually a pretty compelling character for audiences, but her torturing Bix and her other actions on Ferrix make it clear that she’s still supporting this fascist regime. She’s not the hero. But she’s neither the pure evil villain nor the incompetent one, and that makes for a great combination in a series like this.

Speaking of Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), she’s one of the main subjects we’re introduced to on Ferrix, along with Maarva Andor (Fiona Shaw), Brasso (Joplin Sibtain), and the incomparable B2EMO. They pop in and out of the storyline as the season goes on, but they all come to play significant roles by the end. So does the disgraced police officer Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), whose actions in the first arc spur on the rest of the series. An agent working for the Pre-Mor Authority, he investigates the deaths of two fellow agents (who were murdered by Cassian) and catches on to him… only to be defeated. In the wake of it, he loses his job, the Empire tightens their grip, and Cassian goes free. Syril goes back home to Coruscant to live with his harsh mother and gets a corporate job, but can’t shake Cassian – leading him to Dedra.

The reason I spend such time in a review of the series that you’ve surely watched is to emphasize the fact that though this is called Andor, it’s about far more than just Cassian. This is an ensemble cast, and it’s so much better for it. The show has some of the best acting in the entire franchise, with pretty much everyone on the cast giving terrific performances, highlighed by the inestimable Genevieve O’Reilly, Stellan Skarsgard, Diego Luna, and Andy Serkis. Every episode is a masterclass in nuanced performances, accentuated by brilliant writing – the likes of which we’ve also rarely seen in this franchise.

Star Wars has often been about showing you rather than telling you, and long scenes of dialogue are a real rarity in the saga – until now. Andor is a far more ambitious show than many give it credit for: it’s a Star Wars show that features no Jedi, that features only marginally known characters to general audiences, that features quite little action sequences, and is a dialogue-driven drama. All of that is why I’m not surprised by the show’s ratings (and you shouldn’t be either), and why it’s nothing to change course over. Yet what might look like a massive risk for Lucasfilm doesn’t feel like it when watching the show, and that’s because of the brilliance of this series that Tony Gilroy has created. Scenes with Mon Mothma playing the political game, for instance, pack enough tension that by the end of the episode you’re not wondering where the thrilling action sequence was; you’ve already seen a thriller that’s kept you on the edge of the seat. Not by blasters firing and lightsabers cackling and warfare erupting, but by skilled political operatives playing a dangerous game, one that could get them killed with any misstep. The acting and writing for this series make it a risk that doesn’t feel like a risk at all, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Speaking of Mothma, the entire series was great, but the storyline with her and the scenes in which we’re following her on Coruscant were among my very favorites. It’s taking a familiar character who has rarely been seen on-screen, much less developed, and showing us how this composed Senator fights. She’s fighting in the Senate, behind-the-scenes, playing a political game while trying to unseat the Emperor she supposedly serves. It’s brilliant stuff, and I’ve loved every minute of it. And these moments also open up a very interesting discussion, one that I think is at the heart of the whole show: how do you fight?

It reminds me of the conversation that Yoda has with Ezra in Rebels. When Ezra asks him how thye’re supposed to win if they don’t fight back, Yoda responds, “How Jedi choose to fight, the question is.” Andor shows us very clearly that there is such a thing as evil, and that evil must be opposed and not simply tolerated. There are some characters, like Perrin, who seems mostly content to enjoy the luxuries of wealth and not worry about the cost of it. Cassian is there too, in some ways. We see that his adoptive father, Clem, thought that he could just keep his head down and be ok, but he was killed for it. For much of the season we see Cassian just trying to run away from it, whether that’s hiding on Ferrix or running off to Niamos. But it won’t work. As long as good people just stand by hoping that they can run away with the Empire hurting them too long, content to turn their gaze away from the horrors as long as they’re personally ok, the Empire’s reign of terror will just continue to spread until there’s nowhere left to run at all. Because the Empire truly is a tyrannical regime, geared on oppression and fascism, and this show does as good of a job as any Star Wars media we’ve ever seen at highlighting that. The might, and the horror, of this Empire is shown over and over again, never more so than in the hopeless prison that Cassian finds himself in. This evil must be stopped, and people must stand up against it. The whole point of this first season was, in many ways, to show how Cassian comes to embrace that mindset – just like Luthen and Mon have before him.

Yet this show isn’t content at just getting Cassian – and the audience – to recognize the need for a fight. It presses the topic even further, asking the question of how. How should the fight be waged? That winds up being just as important, and it’s a question that’s been around this franchise basically from the beginning. You can fight against the Empire, sure, but for what? Luthen is right about a great many things in his mindset, and we see how it does fuel and further this rebellion. Yet he himself confesses that he’s had to sell his soul in the process, and we see how he’s resigned himself to the necessity of people dying and suffering in order for the Empire to be defeated. Mon Mothma, on the other hand, is haunted by any inkling that she may have to compromise her conscience for this fight. Her point of view is that, if they’re fighting for the good and freedom of people, how can they be so callous and content to let those same people suffer? It’s all highlighted in minuscule with her daughter: will Mothma “sacrifice” her daughter’s future – a future that Leida seems to embrace but that Mon detests – for the sake of hoping that the future for her daughter and others will be better? What is all this worth?

Again, the brilliance of this series is that each character’s point of view is actually quite compelling. It’s not as easy as drawing a line in the sand and making everything clear. No, this is a series where Luthen and Mon are both right, and both of their actions further the cause, yet whose differences are on full display. And I think it’s no coincidence that it’s Mon who winds up uniting the rebel cells (save for some of the more “radical” ones, like Saw’s band), not Luthen. We see in this season how Luthen really can’t unite these cells, because he’s always playing a mysterious game unknown to all of his allies. They can’t trust him. He’s not willing to let them trust him. He hides things from them, all the while wanting them to trust him and work together. It won’t work. Only someone who truly sees people not just as tools for a cause but as the point of the fight in the first place can actually unite them. It’s as Rose Tico will say years later, “that’s how we’re gonna win: not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, or that it’ll come without loss. Every one of these rebels in the show are sacrificing everything for the cause. Luthen’s given up his soul, his conscience, his future. Mon’s giving up her family, her lifestyle, her comfort. Cassian’s giving up his self-centered ideals, such that he’ll give his life for the cause. He’s influenced by mentors: Luthen, who says he’s giving himself for a sunrise he’ll never see. Maarva, who is determined to spend her final days fighting back. Kino, who leads others to a freedom he can’t taste himself. It’s no coincidence that Cassian will wind up doing the same, giving his life for a cause greater than himself, for the hope that the galaxy can have a brighter future. The threat of the Death Star bookends this series; we start with the statement that this season takes place in 5 BBY, meaning five years prior to the Battle of Yavin – where the Death Star was destroyed. The final scene, then, is the construction of this weapon – aided, unbeknownst to them, by Cassian and the prisoners. He’s constructing the weapon that in just five years would take his life. He’s on a crash course with this weapon of terror, but that’s sort of the point. This season isn’t about the Death Star, but it is about the Empire’s tyrannical terror. And it’s about the hero who would look the epitome of that terror dead on and not blink, sacrificing his life so that the galaxy might have a chance.

How do you fight? By sacrificially giving of yourself so that others can be free and have a better future. The stakes of the rebellion have never felt more real, or more heavy, than they do in this show. And in that, this show winds up adding depth not just to Rogue One but to the whole franchise. I figured that Andor would be a sleeper show, one that flew under the radar but that was better than expected. What I didn’t count on was Andor becoming one of the finest pieces of Star Wars storytelling we’ve seen in a long time. It fires on all cylinders, from the characters to the acting to the writing to the visuals to the score to the themes it develops. The Empire is powerful. But even stronger is the resolve of plenty of random, ordinary people over the galaxy to stand against it.

Perhaps, then, the best way that I could conclude this review is with the words of Nemik, from his manifesto:

“There will be times when the struggle seems impossible. I know this already. Alone, unsure, dwarfed by the scale of the enemy. Remember this. Freedom is a pure idea. It occurs spontaneously, and without instruction. Random acts of insurrection are occurring constantly throughout the galaxy. There are whole armies, battalions that have no idea that they’ve already enlisted in the cause. Remember that the frontier of the rebellion is everywhere. And even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward. And then remember this. The Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that. And know this: the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance, will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority, and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this. Try.”

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