This is a spoiler-free review of the first four episodes of Andor.

This is what happens when you give the reigns of Star Wars to someone who doesn’t want to tell the same Skywalker Saga story we’ve been seeing over and over again. Tony Gilroy takes what he set up in Rogue One and builds out a story that continues the grit and grime we saw in that film. This is not the squeaky clean Rebel Alliance that we see in the original trilogy films. This is an organization of swindlers, scumbags, and mercenaries, that just so happen to be on the right side. That’s not to say the Imperials in this story are the same well-oiled machine we saw in the original trilogy as well. There’s infighting and people trying to undercut one another for a rise to power.

The thing about Andor that stands out the most is just how gritty the show is. That grit translates to the environments and characters on display. The cast features Diego Luna, Stellan Skarsgard, Adria Arjona, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Kyle Soller as some old characters and new ones just for this series. The real difficulty and intrigue to the series are how you get from this early point all the way to where Cassian Andor becomes a hero in Rogue One. Tony Gilroy does that with plenty of style and action that’ll capture those fans that might be a little tired of the current Star Wars product. That’s not to say this is a story devoid of commentary, it’s definitely got things to say about our current social climate, in all the best ways. This is about the rise of a tyrannical Empire after all.

Gone Is The Volume, In With Actual Vistas

The first thing that you’ll notice about Andor is that the backgrounds and environments look like they pop more than normal D+ series. That’s because they’re not using The Volume (the replacement for green screens used in The Mandalorian), instead, they went for a more traditional on-location shoot. The locations and sets here only add to the overall look and feel of the show. It’s something that’s incredibly simple that gives the whole thing a more authentic look. It’s that look combined with the source material that makes this something special for fans of Star Wars.

Throughout the first four episodes, we’re given little hints as to what the quest for Cassian Andor is. He’s a wanted man by the Empire, but they’re still getting things together after the events of the prequel trilogy. It’s still in the early days and there’s plenty of turmoil amongst members and groups of the Empire. That is at the heart of Andor and is the most intriguing part of these first four episodes. We get to see how they become so evil.

The most compelling part of Andor is that the Empire characters are just as interesting as the heroes. They’re all fully fleshed-out people with motivations and wants. They’re evil, but they’re compelling evil people, which might be the scariest part of the series. The Empire, like other facsists, makes the lives of the poor and marginalized, absolute hell. That’s on full display in this series.

If you’ve checked out on Star Wars because Tatooine is dull and dreary, Andor will pull you back in. The vistas and scenery are beautiful and vibrant, but they’re pocketed with the greys and dull browns of the machinery and Empire. The action and political thrills will keep you watching.

Stripped Down Star Wars

There are a couple of moments throughout the first four episodes of Andor that are truly thrilling. One is a firefight in an old engine factory that’s got some of the best action of the Disney era. This isn’t bombastic, over-the-top action though. This is more like a western gunfight that builds and builds with engines falling all over the place. That scene plus a chase in the third episode combine to create a truly thrilling experience for Star Wars fans.

This is the most real and honest Star Wars has been. This feels more like an HBO Drama than previous Disney+ shows. A compelling cast and characters bring this one to the upper tier of series for the year, so far. It’s about time we get a more serious drama for Star Wars, the storytelling space is vast for that kind of series.

In a squeaky clean world for Star Wars, this stripped-down version is among the best we’ve had. It’s different than previous offerings and even feels different than Rogue One did. That movie was full of hope and while we still got to see the Rebel Alliance at its worst, this show goes even further. This is the beginnings of an Empire and if we have to have a Star Wars story that’s a prequel, this is the way to do it. Andor shows us characters, places, and moments we’ve never seen before. It’s thrilling, action-packed, and the wait to see more episodes will be painful. This show is impossible to put down.

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