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The multi-tier media corporations like Disney have seasonally cropped their business to include some show that fits their vision at regular intervals. Disney does this the best: they’re incredible consistent about putting out things people care about like Star Wars and Marvel, and they’re pretty tireless about quality control.
Still, once or twice a year there’s going to be something worth picking at. For Star Wars, you’ll get a subset of the community that adores the most recent addition, and a subset that will tear into the millions-of-dollars production like chicken with a fork, and explain the ways in which the series fails to appease.
The fall-time Star Wars series is called ‘Andor,’ and because it doesn’t fall in July or December, they’re allowed to experiment a little bit. In the culture of Disney, experimentation usually works. Look at Pixar Animation: ‘Wall-E’ from 2008 is maybe their riskiest piece of children’s media with almost no dialogue for a good half hour into its runtime. It’s also the only Pixar movie that has been given a Criterion release. When you have such a top to bottom spectacular team, this kind of freedom usually pays off.
Tony Gilroy isn’t a name you’d parse from the average cinema rank chart. You’d more likely see your friend who insists on Michelob Ultra repping Gilroy’s work without even realizing it. He’s best known as a writer, but has only directed three times, the final project being the Jeremy Renner ‘Bourne’ movie from 2012. It didn’t connect as well as the previous few entries, but it absolutely has its fans.
This is the kind of person Gilroy is, and it shows in the final product. ‘Andor’ is filled with exposed brick and people eating Chinese takeout, disguised by dying the noodles blue. It feels strangely normal and pedestrian despite being set in a galaxy far-far away. While this could theoretically turn off viewers, instead, by leaning into its premise, the series lays a rock solid foundation for an otherwise obscure addition to the Star Wars canon.
1. Cassian who?
So if you remember- it was 2013 and Disney’s Alan Horne made his first filmic announcement for the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars would debut with Episode 7, and then release with two years between each film. In the middle of these three, they would also create new stories that were derived from the same universe as “Anthology” films, or standalones. The first was ‘Rogue One’ from 2016, detailing the events predating the original 1977 film involving the plans to destroy the Death Star, and in 2018 ‘Solo’, showing Han Solo’s early years.
The anthology films had diminishing results, but ‘Rogue One’ was perhaps the only film that kept a strong reputation as the Skywalker Saga was increasingly picked apart. The hero was an outsider, Jyn Erso, and one of her compatriots was Cassian Andor. He, and not the similarly titled planet of Endor, is the namesake of this new show.
The story follows Cassian as he goes from someone more akin to a common thief, a vagabond in the more minute stage of rebellion against the new galactic order. In the first three episodes, there is Syril Karn, the antagonist, Bix Caleen, Brasso, Maarva, Cassian’s mother, and Luthen, played by Stellan Skarsgard. While the ensemble is broad, it’s tightly managed and the character relationships are immediately empathetic.
2. The Show Takes Risks
Cassian, very early in the three episode run that debuted last week on Disney Plus, immediately takes the “Han Solo” approach to conflict- resolution, which ends up with murder and with the authorities on his tail. It’s an adult show, but not so far out that children couldn’t watch it. More so, it’s that children may not be able to understand or appreciate the complexities at play. Tony Gilroy in his teleplay takes the broad epic morality play that George Lucas laid the foundation for, and interrogates it from the perspective of the everyman. While Luke Skywalker may have had an easy choice when it came to being empathetic to his father in ‘Return of the Jedi,’ Cassian does not have such an easy choice in front of him.
3. A Huge Easter Egg in Plain Sight
In 1979, already George Lucas began expanding the world of Star Wars by way of Brian Daley’s ‘Han Solo Adventures,’ a series of three short novels detailing expeditions prior to the original 1977 film, ‘A New Hope’ (originally just titled ‘Star Wars’). These squabbles were very similar to those in ‘Andor,’ and also follow a similar enemy- The Corporate Sector. While Empire-esque, the Corporate Sector was a tangibly greed driven society, and was naturally averse to Solo’s antics.
In ‘Andor,’ the Corporate Sector largely remains intact in the way it was initially described. Laid out occasionally throughout the Star Wars novels, it was never directly shown in any Star Wars property up to this point. Due to the nature of Star Wars film and TV, this means that until now, all those mentioned additions were considered “legends,” or effectively Lucas-endorsed fanfiction, not legitimate additions to canon.
Star Wars fans throughout the years have begged the leadership at new Lucasfilm to draw more heavily from the source material of over 20 years of books, comics, and video games, and it seems as if the leadership has finally listened.
4. The Music is Different
The music that Michael Giacchino made for ‘Rogue One’ was apt, exciting, and fitting for the template of a Star Wars spinoff, but it also played it a tad bit safe. John Powell’s score for ‘Solo,’ however, started to show signs that the Disney Star Wars series might be a little too precious about keeping to the galaxy’s roots. This was the case for the most previous entry earlier this year with ‘Kenobi,’ and as with the previous two mentions, John Williams created a single entry as the centerpiece with a secondary producer writing music around it. Disney has tended to play it safe in the scoring department with a scant few exceptions.
Easily on par with big screen producers like Michael Giacchino is Nicholas Britell, who has easily worked on some of the best soundtracks of the 21st century, consistently working with Adam McKay and Barry Jenkins, but also creating the majestic score for HBO’s ‘Succession.’
Britell works as a sonic plunderer, creating timbres that combine rock elements with electronics but easily segue into more orchestral territory. He doesn’t break the Star Wars sound, but he definitely acts to stretch it. On a show that feels so unique to the rest of Star Wars television, it’s the icing on the cake to have a unique soundtrack as well.
5. Dirty Space is Back
What made Star Wars special and difficult to replicate was the Lucas staple of ‘dirty space’ that he presented in the original trilogy. Of course, Lucas intentionally subverted this in his prequel trilogy, but is nonetheless an important touchstone on the Star Wars world. This is the thing to which ‘Andor’ is the most dedicated. The production design is meticulously detailed, although sometimes seems a bit too reliant on as with the case of the Chinese takeout box. Still, the show manages to worldbuild meticulously, be it with ground transport, droids, home life, or even a market full of beautifully crafted work gloves. It’s a sight to behold, and one that stretches the confines of its TV budget, while ample, to its fullest potential.