Well folks, I’m more than a little bit late to the party with this one, given that the first season on Andor wrapped up months ago! As it’s Star Wars Day, though, I thought it only proper that I try to mark the occasion, and Andor has been on my mind a lot lately. I think I just found it very heavy-going, somehow, though. After the slow-burn of the first three episodes building to an explosive climax, I did find myself almost having to force myself to make time to watch it, and once I had caught up at the time, with episode six, I kinda left it again, and it’s only in the last couple of weeks that I’ve wanted to return. It is a very slow burn, though, as a number of reviews have said, and I think that’s what was putting me off at the time – I was probably not all that focused on Star Wars after the summer reading I had done, so was keen for something different.

The first half of the twelve episode season breaks down quite easily into the recruitment of Cassian Andor into the growing resistance movement being co-ordinated by Luthen Rael. The first three episodes show a number of flashbacks to Cassian’s past, which go some way to explaining his current position as a bit of a down-and-out on the planet Ferrix, where he lives with his adopted mother. Luthen convinces Cassian to join an operation on the planet Aldhani, to steal the payroll of the Imperial sector garrison. Cassian joins a band of established rebels in the wilderness, and the next three episodes show the preparations for, and the execution of the heist.

Along the way a supporting cast of thousands begins to unfold, with significant time being given to both Mon Mothma as she attempts to gain control of her family finances to aid the rebellion, and the Imperial Security Bureau and their investigation into stolen Imperial tech, which leads them to Ferrix and Andor. With the Aldhani heist making galactic news, the stakes are ramped up and Cassian basically takes his cut and runs, however he is apprehended on a completely unrelated charge, and essentially jailed for six years for the crime of walking along a beach. 

Forced to labour on unspecified machinery, Cassian eventually hears the rumours that the prison basically recycles its inmates, and nobody is actually released. Together with the shift supervisor Kino, Cassian instigates a revolt among the prisoners and they are able to escape. Upon regaining his freedom, however, Cassian learns of the death of his adopted mother. The ISB intend to use the occasion of her funeral on Ferrix to flush out Cassian, however a riot breaks out when the Imperials overplay their hand, and Ferrix becomes something of a spark for the nascent Rebel Alliance.

I don’t think any synopsis of this twelve-part series would do the storyline justice, as it is incredibly intricate and very far-reaching, all told. On top of that, however, the atmosphere is so on-point, it’s really quite remarkable. In the original trilogy, we get the sense that the Empire is not a nice organisation, to put it mildly, but things are told from the optimistic point of view of the rebels. We know that there’s danger, of course, but it’s somehow distant, and our plucky heroes are still untouchable even while their friends die around them. It all fits in with what I’ve mentioned quite a bit here on the blog lately, the idea that the original trilogy (A New Hope, especially) is full to the brim with optimism and heroism in the mould of the golden age. 

Here, however, the Star Wars universe is dangerous. Andor takes a much more brutal and realistic look of what life would be like under a dictatorship. The rebellion scenes with Cassian himself are all pretty horrible, as you see some of the things that these guys have to go through in the name of fighting for freedom. Life on the frontier really is just awful, and the fact that the story moves at a much more slower pace allows you to get that on a really visceral level. I know there was a lot of criticism at first about the fact that basically not much happened in between the escape from Ferrix in the third episode, and then the heist on Aldhani in the sixth episode, but the series was taking the time to explore its characters and layer in so much more than we have, up to now, seen in the Star Wars universe.

By contrast to the rebels, we have Mon Mothma in her own deadly game on Coruscant, meeting with bankers in an effort to gain control of her finances without attracting the attention of the Empire. This is really where Luthen comes into the story, as a bridge between the two worlds. As an antiquities dealer, Luthen’s shop provides a perfect meeting place for him and Mon Mothma, who is buying stuff to get funds to the rebels. He’s not really a fence, but his character is so perfect, as he travels the galaxy without suspicion because of his front business. He’s able to meet with Saw Gerrera and his partisans, which was also a nice callback to Rogue One.

Something of a highlight, for me, were the scenes with the Imperial Security Bureau, where we see the men and women who are playing their own power games within the Imperial administrative machine. I thought it was fascinating to see how these people genuinely feel as though they are doing good, by preventing unrest and, as Palpatine himself said, enabling that “safe and secure society”. When Cassian Andor is suspected of criminal damage and the like, of course they’re going to hunt him down, especially when he is suspected of stealing from the government. I think it was pretty genius to not only include the ISB, but also to have them portrayed in this manner. They aren’t sadistic, per se, but they’re doing what needs to be done with almost dispassion, to get the job done. It’s an aspect of the Empire that we haven’t really seen in Star Wars, but its inclusion here really blurs those lines between good and evil quite well. Of course, they’re the baddies of the piece, because we’re meant to root for Cassian et al, but when you actually think about it, the ISB isn’t Darth Vader and the Navy, pursuing the rebel scum without mercy. They’re just performing a function within the government. If they were doing it with cackles of glee in shadowy chambers, then you’d perhaps think twice, but their conference room is bright white, as it their uniform, and they have due process they need to go through before they can progress an investigation. It does give you pause, especially when Andor and the others aren’t the squeaky-clean Luke Skywalker and co of the original movies. 

I think, when you can watch all twelve episodes of this series in one hit (or, at least, on your own terms), then the show is tremendous. Having to wait weeks between each episode did kinda put me off for a while back in October/November, and it has taken me quite some time to get back into it. But I’m so glad I did, because it really is a tour de force of showing the galaxy under the thumb of the Emperor. I suppose it helps writing this when I’m also still reading the Han Solo trilogy, which is set in a similar timeframe. There aren’t many similarities, of course, but it’s interesting when we see in the novels how people are increasingly disillusioned by the Empire’s vice-like grip, and the over-reaching of power, which is forcing so many people to take up the offer of life as a pilgrim on Ylesia. In some ways, Bria Tharen’s Red Hand Squadron is a similar group to the one Luthen is setting up, they’re the ones who do the dirty work, who get their hands red in the blood of their enemies. Leave the photo-ops for the Lukes and the Leias, these guys are the ones who are doing, as Cassian himself says in Rogue One, “whatever it takes” to bring freedom back to the galaxy.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what season two brings – not least because it promises to be shorter, but I’m excited to see what happens next, as we gear up for a full-on lead-in to Rogue One. I might even re-watch this first season beforehand, although I’ll try to get it done in chunks again!

May the Fourth be with you