Andor doesn’t feel like Star Wars. And I love that!

I have to say, after Boba Fett and Obi-Wan, I wasn’t too keen on Andor. I still haven’t gotten over the disappointments of the last two Star Wars series – especially the fact that I had any hopes for it, although I should know better by now. And because I didn’t move much with Rogue One at the time, I wasn’t drawn to the backstory of the 2016 film’s main character, Cassian Andor.

Boba Fett was little more than a tired fan-fiction justification for wearing handsome armor left-to-right and reverse (and often horizontal) through expensive backdrops. And Obi-Wan boiled up a conflict that even the prequels couldn’t save. It didn’t help that whatever drama built the show well was mooted by the plot’s logic holes. And now there’s Andor, a show that by all major standards should be little more than scrapbooking, and after three episodes is suddenly… pretty good?! Hey Star Wars! Are you okay?

The sets look very good. Too good to be true in some places. But that’s not a big problem for Andor.

To be honest, I hardly recognize Star Wars as it last existed in Andor. None of the things that made this film universe degenerate into such a strenuous, arbitrary, erratic, sloppy and often loveless affair for me can be found in Andor. No stupid coincidences. No convenient connections to the wider universe. No characters who are primarily defined by their job or their looks. Instead, characters that feel believable and plastic in a lackluster, difficult world. Isn’t this just the extended canon stuff that’ll take the camera to those hillbilly corners of Star Wars we’ve always wanted? The one we knew must exist somewhere in this universe?

I won’t say this is storytelling like never before. At this point I want to put your expectations back on a leash. There are certainly people for whom this is too slow, who aren’t interested in the plot or who find other things irritating. But in the Star Wars framework, one can now be grateful if a new contribution simply achieves what it set out to do and does not offend the intelligence of its viewers. What Andor has set out to do is a thriller about espionage, infiltration and resistance fighters that isn’t too hasty, and in some places it’s almost dry, typical of Gilroy, and that just works. All attention!

Stellan Skarsgard is Andor’s cunning and poised entry into the Rebellion.

It’s probably because of the script and the very down-to-earth style that I like Diego Luna a lot better here than in Rogue One. Stellan Skarsgard is – gruff and confident – always a bank. And even the supporting roles are occupied by actors who, of course, are allowed to play with the necessary heaviness of a life that is not exactly easy. It’s off to a good start seeing Rupert Vansittart (Game of Thrones’ Yohn Royce) as a no-nonsense head of security for a megacorp. He would like to sweep Andor’s initial crime under the rug, only to be betrayed by his right-hand man – Syril Karn. Kyle Soller, who plays Karn and starts an investigation behind his boss’s back, brings the banality of evil, which so often arises from a mixture of principledism and careerism among the powerful, wonderfully weedily to the screen.

And that’s pretty much how it goes down the cast. I didn’t know Adria Arjona (mechanic Bix) before, but she conveys working-class loyalty just as well as Joplin Sibtain as Brasso, who makes an instantly likeable best pal for Andor. After supposed skepticism, he even writes Andor’s alibi for last night a little further and thus signals directly that you can rely on him. The amazing Fiona Shaw rounds out a cast as Cassian’s mother figure, bringing to this bit of Star Wars an interpersonal warmth rarely seen in this cinematic universe. These are all authentic-looking character interactions.

The central antagonist in the first three episodes is a real weasel.

But as I said: The series takes its time without giving the impression, like Boba Fett, that it wasn’t really about anything. Episode three – the last to be seen on Disney Plus – is then the one that sets things off suitably spectacular and exciting, in the first gripping shootout in Star Wars since… I don’t know. In any case, no one stands around shooting and motionless on the open road or even runs towards the opponent with Rambo armor. It is also noticeable that this action does not seem like an excuse to dazzle with the most elaborate effects possible. It follows from the plot and drives it at the same time and thus puts itself at the service of things that really matter.

From time to time I found the set design perhaps a bit too tidy, I could actually imagine the film crew scattering leaves, rubbish and scrap with pointed fingers. It didn’t always look that real. But basically that’s not so bad, because most of the sets are convincing. And when Andor first walked into a club where all too earthly elevator music was playing, I already suspected the worst. But that impression gave way to happiness just a few scenes later, as Cassian Andor commits the crime that will propel him into the arms of the rebellion. It was a powerful scene, played with convincing inner turmoil and staged in an exciting way. From then on, I’ve been on board and excited to see how Cassian plots to escape the law.

And sometimes there is even laughter in Andor without being forced to do so. Vetch, pictured here on the right, has the best of the few gags.

So yes: for the moment I have a hard time getting the impression that putting Tony Gilroy on this stuff was worth it. All in all, this might have been the best 90 minutes of Star Wars I’ve seen in a long, long time. I even feel like maybe giving Rogue One another chance. I did not expect that. The next episodes will show whether the positive impression is not also based on my low expectations. That cannot be ruled out. But the series just doesn’t make any of the stupid blunders that the shows mentioned above made in a row. What a blessing that I’m allowed to experience this in my life!

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