Of all the derivative productions of the universe Star Wars or Marvel that are jostling on the Disney streaming platform, few have generated as little expectation and excitement as the series Andor. Prologue of another prologue, the series chronicles the beginnings of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a captain of the Rebel Alliance who first appeared in the feature film RogueOnereleased in 2016. The film, a tale of a wartime heist, was set in the Star Wars timeline just before George Lucas’ first trilogy and ended at the watershed moment when – beware, very old spoiler – Andor and his accomplices would die against a backdrop of glorious twilight after successfully stealing the Death Star’s plans.
While filming RogueOne bogged down, production company Lucasfilm turned to Tony Gilroy, writer-director of Michael Clayton and a section of the franchise of Jason Bourne. He was the one who would have pointed out that the best possible and most obvious ending was to kill all the characters.
Recruited to take the helm on AndorGilroy returns to this serious atmosphere in the series: no character is immune, no sacrifice is impossible.
Fresh and refreshing look
The viewer discovers Cassian as a quick-witted, brawling but individualistic young thief. Haunted by ghosts from the past, he is driven by a healthy hatred of the Empire and becomes a much-coveted target by an enigmatic rebel leader called Luthen (played by a fantastical and ambivalent Stellan Skarsgard).
After a very honorable launch, Gilroy has continued to raise the level, week after week, deploying a clarity of vision that today makesAndor not only the best TV series in the Star Wars universe, but also one of the most beautiful surprises of the year 2022.
By some miracle, after forty-five years of films about an intergenerational civil war between space fascists and resistance bands, Andor takes a fresh and refreshing look at what life can be like under an authoritarian regime.
The danger is infinitely human
It shows how an entire population is subjugated through economic exploitation and how a police state and ubiquitous surveillance fuel a huge prison-industrial complex. The Empire is reinvented here as a succession of power struggles in which certain employees and collaborators are in control: from the ambitious director of the Imperial Security Bureau (Denise Gough) to the security orderly (Kyle Soller) whose zeal professional is anchored in the petty tyrannies of his domestic life.
Gone are the roles of extras waiting to suffocate under Darth Vader’s grasp, these underlings of the Empire act out of ambition, protective instinct and deep resentment. The danger they pose only becomes more complex, insidious, and ultimately terrifyingly human than any planet-annihilating laser or sneering Sith Lord – and ultimately even more terrifying.
The Rebels are also different from other episodes in the saga, ranging from disillusioned deserters from the Imperial army to spontaneous acts of solidarity. And then there are characters like Luthen and Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who, under the guise of joining the galaxy’s elite, are actually working for the resistance. “I gave up all hope of inner peace; I banished the sun from my mind”, explains Luthen in a disturbing monologue reminiscent of Rutger Hauer’s last scene in blade runner.
A thick story
Some of the most intense episodes feature ordinary people, like the one where Andor finds himself with a small group of rebels hiding in the mountains on the planet Aldhani. Filmed in the Scottish Highlands, this episode seems to transport us to the Jacobites of the XVIe century – apart from the occasional hunter streaking across the sky.
Among them is Nemik (Alex Lawther), a tech prodigy with a taste for raising political awareness. “It’s so crazy, isn’t it? So many things wrong, so many things to say, and it’s all happening so fast.” he says to Andor, explaining the principles of the rebel manifesto he is writing. “Oppression is growing faster than our ability to realize it, that’s the real secret of the Empire. It’s easier to hide behind 40 scenes of atrocities than behind a single incident.”
This kind of scene gives depth to the narrative of good versus evil that is Star Wars and he evokes a certain number of authoritarian regimes that are very present on Earth.
The best part of the series happens in its second half, when Andor, a fugitive, lands in a huge floating labor camp. Watched over by a handful of guards, this space Alcatraz with its gleaming surfaces and its 5,000 human prisoners give a glimpse of a microcosm of the galaxy. The men obey out of fear of punishment, in the hope of eventual liberation and in the midst of competitive quotas that end up atomizing a labor force placed in the inability to measure its own collective strength.
As with the passage on Aldhani, the writers let the tension build over several episodes. And when the tipping point is crossed, we get forty minutes of unforgettable television and one of the most anti-establishment productions to come out of Disney studios since Christian Bale intoning a refrain on solidarity and the benefits of the strike in Newsies in 1992 [un film musical pour adolescents, sur une grève des vendeurs de journaux qui a eu lieu à New York en 1899].
The series ignores the past
For better or for worse, from the Mandalorian to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Disney’s previous attempts at series Star Wars have often given the impression of seeing inveterate fans of the saga playing with their figurines in a sandbox. From a digitally rejuvenated Mark Hamill to the rematch of the duel between Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, the most anticipated scenes were built around cult characters or reduced to simple easter eggs [des clins d’œil aux fans]without ever daring to stray too far from this galaxy far, far away.
Gilroy doesn’t seem bothered by what has been done before him. He bets everything on human stories, breathtaking sets and straight-forward writing. The result adds depth to Cassian’s destiny and offers Star Wars his first television series of excellent quality.