The thrilling Rogue One prequel series is great because it isn't Star Wars.
It's no secret that Magnus and I haven't exactly been very happy about where Star Wars has gone the last few years, but that didn't stop me from seeing some promising light at the end of the long dark tunnel after watching the great first four episodes of Andor. Thankfully, I'm now basking in some beautiful sunlight because this show has kept on getting better every episode.
The main reason for my enthusiasm is that Andor doesn't feel like Star Wars. A weird thing to say as a long-time fan, but it's true. Sure. This thrilling story is definitely happening a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it also throws most of the over-used and rotten recipes that have made most of the other films and shows such a drag lately down the reactor shaft.
Not a single Lightsaber is in sight. The wannabe cute and funny droids have been powered down. Overly theatrical dialogue has mostly been replaced with realism and suspense. We finally get to experience a side of this universe Lucasfilm and Disney have shied away from before. Whether it's because they wanted to be extremely child-friendly or it's out of fear of not including aspects some might consider pillars of franchise. Either way, this new take is so refreshing and entertaining. If Rogue One was Saving Private Ryan in the Star Wars universe, Andor is Band of Brothers with a dash of Star Wars.
Cassian Andor's journey is simply put not as predictable. He doesn't befriend everyone after just a few seconds or get solutions to all problems dropped in his lap. This being established very early on leads me to question if people he meets actually are as good or evil as they might seem. This world isn't black or white, but rather a lot of grey. Something also reflected in the presentation.
Minimal use of CG effects and them being less obvious or eye-catching heightens the show's rawness and immersion. This rebellion is born in a dirty and melancholy world - not the shining corridors filled with people and creatures who's wardrobes consist of absurd hats, never-ending collars and other clothes that scream for attention. Everything is just more real and down to earth. Something that makes every scene more impactful. Take TIE fighters as an example. These iconic spaceships have basically been thrown at the screen in pretty much every modern film and show, leading me to almost think of them as ice cream vans. Andor goes for quality over quantity in this regard. I'm reminded why this shape and sound is feared throughout the galaxy when witnessing just a single TIE fighter here, as the size, sound and everyone's reaction ooze death and fear. A philosophy that also applies to the story.
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While I'm not going to spoil anything about Cassian's enthralling year, it's fun to see him going from being a relatively regular guy that might make the lives of a few imperials difficult, to someone becoming a well-known name both among the empire's higher-ups and those wanting to stand up against them. This progression is helped by the show's twelve episodes kind of being split into four increasingly dramatic trilogies where each one tells its own story to some extent. An interesting structure that helps keep me curious and engaged all the way through and especially in the show's latter half when the stakes become much higher. Combine this with some fascinating character development - highlighted by Diego Luna's great evolution from being a fairly careful rebel to becoming someone that takes the initiative and chances - and you shouldn't have problems finding someone to both love and hate. Not that this aspect is flawlessly executed.
Because Andor does make a few missteps. One I didn't expect was that the show could have benefited from being more than twelve episodes. A couple of time jumps ruin some of the flow and immersion. Some deaths don't have the impact they could have if we got to know the poor soul better and a few friendships/partnerships come out of nowhere because they happen off screen. The Jar-Jar on top is that some plot points get too much time in the spotlight.
Then we have the fact that Cassian is alive in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A fact the large majority of folks watching this show knows. That doesn't stop some scenes from trying to create tension by putting him in danger. A handful of them would actually have been amazing if we didn't know his fate. Instead, they end up with me solely thinking about how our dear protagonist obviously will get out of this pinch. Most prequels have this problem, so expected even if it's disappointing.
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That's why Andor still ends up being the best Star Wars show yet. It's even one of the best shows I've seen the last few years period. We're brought on a suspenseful and enthralling adventure that explores sides and depths of the galaxy far, far away we've rarely seen on film before. The more realistic and unique approach (including the music) makes for some great storytelling that will even entertain many who've never liked Star Wars...while at the same time maybe disappointing the fans that don't want things to change.