Rather than being under direct Imperial control, Ferrix has instead been outsourced to a nebulous corporation. It is an interesting detail – analogous, perhaps, to companies who profited from Nazi collaboration during World War Two – amidst a barrage of dense, disorientating world-building, where characters and concepts are introduced with little to no explanation. It is perhaps a creative choice, an attempt to give the world a sense of richness and lived-in authenticity, but it mostly ends up making its first couple of episodes feel narratively confused and alienating. It certainly doesn’t help either that after Andor’s wonderfully moody and atmospheric opening, the show spends three entire episodes (around 45 minutes each) building up to Cassian’s escape from Ferrix. It’s a three-parter that feels protracted and listlessly paced, almost as if it is an episode too long.
We follow Cassian as he attempts to raise the funds to get off-world by selling a piece of imperial technology. Along the way we’re introduced to various companions and acquaintances, including his unremarkable scrap dealer friend Bix (Adria Arjona), who is trying to arrange a deal with a buyer, and his mentor Maarva, played by the indomitable Fiona Shaw. These scenes are intercut with an investigation by “corpo” zealot Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) – who is accompanied by a sergeant played by the great Alex Fern (Trevor from Eastenders, for the Brits) – and a series of fairly tedious flashbacks to Cassian’s childhood, where he grew up as part of a tribe on a planet ravaged by the Empire.
Episode three, at least, is where things start to happen. This is where we first meet Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen, who lands on Ferrix to recruit Cassian into the Rebellion. “Don’t you want to fight these bastards for real?” he growls in one stand-out scene. Skarsgård, his voice full of glass and gravel, his grandeur and gravitas undeniable, is just the jump-start the show needs, and his arrival is followed by some much-needed action. However, it is the fourth episode where Andor starts to live up to the promise made by its arresting trailers and marketing (it is presumably why Disney gave critics four episodes instead of the first three).
It is here that we get to the meat of Andor: political intrigue, spycraft and daring Rebel missions. There are scenes set on the capital planet of Coruscant, where Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma, a senator destined to lead the Rebel Alliance, finds her every move watched by the Empire. There is a storyline that takes us into the inner workings of the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB), where cold, stiff Imperial officers with English accents talk about order, and navigate internal power struggles. As for Cassian, he has found himself part of a ragtag team who must pull off an impossible heist. It is an episode that also features some spectacular on-location shooting, with shots of TIE Fighters flying over the grand, green vistas of the Scottish Highlands.
Compared to other Star Wars shows, it is a slower, more granular beast, more concerned with talks of space politics over dinner rather than the swishing of lightsabers. But away from the drudgery of Ferrix, the show is finally able to escape orbit, and give us some of the insight into the everyday reality of the galaxy, as described by Gilroy. Whether that means that Andor is Star Wars for grown-ups remains to be seen. There are suggestions of maturity in its tone and aesthetic, but at this stage it’s too early to tell whether the show has the means to explore adult themes in a universe that was constructed for children.
Similarly, it is a tricky task to judge a 12-part series like Andor based on a quartet of uneven episodes. It is a series that starts well, meanders into tedium, gradually improves, and then finishes with an episode that suggests an immense amount of promise. It is like a young Jedi Padawan, so full of glorious possibilities, their talent obvious to everyone, whose future is clouded by the Force. Will they bring new hope to the Star Wars universe, or leave everyone in bitter disappointment? We, at the very least, have faith.
Star Wars: Andor is streaming on Disney+ now.
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