When Disney+ announced their plans for multiple Star Wars TV shows, a lot of people (myself included) were excited to see the return of old favourites. A one-off series about Obi-Wan Kenobi? Great stuff. More Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian? That one seems to have stalled in pre-production, but it’s still something I’d love to see. And then there were the shows like The Acolyte and The Mandalorian, which promised to explore never-before-seen corners of the Star Wars universe. Old favourites and bold new territory. It was like having the novels of the Expanded Universe brought back to life. One show that seemed odd at the time was Andor. After all, not many people were clamouring for a prequel to Rogue One, no matter how good the film had been. And if they did want such a thing, there was already James Luceno’s novel Catalyst. The fact that this show, announced so early on, took a few years to get to our screens made it feel like something of an afterthought. Yet after watching it, my thoughts are quite simple: This is the best show I’ve seen all year. Not just the best of the Disney+ Star Wars offerings, but the best science fiction show on TV. Full stop.
Andor offers something I’ve been craving for a long, long time. An actual expansion of the Star Wars universe. It steps back from the overwhelming tales of duelling Jedi and nefarious Sith, strips away the mysticism of the Force and the oversimplified battle between Light and Dark. Those elements are all a key part of Star Wars’ identity, of course, but Andor dives deeper. Set half a decade prior to A New Hope, Andor takes a look at the foundation of the Rebellion, and showcases an Empire at the height of its power. Yes, there is an element of gap-filling to this. Saw Guerrera returns for a cameo, and Mon Mothma takes a starring role, but those are the only big names we see. This is Star Wars on a smaller scale than we’re used to, and it works because of that. There’s a cast of unfamiliar names and faces, and they are merrily killed off without a thought to giving them a spin-off show down the line. This is a show that exists for its own purposes.
In a universe of Force-wielding superheroes and evil space wizards, it’s usually clear who the heroes and villains of Star Wars are. And that’s largely the case here. Obviously we are supposed to support Andor and Mon Mothma, and the Empire remains morally abhorrent. Yet Andor acknowledges that life isn’t always that clear-cut, and brings to Star Wars a hitherto unseen nuance. And nothing demonstrates this more than Syril Karn.
When we first meet Karn, he working in law enforcement. A staggeringly corrupt law enforcement, where men drink on duty and overseers don’t want to solve murders. In the opening episodes, Karn is the most sympathetic character. While Andor is self-obsessed, Karn genuinely wants to make the galaxy a safer place. Yes, he uses less than ideal means, going behind his boss’ back and generally making a mess of things, but all he wants is order. That is as noble a goal as anyone has in this show. It’s only when the Empire strips him of his role that he falls into an obsession with catching Andor. And even then, he is still trying to enforce order, even if he must circumvent the law to do so. There is a version of this story in which Karn is the protagonist. And even here, in the version we get, he’s not really an antagonist. His path crosses with Andor’s only briefly, with Andor not even aware of his existence. This being Star Wars, there is still ample time for Karn to go full-on, binky bonkers evil. But for now, he’s just an idealist trapped in a terrible society. Andor is about fighting evil, yes, but while there are tyrannical orders, not everyone within those orders are minions of darkness waiting to be swiftly cut down by heroes. They’re just people, doing what they think is best and right, for themselves and for others.
There are a couple of Easter eggs and call-outs and connections to other Star Wars media, but Andor is a show that stands on its own two feet. Throw in a bit more grittiness than Star Wars often has, an incredible cast, and a willingness to go to planets other than ones we’ve already heard of, and you can understand why Andor is so popular. If you’re a Star Wars fan, give this show a watch. And if you’re not, it might just make you one.