The first season of “Andor” is set five years before the action of “Rogue One,” and its twelve first-season episodes will reportedly unfold over roughly a year’s time for its titular character with the second and final season filling in the remaining four years. Diego Luna returns as Cassian Andor in a show that feels structured to reveal how he became an important figure in the Rebel Alliance. How does an ordinary guy become a central part of a revolution? Prequels often just repeat known details, filling in gaps with easter eggs instead of character, but creator Tony Gilroy (the “Michael Clayton” scribe who co-wrote “Rogue One” returns to write the series) is more interested in a nuanced birth story for a revolutionary. History often records only the major events, but how the people involved got to that point can be just as fascinating.
Don’t get me wrong, the Andor of this show is already on the fringe of saving the universe, having fought with the Rebellion for years, but the tone of the premiere is more of a noir than a sci-fi action epic. This Andor is more of a drifter than a leader, someone whose life has been dismantled by the Empire but hasn’t yet been radicalized to fight back. The opening episodes center a classic MacGuffin, a box that was stolen from the Empire and is being sold by Andor but isn’t really as important as what it means and what its possession does to the characters around them. It’s an item that Andor is trying to pawn to secure transport that draws the attention of the Empire, bringing him deeper into a conflict that will include new characters played by Stellan Skarsgård, Adria Arjona, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, and Fiona Shaw, along with familiar ones like Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma. Alex Lawther (“The End of the F**king World”) and Ebon-Moss Bachrach (“The Bear”) show up in the fourth episode as Andor gets more entrenched in a building revolution and the series opens up even more. Tony Gilroy hands off writing duties to his brother Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) for episodes four through six and Toby Haynes (“Black Mirror: USS Callister”) helms the first three episodes before passing the lightsaber to Susanna White (“Parade’s End”).
It’s quite the pedigreed cast and crew for any show, and the dedication to craft in the team assembled to bring “Andor” to life pays off. Luna is particularly good, never overplaying the pretentious possibilities of a future hero. He clearly sees this as a character study that happens to be set in space instead of a part of a growing canon, and that realism grounds the entire piece. It’s also a show with strikingly strong visual compositions, taking into account elements like lighting, character placement in frame, and production design in ways that genre television often ignores. Even the score is richer and more distinct than a lot of Disney+ shows, and the editing is tighter.