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Andor is the best Disney Star Wars content Cannoli Send a noteboard - 22/05/2023 04:51:33 AM

I sat down to watch it, prepared to do my usual bit where I make commentary notes with corresponding time stamps, and I just ... didn't. It all just worked. I was not enthralled at first, or instantly a fan, there just was nothing really to say, because there was not enough information to know what the character was doing, and there were no blatant mistakes. That was, after all, the reason why I did my first such project, the Wheel of Time show, to keep the moving pictures from distracting or gaslighting me. But there was not any need to do so in "Andor".

"Andor" is the backstory of Cassian Andor, the deuteragonist of "Rogue One". That film purported to be about the grimy underbelly of the Rebellion, the spies, assassins and saboteurs who did the dirty work to make the later triumphs in the pitched battles possible. That was the mission statement of the movie, but what we got was a young, conventionally attractive woman who talked a lot about hope and rescued a little girl in the middle of a firefight on a busy street, and it turns out that the whole critical intelligence that would make the original Star Wars plot to happen, was a love letter to this woman from her estranged father. Cassian was introduced as a covert rebel operative who murdered a wounded comrade-in-arms who could not follow him on their escape route, to prevent his being forced to betray Andor or the Rebellion, but later on in the film, when he was given orders to assassinate the chief designer of the Death Star, he can't bring himself to do it, because it's his co-star's father. And then he helps her recruit a force to conduct a raid behind the backs of the Rebel authorities, based on the hope that she is right about Daddy leaving a secret plan for her. So despite that initial pragmatic kill, he does not really live up to the reputation the film assigns him and his colleagues (much as "The Mandalorian" never really lived up to the billing of a mercenary warrior, nor "Book of Boba Fett" fulfil the promise of a ruthless crime lord, or the sequel trilogy the promise of continuing the saga of the characters we liked, or passing the torch to worthy replacements).

"Andor" does it much better. This is what "Rogue One" was supposed to be. Set five years before the original film, Cassian lives in a place called Ferrix, which is a major trade hub, and he and his neighborhood seem to be a salvage area, where everyone's job is connected to the junkyard, the way a port neighborhood would be all about the dockworkers and fishermen. When he ventures into a seedy establishment in a nearby locale, searching for someone from his past, he gets entangled with the authorities, which will start him on his journey to becoming an operative of the Rebel Alliance.

Cassian's arc carries over three or four adventures each taking place over a couple or three episodes, against the backdrop of operatives and sympathizers of the nascent rebel movement carrying out their intrigues, and Imperial Security forces reacting to events and pursuing the rebels, and despite the discrete nature of Cassian's adventures, it all comes together rather well.

A major complaint I had with the other Star Wars shows was the utterly incompetent depiction of military, combat, security and covert ops procedures and practices (I had similar issues with "Rogue One", where Riz Ahmed's character, who should never have been in a position to play the role he does). "Andor" does all this stuff much better. We see operations and raids being carried out with extensive preparations and sacrifices ahead of time, instead of relying on cleverness and derring-do to carry the day. Rather Cassian & co use public events, like seasonal festivals and civic ceremonies, and the ensuing disruptions as cover, which also puts a ticking clock on these things, since they constrain the possibility for action to a specific, and believable time frame. The rebels and resistance take casualties and suffer losses, because the Imperials are competent as well. There is also an escalation of the level of opposition as the season progresses. Initially, that consists of local corporate security who act as cops, but are somewhat in over their heads when dealing with a hostile community and a single rebel operative, but then there are regular Imperial soldiers, not stormtroopers, who are better organized and disciplined and better prepared, and we only get the sorts of Imperials we are used to seeing in the movies, Stormtroopers and Imperial officers, in the last couple of episodes. The casualties they can inflict on those targets are plausible and have a cost, in stark contrast to recent media where Stormtroopers are incompetent cannon fodder.

We also get inside the Imperials, from a dedicated but inexperienced security officer, to a meticulous and driven Imperial Security supervisor butting heads with her peers in turf battles, not solely for ego, but in service of accomplishing their missions and persuading their supervisors to support or prioritize their efforts to a pompous and prejudiced frontier garrison commander, who nonetheless, has a relatively normal family life. Cassian's neighborhood is populated by believable characters as well, each worried about their own concerns, but also who interact like a real community, who cares about its members and the community's well-being. There are practices and customs and social organizations shown that make sense, are relevant to the story and give it depth and verisimilitude. Quite a few of them seem to be at odds with Cassian in various ways that tell you something about his character.

We are also shown the nascent rebel alliance, with Genevieve O'Reilly reprising her role from "Rogue One" as Mon Mothma (she also played the future rebel leader in "Revenge of the Sith" according to the credits). In this, she is a Chandrilan Imperial Senator, serving futilely in the opposition, trying to restrain the Emperor's authority and retain the power of the Senate, while covertly assisting the small-scale operations that use direct action against the Empire, where she turns out to be connected to Cassian's story in more than one way. She is also a family woman, grappling with the problems of balancing her work, her family and her secret activities, and while we know she's perfectly safe, and will survive to be leading the Rebellion in its final triumph, the tension in her story comes from what price she might have to pay to get there. The show also does a really good job changing the appearances of rebels when they move in the circles of the elite on Coruscant, or operating in the field, giving different aspects of their personalities, but also keeping them coherent and unified. Through it all, we see, possibly better than any other point in the whole franchise, a glimpse of how the Star Wars setting just works, how it's a something like a real world, and not just a backdrop for space ships and lightsabers and gun fights in full armor.

The acting is also really a surprise. In addition to O'Reilly and Diego Luna as Cassian, Forrest Whitaker also has a couple of scenes as his "Rogue One" guerrilla leader Saw Gerrera. Other recognizable faces include Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter) as Cassian's mother, Adria Arjona as a neighbor and fence contact, Anton Lesser as a Imperial Security boss, Ben Miles as an old friend & possible ally/threat to Mon Mothma, Faye Marsay (the Waif, Arya's assassin teacher/enemy in Game of Thrones) as a rebel cell leader, Andy Serkis as a prison work gang trustee and the always welcome Stellan Skarsgard as a special underworld contact, who could be the key to getting Cassian out of his immediate danger, and into much greater. Skarsgard is great, in his performance and his character's situation and depiction, and ties together a lot of the threads of this story as well.

Also, the show is very diverse in its casting, without feeling forced. We even have a series of flashbacks that, if you think about it, explain why Cassian, uniquely among his neighbors, shares Diego Luna's Hispanic accent, rather than pretending it doesn't exist. Ferrix is believable as a homogenous, close-knit neighborhood of black, brown and white people, but tribal cultures we get glimpses of are more plausibly monochromatic in their skin tones. What's more, the color of a character's skin plays no apparent role in determining their fate or alignment in the story. Black characters are heroes, traitors, rebels and quislings. Some are killed, others live to fight another day. There are also any number of strong female characters. Three different mother figures are shown in multiple episodes, all with different types and qualities of relationships with their children, none of which are put on a pedestal or vilified, Stephen King style. There are badass rebel and Imperial women, none of whom the writers feel the need to prop up by belittling their male counterparts or adversaries. You never get a sense when characters argue that one is right and the other wrong, because one is trying to oppress or educate the other, just that each has a different perspective and sincerely believes it.

It's not always exciting, it's slow to develop, with the first two episodes setting up the physical conflict at the climax of the third, and also longer-term stuff. There are no lightsabers, Jedi or uses of the Force, or many references to the source of the conflict. The Empire is not the supporting force for Darth Vader, it is a nebulous foe, institutional and impersonal and dehumanizing. While this kind of tyranny of the Empire is more true to life, it may not be as accessible to the casual viewer, because it's not as easy to take in as a weapon that blows up planets. But it all really works. It's so much better than the other crap churned out under the IP in the last decade that it's hard to say whether or not it's objectively good, because you can't help but compare it readily to crap, against which it will win easily.

But I liked it as both a political thriller, a crime drama and a space-action story.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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Andor is the best Disney Star Wars content - 22/05/2023 04:51:33 AM 29 Views
Thanks for the review - sounds good! - 25/05/2023 01:58:01 PM 6 Views

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