‘Andor’ review: grown-up noir thriller makes for the best Star Wars show yet

Featuring brothels, brutal violence and a protagonist who kills in cold blood

We’ve seen the Light Side and the Dark Side, but it’s taken 45 years for Star Wars to give us a proper grey area. The Mandalorian, The Book Of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi are all great, but Andor arrives looking like the kind of show that makes Disney+ feel worth the subscription fee. It’s not just an extension of the films, but something genuinely different that pushes the edges of the galaxy far, far away from its origins.

Built like a blue-collar noir thriller with the grown-up edge of prestige TV, it’s sometimes hard to remember you’re even watching Star Wars. We kick off outside a brothel where a brutal street fight is taking place. Disney introduces its new hero by having him coldly shoot a man in the head who was begging for his life. It’s only when a flock of muppet pig-wolves pee on a droid in the next scene that you start wondering what the catch is.

Spinning its story off a supporting character from 2016’s Rogue One (until now the grittiest entry in the canon), Andor stays a long way from the fairytale sparkle of the main movies. Set somewhere between Obi-Wan Kenobi and A New Hope, this is the story of the hard-fought folk who started a rebellion in the toughest days of the Empire.

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‘Andor’ kicks off with a fight outside a brothel. CREDIT: Disney/Lucasfilm

At the moment though, Andor (Diego Luna) is just a crook. He sleeps off-grid in the junkyard of a working-class mining town, living a tough hobo life while looking after his mother (Fiona Shaw) by stealing machine parts with local black-market scrounger Bix (Adria Arjona). When a murder attracts attention from a local imperial officer (Kyle Soller) and a mysterious off-world stranger (Stellan Skarsgård), destiny comes calling.

Taking obvious cues from Blade Runner, showrunner Tony Gilroy (writer of the Bourne trilogy) does well to freshen up Star Wars’ look and feel. His world is crowded with believable characters saying normal sounding things (all mostly non-American actors giving heavyweight performances), and the often-empty CG environments of recent titles can’t compete.

Swapping Japanese Western visuals for something damper and dirtier, Andor touches bigger themes about police brutality, environmental damage and immigration without ever feeling like it hasn’t earned the right. The acting seems natural. Action scenes land with weight. People bleed. There’s even a hint of sex.

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Stellan Skarsgård and Genevieve O’Reilly play undercover rebel sympathisers. CREDIT: Disney/Lucasfilm

Yet as much as Andor pulls away from Star Wars, it still works as a section of the whole. Spending the Disney millions on texture and depth instead of CG shininess, Gilroy gives us a grown-up sci-fi adventure that plays in the same sandbox. There’s magic here, even if it isn’t wielded by Baby Yoda.

Feeling far more revolutionary for the franchise than Rogue One ever did, Andor proves that Star Wars can grow up without growing old. The Lucasfilm universe is clearly big enough for all kinds of stories, and this might just be one of the best yet.

‘Andor’ releases its first three episodes on Disney+ tomorrow (September 21), subsequent episodes will arrive weekly

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