Last week was the tenth anniversary of Disney purchasing Lucasfilm. Over that time, Star Wars has gotten a new trilogy, two additional films, three new animated series (while reviving a fourth), two sets of animated shorts, four live-action shows and countless new books — all part of a canon reset.
The latest of those live-action shows is Andor, a prequel to Rogue One focusing on Cassian Andor and the rise of the Rebellion. Tony Gilroy serves as showrunner, returning from his unofficial role of guiding Rogue One to the finish line.
Andor aired the ninth episode of its 12-episode first season on Wednesday. At this point, we’ve seen enough to start answering the question: Is Andor the best live-action Star Wars show? Does this show — one without lightsabers, without Skywalkers, without baby versions of iconic characters — rank as the best we’ve gotten during the Disney era?
I’m not going to drag this out. The answer is absolutely, yes.
Out of the other three live-action Star Wars shows — The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi — only Boba Fett approached trainwreck territory. Was it cool to see Boba Fett pull himself out of the Sarlacc pit? Definitely. But the pacing was off, the show didn’t seem to know what to do with its main character, and the show eventually became a Mandalorian miniseries at the end.
The Mandalorian was the strongest contender to claim this title. It launched the live-action Star Wars era on Disney+, introduced Din Djarin and Grogu, brought Ahsoka and Bo-Katan into live action and established Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars/Rebels corner of the franchise as the cornerstone of where things are going over the next few years. On top of all that, The Mandalorian unleashed The Volume and StageCraft onto the world, making George Lucas’ dream of being able to film anything anywhere through special effects a reality.
One of The Mandalorian’s downfalls, though, is how it hasn’t escaped the “hey, do you remember this?” trap. Whether it’s small things like sticking R5-D4 into scenes or a massive thing like making Luke Skywalker a pivotal piece of the puzzle, The Mandalorian relies heavily on nostalgia. If you’ve ever seen Jon Favreau and Filoni together, you’ve seen how they represent different elements of Star Wars fandom. Favreau is very much the “these were the toys I had as a kid” guy while Filoni, thanks to working under Lucas on Clone Wars, represents the philosophy and spiritual side of Star Wars.
Filoni gets Star Wars on a different level. But that hasn’t saved The Mandalorian from this trap, a trap so deep and consuming that Luke Skywalker is now a deepfake with a CGI voice. (And according to the Kathleen Kennedy, that’s the best we’re ever going to get for a legacy character.)
And then there’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. This show did so many things right. Its portrayal of Ben Kenobi. Its restoration of Hayden Christensen as a beloved member of the franchise. Its use of Darth Vader as a nightmare that creeps through villages and appears out of the darkness. The final duel between Kenobi and Vader was heartbreaking.
But the show relied heavily on The Volume, meaning almost every planet was a flat surface and had only so much depth. If this wasn’t apparent while watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, it became obvious when the first trailer was released for Andor. Star Wars was vibrant again. Planets were exotic again. The world felt real and dirty and broken.
Whatever shackles were on the storytellers who had stepped into Star Wars over the past decade were gone for Gilroy and his Andor team. While Rian Johnson hinted at a story about war profiteering in The Last Jedi, Andor gets to use lines like “the pace of oppression outstrips our ability to understand it, and that is the real trick of the Imperial thought machine.” While Ron Howard (and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) pieced together a heist in Solo, Andor gave us the nerve wrecking Aldhani robbery.
There are no Jedi with lightsabers to save the day. (There are oddly barely any nonhumans populating the planets and prisons either.) The closest we come to a legacy character is Mon Mothma, with Genevieve O'Reilly reprising the role from an Episode III deleted scene and Rogue One.
O’Reilly is just one part of a cast that’s firing on all cylinders. Her Mon Mothma has layers we’ve never seen during the character’s previous short appearances. Diego Luna returns as Cassian Andor while also serving as an executive producer on the show, giving him a hand in crafting the story of a dude who just wanted to make some money and start a new life before everything went sideways. The great Stellan Skarsgård gets to play in the Star Wars sandbox. Faye Marsay’s Vel Sartha has been one of my favorite surprises. Denise Gough is an ISB officer who catches on to the whispers of rebellion before her fellow Imperials do. Kyle Soller plays a shifty security agent trying to track down the man who ruined his life (but now gets to wear the Star Wars version of a neck. The Bear’s Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Arvel Skeen. (Yes, Andor has the most Star Wars-y of Star Wars names.) This show even has Andy Serkis — in human form!
Over the course of just a few years, we went from Rise of Skywalker’s “somehow, Palpatine returned” to a story with real stakes and something to say. We’re no longer seeing the version of the Empire that sends Vader off on the occasional mission. This is the Empire that kills protesters, that unjustly inflates prison sentences as retaliation, that uses the recorded dying cries of the children of a sentient species it wiped out as a torture device.
This is what happens when you get the right creative team and give them the space to tell the story they want to tell. Gilroy and writers and directors like Toby Haynes, Susanna White, Dan Gilroy and Beau Willimon are using Star Wars pieces to tell a story that could and has and is happening in our world.
And it’s not as if Andor is ignoring previous Star Wars canon or pretending some parts of the franchise don’t exist. (Looking at you, Rise of Skywalker …)
Minutes into the first episode, Andor displays BBY dating on the screen. This has long been how Star Wars based its dating system, with BBY representing time before the Battle of Yavin (the battle at the end of the original Star Wars movie) and ABY representing time after that moment. It’s a small — and stupid — thing, but it shows that the Andor team isn’t afraid to embrace an element of Star Wars that some may have considered too nerdy or too insider-y to keep using in the 2020s.
Andor also brings us back to Coruscant, the capital planet featured heavily in the prequels but fully ignored in the sequel trilogy. (Credit to Obi-Wan Kenobi for including Coruscant too.)
None of these elements at use in Andor are “hey, remember this?” usages. They serve a purpose. They flesh out the world.
So, yes, Andor is absolutely the best live-action show we’ve gotten from Star Wars. But here’s the actual best part: Most of those other Star Wars show are still pretty great. And I’m not even going to begin to compare Andor against The Last Jedi or the “Siege of Mandalore” arc from Clone Wars. Andor represents another way to tell a story in Star Wars. I can’t wait to see where the rest of this season goes. (As long as it’s not deepfake Luke Skywalker …)
- Cristin Milioti joins The Penguin: The How I Met Your Mother and Palm Springs actor will star alongside Colin Farrell in the HBO Max series that picks up where Matt Reeves’ The Batman ended. She’ll play Sofia Falcone, the daughter of John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone.
- Aubrey Plaza joins Agatha: Coven of Chaos: The MCU now claims both Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate. No clue who the Parks and Rec star is playing in this one, though. My Agatha Harkness knowledge is pretty slim.
- Lupita Nyong’o joins A Quiet Place: Day One: I’m still waiting for John Krasinski to pick up my idea for a Quiet Place spinoff based on aliens who can only smell (The Smelly Place?). For now, we’ll have to take this spinoff/prequel from director Michael Sarnoski. Wakanda Forever star Lupita Nyong’o becomes the first member of the cast of this film, which shouldn’t be confused with the Quiet Place threequel Krasinski is working on himself.
- Joe Locke joins Agatha: Coven of Chaos: Lots of speculation over who Locke will play in the follow-up to WandaVision. Will the Heartstopper star portray an aged-up version of one of Wanda’s children?
Avatar: The Way of Water
It’s wild that a film written and directed by James Cameron that grossed over $2.7 billion during its original release and pioneered new visual storytelling tools turned into a punchline, but that’s somehow what happened with Avatar. Was Avatar Pocahontas in space or FernGully in, um, space? Yeah. But if this is what Cameron wants to do with his career, the guy has earned that right.
After over a decade of promising a sequel (multiple sequels!), Cameron finally has Avatar: The Way of Water ready to go. Will the story be any good? Unclear at this point, but the visuals look fantastic. We’re going to see water special effects unlike anything we’ve seen on film before — something Cameron pointed out while taking shots at Avatar’s corporate parent Disney last week.
Avatar: The Way of Water will probably make another $2 billion. But let’s hope studios don’t take the wrong lesson from its success. Again.
I should’ve included this one in the previous newsletter, but we recently binge-watched and caught up with Abbott Elementary. What a gem, especially airing on network TV.
This one had been on our list to watch for a bit, but got lost in the “anything new on YouTube?” dance we usually do at night after the baby goes to bed. We luckily caught up in time to join the current season in progress. I was happy to see that Abbott Elementary received the now-standard 13-episode first season instead of something shorter like we’ve seen a lot of the Disney+ shows get. I understand that no one is cranking out 20+ episodes per season anymore, but you gotta give these shows room to breathe.
Abbott Elementary’s cast has been strong since the first episode, with its characters appearing pretty much fully formed thanks to Quinta Brunson’s Emmy-winning work. Seeing Keyla Monterroso Mejia — Larry David’s recent Curb Your Enthusiasm nemesis — pop up in the second season has also been fun.
Look, I know Halloween is over, but I need to highlight this one since everyone missed it when it first came out. There are few better Halloween movies that have come out over the past few years than this one from Laika. Skip that third viewing of Hocus Pocus and add ParaNorman to your Halloween watchlist for next year.
Wow, this is really the sixth season? Totally missed that this premiered last week. I still think Nick Kroll is doing a Will Arnett impression.
We watched the “Paranormal Rangers” episode of the new season. The Bigfoot stuff is legit to me (like, goosebumps while watching), but trying to connect UFOs to Bigfoot is a stretch for me.
- DC has a chance to save Superman. Here’s what it needs to do (Wired)
- Goosebumps is turning 30 — the scariest part is how old that makes you (NPR)
- Welcome to hell, Elon (The Verge)
- Shane Gillis’ rise and fall (The New Yorker)
“My enemies call me ‘Namor’”
Namor is going to be one of the most exciting and influential characters added to the MCU since Black Panther debuted in Captain America: Civil War. I cannot wait to see what Tenoch Huerta does with the role and where this character goes in Phase Five and Phase Six. (They’re running Sue Storm chemistry tests with Huerta, right?)
Amy Schumer hosts SNL this weekend
This will be Amy Schumer’s third time hosting Saturday Night Live. The comedian previously hosted on Oct. 10, 2015, and May 12, 2018. Hopefully she doesn’t bring any of her rejected jokes from the Academy Awards to her monologue …