Star Wars films and streaming shows tap into multiple layers of nostalgia but attempts to deliver the same feelings viewers had when they were younger can lead to disappointment. The strategy of producing spin-off films foundered when the underrated Solo was a commercial and financial disappointment. It is a better film than its premise but it set itself up to fail by promising an original adventure of a beloved character. The counterpoint to the spin-off strategy was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, another film set between the end of the prequel trilogy and (just) before the original trilogy. As an original story with (largely) original characters, Rogue One was surprisingly enjoyable even if the outcome (stealing the plans to the Death Star) was predetermined.
The spin-off movie strategy was replaced by a spin-off streaming show strategy when Disney launched its own streaming service. The latest show is Andor, a prequel to Rogue One, which makes it something of a prequel sandwich, sitting between the prequel movies in the timeline and before Rogue One which itself is a prequel. It follows the backstory of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the Rebel agent from Rogue One. While he was an interesting character, on paper the premise isn’t a promising one.
And yet, episodes 1 to 3 of the series by themselves tell a compelling and interesting story. This is easily one of the best attempts to flesh out the Star Wars settings that the streaming service has done. It makes use of the audience’s familiarity with the general circumstances (the evil Galactic Empire is in charge, individual planets are run corruptly, a rebellion is growing) to set the scene while providing an original setting and circumstance.
This takes me back to nostalgia. The original Star Wars films were products of the 70’s & 80’s which Andor acknowledges not by trying to recreate those shows but (apparently) by trying to recreate the 1980s or rather a specific kind of 1980s — the rain-soaked, post-industrial decline and growing authoritarianism of provincial Britain. This is an odd choice for a Star Wars property but a sensible choice for Cassian Andor, an ethically compromised man who is just trying to exist in a world (galaxy) that is becoming systemically cruel.
Cassian’s immediate circumstances lead him into an encounter that ends with two corporate security goons dead and Cassian in immediate need of a way off planet. That plot, is paired with a flashback story in which we meet Cassian as a child on the planet Kenari — a world devastated by a mining operation gone wrong, where he lives with a roaming tribe of youthful survivors. Now, this is where we get some really odd, and presumably intentional layers of 1980’s Britain.
The Kenari story, with the young people and their yellow clothes and post-technology society with broken advanced technology, appears to be intentionally evoking the Doctor Who story from 1980 Full Circle. It isn’t borrowing the plot of that story (which is a classic but very Doctor Who) but the general aesthetics of it but updated to modern production values.
Spies, grim industrial cities and Doctor Who serials but in the universe of The Empire Strikes Back? Andor has layers of British 80’s TV in it to a degree that can’t be an accident but all filtered through the lens of Star Wars and the current Disney+ aesthetic. To that extent, the underlying approach remains the extraction and recycling of older ideas but at least this is a more unusual set of things to recombine than Disney usually plays with. I assume a lot of this is due to the director of the first three episodes Toby Haynes who had previously worked on Doctor Who, Sherlock, Being Human and Black Mirror.
I won’t recap the plot of the first three episodes but both plotlines follow a complete story, with the end of the third episode taking Cassian into a new stage of his life. I really liked that aspect of the serial storytelling as well. There is plenty of momentum to the plot for me to really want to see what happens next but also if you left the show at that point, you would have a finished story arc.