Last week’s three-episode debut of Disney’s Andor TV series was so bad, we’d rather have been eaten by a Rancor. The writing, characters, pacing and set designs were abysmally bad, and the show tried its hardest to run away from every single familiar facet of Star Wars mythology. To that end, it sunk two torpedoes down its own exhaust port, blowing the entire debut to smithereens.
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A week has passed, which brings us to the fourth episode, entitled ‘Aldani.’ While it’s definitely not going to score points for turning the tide in the face of its own defeat, the episode is nonetheless the equivalent of a one-armed Darth Vader pulling himself away from a Mustafar lava flow. Sure, the body is broken, bruised, and suffering from third degree burns, but at least it’s alive.
‘Aldani’ somehow manages to embrace traditional Star Wars, at least in small part, and the result is much better than before. It’s still not a great show, or even a good show, but it is treading water, no thanks to its main character. Just like The Book of Boba Fett, the show’s titular character becomes a background figure in his own story, setting the stage for more familiar faces.
The story picks up immediately after Cassian and Rael managed to evade security forces hunting him down after the former murdered two of their officers. Rael seems keen on recruiting Cassian, even going so far as to offer him a rare blue kyber crystal fashioned into a lucky trinket as a down payment.
The objective is simple, albeit mundane – Cassian must agree to aid a group of rebels in a heist to steal the quarterly payroll for a sector run by the Imperials. Meanwhile, Rael travels to Coruscant in order to maintain his cover as an intergalactic antiques dealer who sells to the rich and powerful.
This includes Senator Mon Mothma, secretly working with the Rebel Alliance alongside Rael. It seems the Empire has been tightening the screws on its own Senate, inserting spies at every turn to keep tabs on the politicians in an attempt to root out those sympathetic to the Rebel cause.
Meanwhile, the Empire is on the prowl in the wake of Cassian’s escape from the planet Ferrix. The failure catches the attention of Dedra Meero, an Imperial Security Bureau supervisor fresh on the job, and eager to set herself apart from her peers.
Meero makes her move in an attempt to investigate the theft of the Imperial Starpath Unit, believing it’s part of a pattern of recent Rebel behavior. Her firebrand approach to her job puts her at odds with Major Partagaz, head of the Imperial Security Bureau, who remains firm in the belief that evidence should be concrete, rather than circumstantial.
Andor’s debut hit rock bottom in less than twelve parsecs, which means it could only have gone up from that point. And indeed, up it goes with an episode that is a far treat better than its first three. ‘Aldani’ actually jettisons the nonsense and drudgery of the early story, and starts to kick things into gear.
The story isn’t perfect (more on that later), but at least it’s trying to match a bit of the feel of Rogue One, in some small measure. The decision to reintroduce Coruscant in the flesh was smart, since it’s one of the strongest links to traditional Star Wars lore, even if we only get a modest glimpse of it.
The problem with the Coruscant reveal is that it feels less like the exotic planet fans glimpsed in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, and more like New York City circa the year 2100. Sure, the Empire has had time to wipe all the fun away with sterile wipes and a coat of grey paint, but it still doesn’t feel like the Coruscant fans know and love.
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Actor performances are strong, and deserve credit for appearing genuine. There’s a lot of talent at play here, and while the show still sticks to an overly talky formula, at least the actors make it bearable. It’s good to see Genevieve O’Reilly back in Mon Mothma’s shoes again, given how long she’s been playing the character at this point.
There isn’t much in the way of action in this episode, either. Instead, it’s more about setting up the chess board and determining who gets to play the various pieces. What the show could really use at this point is more exposition into the inner workings of the Imperial Senate, especially since it takes place 5 years before the first Star Wars film.
The show has also begun paying some actual fan service, despite the stubbornness of series creator Tony Gilroy. When Rael gives his kyber crystal to Cassian, he references the Rakata, an ancient species who wielded the Dark Side of the Force, and were rumored to be the first to achieve hyperspace travel.
This alien race was first introduced in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which has since been relegated to Legends status. Credit where it’s due, but Andor will have to seriously up the stakes if it wants to reverse the damage already done. It can start with more of this.
Andor has managed to turn itself around a bit, but it’s not hitting any strides. That tends to happen when a show sidelines its own character the same way The Book of Boba Fett did to its titular anti-hero. Cassian is barely noticeable in this episode, with the bulk of attention being placed on ancillary characters. If that’s a sign of things to come, there will be trouble.
Another issue that seems to keep popping up in Disney’s televised Star Wars shows is the obvious budget constraints. Andor purposely avoids lush and exotic alien worlds in favor of Scottish highlands and sterile sets, relying on green screen to fill in the blanks. The return to Coruscant, while admirable, is mired by a 21st-century aesthetic that betrays its budget.
That’s probably why there’s so much talking, as well. Andor is twelve episodes long, which is about four too many. Hence, the actors continue to drone on and on, while attempting to hide the obvious by weaving in a clichéd spy drama directorial style. This is a Star Wars show, not The Terminal List. What worked so well for the latter is incompatible with the former.
Andor isn’t exactly doing much to play off the Rebellion subplot, either. At this point in Star Wars chronology, the Rebel Alliance should be actively, and heavily engaging the Empire just three years shy of declaring official hostilities. Yet, it feels as if the movement is still in its infancy, at least if Mon Mothma’s rhetoric is any indication.
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It’s also worth noting Syril Karn’s disjointed and seemingly pointless character arc, hot on the heels of his abject failure to capture Cassian in the previous episode. After getting busted down by an Imperial head honcho, Karn packs his bags and heads home to stay with…..his mother. If this character is supposed to make some sort of a comeback, it’s hard to see how.
And finally, Denise Gough’s portrayal of Dedra Meero isn’t nearly the feminist claptrap hinted at by the actress herself, but it’s clear that the story could go that way. Meero must battle her own established male rivals in order to stand out, but there’s no actual insinuation of this in the episode, thank the Maker.
Still, Gough has drawn allegories about her character being a woman having to compete in a man’s world, and the stink has now firmly attached itself. Still, it was good to see Major Partagaz shut her down with simple, straightforward and pragmatic advice regarding her duties, while giving her praise for a job well done. Will it go further? This is modern Disney, so anything is possible.
It’s still impossible to recommend Andor, due in large part to how it blundered its three-episode series debut. However, a good reviewer remains as objective as possible, and I would be dishonest if I claimed that ‘Aldani’ was an irredeemably terrible episode. Neither it is a good episode, but it does straddle mediocrity, which is a huge step up from a cataclysm.
If last week’s debut was like watching the Executor crash into the second Death Star (and it was), then ‘Aldani’ is like watching the Millennium Falcon fail a jump to lightspeed. It’s a letdown, but at least there’s room for the show to maneuver and hunker down in the belly of an Exogorth to lick its wounds and prepare for another go.
I reiterate once more – I do not think Andor will succeed as a show, but rather, will suffer the same fate as The Book of Boba Fett, on a worse scale. Without the dazzling excitement and wonder of Star Wars to pad its narrative, Andor feels like every other modern spy thriller that has hit the airwaves over the last five years.
Still, time will tell if I’m wrong or not. In the meantime, watch Andor if you must, but don’t expect the revolutionary take on Star Wars that is being propagandized in mainstream media circles. There’s a lot of hubris attached to this show, and not enough substance to back any of it up.
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- The episode incorporates some elements of Star Wars.
- Coruscant and Mon Mothma make a passable and welcome return, respectively.
- It isn't complete, overt garbage.
- Still a carbon copy modern spy thriller.
- Cassian gets sidelined like Boba Fett in his own series.
- All talk, no action, just to drag the story out across 12 episodes.