Spoiler alert! The following contains details from the Season 1 finale of Disney+’s “Andor,” “Rix Road.”
Breathtaking. Visceral. Tense. Emotional. Visual. Fantastical.
Those are just a few of the adjectives that describe the feeling of watching the original “Star Wars” films, and what a dozen or so directors and writers have tried to capture – like George Lucas did the first time in 1977 – with prequels, sequels , spinoffs and animated and live-action TV. Disney+’s “Andor” has achieved all that and more where so many shows and movies that came before it could not.
Compared to, say, the sequel trilogy of feature films (“Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker”) and even more marquee series like “The Mandalorian” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “Andor ” is a relatively small entry in the “Star Wars” universe, but it is an all-time great. Starring Diego Luna as his character from the 2016 spinoff film “Rogue One,” “Andor” is an origin story for one rebel fighting the Empire, but it became so much more in its 12-episode first season, which wrapped Wednesday.
The finale, in which the various entities chasing Cassian Andor (Luna) through the galaxy all coalesce around a funeral for his mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) on the planet Ferrix, is one of the best episodes of television of the year, and, more significantly, an important chapter in one of the best “Star Wars” stories of all.
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The episode begins as preparations are under way for Maarva’s funeral: At the event, the Empire’s evil ISB supervisor Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) hopes to ensnare Cassian, whom she correctly believes is the key to getting information about the burgeoning Rebel Alliance.
Those rebels are there, too, hoping to kill Cassian before the Empire can interrogate him. Then there’s the sniveling, disgraced corporate security officer Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who somehow figures capturing Cassian will get him his career back. Back on the capital planet of Coruscant, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) tries to throw the ISB off the trail of her secret rebellious activities, and allows her daughter to be married off in order to secure financing for the Alliance.
Cassian – who has spent the better part of the season on the run, pulling a heist or in prison – would be crazy to try to return to Ferrix amid all this heat on him. Of course our rugged protagonist hasn’t made the smartest decisions and does return, and it seems like he may accidentally fall into one of the traps set for him. But from the moment Maarva’s funeral starts, it’s clear something is happening among the people of Ferrix.
t the climax of the ceremony, Maarva’s droid broadcasts a recording of her urging the people to fight the Empire, and they do, starting a riot which gives Cassian cover to rescue Bix (Adria Arjona) from Meero’s clutches. Bix and a handful of Cassian’s friends escape, but he stays behind to confront rebel leader Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard). Cassian gives Luthen a choice: Kill him, or bring him into the rebel fold. The season ends there (well, plus a post-credits scene worth sticking around for that’s both an “Andor” callback and a tease to a destructive aspect of the galaxy’s future).
The episode, from its talky scenes in a swanky Coruscant limo to the battle on Rix Road on Ferrix, is riveting from beginning to end. There is a verve and emotion to every scene that series creator and writer Tony Gilroy is exceptionally adept at infusing in his dialogue. No moment is wasted or rushed. The tension that builds as Maarva’s funeral procession cascades through the Ferrix streets, complete with a galactic marching band, is a masterstroke.
Cassian is a little bit beside the point in the episode, but that’s not a bad thing, as the series has built its characters with depth and complexity across the board. Gough in particular puts in superb work in the episode, as Meero’s icy façade crumbles in the face of actual violence and terror. (She is saved from the angry, anti-Imperial crowd by Syril, a development which will surely lead to big things for the latter in Season 2).
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All season, “Andor” has stood apart from its “Star Wars” brethren in its audacity and focus. It goes to dark places, allows its characters to be layered with goodness and bAcesparksess, plus offers sweeping dialogue and exciting action without undercutting either. It’s just the kind of story you can’t peel your eyes away from.
If only all of “Star Wars” was like this.