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Movie Review: 'Andor'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tonight, Disney+ presents the first season finale of "Andor," the origin story of a rebel in the "Star Wars" universe. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports that the science fiction adventure series is being hailed as the most complex, mature story in "Star Wars" lore.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: At the end of the film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," Cassian Andor dies a martyr, having pulled off a rebel mission to steal the plans for the evil empire superweapon, the Death Star. The series "Andor" shows what led him to that moment. Here's how Diego Luna, who plays the title character, describes it.

DIEGO LUNA: It's very dark times in the galaxy. There's no Jedis around. Oppression is everything, you know. There is no freedom. It's the awakening of a revolutionary. It's the journey of a guy that finds the confidence to believe he can be part of change.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

LUCAS BOND: (As Young Cassian, non-English language spoken).

DEL BARCO: The first episode's flashback to Andor as a little boy in a tribe of children on the planet Kenari. There are no adults around, and that's the first clue that something very bad has already happened in their world. While exploring the wreckage of a spaceship that crashed nearby, Andor gets whisked off to live on a different planet.

LUNA: He's used to lose everything and have to start from scratch. He's a refugee, someone that has been forced to migrate.

DEL BARCO: Andor goes from being a broke young guy on the run for murder to a cynical recruit for a rebel heist of the Empire's quarterly payroll.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) I'm taking my cut. I did my job.

DEL BARCO: But when he's sentenced to a slave-like prison, Andor becomes the catalyst for a prisoner breakout.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) I'd rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.

DEL BARCO: The story isn't just about Cassian Andor but players on all sides. On the hunt for him is a demoted Empire inspector who lives with his disapproving mother. An antiques dealer and a wealthy senator lead double lives as they help fund the revolt.

TONY GILROY: Revolutions take money.

DEL BARCO: Showrunner Tony Gilroy created the show after working on "Rogue One" and having written movies such as "Michael Clayton" and the "Bourne Identity" franchise. For many years, he's been fascinated with empires and revolutions throughout history.

GILROY: I mean, I have a library downstairs just on the Russian Revolution alone. I can go between the Montagnards and the Haitians and the ANC and the Irgun and the French Resistance and the Continental Congress. And literally, you could drop a needle throughout the last 3,000 years of recorded history, and it's passion. It's need. It's people being swept away by betrayal and their own ability and failure to commit. And, oh, my God, it's just everything.

DEL BARCO: Gilroy infused that kind of drama into "Andor," and he's been pleasantly surprised by the passionate reaction by critics and fans, even those like himself who were not necessarily hardcore "Star Wars" aficionados before.

GILROY: My interest was to not be involved in, quote-unquote, the "royal family" of "Star Wars," you know, in the expanse of this massive galaxy that we get to play with. I mean, most people never - have never seen a lightsaber. They don't know what that is.

DEL BARCO: In many ways, that storytelling approach hearkens back to the anthropological roots of "Star Wars." George Lucas says he created the franchise as a political allegory after the Vietnam War. He was thinking about other historical moments when underdogs revolted against empires. Here's Lucas on the 2018 series "James Cameron's Story Of Science Fiction."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JAMES CAMERON'S STORY OF SCIENCE FICTION")

GEORGE LUCAS: I like spaceships, but it isn't the science, aliens and all that kind of stuff that I get focused on. It's the how do the people react to all those things? So that's the part that really fascinates me and I'm interested in.

DEL BARCO: "Andor" does has some classic "Star Wars" elements - adorable pet-like droids, alien creatures and the occasional battle on land and in space. But it's the political themes and complex characters that shine, says Diego Luna, who's also an executive producer of the show.

LUNA: Even though this happens in a galaxy far, far away, it has to be realistic to have an impact. And it's because you know about the characters. You care about them. You want them to survive, you know? You want them to win.

DEL BARCO: Luna is already on the set in London shooting the second and final season of "Andor." It won't be out till 2024. And spoiler alert - Gilroy says the very final scene of the series leads Cassian Andor directly into the first scene as hero of "Rogue One." Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.