Andor was one of my favorite TV shows of 2022. The Last of Us is already my favorite show of 2023 so far. Both are excellent, character-driven genre stories, but there’s one place where they differ wildly in terms of my high praise of them: the opening episode(s).
The first three episodes of Andor — which all dropped at once on Disney+, leading me to group them together in my review — almost turned me off the show entirely. Not because they were bad, as they certainly showcased the show’s great performances and visuals, but because they were the slowest of slow burns. Pressing play on each new episode felt like a chore instead of something to be excited about. Even though the last act of episode three showed incredible promise, I’d been burned by other Star Wars series before, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, which started slowly and offered little payoff.
In the end, I’m happy to say that Andor proved me wrong. Tony Gilroy crafted a stunning tale of burgeoning rebellion that is the best Star Wars has been in years, and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes. But as I watched the first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, all my qualms with Andor‘s first three episodes came crawling back for one simple reason: The Last of Us‘s opening succeeds where Andor‘s falters.
Each opener goes about accomplishing similar things, aside from the usual establishment of character, tone, and setting you need in a pilot. The Last of Us delves into Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) backstory, including the death of his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) at the start of the worldwide Cordyceps outbreak. Throughout Andor‘s first three episodes, we get flashbacks to a young Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his time on (and removal from) his home planet of Kenari.
Both sets of episodes also explore how their smuggler protagonists make a life under oppressive regime rule. And, perhaps most importantly, each ends with the promise of a greater adventure, whether that’s Joel leaving the Boston Quarantine Zone with Ellie (Bella Ramsey), or Cassian leaving Ferrix with Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård). These two openers are all about arriving at that pivotal point of departure. Where they differ most is how they get there, both in terms of episodic structure and runtime.
The first episode of The Last of Us clocks in at around 85 minutes, while Andor‘s first three episodes each run about 40 minutes long. And while I’m not the biggest fan of film-length TV episodes, I do think that The Last of Us taking one long episode to reach that crucial departure point is a more effective choice than Andor taking three. With the former, there’s a clear sense of momentum. With the latter, it almost feels like we’re watching a movie that’s been stopped at arbitrary intervals in order to make it count as TV. We’re just treading water waiting for Cassian to meet Luthen and get off-planet. Think of it this way: Could you imagine if the first episode of The Last of Us ended before Joel met Ellie? We would have felt bamboozled!
So, would condensing Andor‘s first arc on Ferrix into one episode have been an improvement? Potentially — it certainly would have allowed us to meet important players like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) earlier on instead of four episodes in. And while there is certainly value in holding your cards close to your chest and letting your story build, there’s also value in reaching important narrative beats at a non-glacial pace. In a streaming age over-saturated with short seasons vying to hold our attention, those first few episodes count more than ever. Luckily, Andor finally managed to hook me towards the end of its third episode — I just wish it had come sooner.