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‘The Last of Us’ does what ‘Andor’ didn’t

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 greatly in terms of my high regard for them: the opening episode(s).

The first three episodes of Andor — which all fell on Disney+ at once, so I’ve grouped them together in my review — almost put me off the show completely. Not because they were bad, because they certainly showcased the show’s great performances and visuals, but because they were the slowest of the slow burns. Pressing play every new episode felt like a chore instead of something to be excited about. Even though the last act of episode three was incredibly promising, I’d been burned before by other Star Wars series like Obi Wan Kenobiwhich started slowly and yielded few results.

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In the end, I’m happy to say that Andor proved me wrong. Tony Gilroy came up with a stunning story of budding rebellion that is the best Star Wars has been in years, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. But when I watched the first episode of HBO’s The last of usall my trouble with AndorThe first three episodes came crawling back for one simple reason: The last of us‘s opening succeeds Andor‘s falters.

Each opener is about accomplishing similar things, aside from the usual setting of character, tone, and setting you need in a pilot. The last of us delves into the backstory of Joel (Pedro Pascal), including the death of his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) at the dawn of the global cordyceps outbreak. During AndorIn the 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 live under the rule of the oppressive regime. And, perhaps most importantly, each one ends with the promise of a greater adventure, whether that be Joel leaving Boston’s quarantine zone with Ellie (Bella Ramsey), or Cassian leaving Ferrix with Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård). These two openers are all about reaching that crucial starting point. Where they differ most is how they get there, both in episodic structure and runtime.

The first episode of The last of us clocks in at about 85 minutes, while AndorThe first three episodes are about 40 minutes each. And while I’m not the biggest fan of movie-length TV episodes, I think I am The last of us taking a long episode to reach that crucial departure point is a more effective choice then Andor take three. With the former, there is a clear sense of momentum. The latter almost feels like we’re watching a movie that has been stopped at random intervals to make it count as TV. We’re just treading water, waiting for Cassian to meet Luthen and get off the planet. Think of it this way: Could you imagine the first episode of The last of us ended before Joel met Ellie? We would have felt cheated!

So, would condense Andor‘s first arc on Ferrix in one episode was an improvement? Potential – it certainly would have allowed us to meet key players like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) sooner rather than four episodes into it. And while there’s certainly value in keeping your cards close to your chest and letting your story build, there’s also value in hitting key narrative beats at a non-glacial pace. In a streaming age oversaturated with short seasons vying to hold our attention, those first few episodes count more than ever. Happy, Andor finally managed to captivate me at the end of the third episode – wish it had come sooner.

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