Low on action, Andor series gets underway on Disney+

Review by C.J. Bunce

The first three episodes of the Rogue One prequel series Andor have arrived on Disney+.  Unfortunately writer/creator Tony Gilroy squandered the first hour and a half.  With only twelve 40-minute episodes for the season, the time typically allotted for an entire movie is wasted on set-up and backstory instead of delving right into the action of a younger Cassian Andor, played again by Diego Luna.  The series is missing the tight direction and breathless scene-by-scene build of its source material, director Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the movie that re-ignited the possibilities for Star Wars after George Lucas sold it all to Disney and laid the groundwork for the Lucasfilm tentpole series The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.  With nine episodes arriving weekly this Fall, Andor has some ground to make up if it wants to match the excitement of those series.

Gilroy, one of the writers on Rogue One, makes some odd choices for this series.  First, there’s not much new here.  The first episodes echo many of the beats in the first hour of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which saw a young Han Solo escape his planet and leave the only family he knew behind.  The first three episodes don’t even see Cassian escaping his resident planet yet, but his crime world roots repeat Han’s story.  The slow pacing (like A Confession or Roadkill), the theme music (like Hinterland, Unforgotten, or The Bay), and storytelling style (like A Confession or Roadkill), make Andor feel like we’re watching a British crime drama, complete with swaggering Scots in stereotypical roles.  The series seems to try to redefine the Imperial accent as Scottish, as it also lays the groundwork for the bumbling stormtroopers of the future.

Star Wars always has had a British touch, and that’s spotlighted in the cast of Andor, with well-known British actors Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter series, True Blood), Ron Cook (Mr. Selfridge, Hot Fuzz), Rupert Vansittart (Braveheart), Kyle Soller (Fury, Poldark), and The Batman’s Alex Ferns in prominent roles.  The series was also filmed at Pinewood Studios in London, and there’s also an (inexplicable) Brit rock beat at the end of the second episode.

The series only gains some gravitas when MCU star Stellan Skarsgård arrives as a new rebel recruiter named Luthen, who wishes to tap Cassian for more serious rebel-work.  A better approach would have been to start the series with his arrival.  Fiona Shaw’s adoptive mother type is a nice touch, along with a very battered, very Star Wars droid named B2-EMO.  The best action arrives in a novel blend of a mill room disaster and a gunfight at the end of episode three.

The Empire here visually will seem unfamiliar to Star Wars audiences.  The Imperial squad has the requisite troop transports from the prequels that were once used by the clones, but their blue, garishly trimmed uniforms have more in common with Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets than they fit into a progression that will become the gray and white World War II style uniforms later in the series.  Cassian hails from a planet of children (a la Lord of the Flies?) on a primitive world that shares something with the locals Kirk, Spock, & Co. meet at the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness.  Perhaps the proto-Star Wars look is intentional, but it doesn’t conjure the Star Wars viewers will be familiar with.  Cassian makes some mistakes in trying to hide from the Empire as he searches for his sister, missing since his youth, which is also the plot of the popular science fiction TV series Altered Carbon.  Yes, Andor borrows a lot from other sci-fi.  But the best visuals include an intriguing effort to mirror Ridley Scott and Syd Mead’s Blade Runner–a first for Star Wars–as Cassian pursues a neon-filled late-night lead in a seedy brothel in the first episode.

Beyond the predominantly British acting crew, the cast includes half-Mexican/half-British lead Luna, plus Latina actress Adria Arjona (Morbius, 6 Underground) as Cassian’s friend Bix, and a crew of teens of varying races on Cassian’s home planet.  Viewers have yet to see Genevieve O’Reilly in her third stint as Mon Mothma, Forest Whitaker back as Saw Gerrera, Denise Gough (Colette) as new Imperial officer Dedra, or Outlaw King and Monarch of the Glen’s Alastair Mackenzie as new character Perrin.  But keep an eye out for a gong-banging Dave Filoni in a quick cameo.

Who is the most badass character so far?  That’s young Malini Raman-Middleton as the Kenari leader.  She has the vibe of Dafne Keen’s Laura in Logan.  And the best alien is this guy, Vetch, played by the tall Predator actor Ian Whyte:

Andor seems to be on par in tone and delivery with Lucasfilm’s Kenobi series from earlier this year, and it may have similar bookend issues since we also know the future of this lead character.  We’ve only seen a quarter of the first season and a second season is already underway, so a lot can–and hopefully will–happen to rev up the series.  We said it for Star Trek and it applies to Star Wars, too: Even so-so Star Wars is better than no Star Wars.  Look forward to new episodes of Andor every Wednesday, streaming on Disney+.

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