“You just walk in like you belong,” Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor impatiently explains in the impelling Rogue One: A Star Wars Story prequel series Andor that debuts Wednesday on Disney+ with three episodes and rolls out once a week thereafter.
“They are so proud of themselves, they don’t even care,” the future Rebel Alliance intelligence officer tells the mysterious Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) as Imperial minions are on their way. “They are so fat and satisfied, they can’t imagine it …that someone like me could get inside their house, walk their floors, spit in their food, take their gear,” Andor adds of the realities of living under the harsh bureaucratic boot of the Empire in the George Lucas-created galaxy far far away.
Set in a derelict industrial building, this two-hander scene from the Toby Haynes-helmed third episode of the Tony Gilroy-created Andor strikingly illustrates that if you are expecting a barrage of highflying action and irreverent repartee, then this may not be the Star Wars series for you. However, if something more down, dirty and narratively daring is more to your taste, then welcome to the pitiless edge of the galaxy, the seeds of the fight to bring down the Death Star, and another star turn by the prodigious Luna.
Or, to make the jump to review hyperspace, the Force is very strong with this incomparable offering from Gilroy, the Michael Clayton filmmaker who co-wrote 2016’s Rogue One movie with Chris Weitz.
With the worlds and ideological backdrop established over successive offerings in the franchise, Andor is set five years before the events of Rogue One and the heist by Andor, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and others to snag the plans for the Galactic Empire’s most powerful weapon.
With all that backstory, this is a most definitely a Star Wars TV series – don’t get me wrong there. But sprinkled with cameos and slivers of lore from the Lucasfilm canon, this prequel to the prequel to 1977’s landmark A New Hope is primarily a political thriller.
To Andor’s credit, as well to the Kathleen Kennedy-run Lucasfilm and Gilroy himself, this is also the first Star Wars project entirely aimed at grown-ups. The sex scene of sorts between Luna’s Cassian and Brix (Adria Arjona) will likely raise a number of eyebrows for those of us who never knew Star Wars to get more sensual that a stolen kiss between Han Solo and Princess Leia in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and the late great Carrie Fisher barely attired in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Still, whether you were an original New Hoper, came of age with The Phantom Menace or made your bones with J.J. Abrams’ and Rian Johnson’s closing trilogy, don’t let the brief carnal connection or other bells and whistles of Andor distract you.
The series is set to run over two seasons of 12 episodes each, and there’s a lot more really going on here.
For many, part of the appeal of the Star Wars franchise from the beginning was how Lucas put a spotlight on the underbelly of Imperial rule and the underworld that greases the starships of commerce. Putting its weight heavily on the furrowed elements of Rogue One, Andor depicts worlds figuratively and literally far away from Jedi Masters and Senate intrigue — at least in the trio of episodes Disney provide to critics.
Similar to the opening of the otherwise paint-by-numbers Obi-Wan Kenobi from earlier this year, Andor with meticulous strokes, is about life below the bottom rung of the Empire, a near-ruined place of the proletariat and dispossessed. It is about the people who drill the mines, build the landing docks, deliver the food, scrounge for credits and put in the long hours for the patrons of pleasure dens and brothels. In no small sense like the realities under the veneer that is America, it is a hazardous saga where families are severed from each other and lives are unsentimentally discarded.
Plot point to plot point, Andor is a tale where nobody — from Marvel alum Skarsgard’s Rael to Fiona Shaw’s mothering Maarva to Kyle Soller’s ambitious and pinched-face Jared Kushner lookalike Imperial officer Syril and more — are who or what you think or hope they will be.
That is no small part why Andor is a series to watch and stick with even though you know how it ultimately, fatally ends. Trick is: you just walk in, like you belong.
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