Andor review: Ambitious Star Wars drama suffers death by canon
For everything the show gets right, it can't escape a sense of redundancy.
So much has happened since the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. For starters, the once-dominant sci-fi franchise has been exiled from the big screen following a divisive film trilogy. Now, it survives by parading relatively obscure animated characters through its increasingly uninspired streaming shows. In some ways, Andor can be considered a throwback to those halcyon days when Disney's ownership of Lucasfilm was still fresh and treated with widespread optimism, representing a kind of story not doggedly entrenched in fan service.
Viewers might be surprised at just how separate Andor is from the rest of the Star Wars franchise – including even Rogue One. The opening four episodes screened to critics make very few nods to familiar locales and characters, which is a bold move in a media landscape obsessed with Easter eggs, references and cameos. Instead, head writer and creator Tony Gilroy is refreshingly more interested in world building, introducing us to corners of the universe never before explored (in live-action, at least).
There's a particular interest in how the Empire became the unstoppable force we meet in A New Hope, relying first on incompetent private security contractors before fully clenching its iron fist. Conversely, we witness an origin of sorts for the Rebel Alliance, which begins as a disparate scattering of dissenting voices that Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) reluctantly finds himself drawn into. Of course, as the title would suggest, this show also delves into his own humble beginnings on a remote planet desolated by the oppressive regime.
It's a story that stuns visually through ambitious use of real-world locations and practical sets, as opposed to the ILM StageCraft technology used on The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett and, most recently, Obi-Wan Kenobi. When first showcased to the public in 2020, this cutting-edge digital landscape (essentially an LED evolution of the traditional green screen) seemed truly revolutionary, but the sheen has quickly faded as its limitations have become clear. There's simply no substitute for a genuine environment that directors and actors can utilise in every aspect of their work.
Sure enough, the performances here are some of the best Star Wars has seen in some time, with Luna effortlessly slipping back into his 2016 role, which retains the complexity that drew fans to him in his debut. Of course, the screen-time there was split between five other central protagonists, so writer Gilroy is now able to delve far deeper into how Andor was forged, which brings some interesting new characters into the mix.
Chief among them is Killing Eve star Fiona Shaw as mother-figure Maarva, who makes a mighty impression despite her fairly fleeting appearances in these opening chapters. Her weighty line delivery sends chills down the spine and her enigmatic persona leaves you hungry to know more.
The same can be said for Stellan Skarsgård's Luthen Rael, who rivals Andor himself in the charming rogues department, deftly conveying the heavy moral ambiguity of a man torn between two worlds. Comparatively, Adria Arjona is a tad forgettable so far as Andor's scrappy pal Bix Caleen, but could well come into her own as the show progresses.
Genevieve O'Reilly makes a welcome return as fringe Return of the Jedi character Mon Mothma, who compels as a besieged senator desperately fanning the surviving embers of freedom in the galaxy – although the exact role of an elected senate in this otherwise dictatorial regime remains confusingly undefined.
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On the other end of the spectrum, Denise Gough and Kyle Soller are suitably unhinged as imperial die-hards Dedra Meero and Syril Karn, who seem on a collision course as both have Andor in their sights. And yes, new
merchandising opportunity droid character B2-EMO is undeniably adorable.
But while Andor creates no shortage of goodwill through its intricate production design, strong performances and dynamic characters, it ultimately feels wasted on a story that just isn't very interesting. Events move at a plodding pace and when the big rebel plan is finally unveiled, it feels laughably unimportant despite a concerted effort to paint it otherwise.
Of course, that should come as no surprise given Andor's position in the Star Wars timeline. We know that the Empire remains as strong as ever for many years after the events of this series and so, by design, nothing of any consequence can happen here.
You can make that argument for any prequel to varying extents, but the wind is taken out of Andor's sails more than most, perhaps because of how exhaustively Lucasfilm has mined this era of Star Wars history in recent years.
Feature films Rogue One and Solo, animated shows Rebels and The Bad Batch, recent miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, and cinematic video game Jedi: Fallen Order have all fleshed out this specific period in the timeline. To be frank, it's just not interesting enough to sustain such detailed exploration, no matter who the POV character happens to be. It was bleak, we get it. What more is there to say?
Andor episodes 1-3 are available to stream on Disney Plus from Wednesday 21st September 2022. New episodes weekly. Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year.
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