‘Andor’ review: Star Wars grows into Disney Plus’ morally gray spy drama

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A weird thing about Star Wars: In the very first movie, A New Hope, Han Solo didn’t believe in the Force. Fans must have awkwardly dismissed this as a continuity error, but the new Star Wars Andor series, perhaps for the first time, shows you a version of the story where you could buy someone wouldn’t believe in it. Strength – or hope, or whatever.

Andor is streaming on Disney Plus from September 21 with new episodes every wednesday. Diego Luna reflects on the role of the morally dubious main character he played in the Star Wars Movie 2016 Rogue One. The series features an origin story for Rogue One’s wicked and brooding intergalactic spy, delving into his past life as a petty hustler on a remote planet – before being swept away into something bigger and darker. that he could never have believed.

The usual spectacular space battles and Force-fueled lightsaber duels seem a far cry from Andor’s stark view of burly miners, junkyards, and underdogs. Star Wars has often gone to the ground level of the galaxy’s myriad planets, but that’s a whole other level of mundane misery. In fact, the opening episode’s neon rain-drenched brothels and accompanying moody synth music remind you more of another sci-fi classic. In its dark tone, icy pace, and general air of menace, Andor initially shouts Blade Runner.

Star Wars fans will see plenty of references to the saga, of course. But the pacing considered in particular marks this as unlike previous action-packed Star Wars adventures on the big and small screen. It is created by Tony Gilroy, screenwriter and director of Bourne Movies, but the most obvious comparison is with his nuanced, slow-burning masterpiece Michael Clayton. Playing like a real-world spy drama full of low-key geopolitical intrigue, Andor shares this film’s themes of intertwining corporate and government misdeeds, normal people crushed by the system, bureaucrats and happy bullies. being cogs in the grinding system through greed, fear, or general exhaustion.

Andor establishes a galaxy of greed, violence, naked ambition – and that real-world driving force that is often overlooked by movies: basic incompetence. We know about the Evil Empire and its gleaming ships and spotless uniforms, but Andor leans into lesser officials who support the Empire through their basic urge to put on a uniform and use it. Steal, bully, climb the ladder, take and take.

As in the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series, part of the villains’ downfall comes from their own infighting. But oddly, Andor alludes to a similar split with the rebellion’s good guys, who apparently aren’t all square-jawed good guys banding together behind a white-clad princess to save the day. It conjures up real-world rebellions like the Spanish Civil War in a vision of freedom fighters and ideologues who can’t help but bicker even in the face of a common enemy. It’s a humanizing take on the Rebel Alliance that adds nuance rarely seen in the big screen version. And it hints that the series will explore just how difficult it is to overthrow a seemingly invincible system – you don’t just roll straight off a farm and into the cockpit of an X-Wing to bring down an entire empire in time. for tea and medals.

A group of grim-faced space cops show up at a door.

Darth Vader and the Emperor aren’t the only villains in the Star Wars universe.

Disney+

I admit to being skeptical of Andor’s split from Rogue One, for the simple reason that it’s a prequel to a prequel. I will die on the hill that the prequels are useless, unless they mean something to you that changes the way you see the original story: the Disney Plus series Obi Wan Kenobi I almost got there but I was pulled back by continuity limitations at the end, though Andor has at least less baggage related to the previous and subsequent trilogies. But the fact remains that we know where Cassian Andor ends up.

And yet, strangely, this emerges as a strength of the series. The deliberately paced story creates a sense of creeping menace, unhurried tension, that almost teases you with your knowledge of where it’s going. It’s all about inevitability. Andor and his ilk are trapped in the shackles of indifferent capitalism, bureaucracy and authoritarianism, tightening around them as they struggle. Of course, it’s going to end badly for him, for everyone. Why fight it? Everything is screwed up, so why waste your time trying to change anything?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to unpack these themes any further at this point, as only the first four episodes have been shown to critics. And the measured pacing means the story still has to go a very long way at this point (there are 12 episodes in total). The series has an incredible cast, including Genevieve O’Reilly, Stellan Skarsgård, Adria Arjona, Denise Gough, a standout Kyle Soller and Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw (as well as various UK TV actors here and there). But their stories barely started with Episode 4.

For one thing, pacing is an important part of Andor’s world-building. It’s a phrase often used to describe how a story colors up in detail for setting and characters – the Star Wars merchandising machine is known for churning out action figures of every human in a funny hat or an alien with a bulbous snouts that have already wandered through the background, whether or not they deserve plastic immortalization. Even Andor’s most minor characters have a crude richness that suggests there’s something going on beyond the screen.

In terms of toys, I would absolutely drop a few bucks on Guy Who Rings Bell.

But while Andor is rich with planet names and random snippets of galactic history thrown into the dialogue, the show’s slow-paced world-building is more about mood, tone, theme. We spend time with these characters to see the lives (and lies) they live, painting a picture not just of an alien galaxy but of an inescapable mindset, an all-pervading attitude towards the system that traps them. .

At the same time, I’d like to see things crack a bit. There are an awful lot of scenes of people walking around the premises, which could be tightened up, and a series of flashbacks don’t really deserve the heavy reverence with which they span multiple episodes. Absent The Mandalorian’s small bursts of weekly action, Andor may prove too inert for some viewers.

But don’t be fooled. It may move slowly, but the suspense builds and the morally ambiguous themes sneak up on you. In Episode 3, the world-building elevates things to an intensity that might surprise you based on how small the events were. Andor doesn’t need starships or flashing lightsabers to up the ante on gripping, morally ambiguous drama grounded in real human hopes and fears. For once, this galaxy is not so far away.

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