Rebellions might be built on hope, but with regards to Andor, the latest Disney+ Star Wars show, they’re also erected by tired story tropes, questionable acting, and iffy production values. Set five years before the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Diego Luna reprises his role as the titular lead, Cassian Andor. The supporting cast includes Stellan Skarsgård, Fiona Shaw, and Forest Whitaker. Although per the first four episodes screened for this review, Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera has yet to arrive with his tentacled brain-eating monster pal. A pity, as more of that would have been appreciated. Showrunner Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), who handled the Rogue One reshoots, aims to deliver a more mature, less space opera tale set a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. What that amounts to is a story aiming for HBO prestige but too often feels like 00s-era CW.
To be fair, it took five episodes for The Vampire Diaries to become appointment viewing for yours truly. And like that long-running teen series, Andor makes the mistake of spending the first three episodes as just a prologue to this prequel series’ “real story.” At least TVD was smart enough to give us sexy Damon, Elena, and Steffan to take in while the scripts inched toward the good stuff. Andor takes the opening of Rogue One, where Cassian shoots an unarmed man and unwisely postulates, “what if Andor did something bad and had to get out of town, and it took 100 minutes?!” Sigh.
*Mild spoilers from here
A shame as the opening of episode one, where Cassian ends up killing two corporate jerks, is one of the best scenes in the first three episodes. Without giving too much away, we 100% understand why he does what he does. His desperation that follows is palpable. Who exactly can he turn to? His friend Bix Calleen (Adria Arjona) has no love for the Empire, but times are tough. On the planet where the bulk of the first few episodes occur, corporations have their own police to keep the lower class (i.e., everyone else) in line. Even Cassian’s adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw), can’t help him. He’s in the proverbial rock and a hard place. It’s a solid foundation for this future member of the Rebel Alliance to begin.
Yet the script by Gilroy doesn’t think so. Too often, contrived stakes are implemented to make Cassian’s woes worse. It turns out Bix’s part-time bae is super jealous of Cassian because, well, Cassian looks like Diego Luna. If that wasn’t enough, the story switches from the present timeline to when Cassian was a Kenari kid struggling with other kids on their homeward, like a high school production of Oliver Twist: The Sci-Fi Years. The bad costumes and tone-deaf attempt at representing indigenous cultures feel like outtakes from The 100, one of the worst CW shows I’ve seen. Not off to a good start Andor…
Then there’s the politics. As much as some might not like to accept it, Star Wars has always been infused with political commentary. The Empire’s soldiers are called stormtroopers, after all. The prequel era took at aim Palpatine being a kind of fictional stand-in for America’s real Vice President, Dick Cheney. And so on. Andor spends a good deal of its first three episodes focused on a kind of white male incel (complete with mommy issues) that ignorantly mistakes duty for his own inherent racism against a “dark-skinned Kenari.” The actor playing this character starts strong, but by the second episode, he has little to do but glare and be a terrible person, which gets old fast. One wants to applaud Gilroy, director Susana White, and others for wanting to portray a less kid-friendly Star Wars (sex is even hinted at!) Yet too much of the adult subject matter is shallow and dull.
But but but! As much of a chore as those first three episodes can be, the fourth episode intrigued me (call it a new hope). We finally meet some of the Imperial officers who are thankfully interesting. A meeting that veers into healthcare metaphors is a welcome one. Supervisor Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) is the kind of Imperial ladder climber that speaks volumes as she stays laser-focused on what she believes is a rebel uprising. There’s still some cringe dialogue here and there, but there’s a sense that the narrative is venturing into new territory. Finally, Cassian meets his new crew of rebels (though, sadly, no K2S0 yet). Yes, the animated show Star Wars: Rebels already charted the beginning of the Rebellion, but I’m willing to see where this goes. Andor is off to a “dumb but thinks it’s smart” start, but as a fan of all things Star wars, I’m still in.