Andor review: Disney+ Star Wars prequel with Diego Luna meets the bare minimum, but not much more
Diego Luna stars in Tony Gilroy’s prequel to Rogue One, yet another Disney+ series that’s trying to be a twelve hour movie rather than a real television series
Originally, Andor – the latest in a long line of Star Wars television series on Disney+ – was scheduled to begin on Wednesday August 31. Today, after a delay of almost a month, three episodes of the series have been released at once. What quickly becomes apparent watching Andor, though, is that this postponement is unlikely to have been about creating distance from She-Hulk, the other high-profile Disney+ release for August, or even about bulking up a premiere event. No, it’s simpler than that – it’s just that it takes three episodes for anything to actually happen here.
Broadly speaking, the opening episodes of Andor chart Cassian Andor’s first steps into a wider world. When the series begins (set five years before Rogue One, the 2016 movie that first introduced Diego Luna’s revolutionary), Cassian is down on his luck and struggling to get by, preoccupied with finding his long-lost sister and not much else. An altercation gone wrong with some low-level imperial security officers means he needs to get offworld, quickly, and Cassian starts calling in favours from an increasingly impatient local community to try and evade capture.
None of this is conveyed with much sense of urgency: ‘slow-burn’ would perhaps be the charitable way of putting it, though that implies it’s a tenser affair than it ultimately proves, with Andor’s first two episodes in particular feeling especially languid. Certainly, it’s hard to articulate exactly why these three episodes are in fact three episodes at all – like many of its streaming predecessors, Andor feels formless rather than carefully constructed, an already over-long movie cut up into essentially arbitrary segments in the faint hope it won’t outstay its welcome as a result. It is not, to put it simply, a piece of television that actually feels particularly interested in being television.
Whether it’ll remain that way is hard to say. In contrast to other Disney+ Star Wars and Marvel series, Andor’s first season is going to be 12 episodes, with a second and final season of 12 episodes again in development. It’s difficult, on the basis of this opening salvo, to get much of a sense of what Andor will actually look like week-on-week – let alone what it might look like or how it will function by the time it gets to its closing episodes. Andor lacks the entitlement and complacency of something like Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Book of Boba Fett, clearing their low bar at least, but it also doesn’t quite deign to convince you there’s a commitment worth making there.
What Andor does have going for it, at least, is a level of tactile filmmaking previous Star Wars series have lacked: it’s stylishly shot, grimey and visceral-in-a-PG-sort-of-way, with a clear and conscious effort going towards lending this the weight of a lived-in world. It’d perhaps be a little simplistic to attribute that to the fact that Andor mostly eschewed use of the Volume – a sort of real-time green screen projection used extensively on The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi, though it’s now becoming mainstream enough that Coronation Street used it recently too – but there’s no avoiding the fact that this looks considerably better than its plasticky counterparts.
It’s perhaps a less natural showcase for the ensemble cast than director Toby Haynes, but they each impress to varying extents nonetheless. Diego Luna centres things well enough, pitching Cassian as someone only just holding it together, run ragged and exhausted underneath surface level charm; Cassian is perhaps a non-obvious candidate for a spinoff, even allowing for the fact Rogue One enjoys a reputation far beyond its actual quality, but building a series around Luna is a more compelling choice. Kyle Soller (of the little-seen-but-much-missed You, Me, and the Apocalypse) is well-cast as an overzealous and obsessive mid-level bureaucrat, and Stellan Skarsgaard stands out largely by virtue of the fact that the story finally kicks into gear when he shows up.
Of course, Andor arrives at a point when the bar for Star Wars on television has been firmly and repeatedly lowered. It is, as we’ve noted already, often poorly paced and awkwardly structured, falling into the same ’12-hour movie’ trap made by so many filmmakers moving into television for the first time; equally, by virtue of some basic intercutting of flashbacks between Cassian’s present and childhood, it reaches a level of thematic substance that something like The Book of Boba Fett didn’t even come close to. It’s easy to overstate the differences between Andor and its predecessors – as many have, frankly – but the differences that do exist speak volumes.
Could it resolve into something more interesting? Maybe. Probably. Hopefully! Certainly, the pieces are there, with actors like Faye Marsay and Anton Lesser due to make appearances later on, and showrunner Tony Gilroy and Diego Luna’s professed interest in telling a migrant story against the backdrop of revolution. The basic pitch for Andor is a compelling one – it’d help if they actually started to make it now. As it is, Andor feels like another show stuck between two mediums, splitting the difference and failing at being either, its structure getting in the way of what could be its greatest strength. Or, put another way, it’s never going to work while it’s still trying to be film and/or television.
The first three episodes of Andor are available now on Disney+, which you can sign up for here ahead of a new episode next week. I saw the first three episodes of Andor before writing this review. You can follow us on twitter here, and read more of our TV reviews here.