A prequel to a prequel, “Andor” brings a gritty tone and aura to the “Star Wars” universe, both the blurred landscape of “Blade Runner” and the distant galaxy of George Lucas. But whatever promise that brings is usually lost in lame storytelling, essentially stretching what would have been a 10-minute movie prologue over the first three episodes.
Disney+ wisely decided to launch the 12-episode prequel to “Rogue One” starring Diego Luna as the spy Cassian Andor, with those three episodes providing a slightly better idea of the series’ framework than the floundering first installment. However, it doesn’t take until the fourth for the plot of this original story to come into the picture, by which time “Andor” has already become a bit of a snore.
Created by veteran screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who got the screenplay for “Rogue One” and starred in the reshoots, “Andor” proudly wears on its sleeve the fact that it’s not another “Star Wars” series meant to be. is to impress fans with cameos (although there will be some of those) or sell plush toys. Gilroy seems more interested in telling a succinct spy thread with a caper component — think “The Guns of Navarone,” just starships, droids, and the occasional alien.
However, following a less trodden path is no excuse to move at the pace of an injured Bantha, bogged down in flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood. Also, these early episodes don’t do enough to distinguish the varying cast of supporting characters, a group that provokes little more than indifference.
Andor’s ultimate fate is already known, so the intent of the show is to work out how he made the leap from hating the Empire and its arrogance to fighting it.
Stellan Skarsgård plays a pivotal role in that regard, at least initially, and Genevieve O’Reilly appears as Mon Mothma, reprising the role she played in “Rogue One,” although you don’t expect to see her right away. .
As for the Empire, the organization in this incarnation is less about the Sith than it is about frontline soldiers, a group characterized by bureaucratic infighting and more than a bit of middle-level incompetence. While that conveys an inherent message about totalitarian states like the good ones, few of the bad guys make much of an impression.
The vastness of the “Star Wars” galaxy and the different time frames it occupies create a canvas suitable for all kinds of stories, perhaps easier than its Disney brethren at Marvel, given the interconnected nature of its universe. Obviously this isn’t “The Mandalorian” or “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, with all those moments designed to make hardcore fans swoon, and in theory that’s fine.
The problem is, there’s little to generate much enthusiasm for “Andor” initially, which usually feels like an intriguing test of how and where Lucasfilm can push those parameters and bend the mold – in this case, by producing what amounts to a anti-“Star Wars” “Star Wars” series. Unlike the rousing action in “Rogue One”, the series doesn’t deliver the level of suspense needed to sustain such an elaborate detour as it methodically builds the story.
Charity, the experiment represents an act of creative independence that deserves praise just for trying. Less charitable, “Andor” feels like a series plagued by a dash of imperial arrogance of its own.
“Andor” will premiere with the first three episodes on September 21 on Disney+.