It’s an uphill battle to find a strong hook when you’re a prequel to a prequel that already has no tangible connection to an original, and Andor doesn’t actually spend any time trying to establish one. You’re in or you’re out simply by knowing this is “a thing that takes place in the Star Wars universe,” and if you need anything else… you aren’t a real fan, or whatever.
The lack of a real attempt at establishment is all the worse because there’s an interesting story in here somewhere that will clearly eventually get us to some worthy additions to the canon of the early days of the Rebel Alliance, but it’s buried in shlock and a laughable and unnecessary backstory to the backstory that clubs you over the head with its emotional constructs. Stellan Skarsgård is on his way to pull back the curtain leading to secrets of “A New Hope,” but there’s too much to get through on the way and all of it goes on too long.
With the frequent flashbacks to Andor’s youth the show is literally two stories hoping for your attention, but it also comes through as two attempts, seemingly aiming at different demographics. This perhaps ties the series to its recent sibling, Obi-wan Kenobi, which similarly tried to put forward wildly dramatic expositions on Darth Vader while delivering juvenile scenes with a young Leia that belong in a Y-7 animated series. Here, Andor (Diego Luna) finds himself caught up in unfortunate circumstances and then makes a decision that is seemingly beyond the scope of bravery and character integrity of anything else in the show. This sets us on the run that is ultimately the only story of this film that pretends it’s a series, the Empire is after him.
Almost everything in play with that story is surprisingly solid. The “bad guy” is too one-note and lazy, but most of what he’s there for is better than he is, so you let it go. He’s the deputy in a small, rural town who thinks he knows what’s up because he took a mail-order course in shoving your chest out (at times you expect him to fumble for his gun like Barney Fife), but he opens the door for the sheriff to try to educate him, and for the sergeant who has actually led men in action to mock him without having to do anything at all, despite more or less being on his side.
Andor is also a great character, when this is the story he’s in. He’s on the run, really has nothing going for him or setting him apart from anyone else, and it suits him. He’s got a grudge, but he’s just the guy who happened to put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He doesn’t know what to do, but he’s luckily in a part of the galaxy where the locals haven’t even seen people from the Empire in a while. The whole flight is a fun story, cleverly dotted with characters that fit the larger universe, and weaving audiences through a character making his way “toward” simply because he’s running away works.
Everything else is at best a bit boring, at worst almost flippant. It feels like something written dishearteningly backward. Andor only has a story from his childhood because someone had the bright idea of fusing the two scenes of him on similar ships leaving the surface of a planet in similar situations, so if the childhood story is pedestrian, what difference does it make? It showcases the worst problems with these efforts that take what should be a movie and drag them out over several episodes, because everything to do with his youth would be better as five minutes in a film, but now we have time to fill.
The series looks great and has the potential to turn into something that is much closer to The Mandalorian than Obi-wan, and it hints that that is exactly what it is going to do. You don’t kick off with Andor’s decision to… cause problems, unless things are going to get a bit darker, and you probably can’t dive deep into the Rebel beginnings unless Andor is going to find himself buried in struggles that get pretty ugly. Unfortunately, while the extra time can open up opportunities, if you don’t really have anything to do with it there’s just a lot of noise detracting from what works.
The series as a whole may well hit people with force, but it’s unbearably slow out of the gate and has no excuse to be. The show Luna is working on deserves better treatment.