“Andor” is, both by design and circumstance, immediately different from its “Star Wars” television predecessors. Where “The Mandalorian,” “Boba Fett,” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” wove their biggest reveals into the larger fabric of the Lucasfilm universe, “Andor” doesn’t rush toward those moments that might make fans gasp out of pure recognition. Instead, it does something more surprising still: it tells the story of people who have nothing to do with Solos, Skywalkers or Palpatines, but whose lives matter nonetheless.
Of course, at least part of the reason the series can take its time this way is because haunted hustler Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, also an executive producer) isn’t a brand-new character at all. As the reluctant hero of 2016’s “Rogue One,” which portrayed the rebel pilot mission to steal the Death Star plans which drive “A New Hope,” Cassian’s “Star Wars” legacy is already written. We already know Cassian’s life will eventually intersect with someone like rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly, returning for more in-depth work in “Andor”). We already know his fate — dramatic and hopeful and unforgettable in those final minutes of “Rogue One” — and that it’s well and truly sealed.
So, sure: on the surface of it, it’s exhausting to realize that “Andor” — created by “Rogue One” co-writer Tony Gilroy — is a prequel to a prequel. But being able to step more outside the one “Star Wars” path every other series has had to at least visit gives “Andor” some unexpected freedom to create a world all its own. This approach might also be why Disney+ isn’t just debuting three episodes at once (on Sept. 21), but also took the unprecedented move of providing four screeners to press well ahead of the show’s premiere. “Andor” is not, it seems, all that interested in pandering to the kind of fan service that would otherwise guarantee viewers — and how much more interesting is that?
The show announces its intentions to be capital “d” Different from its opening minutes, which see Cassian looking for his long-lost sister in an alien brothel. (For as much as the specter of “Slave Leia” has loomed over “Star Wars” for decades, this galaxy far, far away has far more often stuck to subtext when it comes to sex.) As in “Rogue One,” Luna’s Cassian makes for a suitably charismatic and handsome leading “Star Wars” man, but quickly proves willing to risk everything in a much more literal way than most. This particular trait of his irritates his mechanic ex, Bix (Adria Arjona), worries his adoptive mother, Maarva (the always welcome Fiona Shaw), and straight up infuriates Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), an uptight Empire cop who values order above all. And yes: this being “Star Wars,” there is of course a mysterious newcomer (the ever enigmatic Stellan Skarsgaard) and an adorable droid whose loyalty and stutter won me over within seconds (especially as voiced by veteran droid voice actor Dave Chapman).
There is, of course, every chance that “Andor” will become as much a part of the “Star Wars” movies as its other Disney+ TV counterparts deeper into its 12-episode season. What should still set it apart even then, hopefully, are how Gilroy’s clever scripts and Toby Haynes’ assured directing come together to build senses of place, character, and social order like few other recent (live action) “Star Wars” iterations. The show’s not in much of a hurry (the first three episodes dropping together really are of a piece), and that might lose it some shorter attention spans. Those who stick around, though, will be rewarded for their patience. Through flashbacks to Cassian’s childhood on the far-flung planet of Kenari, we learn about one of the thousands of civilizations of “dark-eyed” people that fighter pilots speed over on their way to glory. Between Luke Hull’s intricate production design, Nicholas Britell’s swelling score, Michael Wilkinson’s costume design and Emma Scott’s hair and makeup, every world Cassian visits feels far more tangible and lived-in than most “Star Wars” sets, which otherwise tend to evoke future Disneyworld rides.
In this slice of life before the Rebellion burst from spark to flame, “Andor” lays the groundwork for the uprising to come. In following the likes of Cassian, Bix, Syril and all the middle management lackeys who keep the Empire running and the citizens emboldened enough to stand up to them, the show ditches lore in favor of following seemingly ordinary people in their boldest hours.
So if we’re to get dozens of spinoffs and prequels and remakes and re-imaginings, they could do worse than to follow this “Andor” model, which may not be as risky as it seems. Millions of people have fallen in love with this galaxy for the infinite possibilities that lie within; why not explore them in richer detail than playing “Star Wars” bingo usually allows to find something new therein?
The first three episodes of “Andor” premiere Wednesday, Sept. 21 on Disney+.