“Andor” boasts a sense of realism perhaps never before seen in a “Star Wars” movie or show.
Sure, we get the occasional laser blast or TIE fighters ripping through the sky in the series debuting this week on Disney+.
Mostly, though, “Andor” is a gritty thriller and character study more concerned with crime, politics and spycraft. And it boasts seemingly few digital effects, the dialogue-dependent story unfolding mostly on elaborate practical sets.
With promises that this is a more “adult” “Star Wars” project, its story begins with its namesake character — Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, a protagonist in the solid 2016 movie “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — killing two men who give him a hard time after he encounters them in a brothel on the planet Ferrix. (Now, this is still “Star Wars,” so Cassian is there looking for his sister — not to have a good time.)
All of that may be quite welcome to fans who grew up on the original trilogy but now have more sophisticated tastes. The closest this show comes to cuteness is squat droid B2EMO, who exhibits very relatable emotions.
Here’s the only problem: “Andor” is boring.
Through the four episodes that Disney-owned Lucasfilm Ltd. made available for review — the three debuting this week and next week’s chapter, which takes the story in a new direction — the drama suffers from lukewarm storytelling and almost never crackles. There may not be enough here for “Star Wars” fans of any age.
Set five years before the events of “Rogue One” — and thus also before 1977’s “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” — “Andor” is being shepherded by Tony Gilroy, who co-wrote “Rogue One.” His goal is to take Cassian from the aimless-but-gifted thief we meet at the brothel to the gifted Rebel spy we encountered in the film. And Gilroy (“Michael Clayton,” “the Bourne Legacy”) has 24 episodes to do it, with this season’s 12 installments covering a year’s time and a second planned season set to zoom us through another four years.
There’s time for “Andor” to improve. And it needs to get better.
As yet another “Star Wars” prequel, “Andor” brings with it only so many unknowns. We certainly know where Cassian’s path will end, so we must become invested in his evolutionary journey. However, he was only a so-so character on the big screen, and there’s little so far to suggest that will change in this series. Luna (“Y tu mama tambien,” “Narcos: Mexico”) is partly to blame, the actor offering a performance that is understated to a fault.
On the bright side, we are looking forward to more time spent with a couple of other secondary characters.
The first is Mon Mothma, a young member of the Imperial Senate portrayed by Genevieve O’Reilly since the character’s reintroduction in 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” (Mon Mothma originally was portrayed by Caroline Blakiston in 1983’s “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.”). Like Luthen, she is secretly working to overthrow the Empire … while also dealing with marital issues. (Hey, we told you this was “Star Wars” for grown-ups.)
The other is Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), a supervisor with the Imperial Security Bureau. She’s new in the job and ambitious, which rankles some of her male colleagues, including her boss (Anton Lesser of “Game of Thrones”). However, she’s right about the significance of what is happening on Ferrix.
That we find ourselves rooting for Dedra to excel in this male-dominated world speaks to one of the strong suits of “Andor”: its moral complexity. And we have reason to believe we won’t approve of every action taken by Cassian and his Rebel pals as “Andor” progresses.
However, we have one more knock against it: The writers, including Gilroy, really struggle with scripting episodic television. Many a showrunner has talked about how a season is like one long movie, but that really feels like the case with “Andor.” Each chapter ending with almost nothing to make you look forward to the next. We weren’t expecting anything akin to the introduction of Baby Yoda at the end of the first episode of “The Mandalorian,” but there is shockingly little in the way of late-game pop here.