Andor, review: Star Wars turns to the dark side with this gritty noir thriller

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Just when you thought Star Wars had no more dignity to lose, Disney girded its lightsaber and found a way. After the gruesome JJ Abrams/Rian Johnson movies and the failed Book of Boba Fett, this year even more humiliation was brought to the Galaxy Far, Far Away via the wheel-spinning Ewan McGregor vehicle Obi-Wan Kenobi. For many, it was the final kick in the space pants.

But now there is new hope. Andorra (Disney+), the streamer’s latest Star Wars series, is a pleasantly tough prequel to the best of recent Jedi movies, Rogue One. Sleek and dark, it has all the hallmarks of an adult-supervised project — most notably Bourne Identity writer Tony Gilroy — rather than the over-caffeinated nerds usually entrusted with these efforts by the Sith Lords of the Magic Kingdom.

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Gilroy was called in at 11 a.m. to rewrite Rogue One, its mix of grit and stardust carrying it over the line. Andor isn’t always that skilled. Often when it thinks of itself as “noir-esque” it’s just surly and a little plodding.

Still, it nevertheless adds intelligence and passion to the origin story of Diego Luna’s antihero, Cassian Andor. Crotchety Cassian was introduced in Rogue One, where he helped steal the Death Star’s blueprint. Here, in a prequel to the prequel, he is a grumpy smuggler on a wrecking planet loosely controlled by the Empire, and unwillingly joins forces with the Rebel Alliance.

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Gilroy recently told an interviewer that Star Wars was the ultimate sandbox. It can be whatever you want. Oddly enough, in his case, he’s decided that he wants to be the setting for a sci-fi Ken Loach movie. Gilroy has his phaser gloomy and mumbling from the start, as does a cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård as the Rebel sympathizer who recruits Andor to the cause, Genevieve O’Reilly as a socialite in cahoots with the insurgents, and Fiona Shaw as Andor’s adoptive mother.

Luna’s angry look was one of the big draws in Rogue One, his edgy vibe was reminiscent of Han Solo with the safety cap off. That energy survived the jump from the speed of light to Disney+. With that bleak aura as a guideline, Andor goes where no Star Wars has ventured before. This is established when the first episode begins with our hero visiting a brothel in search of his missing sister. For the dressed-as-a-Storm Trooper contingent of the fanbase – no, this isn’t the innocent escapism you’re looking for.

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Luna is a coiled spring all over and Andor as a whole is bundled with a tension that, at least in the first four episodes, is never fully released. But the new series isn’t an insult to the original movies and – compared to the recent track record – what a scintillating improvement that represents.

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