Since I consider “Rogue One” to be the best iteration of “Star Wars” since the original trilogy, naturally I’m interested in the prequel to that prequel.
The top-of-his-class screenwriter Tony Gilroy wrote that film, and “Michael Clayton,” and he created “Andor,” the story of how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) became radicalized enough to get involved with the rebellion and risk his life to steal those Death Star plans “A long time ago, in a galaxy far away.”
Punching through four episodes of the new series — which has already been green-lit for a second season of 12 episodes after this first 12 — I got glimpses of what I so loved about “Rogue One.”
The stakes are terminal. Killing and deaths have consequences. That’s what puts a price on Cassian’s head, murdering two guards at a corporate mining/salvage operation run by Pre-Mor. Monolithic corporations are but an extension of the Imperial megalopoly, and an officious, fanatical Javert figure Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is the villain of the early episodes, a corporate police commander determined to find this scrapper, thief and smuggler who killed his two corporate guards.
Another “Rogue One” virtue was its tactile sense of place. The “world creation” of most “Star Wars” films and series is vivid, although there’s been a tendency to set as much of this derring-do as possible in deserts. Here, we’re in a damp world of brick structures, rusting, ruined spaceships and breaking yards as well as glossy corporate and “imperial” settings, a stunning new bar and a more verdant planet where primitive, blowgun-armed natives fill in the backstory to this backstory of a backstory.
Gilroy and his brother Dan wrote most of the scripts for the first season, so we’re assuming they can keep all that straight. More or less.
And the third great selling point of “Rogue One” was its best-in-series cast. Felicity Jones and Luna, Donnie Yen and Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelson, Riz Ahmed, Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O’Reilly and Ben Mendelssohn were featured, with veteran character players surrounding this stellar ensemble. Luna, O’Reilly and Whitaker return for this series (in later episodes) with Stellan Skarsgård, Fiona Shaw and Adria Arjona (“Father of the Bride,””Morbius”) adding new luster.
The narrative begins, as “Rogue One” did, in media res, as Cassian has already stolen something that leads to him having to kill to keep his secret and his liberty. His mechanic-pal Bix (Arjona) isn’t really privy to what he’s up to, nor is his mother (Shaw). But his cute, stammering rusty robot, B2EMO, can keep a secret.
“I can lie. I hu-hu-have adequate power reserves!”
Cassian is scrambling, right from the start, to lie low and make his sale (Skarsgård plays a “buyer”), dodge Syril Karn and his minions and just get a little breathing room.
As in “Rogue One,” the story starts with urgency and the pacing at least gives the illusion of brisk. Streaming storytelling is a drip drip drip affair, and this series doesn’t escape that with opening episodes that have brief bursts of action and a desire to slow revelations and plot twists to a crawl.
The dialogue touches on the “arrogance” of the Empire and its corporate stooges, the motivations of the opposing parties and the stakes each sees in the struggle. It’s “When the risk of doing nothing (about lawbreaking) becomes the greatest risk of all” and “The best way to keep the blade sharp is to USE it” vs. “Don’t you want to fight these bastards for real?”
Not all the threads of the story are introduced in the first four episodes, and even so, one wonders how they’re going to get more than one season out this “rogue” hero’s journey. The back story to the back story business doesn’t have any obvious point — yet.
But with this cast and these writers, we can be sure they’ll think of something sinister and exciting and hopefully engrossing enough to carry us along the way, even without Baby Yoda around.
Rating: TV-14 (violence)
Cast: Diego Luna, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Kyle Stoller, Genevieve O’Reilly, Kyle Soller, Forest Whitaker and Stellan Skarsgård
Credits: Created by Tony Gilroy. A Disney+ release.
Running time: 12 episodes @34-40 minutes each.