'Andor' can save 'Star Wars' if Disney+ gets the hell out of the way

SFGATE columnist Drew Magary denies his urge for fan service

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in "Andor."

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in "Andor."

Des Willie / Lucasfilm Ltd., sfgarchie, culture, andor

If you need a topline review of “Andor,” the latest “Star Wars” TV series, here it is: It’s good. I watched the first three episodes, all of which dropped on Disney+ yesterday, and now I want to watch the next episode when it comes out. That’s really all you can ask of a TV show, that you have to want to keep watching it.?

I can’t guarantee that’ll remain the case with “Andor.” Nearly every TV show jumps the shark eventually, and the “Star Wars” franchise has a nasty history of failing to stick landings. We’ll get to those hackneyed gripes later but, for the moment, let me wallow in the good s—t. Faint spoilers to follow.

If you need a refresher, “Andor” is a standalone series centered on Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, who you may (or, forgivably, may not) remember from “Rogue One.” He was one of the martyrs who gave their lives to deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebellion so that they could blow it up real good at the end of “Episode IV.” “Rogue One” was a troubled production that was rewritten, with great haste, by “Bourne” trilogy screenwriter and “Michael Clayton” writer/director Tony Gilroy, who also reportedly assumed unofficial directing duties and helped turn “Rogue One” into one of the better “Star Wars” movies of this century.

Gilroy was tapped as showrunner for “Andor,” and, as he did with “Rogue One,” has made bantha-ade out of bantha fodder. “Andor” is more of an adult TV show than any “Star Wars” or Marvel show that preceded it, and not in the usual, cheap way of darkening every set and making the main character talk so low that their lines are inaudible. This show has authentic emotion, authentic grime, authentic (enough) looking sets, and an authentic filmmaking voice behind it.?

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in "Andor."

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in "Andor."

Lucasfilm Ltd., sfgarchie, culture, andor

All of that gives it a leg up on some of the more hideous entries into the “Star Wars” canon. The curt dialogue that was the hallmark of both “Bourne” and “Michael Clayton” is readily apparent in “Andor,” and it makes a world of difference. There are moments of telling silence instead of sassy one-liners bursting out of every seam. Nearly every character is unsure of themselves. Two characters who aren’t in love have sex. Imperial guards are exactly as admirable, and as competent, as the SFPD. Stellan Skarsgard, who acts as a Medallion Signature Guarantee anytime he appears in a work of art, carries a retractable sword that isn’t a lightsaber. Blasters are wielded as brutally and violently as handguns. And there’s only one cute droid moment.?

In between all that, we get the story of an intergalactic urchin who kills two people he shouldn’t and has to exploit the minimal resources he has on hand to avoid capture and imprisonment. This is genre s—t in its purest form, and I like genre s—t. Shows that attempt to bridge genres are a mess. “Andor,” by contrast, is content to remain a modest bit of space noir, and is so far better for it.

The first two episodes of “Andor” have clumsy endings, almost certainly because Gilroy arrives here from film and is still familiarizing himself with the beats of television. The third episode has no such problem. We get a bravura action sequence and then one of those melodramatic montages where every character stares off into the distance, knowing that their problems have only just begun. That episode was the point where I was like, “OK, I’m game for this,” but it also marked a decisive turning point in the story line. At the end of episode three, Luna and Skarsgard have peaced out on Andor’s adopted home planet and ventured out into space, which gives Gilroy a chance to expand his noir across the galaxy while keeping the story line contained.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona) in "Andor."

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona) in "Andor."

Des Willie / Lucasfilm Ltd., sfgarchie, culture, andor

But this is “Star Wars,” which means that every show and movie eventually is forced to succumb to the mythology. The first three episodes of “Andor” are blissfully free of self-reverence. Not once did I hear the word “Jedi” uttered, and this brought me great peace. That shouldn’t be how I operate as a fanboy. I grew up worshiping the original film trilogy and, as a result, take my “Star Wars” WAY too seriously. I should want more Jedi, more Skywalkers, and more Yodas stuffed into every nook and cranny.

I don’t. I got all the Skywalker mythology I required, and then some, from 11 movies, and the other three expanded universe TV shows. These stories take place in a galaxy, mind you. There are a lot of planets in a galaxy. Lot of characters. Lot of interesting things that can happen. “Star Wars” is its own genre at this point, which means that not every story within it has to tie together. You shouldn’t have to be a completist if you want to watch any of it. “Andor,” in its inception, is smart enough to focus in on one of these relatively far-afield stories, which gives it a different, and better, feel than much of what came before it. I felt like I was watching something new. I wanted to watch something new, and I suspect Gilroy wants to give it to me.

Kravas (Lee Boardman), Verlo (Stephen Wight), hostess (Margaret Clunie), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and bartender (Caroline Green) in a scene from "Andor."

Kravas (Lee Boardman), Verlo (Stephen Wight), hostess (Margaret Clunie), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and bartender (Caroline Green) in a scene from "Andor."

Lucasfilm Ltd., sfgarchie, culture, andor

Whether or not Disney lets him is another story. They may not be content to let this series remain modest. “Andor” now enters the part of its story line where the main character goes from anonymous s—tbag to revolutionary. That means that a lot of familiar beats are coming. Someone will say the words “battle station” under their breath. More cute droid moments will happen. A lightsaber will glow. Some famous character from the extended universe, or perhaps many of them, will pop in for a requisite fan service cameo. Maybe Andor will come face to face with digitized Carrie Fisher and they’ll have A Moment.?

So far, Gilroy has written a show that actually treats its audience like grownups. If he can keep on doing it, no matter what directives have been foisted upon him by the dark forces at Disney, he’ll have freed “Star Wars” from its own creative shackles and steered it into newer, and more interesting, places. I want to believe he can thread the needle. Lord knows he’s got the chops to pull it off. But kids, I’ve been hurt before. Caution, I would proceed with.