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Review: Star Wars streaming series 'Andor'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The newest release in the "Star Wars" franchise is a prequel to the prequel of the original 1977 movie that started it all. The Disney+ series "Andor" tells the story of how rebels formed an alliance to challenge the evil galactic empire. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been watching.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Disney+'s "Andor" wants to make sure you know this is a different kind of "Star Wars" story. So early in the first episode, Diego Luna's character, a scruffy thief named Cassian Andor, gets in a fight. He's struggling with two guards employed by a corporation working for the empire, who try to rob him. And he kills one of them. While Cassian holds a gun to his head, the second guard pleads for his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

LEE BOARDMAN: (As Kravas) He tried to grab you, and he fell, and he hit his head. We'll go in together. We'll tell them what happened.

DEGGANS: Cassian kills him, too. That's not the kind of fighting you normally see in "Star Wars" series, where the heroes and heroines cut down legions of faceless stormtroopers. But the series "Andor" outlines a grittier, more down-to-earth story without Jedi Knights, at least in the first few episodes. It's focused on people at the bottom of the ladder, abused by inept and corrupt authoritarian leaders until they fight back. Case in point - when the two dead guards are discovered, at first their boss wants to sweep the whole mess under the rug and pretend they died in an accident. His idealistic deputy disagrees.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

KYLE SOLLER: (As Syril Karn) But they were murdered.

RUPERT VANSITTART: (As Chief Hyne) They were killed in a fight. They were in a brothel, which we're not supposed to have, the expensive one, which they shouldn't be able to afford, drinking Revnog, which we're not supposed to allow - both of them supposedly on the job, which is a dismissible offence. They clearly harassed a human with dark features and chose the wrong person to annoy.

DEGGANS: But the idealistic deputy believes in the Empire and wants to arrest Cassian, assembling a strike team to do it. The strike team's leader supports cracking down on distant, unruly planets.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

ALEX FERNS: (As Sergeant Linus Mosk) I've been saying all along, we need a stronger hand with these affiliated planets. Corporate tactical forces are the Empire's first line of defense, and the best way to keep the blade sharp is to use it.

DEGGANS: Now, this is "Star Wars," so the politics always have to be complicated. But Cassian is basically running from corporate enforcers employed by the Empire. But the series spends so much time setting up its characters and setting up the scene that it takes far too long to advance the primary storylines. We flashback to Cassian's childhood on a forest planet called Kenari. We see him take forever to arrange a way to make fast money so he can flee the guards looking for him. And when, by the third episode, he tries to make that money by selling equipment to a mysterious character played by Stellan Skarsgard, that man makes Cassian an offer he can't refuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDOR")

STELLAN SKARSGARD: (As Luthen Rael) I'd like you to come with me.

DIEGO LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) How do you know about me?

SKARSGARD: (As Luthen Rael) I know you killed two Corpos on Morlana One. I know they're coming for you.

LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) Who are you?

SKARSGARD: (As Luthen Rael) That's the wrong question. The right question is how much time do we have to get out of here?

LUNA: (As Cassian Andor) Why would I go anywhere with you?

SKARSGARD: (As Luthen Rael) Don't you want to fight these bastards for real?

DEGGANS: The first three installments of "Andor" deliver a story which could have been told in one or two episodes, making me worry there's more ponderous storytelling to come. Set five years before the time of the film "Rogue One," "Andor" has got a lot of ground to cover, but the story it's exploring - how a scrappy band of freedom fighters built the rebel alliance that Princess Leia serves in the first "Star Wars" movie - now, that feels so promising, I'm still hooked, and I can't wait to see more.

I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.