This Star Wars: Andor article contains spoilers.
Andor Episode 8
In episode 8 of Andor, half of the action is a Star Wars version of the Shawshank Redemption, and there’s something about this specific incarceration that feels a bit on the fake side of the Force, like the Disneyland version of a space prison. Andor episode 8 is good, but as we watch humans literally build the cogs that make the machines of the Empire work, one can’t help but wonder, are we getting a bit too granular with the logistics of Star Wars?
At the point at which Cassian gets thrown into a forced-labor Imperial prison, nobody wanted Andor to suddenly turn into Alien 3, but there’s still something a bit too sanitized about these Star Wars prison sequences. Essentially, this Imperial prison motivates the inmates to be really good at building cogs(?) and pits various teams of workers against each other. It’s a little like if Mr. Spacely from The Jetsons were to have a reality show about people building Spacely’s Sprockets, or if the prison in Paddington 2 were moved to the inside of George Lucas’ first movie, the monochromatic THX-1138. That is to say, we believe this system works, but we have to really question how an Imperial braintrust cooked up an idea that could only be created by a writers’ room for a prestige TV show.
Meanwhile, Andy Serkis is inexplicably here, playing Kino, an inmate, turned shift leader who is equally believable and not believable because you’re distracted by the fact that it’s Andy Serkis. There’s just something really weird about the fact that the actor who played Snoke in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is just also in this prison. Because Andor is the one Star Wars show that is so actively anti-easter eggs and seems designed to discourage nutty fan theories, putting Andy “Snoke” Serkis here feels like a step in the wrong direction. Everyone’s Snoke theories were silly and pointless back in 2015, but now what about everyone’s Kino theories? When is stunt casting not actually a stunt in nostalgia-obsessed Star Wars? (Speaking of cameos, Duncan Pow is also back as Ruescott Melshi from Rogue One.)
At the risk of digressing on this point too much (I probably already have), Serkis in Andor is kind of a red herring easter egg, like when Matt Lanter (the animated voice of Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars) played a live-action New Republic security officer who got murdered in season 1 of The Mandalorian. It’s just an easter egg for the sake of having someone from the Star Wars family appear in a different Star Wars thing. The only positive endgame for this is that, if a future Star Wars project doubles down and casts Serkis in a third role, it would put him on track to becoming the Jeffrey Combs of the Star Wars franchise. (Warwick Davis would still have Serkis beat in terms of total number of Star Wars characters portrayed, but most of those are just background cameos.)
Ultimately, the big news here isn’t what’s going on in Cassian’s prison. Just like in the previous arc, the Dickensian drama unfolding across the galaxy isn’t just about the titular character. Instead, Luthen meets with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) to debate the ethics and politics of various cells and sects that make up the Rebellion. Andor promised early on that we weren’t going to get a pretty picture of the “good guys” of the Galactic Civil War, and that’s never been truer than it is in this scene. But these same shades-of-grey brush strokes aren’t being used to color the Imperial characters. Or, at least not as much. Dedra continues to show her superiors that she understands the logistics of running a fascist regime way better than they do, which is all well and good, but on some level, her workplace victories also feel a little strange. Does the show really want us to root for Dedra? And does she have a personality trait other than just being way better at her job than everyone else and thinking outside of the box? If Dedra does end up being revealed as a very deeply-planted Rebel spy or perhaps a self-made revolutionary (one of many fan theories), then we’ll hopefully get to see the brilliant Denise Gough show another side to her character.
Of course, Star Wars is under no obligation to give us layered and nuanced versions of Imperial characters. These are space Nazis, so why should we care about what they think or feel? They’re objectively reprehensible villains. And yet, we’re encouraged to think about Syril Karn, the boy who cried Andor, and we’re invited to consider that he may have complex emotions that result in him being an overly ambitious creep.
As hard as we’re being on the Rebels for all their shades of grey in Andor, it’s almost like we’re not being hard enough on the Imperials, even though we’re spending a lot of time with them. Yet, one brilliant thing about Andor is that it’s made it pretty clear that although the Empire is well-funded, and wields a lot of power, many of their number — even those working in intelligence — are incompetent, or at the very least, lazy. Not Dedra, but everyone else.
Dedra proclaims that she wants to “drill down” to “find Andor.” But, hilariously, the Empire already has him, locked up, making those cogs on Narkina 5. They just don’t know it since he used the alias “Keef Girgo” when he was arrested. This makes you wonder if Luke, Han, and Leia had just laid low and started using fake names, would The Empire Strikes Back have shaken out the same way? Obi-Wan using an alias worked for over a decade. Apparently, fake names are a superpower in Star Wars?
To summarize where we’re at in the story of Cassian Andor: he’s got Rebels out to kill him, hired by Luthen (although Vel and Cinta finally reunite on Ferrix, it’s crushingly short-lived); Imperial intelligence who want to arrest him for murder; and inmates, all of whom have worse lives after he assisted the Rebellion a few episodes back. Which is why, for all of its frustrating and strange quirks, this episode of Andor is actually very good at tightening the tension of all the plot threads, ever so slightly. If the writing follows through on all of these notions, there’s no reason for Cassian to want to get out of prison, nor is there a good reason for him to stay. His “friends” are arguably more ruthless than his enemies, and both are one step closer to tracking him down. At this point, you can feel the pace of Andor picking up, but, in what is a fairly huge compliment for a Star Wars TV show, we really don’t know what’s going to happen next.