This Star Wars: Andor article contains spoilers.
Andor Episode 5
Just at the very end of Andor episode 5, “The Axe Forgets,” Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) and his assistant on Coruscant, Kleya (Elizabeth Dulau), have a brief discussion about the future of the Rebellion. Luthen is clearly worried that Cassian’s job on the planet Aldhani is going to go south, while Kleya makes it clear that she believes everything is going to work out, one way or another. “It’ll all be over this time tomorrow,” Kleya says. Luthen retorts with, “Or it will just be starting.” If Andor episode 4 was all about dropping us into new environments, then episode 5 is clearly the calm before the storm. But, at this point, the overarching promise of the series seems torn between the two perspectives floated at the end of this episode: This is either just getting started, or it’s not.
As a Star Wars series intent on presenting naturalism as opposed to melodrama, Andor continues to deliver more of the same excellence in acting and solid dialogue as the first four episodes. What fans and critics who like the series are saying is true: Star Wars has never felt this grown-up and secure in telling a story in which people talk like real people and do normal things. At one point, while burning the midnight oil with one of her Imperial colleagues, Dedra Meero (Denis Gough) pops some Star Wars version of aspirin. It’s a slightly jarring moment, only because it feels so commonplace.
Science fiction often struggles with making the ordinary seem plausible, but also, science fiction-y, too. This is why the blue milk throughout Star Wars is something of an intellectual punchline: the milk couldn’t just look normal because…reasons. While he’s home, getting remonstrated by his mom, Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) rolls his spoon around in blue milk. It’s a similar moment to the painkiller taken by Dedra, except “blue milk” is a world-building easter egg from A New Hope, and the pain pill is just whatever it needs to be. Andor plays the Star Wars canon like an accordion, sometimes you get a glimpse of a TIE fighter, sometimes you get long shots of blue milk, and other times, the accordion is closed, and no Star Wars easter eggs are required, because the story isn’t about that kind of thing.
If focusing on blue milk and tiny pills feels like splitting the tiniest of hairs on the head of a Wampa, let’s be honest, this is what Andor is. This is a show where Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) taking off her earrings in a landspeeder will be perhaps just as important as the mention of an off-screen, but very familiar, planet. Cassian (Diego Luna) and Skeen (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) discussing tattoos hint at some backstory yet to be revealed, but then again, maybe not. Detail in Andor isn’t always about the plot, sometimes it’s just there because those details would exist in real life, too.
If literary realism isn’t really your thing, and you watch Star Wars for the pew-pew blasters and the space adventure, “The Axe Forgets” isn’t suddenly shifting the show into hyperdrive. The big Rebellion heist on Aldhani seems scheduled for next week, but then again, even in this episode, it’s a little difficult to know exactly how many times everyone in the camp has to go to sleep before they can wake up and do something again. In real life, being a freedom fighter for the Rebellion would be like this: tedious, difficult, and uncomfortable. Andor has made its point with episode 5, the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are nothing like what life was like for the rest of the people in the Rebellion.
However, because this episode is still mostly focused on setting-up various character threads, it remains to be seen if Andor’s novelty can actually transform into something else. Right now, the show still feels fresh because it’s such a contrast to the rest of Star Wars. But Andor can’t just continue to be praised for what it’s not, it has to, at some point, also succeed or fail on its own merits. It’s either going to be all over tomorrow, or it’s just getting started.
Lots of other TV shows have realistic characters and nitty-gritty details. These kinds of things are weird for Star Wars, but it’s not like non-science fiction shows get praised for not falling into adventure tropes. In other words, the thing that keeps Andor going shouldn’t just continue to be “The dialogue is slightly better than most other Star Wars things!”
Just because Andor is rebelling against the Star Wars mold doesn’t mean the entire series is intrinsically brilliant. Yet. But at this point, it hasn’t actually delivered on its promise. When all the Rebels learn that Cassian is just in it for the money, there’s a moment where they don’t trust him. This is kind of meta. Is the show the same way? Is this a brilliant introspective sci-fi drama, or is Andor just meandering because it can?
For now, the hope for Andor is that its various plot threads will evolve in surprising, but realistically inevitable ways. We’re told that Vel (Faye Marsay) and Cinta (Varada Sethu) have some secret role in the heist at the Imperial Base — but what is it? Uncle Harlo is going to swoop in and fix Syril Karn’s life — but who is Uncle Harlo? What’s up with Mon Mothma’s crummy family? Where is Cassian’s sister?
Andor probably won’t answer these questions in the way that we think. But it will need to move the show out of the “beginning” and start pushing us somewhere toward the “middle” very soon. For the past two episodes, Cassian Andor has been going by the name “Clem,” a sort of anonymous character in what is supposedly his own show. Hopefully, in episode 6, he’ll steal back the spotlight, and in doing so, reveal in which direction Andor is actually headed. It doesn’t need to reach for the stars, but if the show continues at this pace, some of the early goodwill for Andor might slowly turn toward the dark side.