Eschewing a slow start to another three-episode arc, the latest episode of ‘Andor’ keeps up the pace and proves it’s both a great ‘Star Wars’ show and one of the best things on TV in 2022
Episode 7 of Andor didn’t have to go so hard. Last week was the high point of the series so far—and in many minds, mine included, one of the high points for the franchise (and not only during the Disney era). Episode 6 had set pieces, spectacles, and character deaths. It had somber, emotional moments, it had a heist, and it had a heavenly light show. The last of those selling points sticks with me most. For all the visual variety in Star Wars locales—your ice planets and lava planets, desert planets and jungle planets—live-action Star Wars series and movies often look like they take place on different regions of Earth. Celestially speaking, the galaxy far, far away rarely gets more exotic than a binary star system—the most common kind. The end of “The Eye,” however, was otherworldly and wondrous in a way I associate with more, well, scientific sci-fi.
All of which is to say that the show could have gotten away with a brief refractory period. Had the series stuck to the pattern of episodes 1 and 4, each of which kicked off a mini-trilogy by the same writer-director duo, Episode 7 could have been a breather and retrenchment, introducing new settings and priming the pump for future highlights. Instead, “Announcement,” directed by Benjamin Caron (The Crown) and written by Stephen Schiff (The Americans), maintained most of Episode 6’s pace and scope. The seventh installment lacks the blaster bolts and bloodshed of the first two midseason “finales,” but it builds on the sense that the die was cast on Aldhani. “Turning back will be impossible,” Luthen tells Mon Mothma this week, and that forward momentum applies to this series as well. Like the fledgling Rebel network, Andor “grows or it dies.”
Andor’s cast suffered more death than growth last week, but the surviving gang was all here this week, with a few new additions. Just as crucially, the conflict at the center of the series has entered a new phase. Remember when Van Jones declared that Donald Trump had become president, and Megan Amram mocked him for years by tweeting, once a day, “Today was the day Donald Trump finally became president”? Today really was the day Andor finally became Star Wars, in the sense that it started looking the part.
In “The Eye,” the Rebellion finally became the Rebellion by striking boldly and directly at its adversary. In “Announcement,” the Empire finally became the Empire by responding to the Rebels’ blow. “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers,” Leia says in Episode IV. That grip began to tighten this week, as Wullf Yularen—an ISB bigwig who appeared in Episode IV, The Clone Wars, and Rebels and makes his Andor debut in this episode—says, “The only question we need to answer is how tight to close our fist.”
No, the Rebel Alliance still hasn’t officially formed, and the Senate still hasn’t been dissolved; those milestones remain years away, and the Empire’s grip is going to get a lot tighter. But the battle lines have been drawn, the combatants have poked their heads out of cover, and the terms of engagement are growing clearer. Creator Tony Gilroy restrained himself for the first half of the season as the incipient conflict simmered, but this week, with the Empire massing its strength, we got our first stormtroopers, shoretroopers, and clone troopers; probe droids and security droids; a Star Destroyer; and references to Palpatine. We also got two allusions to Rogue One, via Maarva’s line, “Tell me you understand,” and a KX droid that deked everyone watching into thinking, “K-2SO!”
it isn’t an andor episode if there isn’t a rogue one parallel stuffed in there somewhere pic.twitter.com/8XB2fpvX68
thinking of how cassian went from being afraid of an imperial security droid to being bffs to one pic.twitter.com/QHJXK5fYE8
One of the pleasures of early Andor was how few Star Wars signifiers it relied on; in the absence of Star Destroyers, a single TIE fighter felt terrifying. So it wasn’t as if I was dying to see a Star Destroyer or a contingent of troopers; there’s no shortage of those in every other Star Wars project. But because Gilroy withheld them for so long (by Star Wars standards), their appearance makes more of an impact, conveying that we’ve entered the second half of the season and that things have changed.
Plus, it’s not as if inserting a few hallmarks of the heyday of the Empire made Andor indistinguishable from its predecessors. Mercifully, it feels more like Star Wars turned into Andor than the other way around. This episode was still stuffed with “only in Andor” Star Wars scenes: Major Partagaz’s Socratic method at ISB roundtables; Dedra Meero, doc review whiz; the institution of, essentially, an Imperial PATRIOT Act; and the deliberately, deceptively anodyne phrase Yularen uses to describe the persecution the Empire can now enact on any locals who help (or are said to have helped) the Rebels: “Permanent revocation of Imperial tolerance.” Enter the bureaucrats—the Empire has hidden tyranny in red tape and perfected the art of making crackdowns and dictatorship sound dull. As Luthen says, “The Empire has been choking us so slowly, we’re starting not to notice.”
Syril Karn, of course, stifled at the Bureau of Standards (except for when he hears about Aldhani and quickly comes alive), yearning for a place where he can be more than a man in a brown flannel suit and pop his collar in peace. The cutthroat Kleya meeting with a startlingly chic-looking Vel—a scene that could have happened in any old location but, just for kicks and style points, is preceded by a stealthy stroll across a striking urban landscape.
This show is so good it makes a mundane walk through a crowded train station cinema pic.twitter.com/PYM5YSeujA
The roughly 15 seconds that Caron’s camera lingers in closeup on Luthen’s face as Mon Mothma leaves his store, capturing the series of expressions that flit across Stellan Skarsgård’s face. The way the flashback scene to Cassian’s adoptive dad’s death and Cassian’s assault on the clone troopers is shot, showing adult Cassian’s face from the front and kid Cassian’s body from behind and the side. (Now we know why his rap sheet in Episode 2 listed “assault on Imperial soldier.”) Cassian taking a shower (or pretending to) while a woman we don’t even know talks to him from the next room. The backwater, fan-cooled court where offenders are punished for “animal fouling” and where Cassian is sentenced to a six-year prison stint—extended from six months, it seems, because of his own actions on Aldhani—on trumped-up charges and told to “take it up with the Emperor.” (Six years would take him past the point of Rogue One, so I’m guessing he’s not gonna serve this term—though he’s more likely to get out on bad behavior than good.) Ironically, Cassian is innocent this time, but that doesn’t mean he’s free from the Empire. Like his dad before him, perhaps, he’s targeted for walking while Black or brown; considering what happened to Clem, it’s no wonder that Cassian’s reluctant to be a do-gooder.
One of the things I love that #Andor is doing is giving allegory of how law enforcement works against black and brown men for doing the most innocuous things.
Cassian was harassed and sentenced SIX YEARS for walking to the store. Clem was HUNG for breaking up a riot pic.twitter.com/8x1YspOZUX
Then there’s Maarva’s speech about being inspired to rebel, and the affecting exchange at the end:
“I won’t have peace,” Cassian says. “I’ll be worried about you all the time.”
“That’s just love,” she responds. “Nothing you can do about that.”
this ENTIRE SCENE WAS AMAZING i cried a little it was so good #Andor pic.twitter.com/1hubZqeaw0
I mean, it’s no, “I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you—I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating… hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me.” But Tony, Steve: Not bad for one of your first Star Wars declarations of love.
Have I mentioned that Nicholas Britell’s score rules, too, from the pounding, pipe organ-sounding synths as the Star Destroyer soars over Cinta’s head to the almost Hotline Miami-esque synthwave and percussion on Niamos? Because it does.
On a narrative level, “Announcement” solidifies the disconnect between the two core Rebel conspirators we’ve met (the third, as yet unnamed, presumably being Bail Organa). We’d gathered from previous interactions that Luthen lacks scruples when it comes to taking on the Empire. What wasn’t clear to the audience (or to Mon Mothma) before now is that the suffering sure to be caused by the Empire’s reprisals isn’t an unfortunate byproduct of the operation on Aldhani; it’s part of the plan. “We need the fear,” Luthen says, to Mothma’s horror. “We need them to overreact.” The ostensible good guy is egging the bad guys on, the better to provoke atrocities that might make more unscrupulous recruits. But Mon may have a new ally: a childhood friend who has no love for the Empire and who can help her access her family fortune, Tay Kolma. (Predictably played by another recognizable face from British TV, Ben Miles.)
“The Mon Mothma people think they know, it’s a lie,” Mothma tells Tay. “It’s a projection. It’s a front.” Who in this series isn’t hiding behind a façade? Not Cassian, who always has a new outfit and alias. The Empire is after him. Vel is after him. Karn, in his quasi-cubicle at the Bureau of Standards, longs to be after him. Both Bix and his mother turn him away, albeit out of concern for his safety. He can’t return to Kenari, because of whatever disaster befell it—perhaps, inadvertently, triggered by his hand?—and Maarva insists his sister isn’t out there. Even when news of the Aldhani raid radicalizes Maarva*, he won’t confide in her that he helped pull it off; “I don’t expect you to understand,” she says, referencing the “heroes” who took on the garrison, even as he insists it was only a robbery. Even as his own mother joins the cause, he’s more interested in avoiding the fight by taking his talents and credits to Niamos, though he runs afoul of the Empire anyway (and, now that he’s imprisoned, may come to Karn’s attention too).
*One semi-surprising revelation from this episode is that the Empire still seems to permit a free press, or at least doesn’t prevent reports about Aldhani from blaring all over the HoloNet News. (Granted, the raid is labeled a “terror attack and robbery.”) Maybe Palpatine and the ISB haven’t fully suppressed dissent yet, or maybe they think the reports of unrest will push people to flock to the Empire for order. If so, they seem mistaken: The news that some attackers took on the Empire and escaped gets Maarva’s blood up, and she’s likely not the only one. No wonder Dedra is upset that the Empire is framing the raid as a robbery, rather than the “announcement” it was.
I’m the guy writing this breakdown because I also loved Star Wars the way it was before—even if, to borrow a phrase from Maarva, “It’s all come undone” at times. Yet I’m thrilled every week by how different Andor feels. The second season of The Mandalorian was one sort of Star Wars fantasy: a live-action series where Grogu and Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano and Boba Fett and Bo-Katan Kryze could all overlap, in the hands of creators who cared about those characters as much as or more than the audience did. Andor is a polar-opposite fantasy that’s just as absorbing: a vast palette upon which an accomplished storyteller and non-Star Wars fan can mix his paints and apply them as he wishes within the loose bounds of this saga. The show’s constituent parts would work without the IP hook, but luckily for Star Wars fans, Gilroy has seen fit to reinvent streaming Star Wars in the process of sinking his teeth into his type of tale.
Part of me fears that Andor’s dialogue and cinematography will ruin future Star Wars series for me; as spotty as, say, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed from week to week when they aired, I wonder how much more glaring their issues would be had they come after Andor. A bigger part, however, hopes that Andor’s example will make future Star Wars series better, either because other creators will try to clear the high bar Gilroy and his creative team have set, or because the critical reception to this series will encourage Lucasfilm to double down on other projects and creators that don’t fit the traditional Star Wars mold. As Cassian says, “It’s all gonna be different now.” (Though on a more disheartening note, there’s some indication that audience demand for Andor has lagged behind that of previous live-action Star Wars series, which could be because of competition from other genre shows, Andor being less internet famous than Grogu, Boba, or Obi, or—let’s face it—fans not sharing my exquisite taste.)
But there’s still a lot of Cassian to come before thoughts turn to Mando, Ahsoka, and subsequent leads. Thus far, the only letdown is that Andor was condensed from five seasons to two. Often—not always—one must make certain allowances for franchise storytelling; if you cherish certain source material or enjoy visiting its world, you’re more likely to overlook, or at least tolerate, the flaws. With Andor, like peak Game of Thrones, there’s no need to grade on an IP curve. It’s one of the best TV shows of the year, and it also just happens to be about Star Wars. I don’t like it solely because it’s about Star Wars. It’s not good for a Star Wars show. It’s just good, and—almost by happenstance—a Star Wars show. It almost doesn’t compute.
It seems as if this series could contain the seeds of several standalone shows, each of them worth watching, but all of them well-integrated within the coherent whole of Andor. Cassian doesn’t show up in the first 15 minutes of “Announcement,” yet good as Diego Luna is, the series never slacks when he isn’t on the screen. “There will be no rules going forward,” Luthen tells Mon. There hardly have been to this point, and Andor’s been the better for it. You know when Shmi Skywalker sees Anakin for the last time on Tatooine, croaks out, “I love…,” and dies? That’s pretty much me when a new Andor ends.
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