By Josh Reilly B.
Andor continues its bold new direction for the Star Wars franchise with its eighth episode, titled Narkina 5. Some familiar faces join the cast of supporting characters alongside regulars like Cassian, Bix, Mon Mothma, and Luthen Rael.
Andor’s latest outing follows up on the title character’s imprisonment at the end of the last episode. What was planned as a place to lay low and hideout quickly turned into running straight back into the Empire for Cassian, who was sentenced to six years in prison. Claims that he’s “just a tourist” aren’t enough to convince the Empire to overturn his sentence, leaving this eighth episode to be primarily set in a prison on the planet Narkina 5. Other characters are shown throughout the episode, such as Luthen Rael visiting Saw Gerrera, Mon Mothma and her continuous quest for funding for the Rebel cause, and Bix’s capture by Dedra and the Imperial forces. But for Cassian, with over 3,000 days to serve in jail, the terror of the Empire has never felt more real or personal.
The writing is the core strength of Andor, a fact that’s been prevalent throughout the course of this first season. This is true yet again in Narkina 5, particularly when it comes to Cassian’s time in prison. Despite it being space and the conditions being somewhat sanitary, the horrors of this prison are in the mind. To call it a prison isn’t even entirely accurate, either, as it’s more of a slave labor camp than anything. Building Imperial gear and weapons is the sole goal of these prisoners, and the ones who fail to do so in a timely manner will be eliminated. The prisoners don’t even have shoes, an important detail as the floors are weaponized and can be used to shock the inmates into submission at any time.
All of this has a remarkable effect on Cassian, a showing of the true strength of the writing here. Andor is deeply stunned, shocked, and disturbed by his surroundings, and at times it appears that he might be on the verge of having a panic attack. Not only is it interesting from an audience perspective to see a place like this, but it actually means something to the characters. And for this hero, it feels real. It seems likely that we’ll get a jailbreak episode before the season’s over, and one that will free Cassian from the Imperial rule. He might not be a Rebel yet, but the presence of Melchi (Cassian’s colleague in Rogue One) suggests that he might be one by the time he escapes.
A quick side note, Andy Serkis makes his live action Star Wars debut in this episode (at least, the first time he’s showing his true face) after playing Supreme Leader Snoke in the sequel trilogy. It’s a bit of a shock to see him to say the least, but it’s another hallmark of the incredible caliber of acting on display in this show.
More broadly, Andor continues to excel in its real world parallels. Star Wars has always been relevant and always been political, but Andor feels closer to home than anything in a galaxy far, far away yet. Cassian’s wrongful imprisonment, unfair trial and subsequent imprisonment are all reminiscent of the flawed justice system in the United States today. The way in which the Empire then proceeds to profit off of its prisoners is another terrifying parallel of the for-profit prisons in the modern day U.S.
Saw Gerrera’s scene brings up similar elements as well. Gerrera and Luthen have the same goal, to take down the Empire, but have very different methods of going about it. Andor continues to explore the nuances and subtly of the Star Wars galaxy, and this scene highlights that perfectly. Saw is more of an extremist, even more so than Luthen, and Forest Whitaker is once again a fantastic addition to the franchise.
Andor’s eight episode picks up right where the last left off, both in terms of story and quality as well. Andor feels real and relevant in the best of ways, and continues to be a prime example of the incredible stories Star Wars can tell.