There will be spoilers for "Andor" Episode IV.
The fourth episode of "Andor" brings us a brand new arc. It sees Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) dropping Cassian Andor off on a remote world where he is an untrusted last-minute addition to a heist of galactic proportions. As Cassian gets settled in with the group of partisans planning the job, Luthen heads back to Coruscant where it's revealed he's leading at least a double life and involved in sedition against the Empire with senators like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly). For her part, Mon Mothma struggles with being watched and having potential enemies surrounding her constantly, including her own husband.
All of this is set against a further backdrop of intrigue and jockeying for position inside the Imperial Security Bureau. The main storyline there seems to be from an ISB officer played by Denise Gough, looking to expand her influence in the organization and recover the stolen Starpath unit that was the MacGuffin in the first arc of the show.
The Intrigue Of World War II Movies
Cassian is brought to the planet of Aldhani where he's expected to take part in the theft of a shipment of Imperial payroll. The other members of the team pulling the heist have been posing for quite some time as shepherds in the Aldhani mountains and are distrustful of Cassian. The entire situation feels like a cross between "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Guns of Navarone." Both of these films have had significant places in the canon of World War II adventure epics and have very clear stakes and timelines built into them. They've been aped by "Star Wars" in many other places, but they're on full display here in this arc of "Andor." It's something George Lucas used to full effect in "A New Hope," copying the major briefing and trench-running scenes from the film "Dam Busters," and the writers of this episode take many of the same cues as they explain the impossible mission they're about to embark on, replete with miniatures and visual representations.
It's interesting to note that they're building up the spectacular visual of the meteor shower-like event that will cover their escape, offering them a very narrow window. It creates a time lock on their mission — if they miss their window they're in much worse trouble. The timing is everything and knowing how these World War II movies work — something always goes wrong, it sets up the board for some thrilling danger. How will Cassian come out of it alive and will they get away with it? That's the chief question on our minds as we head into the next two chapters.
More Of That '70s Drama Vibe
There are two parallel stories playing off against the backdrop of Cassian's story of military intrigue and infiltration. One is Mon Mothma's struggle as the one good person in her circle of Palpatine sycophants in the Imperial senate, the other is a window into the Imperial Security Bureau and the jockeying for position each of the officers performs to come out on top. There are no bones about the parallels to fascism and what we do in that system.
For Mon Mothma, it's about what a person can do from inside a fascist system to subvert it and how dangerous a game that is. For Denise Gough's up-and-coming ISB officer, it's about how dangerous it is to climb a ladder in a fascist system. There is danger and intrigue for everyone in a system so corrupt and evil and watching that play out feels very much like it's inspired by that nihilistic grit of '70s cinema in America. Things like "All the President's Men" and "Three Days of the Condor" have that tense, fear of discovery vibe that they seem to be going for here.
There was one scene in this episode, though, that reminded me very much of Sidney Lumet's "Network." The scene where Mon Mothma spars verbally with her no-account husband had echoes of William Holden's domestic scenes in "Network," casting Mon Mothma as that character with a rich inner life that has grown too far apart from their significant other. It's a really terrific scene and, perhaps, my favorite in this episode.
Details To Watch Out For
After so few references or touchstones to the broader "Star Wars" universe in the first arc, there are enough for those three episodes packed into this one.
First, you'll notice Cassian talking about serving two years in the mud on Mimban. That could very well place him on the muddy planet of Mimban at the same as Han Solo and Chewbacca during the events of "Solo: A Star Wars Story."
We also learn in that same scene that Luthen Rael drives a Fondor Haulcraft, which is important because of where it came. Fondor is an important shipyard in the "Star Wars" canon and a major battle was fought there in the recent "Battlefront II" video game. Fondor was where Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer Executor was built, at least in the Legends canon. In the current canon, it was first mentioned in James Luceno's novel "Tarkin." Fondor is also deeply connected to Palpatine's Nero Decree, Operation: Cinder.
When Luthen Rael offers Cassian some collateral for taking this job, he offers him his Kuati Signet, tied to the Rakatan Invaders. In the Legends canon, the Rakatan were the first beings to develop hyperspace travel and cruised the galaxy, invading planets and conquering them in their name, much like the British Empire.
As the scene shifts to the Imperial Security Bureau, there are many stories and planets that are hinted at. Ryloth is mentioned, and this is a planet that has always bucked the authority and fascism of their oppressors. During the Clone Wars, the Free Ryloth movement worked against the Separatists occupying their planet and were loathe to accept the Republic, but when the Republic transformed into the Empire, they led a freedom movement then, too. Led largely by Cham Syndulla, among others, this movement seems to be under intense scrutiny from the ISB. For more about that story, read Paul S. Kemp's thrilling novel "Lords of the Sith," where those very same freedom fighters attempt to assassinate Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine at the same time (and nearly succeed.) They also mention Arvala-6, which seems logical to be in the same system as Arvala-7, where the Mandalorian first met Grogu.
Another interesting thing spoken of during the briefing was the tracking of construction material heading to Scarif. Scarif, as we all know, is the site of the first decisive battle won by the Rebels as dramatized in "Rogue One", but what goes unsaid here in this scene is that those construction materials are heading toward Scarif to complete construction of the Death Star, which had moved from Geonosis to Scarif in its final years. To read more about the story going on in the background that the ISB has no complete picture of, read James Luceno's "Tarkin" and "Catalyst", as both help paint that picture in the best ways.
It seems as though James Luceno's novels were all well read in preparation for "Andor," as another planet he mentioned in his Legends book "Darth Plaugeis" was name-dropped as well. Sev Tok first appeared in the old West End Games supplement "Star Wars Adventure Journal" in a story about sentient droids taking over a ship and only came up again with Luceno's work in passing.
Perhaps the most interesting and jaw-dropping name drops happen in that scene between Mon Mothma and her husband when they discuss their dinner guests. Ars Dangor is one of them, and is one of Palpatine's chief advisors. There is a long history of the character, but he first appeared in the canon in a confirmed way in James Luceno's "Tarkin. He may or may not have been one of Palpatine's advisors seen in "Return of the Jedi." The other is Sly Moore, Palpatine's chief of staff, scene first in "Revenge of the Sith." It is she who vacates her seat to allow Anakin to sit down to let Palpatine spin his tales of Darth Plagueis to Anakin. She also appears at his side when he declares himself Emperor. Ordinarily, these name-drops would feel like Easter Eggs, but the menacing nature of Palpatine's inner circle infiltrating Mon Mothma's own home adds to the feeling of claustrophobia she must feel trying to fight for what is good and right in the galaxy.
Kicking It Into High Gear
"Andor" started with a very deliberate arc, isolated from the rest of the universe. This fourth episode kicks off a brand new arc that shows us where we sit in the context of the rest of the "Star Wars" universe and shows us an incredibly dangerous place for people trying to build up the rebellion. This is the "Star Wars" galaxy at its most tenuous for the good guys.
I love how well the writing comes off. It doesn't spoon-feed anything, it allows the viewer to add up the bits of the story and find the significance in them. For instance, what significance does it have that Cassian takes the name Clem on his mission? On the surface, it doesn't. It's just a name. But Clem is the name of his father, the man who brought him to Ferrix with Maarva, the man Luthen spoke of who had been hung in the square publicly. Cassian has a deep tie to his family and that one utterance and taking the name of his father tells that whole story.
It's a mature, complicated style of storytelling. I still don't think kids are going to enjoy it as much as adults who pay attention to every bit that it's giving. But for those of us paying attention, everything we've been offered is on par with the quality of any drama on television. "Andor" is truly must-see-TV for those who care about excellent writing and stories that say something.
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