The first three episodes were excellent, offering a fresh take on Star Wars while still feeling like part of the universe but this fourth episode soars. Not only does it deliver some of the best Star Wars, it’s some of the best current television full stop. Everthing about it, the acting, writing, directing, design, are all spot on.
This episode, written by Dan Gilroy with direction by Susanna White, breaks down the state of the Star Wars universe. Through three interwoven storylines we go from the Rebels down in the dirt right up up to one step away from the Emperor and although the show is called ‘Andor’ Diego Luna’s Cassian is not the glue that holds everything together. That honour goes to Stellan Skarsgård as Luthen Rael.
Rael is operating like an anti-Palpatine, whispering in ears and maneuvering the pieces of the early Rebellion. He’s the one with the vision and control. We are told nothing about the character’s motivation but through Skarsgård’s performance we can see that there is clearly a deep pain that is driving him to make a change in the galaxy. He commands the screen in every scene that he’s in and drives the show forward.
He recruits Andor, who at this time is doing what he’s doing to find his sister and not because he’s a believer in the cause, through money not loyalty. In an early monologue, which gives a cheeky wink to the audience, he lays out the whole purpose of the show. We know that Cassian is going to die fighting the Empire but Rael is there to give him a reason to die doing something meaningful. Rael needs Cassian’s skills and he is willing to pay for it until Cassian has fully bought into the fight.
But it’s Skarsgård’s physical transformation in a scene where he changes from rugged leader to foppish antiques dealer that elevates his performance and the show. It’s a display that would put any superhero actor to shame, the burden on being someone he’s not weighing down on him with every movement.
This is followed up by a scene in Rael’s antique shop that is classic spy storytelling. We are introduced to Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma for the first time in the series and the two Rebel leaders both have to put on fronts until they get the chance to talk business. It the kind of scene that litters Cold War fiction and is set in a similar location like a bookshop or art gallery.
O’Reilly is finally given something meaty to do with the role that she’s had for the best part of two decades. She more than holds her own opposite Skarsgård and then has the sort of scene you would have never of thought you’d see in Star Wars. She goes home and confronts her husband about a dinner party he is planning to host. We see the opulence of the life style of the upper classes and her husband shows absolute disregard for the people she is trying to help. Power has corrupted and this is what her Rebellion is about.
The rest of the episode juxtaposes the Rebel cell that Luthen inserts Cassian into, who are living in a forest on the planet of Aldhani, against the might of the Empire, who are based in the starkness of Coruscant. This is the classic Lucas Star Wars of nature versus the machine and you get the feeling that the production design and the built-in paranoia on both sides draws as much Lucas’ ‘THX 1183’ as is does from ‘Star Wars’. The story skews the closest towards being a World War Two analogue, which is another Lucas thing, than Star Wars has in a long time. With a change of technology this could easily be transposed into a European resistance versus SS setting, you wouldn’t even have to change the uniforms that much.
It is very clear who’s right and who’s wrong but no character is treat as stupid and every action has a reason behind it. The Rebels are right to be nervous about Cassian’s addition to their team. The Empire acts how they should, they are effective but it is arrogance not stupidity that gets in their way. Denise Gough’s Imperial officer even lays out exactly what the growing Rebellion is but is ignored as doing her job correctly is just seen as an attempt at career advancement.
But there is one character that is an unknown quantity and that’s Kyle Soller’s local police officer Syril Karn. He started the series as a true believer in Imperial justice. One massive cockup later and he has been dressed down and kicked of the force by the Empire. He does a long Charlie Brown sad walk back home to his mother who proceeds to slap him in the face. Star Wars has a history of redeeming characters and you just don’t know which way it is going to go with Karn but you get the feeling it will be to the extreme.
Is this the best of the current Star Wars output? To take a line from ‘The Last Jedi’ “maybe”, it all comes down to personal preferences. But it is definitely the most consistent across the board, mature, and gripping.