Andor returned with a meaty fourth episode titled Aldhani that really kicks the door down on what this Star Wars show is capable of. The show continues to be a densely layered and complex political thriller set within the Star Wars universe. On-location filming, lots of world-building, character and intrigue. Prepare for some gushing.
The episode picks up moments after we last saw Cassian and Luthen as they fly through hyperspace, towards their next direction. Luthen reveals that the real purpose of his mission was to recruit Andor, not buy some stolen imperial tech off of him. Luthen is about to pull off a major job and could use something with Andor’s skills to his advantage. And Luthen knows exactly what skills Andor has to offer, revealing he knows a lot about Diego Luna’s leading man, down to his service history. Luthen is clearly exploiting Andor’s dislike of the Empire and desperation for credits, but Andor ultimately can’t say no to 200, 000 credits and a chance to “stab the Empire in the eyes”. Luthen is already a very interesting character, he’s out to stop the Empire and is working with Mon Mothma, but is totally fine with labeling Andor as “expendable”.
So Cassian and Luthen make their way to the titular Aldhani, which is very much remote Scotland. But it’s so refreshing and welcoming to see practical sets return. The volume is a great asset for actors as opposed to using green screen, as it allows them to act against a digital set in a studio, but nothing beats being on location. The endless horizon, grey skies and giant mountains are a visual treat. When a TIE fighter flies above Cassian, the ships (and by association, the Empire), seems scary as it roars overhead, almost in violation of the nature on display. Too often the Empire comes off as incompetent or cartoony. Here, a mere ship roaring ahead is cause to run for cover.
Cassian gets pawned off by Luthen into a group of rebels out to steal the Empire’s quarterly payroll. The group is very wary of a last-minute addition to their group, but their leader Vel made a secret bargain with Luthen about the inclusion of Andor in the mission. Luthen goes from stiff to terrifying to faux-charming in a matter of scenes, giving the necessary information to Andor to recruit him, threatening Val into taking Andor on, then playing a rich merchant for Coruscant’s elite.
This makes a nice segue to the introduction of Mon Mothma to the narrative. The future leader of the Rebel Alliance, Mothma is already working against the Empire at this point and is in league with Luthen. But she’s noticing a change and that more eyes are on her, which makes funding these Rebel cells that much harder. She plays the game, and understands the rules, but seems worried and even terrified despite her confident outward appearance. She tells Luthen, whom she meets under the pretense of gift buying, that she feels the eyes of the Empire watching her constantly and getting the money to fun cells like Kitchen’s is getting harder. Luthen, dressed up in gaudy jewelry and a wig, insists that the senator keep gathering information and providing funds. We’re in the early days of the Rebellion here and the various cells are not yet unified under her banner.
One thing that I’m really liking about Andor in relation to the other Disney+ Star Wars shows to date is how it’s treating the villains. In The Mandalorian, we get almost no time with the Imperial Remnant, Boba Fett gets no time at all to flesh out the antagonists. We get Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, but those scenes were built around our established emotional connection to the character. Andor is doing something different by bringing us into the boardrooms and politics of the Empire. The show cuts away from Andor and into the Imperial circles a lot and it’s so wonderful.
This episode, written by Dan Gilroy of Nightcrawler fame, introduces mainstream audiences to the Imperial Security Bureau, which is sort of like the Empire’s Gestapo. Tight dialogue, scheming, tidiness and routine are all on display here, as is their complete lack of morals. Major Partagaz, played by Game of Thrones‘ Anton Lesser, praises one of his subordinates, Dedra Meedro (Denise Gough) for rounding up a high number of detainees, yet scolds her for being behind on her quarterly reports and for acting on gut instinct as opposed to raw evidence and data. It shows just how cold and detached the Empire really is.
The ISB also takes charge of the planet Morlana from last week’s episodes and effectively fires the Corporate Security, including Karn, for various reasons but the gist of it being failure to follow orders. I actually feel bad for Karn. He saw the laziness and failure of his superiors and wanted to bring Cassian to justice for killing two company men. But the ISB saw the failure of that mission as unworthy, so they all got sacked for incompetence. It’s fascinating that breaking the rules to bring a lawbreaker to justice results in punishment in the eyes of the Empire. Karn, in his failure, packs it up with his head bowed and returns home to his mother, who welcomes him home after slapping him. Is this the end of his arc? I honestly don’t know, the show is subverting expectations so having that be the end of the line for him would be both interesting and against the norm. But I reckon he’s going to try to clear his name in the eyes of the Empire.
That’s what’s working so well for Andor. This series isn’t about adventure and thrills. This series is completely dedicated to world-building and character development. Everything feels meticulously planned without being obviously acted, a testament to both the director and the actors. Mon Mothma puts on a mask of confidence and warmth while in the open but alone in her shuttle, the cracks fade and fear and doubt take hold. Subtle looks and glances reveal much about these characters’ inner struggles without beating the audience over the head with exposition. It’s still too early to say where this show is going in the long run, but four episodes in, I must applaud Andor and the team who brought it to life. This is shaping up to be quality television and not just a fun Star Wars show.