Andor S1E01: Kassa

A multi-season story about the main supporting character in Rogue One, a film that ends with all its characters getting killed off one by one until finally only its leads are left holding each other as the Death Star obliterates the planet they’re on is not the most obvious contender for “most compelling piece of the Star Wars universe ever,” and yet here we are. By the time Tony Gilroy completes both seasons, Cassian Andor—whose first introduction to viewers involved him gunning down one of his own informants in the back—will very likely have had just about 18 hours of screen time dedicated to his life, placing him up with Anakin and Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. 

That might get at why this TV series works. You obviously couldn’t have this show without those films about the fate of the galaxy and the Skywalker clan at their heart, but despite this being a universe where magic and science have a healthy mutual relationship, the complete lack of Jedi or Sith and Skywalkers in Andor is part of what gives it an urgent reality. Star Wars has always felt “lived.” One of the charms of the original films is the grime, grunge, and broken, unreliable technology counterpart to the bright clean futures most science fiction in the ‘70s liked to traffic in. But Andor ups that feeling of familiarity, of versimilitude, by focusing in on a smaller scale. This is not about the people who move that central Star Wars drama along. This is about the people who are dragged by that conflict’s wake. The fate of the galaxy is still at stake here, and many characters are trying to influence it, but except for one or two, it’s by degrees, and most of them are simply trying to not lose their way. In some ways, it’s the soul of the galaxy that’s being fought over in Andor, rather than just merely its geopolitical fate.

One of the early criticisms of Andor is that it is “slow Star Wars.” And there’s some validity to that, especially in this first episode. It moves along much more briskly on your sixth or seventh rewatch, but when I first saw it, it seemed generous, almost indulgent with its establishing shots and themes. That makes sense for two reasons: one, this is the story of both how the fist of fascism closes slowly over a society and the story of how a rebellion grows in response. And, two, the episodes, particularly these first six, are arranged in groups of three, which means you essentially get three acts of a two hour movie split across them. That means this first episode does a lot of establishing, as the first act usually does. In today’s 10-12 episode hour long drama landscape, it’s usually the first episodes that lay out some rising action, and then episode four upturns the deck. I think because episode one here is building only to episode three, for some viewers it can seem short on backstory, and long on style.

That said, a lot happens: Cassian’s hunt for his sister, who was orphaned with him on Kenari (as revealed through flashbacks) takes him to a brothel on Morlana One, where after drawing the ire of two sentries who try to shake him down, he kills one by accident and then the other to eliminate a witness, and then flees back to Ferrix, his adopted home. This, in turn, introduces us to Syril Karn, the deputy inspector of Preox-Morlana security. I find Syril to be one of the more interestingly realized characters in the show. In stark contrast to his boss, who understands that the system is corrupt and their job is to make sure the corruption doesn’t become so known to the Empire that it will take over Preox-Morlana’s operations (also one of the few nods at the “Imperialization” of the Old Republic’s industries in the series), Syril is a true believer in the rhetoric of the Empire, which makes him extremely ill-equipped to deal with the Empire as it is. 

He is, however, extremely annoying to his coworkers, from his boss (who notices that his uniform has undergone some “light tailoring”), to the hapless radar (for lack of a better word) technician who he forces to stay up all night to track Cassian’s ship back to Ferrix, to the three underlings who aren’t sure if he can even approve the overtime they’ve been working to get the word out about a Kenari male on Ferrix.

Cassian, too, does not ingratiate himself on Ferrix. He gets his apparent ex, Bix, to call her contact only when he reveals he’s been holding some valuable contraband “an Imperial starpath unit, its seals still intact” out on her, so that he can get enough money to flee, as well as the attention of her new squeeze and coworker, Timm. He gets his buddy Brasso to lie for him to establish an alibi, though he doesn’t tell him why. He owes money to Nurchi (and as Nurchi observes, he’s not the only one). Additionally he gets his mother’s droid, B2EMO, to tell a lie—two lies, in fact. And finally he annoys Pegla, the security at Zorby’s Western Shiplot, who refuses to loan him the ship he “borrowed” again after he’s caught changing out data so that the ship doesn’t register where he’s been—“leave it better than you found it” as he explains it, though Pegla sneers back “the Cassian Way” at him. 

One thing I’m struck by, in watching this episode, is that the first episode pretty clearly establishes the hunt for Cassian’s sister as a major thing—it’s basically the inciting incident for everything that follows, plus the very last image of the episode is young Kassa unintentionally abandoning her (no subtitles are shown for the language on Kenari, but my general read is that he says something like, “be back soon,” or something ironic when he leaves). It’s one of the few threads I’d say the show actively drops without much comment, and in a story that otherwise has a rather efficient conservation of characters and plotting, it’s maybe the weakest part of the story. Even in the first three episodes, the only ones that feature prolonged flashbacks to Kenari, she’s largely forgotten after this episode’s final scene.

But across these first three episodes, it’s maybe the one weak point, and it’s only weak because it won’t be picked up again—in the moment, it’s a very effective one—Kassa might think he’s coming back, but we as the viewer can guess he’s not, and it seems like his sister does too.

Stray Observations

  • This episode has a lot of great little bits by minor characters, but I like the Security Chief’s monologue the most. After deciding to term the sentries’ deaths a “regrettable misadventure” and having Syril complain that they were murdered, he corrects him with a blithe statement of the facts: “No, they were killed in a fight. They were in a brothel—which we’re not supposed to have, the expensive one—which they shouldn’t be able to afford, drinking Revnog—which we’re not supposed to allow.” Then having charged Syril with making the deaths into a heroic (but not overly so) accident, he’s off to give his “brief” report on sector crime rates to the Empire. Here’s a man who understands to the core that the system they’re in is completely corrupt, and the lash lands most heavily on those who call attention to it, and not on the participants.
  • Another excellent performance is Lee Boardman (Timon the Jew from HBO’s Rome!) as one of the two murdered sentries. When he realizes his buddy is dead, he snarls “you killed him” at Cassian, then his eyes catch the gun in Cassian’s hand and he puts the two things together, then begins inventing a series of stories that would make in accident in a blubbering and failed attempt to keep his own life.
  • Especially on Ferrix, there’s some lush world building in this episode that really speaks to this being not only Star Wars, but a society to itself. The shipbreakers (though we haven’t actually seen that yet) start their shifts by collecting their gloves from a wall of them, for instance.
  • Diego Luna’s unchanged Mexican accent was a first for Star Wars in Rogue One, and this episode ultimately provides the justification for it: the kids on Kenari do not speak “Galactic Basic,” so Cassian (or Kassa, as he was then) speaks it with an accent. That said, no one in Rogue One or Andor remarks on his unique to Star Wars accent at all. But it does open the door to other cultures’ accents appearing in the series in the future. Like Stellan Skarsgard’s rather distinctive Scandinavian growl.
  • B2EMO is a great addition to the Star Wars droid gallery. In many ways, he’s a sort of halfway point between R2-D2 and C-3PO—still short and wheeled, but with a voice and personality (rather needy, this droid)—brought wonderfully to life by his remote controlled features, which allow him to huddle down and spin his head when he needs to emote. It’s an interesting contrast to, say, BB-8, who seems like an attempt to make a “cuter” R2. B2EMO, unlike R2 (who cannonically is something like 50 years old by the time of the sequels), also shows signs of aging—he’s quite battered, needs to recharge frequently and his voice skipps frequently.
  • Welcome to the Andor recaps, everyone! We’ll do them once a week on Thursdays,