The odd thing about “The Axe Forgets” is that it isn’t particularly memorable, and not much actually happens, but I wouldn’t say it’s weak. Much like “That Would Be Me” there isn’t so much of a throughline (though if the motif of this episode is anything it’s “nervousness”) but where that one dragged, I think this one flows along pretty well—surprising, considering it’s about eight minutes longer.
To me, this episode isn’t even table setting, so much, it’s just fleshing out characters. The primary characters are, of course, the rebels on Aldhani, whose relationships and motivations are fleshed out a little more, though I think the episode is very clever in that—for an episode in which multiple characters will just come out and say “this is why I am/another person is fighting the Empire”—it actually does a fair bit of showing.
For me, the most well executed is Vel’s relationship with Cinta, which I don’t want to harp on too much given how successfully understated it is, but I’m going to anyway. As far as I’m aware, this is the first explicitly acknowledged same sex relationship in Star Wars live action, and credit to Gilroy and company for writing it so that it’s completely unremarked upon as being remarkable. But what I like most about it is that Vel’s actually quite jealous of Cassian, making him dress himself when she thinks Cinta is getting too close, and literally placing her body between Cassian and Cinta at the nighttime fire. I think there’s a danger in fiction that is laying out representation for the first time, to write those characters as largely unimpeachable. It’s a good instinct—gay characters in particular have been written as inherently lascivious villains in many pieces of fiction—but it can fail as an overcorrection to inhuman. Vel’s very human—she’s a deeply insecure person, as we saw in the last episode over her issues about command, and it translates into her personal life. And the fact that she’s worried that Cassian might come in and steal her girlfriend also introduces a nuance to Cinta’s sexuality that’s also often overlooked in much of fiction. All of which is communicated with the closest anyone coming to just saying, “Vel is a lesbian and Cinta is bi, maybe” is Skeen’s observation that Cinta’s already “sharing a blanket.”
We’re also introduced to the character of Nemik a little more, as a sort of philosopher-zealot. Very much someone you could expect to find on a college campus talking about “praxis” while being nervous to engage in it. I think characters with clear ideologies like this are often useful for directly communicating writers’ views on things. I also don’t think you could be any clearer this well-meaning, thoughtful little boy is going to get killed if you put a neon sign over his head saying “will die during the heist.”
While he’s alive, though, his naivete-cum-idealism is great at commenting on the Empire. When Cassian observes his navigator tool is very old, Nemik points out you can repair it yourself and it’s reliable, whereas the Imperial tech that’s replaced it has made people reliant on the Empire. A lot of little themes about corporatism and right-to-repair wrapped up in that. He also directly comments on the nature of fascism itself, observing that the real power of the Imperial to acclimate and normalize people to fascist rule is the amount of atrocities being committed, saying “the pace of oppression outstrips our ability to comprehend it,” which ought to ring especially true to anyone who observed American politics closely from January 2017 to January 2021.
On the other side of the coin, we’re treated to a couple of scenes with Syril—his mom decides to contact Uncle Harlo to see if he can get Syril a new job. I’ve seen some people speculating as to who Uncle Harlo is (Luthen seems like a popular conspiracy), but I don’t really see how that makes any sense, or why the show would go there. My impression is just that he’s a well-connected guy moderately high up. To go back to the Nazi Germany parallels, he’s a “party member” and therefore knows a lot of other party members who can pull strings if he asks. Syril’s particularly annoyed at this—he apparently has never really met Uncle Harlo, and he’s particularly chafed to find Harlo has the opinion that Syril was never really cut out for law enforcement work. He, meanwhile, is pining after the hunt for Cassian, staring at Cassian’s mug shot on his little hologram projector.
At the ISB, Dedra Meero has managed to figure out the rebellion’s tactics—”Never climb the same fence twice” she observes—but lacks enough evidence to prove it to her boss. Ferrix gets one quick shot, with Supervisor Blevin supervising the commandeering of the “ultimate Ferrix gouge” hotel being turned into the Imperial headquarters as they occupy the planet.
We also get two scenes with Mon Mothma, mostly to demonstrate that her marriage is dead and her daughter hates her, accusing her of taking her to…school? I’m not really sure…so that she can pretend she’s involved with raising her. Perrin looks on without saying anything, the actor giving a quiet thoughtful expression when Leida berates her mom until she leaves. I’ve seen Rebels, so I know that when Mon Mothma ultimately flees Coruscant, she does so alone, and I think part of this is meant to be setting the stage for how someone as ostensibly principled as Mon leaves her family behind. Her daughter hates her (and later we’ll learn is a religious fundamentalist) and her husband just wants to party with the Imperials.
But while things are tense on Coruscant, that’s nothing compared to Aldhani, where things finally boil over when Skeen catches that Cassian has the sky khyber crystal Luthen gave him. “Who brings a treasure to a robbery?” he demands. Cassian outs himself as a mercenary, not particularly dedicated to the cause, but, he observes, the day before is always hard, so if they’re looking for a reason to bail on the plan, don’t use him as a scapegoat for their nerves. I’m a little divided over this scene, which more or less is the final “big” thing to happen in the episode. I like Cassian accurately diagnosing the group dynamic, but I’ve never been really sure why it needed to be hidden in the first place. I’ve also never been quite sure about what the rest of the others are going to be doing with the money. They’re soldiers for the cause, certainly, but I doubt they’re not getting a piece, even if it’s not as much as Cassian’s share.
Next up: the heist!
- The title of this episode comes from the old aphorism “the axe forgets, but the tree remembers,” which Skeen quotes at Cassian. I don’t know how I feel about recognizably culturally English aphorisms appearing in Star Wars. It’s a good, easy way to communicate an idea, but it’s also sort of weirdly out of place for me. Like, this is Star Wars—there’s no guarantee they use axes to cut down trees, they could easily use, like, laser beams or something.
- Keeping with “hey, wait, isn’t that from Earth?” Syril appears to be having cocoa puffs with some mold in milk for breakfast.
- When Dedra and her lackey are going through the files of stolen materials, there’s a lot of name dropping: Hosnian Prime (the capital of the New Republic blown up in The Force Awakens), Jakku (the setting of the first part of The Force Awakens and also where the last battle between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire took place), and Fondor (where the Fondor Haulcraft hails from, presumably).
- Syril’s mom on why she never came to visit him on Morlana One: “Any civilized being knows that an open invitation is no invitation at all.” Call your mother, Syril.
- Perrin gets upset at being the least informed person of his wife’s activities, particularly her setting up a foundation. “I didn’t think you’d be interested, it’s…well…charitable” Mon offers. DEAD. Perrin’s only response is to request the driver take the expressway home so that he can spend less time in the car with his own wife. Pretty good way to throw him off the scent—she’s not hiding anything, she just thinks he’s an asshole.
- Do want to mention Mon’s car, which is basically a Star Wars Rolls Royce. Presumably it could just be a Senator’s state car, since Mon can’t control who her driver is, but it adds a level of “this is a very rich person,” to her movements.
- Lt. Gorn wanders around the base yelling at people in preparation for the visitor by an Imperial Engineer the next day. Much like Mon, he carries out a deception by being upset, in this case forcing everyone to stay down and paint the ceiling of the vault, then letting his two subordinates talk him down into leaving only an essential skeleton crew as guards so no one else has to miss the Eye.
- The man Blevin leaves behind to occupy Ferrix is a captain, but he asks to be promoted to Imperial Prefect. “I know it doesn’t come with extra pay,” he says. He just wants the title. Always be striving. As we’ll see in later episodes, it does come with a cape, though!
- This is the first episode where Luthen suggests that he may not be all that attached to Cassian. When he’s worrying about how the heist is going, he tells Kleya—Leia, Leida, Kleya…these names are too similar—that he wasn’t careful with “the thief.”