Arvel Skeen's Apology In Andor Episode 5 Is One Of The Great Star Wars Scenes

This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of "Andor."

It's hard to deny that "Star Wars" would be what it is without the Jedi mysticism behind it. Even apart from the nine films that make up the Skywalker Saga, the shadow of the Force looms large over the franchise. The Jedi have become synonymous with heroism in nearly every "Star Wars" story, even the ones that neglect to feature any force-wielders at all. But all that changes drastically with "Andor." The new series is refreshingly focused on ordinary folk from all corners of the galaxy. It even dedicates its fifth episode to a new crop of Rebels on an entirely unfamiliar planet, and a heist that Cassian (Diego Luna) very tactfully dubs "a suicide mission" (we love foreshadowing).

Joining an already tight-knit group of freedom fighters comes with its own unique challenges, both for Cassian himself and for the series as a whole. It's important that we care about these characters, that we understand who they are and why they fight, before they rush off into a mission they may not come back from — and "Andor" understands that only too well. These tricky stakes manifest chiefly in the tension between Cassian and Arvel Skeen (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Naturally, Skeen is wary of bringing on a newcomer so close to D-day. But his mistrust nearly derails the mission when he confronts Cassian about the priceless kyber crystal he's been hiding on his person.

Their altercation is without a doubt the emotional climax of "The Axe Forgets," but the true payoff actually comes much later, when Vel (Faye Marsay) forces Skeen to apologize. It's a much subtler beat in an episode already chalk full of emotional character work — but it reaffirms the major thesis of "Andor" perfectly, and examines what it really means to be a hero in the "Star Wars" galaxy.

The tree remembers

Upon surface-level inspection, Arvel Skeen is not your typical hero of the Rebellion. As Cassian discovers, he was imprisoned at least twice by the Empire, and his quick reflexes — as well as his casual affinity for weapons — prove he's more than capable of taking a life. Skeen doesn't pretend to be anything but what he is: A man who's lived under the thumb of the Empire, a man who's lost everything to them and is more than willing to get revenge. That last bit, at least, is intuited by Cassian, but Skeen doesn't deny it. It's not until much later, however, that Skeen reveals what exactly he's taking revenge for.

Skeen apologizes to Cassian by offering him the most painful bit of his past. Like so many that the Empire has taken advantage of, Skeen's brother, a farmer, lost his land in a flood orchestrated by a greedy Imperial Prefect. "He couldn't bear it," Skeen tells Cassian, so he went out in a boat and "filled his pockets with stones."

Skeen admits that he's "always" hated the Empire, but after his brother's suicide — and, surely, after years of Imperial subjugation — he can't even fully describe his feelings anymore. His apology establishes just how real the fight has become for him: Everything he has is riding on the success of this mission, and any suspicion or animosity he feels towards Cassian is a manifestation of his commitment, his anguish and his desperation. Of course, none of that is outright said in "The Axe Forgets," but thanks to Moss-Bachrach's understated (and heart-wrenching) performance, it's not at all difficult to understand.

Suddenly the Rebellion is real for you

In a lot of ways, Skeen's journey parallels Cassian's in "Rogue One." He's lost everything to the Empire, he's given everything he has left to the Rebellion, and he's staunchly skeptical of anyone who joins the fight for a superficial reason. That Cassian claims to join their fight so he can "win and walk away," and refuses to believe in the cause at all, makes him a walking red flag to Skeen. He too is there to win, but he's ready to lay down his life if it means the Rebellion can keep winning. He didn't exactly choose this fight outright, but just as Cassian later says in "Rogue One," very few have the luxury of choice, especially not in the Age of the Empire. For these heroes, it's a question of "when," not "if," and it's brilliant to see Cassian learning these lessons in real time.

"The Axe Forgets" has laid major groundwork for Cassian's transition into the Rebel spy he'll soon become. Like Vel tells Cassian before his scuffle with Skeen, everyone has their own Rebellion, their own personal reason for striking a blow against the Empire. So what will Cassian's be? "Andor" may be taking its time with each new revelation, but we may not have to wait much longer to find out.

"Andor" streams every Wednesday on Disney+.