Andor Episode 8 Is One Bleak Hour Of Star Wars, But It Offers A Glimmer Of Hope

There will be spoilers for "Andor" Episode VIII – "Narkina 5."

As the middle chapter of an arc, it's no surprise that the eighth episode of "Andor" — titled "Narkina 5" — takes characters down to dark places and makes the Empire seem impossible to stop. After being picked up in the wrong place at the wrong time for a crime he didn't actually commit, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) — going by the name of Keef Girgo — is sentenced to six years of labor and ends up on the moon of Narkina 5. 

There, he's expected to labor tirelessly without complaint and if he doesn't work fast enough, he and his entire team will be brutally shocked by the floors they stand on. As for Cassian's mother (Fiona Shaw) and friends stranded on Ferrix struggling under the increasing hardship of the Empire, the Imperial Security Bureau decides to crack down even harder and Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona) finds herself arrested as they search for a link to Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård). For his part, Luthen Rael — who the ISB has dubbed Axis—has to cut off contact with Ferrix completely for fear of being discovered. All of this plays against the backdrop of Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) doing her best to slow the Emperor's overreach of power and continue funding the Rebel movement in any way she can.

All the while, Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) works to undo everything Luthen has tried to build from the relative safety of the Imperial Security Bureau. She's willing to interrogate and threaten anyone, even Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who just wants to help.

The last episode ended with many of the characters beginning their journey into the prisons of their own making. This episode shows us the hell those prisons really are.

Dangerous games

The tension of this episode is nothing short of oppressive, as each character — even those inside the Empire — jockey for the safety of winning. There is not a single character whose life isn't in danger for making the wrong choice or letting the wrong bit of information out, including those in the Imperial Security Bureau.

This is the pernicious dread of living under a fascist regime and the tone of the episode dripped with that feeling from all corners, as it should. Since this is the act two segment of this arc, it's no wonder that it would end on such a downer for everyone, leading us to believe they're all in danger. For Cassian, the entire episode feels designed to rob him of any hope. Even his prison foreman, Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), tells him that if he starts to lose hope, he just needs to keep it to himself because no one cares, and expressing it will only cause more problems.

For Mon Mothma, every moment she exists, speaking out against Palpatine, no matter how covert her real intentions are, is a danger. And the episode seems to be building toward relationship drama, where Mon Mothma's daughter, Leida, will turn on her. I get the distinct impression that she thinks her mother is sleeping with her childhood friend and that will come back to haunt Mon Mothma by the end. Even if Mon Mothma wanted to pursue that, since her husband is kind of a jackass from an arranged, underage marriage, she's too busy with the business of sedition to think about it.

Even Vel (Faye Marsay) and Cinta (Varada Sethu), the rebels in Luthen's charge and tasked with hunting down Cassian Andor and killing him, are trapped by the circumstances of the Empire. They're the first confirmed, on-screen gay couple in "Star Wars" and their relationship can't take a front seat in their lives, thanks to their overriding need to overthrow the Empire. Everyone is at risk and everyone is giving up something thanks to the terror of Palpatine's reign.

Familiar faces

This episode brings us a number of familiar faces to "Star Wars." If you hadn't noticed watching the episode, Andy Serkis is back, though in a different role. He had played Supreme Leader Snoke in "The Force Awakens" and was killed in the masterpiece of that trilogy, "The Last Jedi." Here, he plays Kino Loy, a simple man just trying to get out of prison with the easiest time possible.

But there are a few more familiar faces that fans of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" will find a lot more interesting.

The first is, naturally, Saw Gerrera. Forest Whitaker returns to the role (something he's done in animated form as well on "Star Wars Rebels") and brings an easy charm to the hardline character. Luthen Rael tries to convince him that he needs to work with other Rebel groups so they can coalesce into something bigger, something that could actually defeat the Empire. At this point in time, Saw is living in caves and surrounded by familiar allies like Edrio Two-Tubes. This is right around the same time Saw Gerrera abandoned his adopted daughter, Jyn Erso. This show happens five years before the Battle of Yavin, Jyn was born 21 years before the battle and abandoned at sixteen, which makes this right about the right time. Will we see this happen on the show with a young Jyn? It seems doubtful as we've already seen those events play out in books and comics.

The other familiar face is a lot more subtle. Melshi, played by Duncan Pow, is one of Cassian's fellow prisoners. Fans of "Rogue One" will recognize him as a Rebel soldier who rescued Jyn Erso from the Wobani Labor camp and who gave his life on Scarif to help get the Death Star plans off of the planet. Offering a glimpse of his first meeting with Cassian here gives us a glimmer of hope and clues to how exactly Cassian might escape the prison of Narkina 5 and who with.

Film influences

Like the episode before it, this episode drips with visual and aural aesthetics from George Lucas's first film, "THX-1138". The fascinating thing about this is that in the last episode, those flourishes felt reserved for the Imperial Security Bureau, a prison for Dedra Meero. In this episode, all of the bright white lights, sparse hallways, and white jumpsuits are used almost exclusively in the actual prison. The visual juxtaposition of these two locations having such a similar thematic feel seems designed to make us believe that any environment the Empire builds is a prison, no matter who its intended occupant is. Anyone living under such a tyrannical regime is oppressed, whether they're jailed or pretending to be the jailer.

The other thing from "THX-1138" to listen for is the way the audio announcements work and sound. It's not a one-to-one comparison, but the function is the same. I would be surprised if "THX-1138" wasn't studied specifically by the filmmakers behind Andor, and the designers creating the atmospheric sets.

The other film that might be worth looking into based on this episode is Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times." In many ways, that film was about the dehumanization of people working on the assembly line, with machines to feed people so they wouldn't have to stop work. There were also penalties for falling behind. Chaplin plays it for satirical laughs, but in "Andor," actual lives are at stake.

Details to watch out for

Some details to watch out for include a cameo from a highly recognizable character actor, Christopher Fairbank. In this episode, Fairbank plays Ulaf, one of the prisoners at Cassian's table. He was the Broker in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and had memorable roles in "Batman" (1989), "The Fifth Element" and many more.

As far as "Star Wars" references and Easter eggs, there are plenty to spot. The first is a reference to the old Legends universe. The prison floors are made of "Tunqstoid steel." This was a substance first used in the book "Fate of the Jedi: Abyss" by Troy Denning. Tunqstoid was a heavy substance used to make blast doors in prison facilities on Coruscant that Jaina Solo came across.

For those watching closely at Mon Mothma's party, none of the named Senators are from any part of the past of "Star Wars", but one of the guests at the gathering is an Abednedo. Abednedos first appeared in "The Force Awakens" and many seem to have names based on Beastie Boys songs, like "Ello Asty" and "Brassmon Kee".

For those searching the shelves of Luthen's shop for Easter Eggs, a big one was seen in this episode: a Jedi Temple guard mask. These were the masks worn by the guards of the Jedi Temple. Kanan Jarrus wears one after he's blinded by Maul. The Temple Guards also produced the Grand Inquisitor as well.

My other favorite? A Gungan shield from "The Phantom Menace" can be seen behind him, too. And behind the Temple Guard mask, across from the Gungan shield, is a headdress that looks very much like the one Padmé wore as she traveled to Naboo as a refugee with Anakin Skywalker in "Attack of the Clones."

And don't forget the Mandalorian Beskar armor, itself probably worth a fortune.

What hope is left?

Although this episode feels very bleak and hopeless for Cassian, the filmmakers threw us a lifeline with the inclusion of Melshi. The two of them are friends by the time of "Rogue One" and if their first meeting is prison and an escape, that will be where the next episode heads. In fact, this episode ends with a bleak moment for every character except Dedra Meero.

For Syril Karn, his pleas to help with the investigation are rebuked. Luthen is rebuked by Saw Gerrera and the net closes in tighter around him. Mon Mothma can't help the way she wants and they're watching her even more closely. Vel and Cinta are separated once again as they hunt for Cassian. Bix is captured and ready to be tortured. Cassian's mother, Maarva, is going to get killed or kill herself trying to be a rebel.

It's not a good time for anyone.

The thing I love about this show is how careful everyone is. Watching the wheels of subtext turn in every bit of dialogue is a treat, like reading a great spy novel. Particularly the scene between Luthen and Saw Gerrera, as they size each other up, neither willing to tell the other the truth as they try to discover it on their own. It's all so well wrought and marches so perfectly toward the hope of the Skywalker saga. Yes, this show is dark and bleak, but it's the darkness that will give way to the light.

"Hope is like the sun," Vice Admiral Holdo reminded us. "If you only believe in it when you see it, you'll never make it through the night."

New episodes of "Andor" air on Wednesdays on Disney+.