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‘Andor’ Episode 6 Breakdown: A Thrilling Wartime Heist Movie Comes to Our TVs

Tony Gilroy’s midseason finale further upped the ante, pushing Cassian closer to the good-guy side and showing us what ‘Star Wars’ peak performance looks like

Disney Plus/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

“I don’t think Rogue [One] really is a Star Wars movie in many ways,” Tony Gilroy said in 2018. “To me, it’s a Battle of Britain movie.”

“The Eye,” the sixth installment of Gilroy’s prequel series Andor, isn’t really an episode of Star Wars TV. It—or, really, the three-episode arc it concludes—is a wartime heist movie: The Guns of Navarone or Force 10 From Navarone, Where Eagles Dare or The Eagle Has Landed. Our heroes, not all of whom are heroic, have to learn to get along as they infiltrate a facility, leverage their disparate skills to liberate their target, and get out. Plans go awry and are adjusted on the fly, and not everyone makes it. It’s a time-tested setup, executed with thrilling artistry by writer Dan Gilroy and director Susanna White. That the last act of this spin on the genre also features a few Imperial uniforms, blasters, and TIE fighters seems almost incidental.

After last week’s calm before the figurative and literal storm, the Gilroys took the last instructions of Rogue One’s K-2SO and Andor’s Nemik to heart: “Climb.” This week’s episode is all rising action and climax. Because Andor is structured as, essentially, a series of three-act films split into TV episodes—each triptych tied to a different writer-director pairing—its season has four finales. The first finale set the hook in anyone who wasn’t sold by the slower-paced first two acts of the three-part premiere, and the second, midseason finale further upped the ante, pushing Cassian closer to the good-guy side in the process.

“It’ll all be over this time tomorrow,” Luthen’s assistant, Kleya, told him at the end of Episode 5. “Or it’ll just be starting,” the Rebel mastermind responded. As Luthen’s relieved laugh at the end of Episode 6 signals, the successful strike on Aldhani was an opening statement, not a closing one. Mon Mothma’s formal declaration of the Alliance’s formation is still years away, but for all intents and purposes, begun the Galactic Civil War has—and answered any doubters Andor has. This is what Star Wars peak performance looks like, even if it’s not what Star Wars has usually looked like before.

Granted, we’ve seen plenty of heists and commando missions in live-action Star Wars, ranging from the rescues of Leia, Han, Qin, and Grogu to the Endor assault on the shield generator to Solo’s raids on Vandor and Kessel to Rogue One’s sneak attack on Scarif. In keeping with Andor’s rep as street-level Star Wars, though, this mission is fairly small-scale: Luthen’s team is going up against a 40-man garrison, bolstered by additional troops from a nearby air base, which also launches all of three fighters in pursuit of the freighter that the survivors of Luthen’s squad commandeer. The Death Star, a ray-shielded Imperial records hub, or a dark-trooper-packed flagship the Aldhani dam is not.

The action all feels epic, though, and the suspense intense, partly because despite the Imperials’ less-than-overwhelming firepower, the Rebels are still significantly outnumbered and outgunned; the ratio of Rebel to baddie is daunting. Aside from a signal jammer and an underwater scooter, the insurgents don’t have any fancy hardware to even the odds—they rely on dependable, lower-tech tools, and the desperate tactic of holding an officer’s family hostage. And for a force with no air support whatsoever, the threat of three TIE fighters feels like facing a fleet. It’s easy to see why Luthen delivered Andor to Aldhani, and why Vel and her crew grudgingly accepted Cassian’s assistance; one wonders how the heist would have gone without that late addition. (Not that they ever really trusted or cared about him; Luthen says he’s “disposable,” and Vel’s “Clem out first” command as the group prepares to enter the hangar speaks volumes about whom she considers cannon fodder.)

Gilroy and White also raise the stakes by giving us glimpses of their characters’ inner lives on the eve of battle. Lieutenant Gorn’s face silently and subtly registers his rage as Commandant Jayhold and Colonel Petigar disparage the Aldhani and forecast their decline—sounding a lot like 19th-century American officials discussing the “Myth of the Vanishing Indian”—and then casually lift their glasses to their lips in unison. Meanwhile, Luthen’s strike team suffers from pre-battle jitters. We might expect the inexperienced Nemik to be scared and sleepless before the big operation. (“I write when I can’t sleep,” he says—same, my friend, though in my case it’s more that I can’t sleep when I write, especially about Disney+ shows that debut at 3 a.m. ET.) Vel seems like a seasoned, hardened soldier, and yet even she hesitates before taking the plunge over the wall of the dam and committing her comrades to the fight. As we learned last week, Luthen is on edge also.

Finally, there’s the titular Eye, an atmospheric phenomenon and religious event that occurs on Aldhani every three years. In Episode 4, Luthen offered Cassian a chance to “put a real stick in the eye of the Empire.” Aldhani’s Eye doesn’t belong to the Empire, much as Jayhold and his men might act as if they own the planet’s surface and skies. But the Eye provides cover for the Rebels to hit the garrison when the Imperials’ eyes are looking upward—and it’s tough to blame them for being a bit distracted, because both the Eye and “The Eye” are arresting for audiences also.

This episode was about the best a Star Wars series has ever looked. The aerial footage of the Aldhani wending their way through the verdant hills en route to their holy valley. The shot from underwater, looking up at Vel and Cinta scooting toward the dam (Nemik’s “surprise from below”) as one of the crystals that compose the Eye streaks far overhead. The Eye in full effect, with TIE fighters in the foreground reflecting the light show, the rapt (and teary) Aldhani transfixed below, and composer Nicholas Britell’s explosive orchestration complementing the crescendo of the colorful, radiant skies. With the possible exception of The Last Jedi, Star Wars cinematography has never been better. Aldhani and Ferrix were invented for Andor, but both feel like real, lived-in locales, a testament to the series’ location scouting, on-location shooting, and immersive set design.

The raid on the garrison achieves its objective: Like the soldiers in Kelly’s Heroes, the Rebels get the bad guys’ gold. (In this case, some 80 million gold-colored credits; good thing the Empire doesn’t mandate direct deposit.) But victory comes at a steep price. In Rogue One, the entire team dies; in “The Eye,” half of Vel’s team does, possibly in addition to Gorn, who takes a blaster bolt after Corporal Kimzi intercepts the team’s transmissions and interrupts them in the middle of loading their getaway freighter. Gorn might consider being blasted better than he’s earned; after seven years serving Jayhold, he tells the commandant, he deserves worse than a hanging. As Cassian says in Rogue One, “We’ve all done terrible things.” And he’s talking about the good guys.

Taramyn, an ex-stormtrooper like the sequel trilogy’s Finn and Jannah, sustains a fatal blaster bolt too. (Sadly, it seems we’ll never know what caused him to turn Rebel—an unfortunate oversight, especially in light of Finn’s underdevelopment—but we can add him to the list of former Imperials who played integral roles in the Rebellion.) And Nemik, the cerebral true believer, gets crushed by a pallet of credits, painfully hammering home the difference in risk between philosophizing about the basis for Rebellion and violently taking part in one that requires cash as well as treatises to function.

Nemik’s death was totally telegraphed—he was a goner once Cassian said, “You’ll be fine. You’ll sleep when it’s done.” Yet Nemik’s forever sleep still hits as hard as the credits that killed him, because on-screen Star Wars hasn’t seen a character quite like him. The Alliance isn’t short on idealists who make inspiring speeches and share their reasons for rebelling, but few seem to consider or set down in print the theoretical, intellectual underpinnings of the moral authority that fuels their movement. Rebellions may be built on hope, not manifestos—though Rebellions Are Built on Hope might make a good title for the manuscript—but Nemik was a new kind of freedom fighter, and thus an intriguing one. If only Vel had brought him to the Modifier on Tatooine instead of “Dr. Quadpaw.

Ultimately, the Rebellion will triumph because, as Nemik explained, “Our elemental rights are such a simple thing to hold, they will have to shake the galaxy hard to loosen our grip.” Most of the Rebels we’ve met are more motivated than their foes. Jayhold, who’s grown too stout for his sash (recalling Cassian’s line from Episode 3 about the Empire being “fat and satisfied”) and succumbs to a heart attack in the thick of the action, is the latest Imperial to appear more concerned about getting a cushy assignment and a more prestigious title than anything else. Even the Imperial Security Bureau gets sidetracked by turf wars, though Dedra Meero also seems to subscribe to the value of order, the Empire’s raison d’être.

Which isn’t to say that everyone who’s ostensibly on the Rebels’ side believes in a virtuous cause. “Everyone has their own rebellion,” Vel explained to Cassian last week. This week, we learned what Skeen’s was: “I’m a rebel,” he confides to Cassian. “It’s just against everybody else.” Skeen’s story about the Empire driving his brother to suicide and destroying the family forest was a cover story concocted by an opportunist who’s even more mercenary and dishonest than Andor. “I don’t have a brother,” he reveals to Cassian, who does have a sister (somewhere).

When Skeen tries to convince Cassian to ditch Vel and go halfsies on the credits, Cassian kills him; like Skeen, he may have been “born in a hole,” but he’s no longer “just like” the deserter. We saw him gun down a guard in cold blood in the first few minutes of the season, but this execution to close out its first half has a different motivation. Cassian isn’t a complete convert yet—he still insists that he’s in this only for his agreed-upon cut, and he hands Vel Luthen’s necklace and leaves—but however reluctantly, he takes Nemik’s collected works with him. Before he died, Nemik saved Cassian from being choked out; even after his death, his writings can save Andor again, this time from a wayward life. (As the Aldhani leader says, “Our ghosts have strong hands and long memories.”) Now that Cassian has gotten a taste of “taking something of real value from the Empire,” he’ll find it hard to stay away.

The last captions of the episode are “(Sighs)” and “(Exhales)”, reflecting the weight lifted from Coruscant’s finest antiquarian/revolutionary. But Luthen’s relief (and ours) likely won’t last long. In Cassian’s conception of the conflict, the Rebels are Ginsberg, and the Empire is Don Draper: “You mean nothing to them,” he tells Nemik, and when Nemik says the Aldhani mission may change that, Cassian cautions, “Be careful what you wish for.” Now the insurgents have the Empire’s attention, and it won’t take Meero’s amphetamines for the ISB to detect a conspiracy. Although the 80 million credits will feed Luthen’s “many mouths,” reprisals are inevitable, as evidenced by Major Partagaz’s call for “star sector and planetary emergency retaliation plan” presentations. When Mon Mothma hears the news about Aldhani, she’s speaking about an apparent prelude to the “Ghorman Massacre,” a slaughter of peaceful protesters that will, a few years on, spur her resignation from the Senate and public declaration of rebellion. Her actions, and Luthen’s, may free the galaxy in the long run, but in the short term, they could cost innocent lives. But the Rebel leaders, like the Aldhani, would “rather suffer than accept.”

As the second half of the season starts, a number of notable plot threads are dangling. When will the flashbacks resume? Will we ever learn what the engineer’s plans for Aldhani were? Did the operatives leave bread crumbs that could lead back to Luthen, who noted that he wasn’t careful? Are those stacks o’ credits traceable? Will Vel and Cinta reunite after the latter was (kind of confusingly) left behind? How will Cassian be persuaded to throw his lot in with Luthen for good, and how and when will Syril Karn reenter the picture? Who’s Mon Mothma’s new recruit to the cause? All will likely be revealed, which isn’t something one could be confident about in The Book of Boba Fett or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Andor is different: As Gilroy said in 2018, “I don’t like to have holes in my story. I like to be rigorous.” With small-screen storytelling like this, maybe the franchise actually doesn’t need more movies. Andor is already delivering movie-quality Star Wars storytelling, just with weeklong intermissions.

In the last scene of the episode, Kleya and Luthen show an artifact to a customer, who laments that its inscription is in a lost language. Luthen tells her it’s not sad that the message is inscrutable; “it’s liberating,” he explains, because “you decide what it says.” Cassian is gradually discovering how liberating it can be to decide what he stands for—and Gilroy, no longtime fan of Star Wars by his own admission, is making his own contributions to the cultural lingua franca that was once unintelligible to him. Other celebrated Lucasfilm creators, such as Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, have been fluent in the franchise for much of their lives, and the work they’ve created reflects their familiarity with and fondness for it. That’s mostly been a good thing. But halfway through Andor’s first season, and a quarter of the way through its entire run, the series Gilroy has inscribed into Star Wars lore has a chance to impart the most memorable message of all.