Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.” That’s all well and good for those who have high midi-chlorian counts. But for those of us who can’t actually lift starfighters out of swamps with a mystical energy field, no matter how much we set our minds to it, trying is pretty important—all important, even. There’s nobility in merely making an attempt to do something difficult, even when we fail. Nemik knew that, which is why he was willing to die trying—and why the passage of his manifesto that Cassian reads on the eve of Maarva’s funeral in Andor’s season finale closes with a one-word invocation that contradicts Yoda: “Try.”
“Try” is the watchword for the ethically compromised good guys of Andor. Unlike us, they don’t know that the Empire can be beaten. From their perspective, there’s little reason to think it can. But it definitely can’t if they don’t try. Maybe you need the likes of Luke to bull’s-eye the Death Star’s exhaust port after turning off his targeting computer, but you need the likes of Cassian to learn that the exhaust port exists. You need the likes of Luthen to recruit Cassian, foster a rebellion, and, perhaps, help pay for the X-wing that Luke flies. You need the likes of Bix to connect Cassian and Luthen, and the likes of Brasso, B2EMO, Pegla, and Xanwan to keep Cassian out of trouble. There’s no mystical energy field controls those characters’ destinies—or if there is, they don’t know it and can’t tap into it or use its strength to sustain them. All they can do is harbor the hope that rebellions are built on. And remember: As the Emperor’s fist is tightening and Ferrix is rising up, Yoda is hiding on Dagobah. He’s doing not. It’s better to try.
Just as Nemik knew trying was crucial, he knew that it wouldn’t be easy. “There will be times when the struggle seems impossible,” he wrote (and narrated). Cassian knows that too: “You’ll never beat them, Maarva,” he said the last time he saw his mother alive. Conditioned by his hardscrabble upbringing to prioritize survival, Cassian wasn’t first in line to enlist; he wasn’t predisposed to selfless sacrifice. But being imprisoned changed his attitude from resignation to resolve, and his tactics from flight to attack. As he said to Kino, “I’d rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.” His actions this week confirm that his anti-Empire efforts weren’t limited to liberating the prison on Narkina 5. He’s ready to take on (and take down) the whole Empire himself, or with anyone who’ll help him.
And so Cassian, the former ne’er-do-well who once tried to turn down the manifesto that he’s studying now, continues to try in “Rix Road.” Like much of the series’ three-part premiere, the coda takes place on Ferrix, where all narrative roads led last week. The similar setting exposes a striking contrast in character between the Cassian who was desperate to leave his home and the one who’s desperate to return to it. “Make yourself useful,” Brasso joked in Episode 1, hardly holding out hope that the cynical, shiftless fugitive ever would. In Episode 12, Cassian doesn’t have to be told to. He’s no longer a self-centered liar who is out to save himself and imposes on his friends and family to cover for him. They help hide him now not out of obligation, but because he’s also acting on others’ behalf. “Leave it better than you found it,” Pegla said sarcastically at the start of the season. “The Cassian way.” At the end of the season, no sarcasm is required.
Cassian slips into the city under cover of a dark and stormy night. The planet’s most wanted man has a lot to learn from Luthen about the art of disguise (as in, wearing one at all), but however he returned to the planet, the Empire has ensured that he won’t have a hard time entering town. With Dedra on hand to supervise ISB operations personally, Syril and Mosk standing by so Syril can catch a glimpse of Dedra (or, better yet, catch Cassian and endear himself to Dedra), and Vel and Luthen joining Cinta’s stakeout, Tony Gilroy’s game of Mouse Trap is set. Save for Saw, Kleya, and Mon Mothma in her ivory cage on Coruscant, the people from the posters are all here; the groundwork is laid, and the place is a powder keg.
The spark soon comes, of course, and the fireworks fly. There’s another stirring speech, supplemented by several more modest emotional moments, a full-on fracas, the end of the beginning of Cassian’s arc, and even, of all things, a Death Star stinger. Yet something still seems slightly off in the finale’s structure. The pieces are assembled, but they don’t fit together as seamlessly as the Death Star’s do—or, for that matter, as Andor’s did during its mini-climaxes of episodes 3, 6, and 10. It’s a satisfactory finale, but something short of a triumphant one—which doesn’t diminish the magic of the season as a whole.
Having maneuvered his non-Cassian characters into close quarters and seemingly set up some kind of confrontation, Gilroy doesn’t give them much to do. Of the six operatives who’ve hunted Cassian for most of the season—ironically, the worst of the bunch being the ones who want him alive—only Luthen actually encounters Cassian, and then only at the end. Every major character except Cassian mostly stands around. Cinta and Vel wrap up their fruitless surveillance; Cinta, true to form, doesn’t give Vel the warm welcome she wants, but she does kill her counterpart, Corv (which doesn’t amount to much, because Corv couldn’t find Cassian either). Luthen’s role is largely to be spotted by Cassian so that Cassian can accost him on his ship. Mosk accompanies Karn for moral support and, I guess, cap comparisons? Dedra, who lands in a Lambda-class shuttle like Darth Vader and the Emperor arriving at the second Death Star, does little to rally her oddly ill-prepared troops, and Syril escorts her out of harm’s way once the explosions start, which culminates in another moment of electric, if creepy, connection. This time, it’s Dedra who has thanks to offer, her earlier warning to stay away forgotten.
Cassian keeps busier: Often one face among many in the ensemble series that bears his name, Andor reclaims some of the spotlight here. However, he, too, is somewhat disconnected from the finale’s main event. He travels to Ferrix and risks his hard-won freedom to attend Maarva’s funeral, but in the end, he’s one of the few locals who hardly sees the ceremony. Confronted with the facts on the ground, his objectives shift—first, to rescuing Bix, and then to offering himself fully to Luthen (after somehow infiltrating the Fondor, which has to have a hell of a security system). If not for one line to Bix—“Wasn’t she great?”—we wouldn’t know Cassian had heard Maarva’s prerecorded address at all. Her hologram’s words put the fight into Ferrix, but Cassian was already radicalized.
Given how much he’s already evolved, were the events of “Rix Road” pivotal in Andor’s development? Maybe, but you have to squint to see how. On Niamos, Cassian discovered that he couldn’t run from the fight; on Narkina 5, he discovered the depths of the Empire’s cruelty, and he also learned to lead. On Ferrix, he doesn’t start the fire; as Maarva observes (coming uncomfortably close to quoting Billy Joel), he’s a spark produced by a blaze that predated his political awakening. At most, it seems, his journey home cements his newfound mindset, as he reflects on the words of his departed parents and realizes that the seeds of resistance were within him all along.
First there’s the flashback to cleaning salvaged filters with his father, prompted by a fleeting visit to Maarva’s vacated home. “People don’t look down to where they should,” Clem says, ostensibly referring to his finds but also describing Cassian, a diamond in the rough who’ll prove so important to the high-society types who engineer the Rebel Alliance, like Luthen, Mon, Vel, and Bail Organa. “They don’t look down, they don’t look past the rust. Not us, though, eh? Eyes open, possibilities everywhere.” (Nemik would agree: Surprise from above is never as shocking as one from below.) Cassian smiles at Clem’s last line; his eyes have only lately been opened to the possibilities inside himself.
Second comes the wisdom from Maarva, who certainly saw through the rust on her son’s exterior, even as she fretted over his future. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Cassian can’t pay close attention to his mother’s fighting farewell; her public address is meant for Ferrix, but her real last words are private, reserved for Cassian. “Tell him he knows everything he needs to know and feels everything he needs to feel,” says Brasso, carefully reciting Maarva’s message for her son. “And when the day comes and those two pull together, he will be an unstoppable force for good.” And then there’s the line from the episode that packs that heaviest wallop: “Tell him … I love him more than anything he could ever do wrong.” Cassian has made more than his share of mistakes, but as Maarva told him in Episode 7, “I’ve never loved anything the way I love you.”
Although that “love” line is the one that will stay with me, the highlight of the finale is Fiona Shaw’s speech. Maarva’s odd absence last week was, fortunately, a fake-out of sorts. She did die; theories about her possible survival sprang up, but Andor isn’t that type of show. Despite her death, though—and despite her shortness of breath—she had much more to say, and Shaw spoke powerfully, waking Ferrix from its uneasy slumber.
“There is a wound that won’t heal at the center of the galaxy,” hologram Maarva says, as Luthen looks on approvingly, one monologue maestro to another. “There is a darkness reaching like rust into everything around us. We let it grow, and now it’s here. It’s here, and it’s not visiting anymore. It wants to stay. The Empire is a disease that thrives in darkness. It is never more alive than when we sleep.”
Back in Episode 4, Major Partagaz likened the fledgling Rebellion to a disease, but this isn’t a “certain point of view” situation. The Empire is the illness masquerading as the cure. And who better to heal the wound—or scour the rust—than the recent convert who practiced cleaning Clem’s filters? Maarva’s closer, “Fight the Empire!” pumped me up almost as much as “Never more than 12”—though let’s be real, we all would have been ready to riot after Captain Tigo flipped over Bee, who was projecting Maarva’s image à la Artoo and Leia. Fittingly, Brasso smites a soldier with Maarva’s brick, a blow she would have been pleased to strike with her hand if she’d been present in (living) body as well as in spirit.
Brasso and the brick don’t have to go it alone: The whole community answers Maarva’s call, from the street-level mourners to the Time Grappler on high. “Soon enough, they’ll have something else to listen to,” Luthen said of the Empire in “Reckoning.” Now we know what’s ringing in the Empire’s ears: a killer score by Nicholas Britell, whose music for the marching band perfectly suits these scenes. Maarva once said that when the sound stops, “that’s when you’ll really want to start to fret.” And no sooner does the band’s dirge die down than a marching song starts up, spelling trouble for the troopers.
In a recent New York Times article about music, science, and healing, neuroscientist Alex Khalil noted that through the rhythms of music, our minds, in a sense, extend beyond our bodies and connect with other minds. “You can start to think of them as healing places,” he said of spaces where people congregate to experience songs. Rix Road is one such space: There’s plenty of hurt here (RIP, Xan), but there’s also some healing of the galaxy’s wound. Mosk might call this a “pocket of fomenting,” but others see it as the spontaneous expression of freedom that Nemik mentioned: This is “the frontier of Rebellion,” and the “act of insurrection” that “pushes our lines forward.”
Nemik also said, “Oppression is the mask of fear,” and the Empire’s mask soon slips. As Cassian observed in “One Way Out,” “Power doesn’t panic,” but Tigo, Keysax, and Co. do. And as we’ve seen all season, the Empire’s cruelty creates enemies everywhere. On Narkina 5, the fishers give Cassian and Melshi a ride off planet because the Empire has polluted their sea; here, Wilmon (the son of the late Salman Paak) builds a bomb to avenge his father—a rash but familiar case of violent blowback caused by an occupying army.
I loved the chilling look Dedra gives Bix via viewscreen—she’s a predator playing with her prey—but it’s a bummer that Bix is basically out of commission during both of the Ferrix revolts. For the last few episodes of the season, she’s pallid, listless, and cowed, which hammers home the horrors of her treatment but doesn’t do much for her agency as a character. (Temporarily broken by Dr. Gorst’s torture, she heartbreakingly resists rescue at first, mumbling, “They’ll get angry.”) With the Empire apparently overwhelmed by an unexpected marching band—and an earlier-than-scheduled start to the funeral—Cassian doesn’t have a hard time extracting Bix, escorting her to the escape ship, and blowing town himself. He pulled all of this off the same way he stole the Starpath Unit from Steergard: He just walked in like he belonged. As a result, though, his mission is short on suspense (though he does get to coolly walk away from an explosion), and Nemik’s and Maarva’s postmortem monologues lose a little luster from their proximity to Kino’s and Luthen’s Emmy reels in Episode 10. (Unforgettable as they were, this season’s showstopping speeches were a little bit backloaded and clustered close together.)
Episode 12 retraces some of the steps of Episode 3, from its Ferrix revolt to its doomed informer (Nurchi, meet Timm). Naturally, 12 also ends with Cassian boarding Luthen’s ship. However, some circumstances have changed: This time, Ferrix is fighting the Empire proper, not the proxies of Preox-Morlana. And this time, Cassian joins Luthen not by necessity, but by choice. “Kill me, or take me in,” Cassian tells his handler turned attempted executioner. By taking Cassian in, Luthen is essentially sealing the spy’s death, but that’s Andor’s decision, not one imposed by any outside force. Cassian knows what he’s signing up for: Luthen warned him in Episode 4 that he’d “die fighting these bastards,” and when Brasso tells Cassian to take care of himself, he answers, “It’s too late for that.” He’s been concerned for himself for far too long.
At the end of “One Way Out,” the dark-cloaked Luthen looked like Darth Vader. As he speeds across the desert on his way to the Fondor, the wind whipping his hood, he looks like Anakin Skywalker on his way to slaughter Tuskens (or Darth Maul hunting down Jedi). This is an ominous man, one we know is capable of killing Andor until Cassian puts his life in Luthen’s hands, convincing the veteran Rebel that he isn’t a threat. This temporary reprieve for Cassian clearly comes as a relief to Luthen, who’s sacrificed enough would-be allies already. It always seemed surprising that the agent who recruited Cassian would so quickly pivot to trying to kill him, given that he seemed to see the younger man as a promising spy and possible protégé. As he welcomes Cassian to the cause, Luthen’s face crinkles into a sincere smile, different from the facade he assembles in the mirror. For a fleeting moment, his mind isn’t totally sunless.
Speaking of condemning allies: As events on Ferrix unfold, two developments occur on Coruscant. In the first, the Spellhaus plot line is resolved in somewhat deflating fashion. So this is how Anto Kreegyr dies—with polite applause. As Gilroy has explained, Andor’s structure dictates that we don’t see events that the series’ POV characters don’t witness; for instance, after some deliberation, he opted not to show the hundred men who were fried on Level 2 of the Imperial prison. In that sense, it’s understandable that we simply hear secondhand that the ISB thwarted the Rebel raid and that Kreegyr and his crew were all killed. (“Kreegyr. You’re missing it,” another ISB supervisor says to Blevin. We sure are.) After all the buildup to the Spellhaus assault and Luthen and Saw’s agonizing decision, though, these deaths fall a little flat. It’s hard to care about the off-screen demise of a character we never met (aside from a hologram of a graphic designer), and we don’t get to see Luthen’s guilt after the deed is done.
Mon Mothma’s scenes are more effective—especially the first one, in which she falsely, convincingly, and (understandably) callously accuses Perrin of gambling again for the benefit of Kloris, her eavesdropping driver and an ISB mole. Kloris predictably passes on this intel to Blevin, who concludes that Perrin is to blame for the family’s financial withdrawals. Even if framing Perrin—whom I can’t quite pity—gives Mon a plausible excuse for any irregularities that arise during an Imperial audit, that doesn’t mean Mon can dismiss Davo Sculdun’s proposal to set his son up with her daughter. If she wants the cash to keep flowing, she needs a secure way to tap into her family fortune, which only the crooked banker can provide—for a much steeper price than the “drop of discomfort” he told Mon might be the price of doing business.
For me, at least, it doesn’t diminish the anguish of Mon’s choice that Leida is so into the match. Mon herself may have been happy to be betrothed to Perrin when she was Leida’s age, but unlike her daughter, she knows Leida may live to regret this—and that painful knowledge is etched onto Genevieve O’Reilly’s exquisitely expressive face at the left of the frame as Leida looks into her future. If Aldhani was when Luthen crossed the Rubicon, then this is the moment when it’s too late for Mon to turn back. She’s sacrificed her family for the greater good—but as Saw said last week, let’s call it war, even if this one is waged in stately airspeeders and sitting rooms.
Andor seemed like the last series that would feature a stinger, which I missed on my first watch. Now we know why the series’ creators were cagey about what those widgets were for; as was widely speculated, the prisoners on Narkina 5 were indeed building Death Star components. The station—which by this point should be in the vicinity of Scarif—seems almost ready for its finishing touches, but various delays will prevent its completion until Rogue One. Personally, I would have preferred a Pizza Poppa–style look at Kino paddling to shore with a pair of water wings, but getting a glimpse of the Death Star reminds us of the stakes, and of the destination of Season 2, which will take us right up to the movie. It’s almost jarring to see such a central signifier of the Star Wars trilogy in Andor; having wallowed in the darkness in the hearts of so many non-superpowered agents of the Empire, Palpatine’s unsubtle technological terror seems like overkill. As I wrote after Episode 9, “Evil is scarier without Sith or superweapons.”
All in all, the choreography of the finale lacks the pinpoint precision of the first escape from Ferrix, the raid on Aldhani, or the prison break, all sequences with clear objectives, constant tension, and characters who all had places to be and parts to play. I can’t help but feel a smidgen underwhelmed by the denouement that followed the finale-feeling “One Way Out,” but if 11 and 12 weren’t quite “the most powerful two episodes that we have in the show,” as Gilroy envisioned, they were far from a fumble at the goal line at the end of an incredible run. When he began crafting Cassian’s arc, Gilroy told Variety, “We knew what the final scene of the whole season would be.” “Rix Road” gets our antihero where he had to go.
More surprising to me than the stinger is what wasn’t in this episode: any information or clarification on kid Kassa’s home world, sister, and acclimation to Maarva. Maybe I’m the only one hung up on this, but I still don’t understand … well, anything, really, about Cassian’s origin story. We’re told that Kenari was abandoned after an “Imperial mining disaster” and “considered toxic,” but the flashbacks to kid Kassa’s home world in the first three episodes, which take place before the Clone Wars, show a planet that per all appearances (and the official Star Wars website) already seems “strip-mined” and caught in “the aftermath of an industrial mining disaster,” though it’s obviously habitable. Is the alleged Imperial mining disaster different from whatever pre-Imperial “devastation” visited the mine near Kassa and presumably parted the kids from their parents? (Yet another StarWars.com entry refers to unspecified “plunderers” who “carved up the land … leaving disaster in their wake and small tribes of orphans left to survive on their own.”)
We’re also told that the kids killed “a Republic officer” and that Kassa would be in danger from an incoming Republic frigate, but—as a “trivia gallery” elsewhere on the Star Wars website acknowledges—“the dead crewers aboard the transport corsair wear uniforms with a symbol closely related to the eventual Separatist Alliance.” Why? Were they proto-Separatists? If so, would the crew of the Republic frigate have cared that they were dead? And what went wrong, anyway? Were they always headed for Kenari, or did they divert there in their toxic-gas emergency? Was Maarva referring to a different disaster in Episode 7, when she told Cassian to stop searching for his sister, said there were no survivors on Kenari, and added that what happened there was not his responsibility because he was a child? What did Andor do?
Maybe most important: Maarva sedated Kassa against his will, kidnapped him, and separated him from his sister, his home, and his friends. We see him wake up on her ship, and we see her turn to smile at him. Then what happened? Did he say, “What the hell, lady?” Did he demand that she turn around and drop him off? Did she try to pick up his sister and the other kids, only to find that they’d already been relocated? How did Kassa go from being abducted and forcibly separated from his sister by a total stranger to embracing Maarva as his mother? Her farewell might have hit me even harder if we’d seen their relationship grow.
This series is only half over, and I don’t mind waiting for answers if I think they’re forthcoming. But because subsequent episodes almost never nodded back to that point in the timeline (and because, unless further flashback footage was already shot, the actor who played Kassa has already aged past that stage), I’m not sure whether this was all needlessly confusing, or whether I’m still supposed to be confused because these are questions for Season 2. Bring back Fiona for flashbacks!
The origins of the Death Star date back to the latter days of the Republic, so it’s possible, I suppose, that the mining operation on Kenari was related to the early days of the station’s construction. If so, maybe both the beginning and the end of Cassian’s life were dictated by the Death Star, which would explain his Rogue One line, “I’ve been in this fight since I was 6 years old.” (Which was mirrored in Maarva’s “I was 6, I think, the first time I touched a funerary stone.”) Perhaps Gilroy is saving that reveal for Season 2, much as he saved the reveal of the purpose of the prison assembly line for the finale’s stinger. I’m just thrown a bit by these apparent inconsistencies, and by the decision to start the series with Cassian’s search for his sister and then drop that plot line for the remainder of the first season. Presumably, Season 2—which will span four years, one per each three-episode block—will pick up that thread as it also explores the formation and expansion of the no-longer-so-secret Alliance.
To be clear, Kassa could have been an only child all along, and it wouldn’t have hampered my enjoyment of a marvelous (Maarvalous?) season. Lucasfilm put me on a poster calling this “the best show on TV,” and despite my quibbles with the last two episodes, I’ll stand by that tag. What Andor accomplished, despite a so-so premise—Gilroy’s track record notwithstanding, I wasn’t hyped about this Cassian-centric prequel-to-a-prequel until the trailer dropped—can’t be oversold. It took small-screen Star Wars, whose reputation was tarnished by The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi (which may have made some people less likely to try Andor), and made it more powerful than we could have possibly imagined this spring. Amid a ferociously strong field of nerd-culture competitors—House of the Dragon, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and She-Hulk—it was Andor that emerged as the most engrossing, perceptive, and inventive of the bunch, albeit far from the most watched.
Numerous interviewers have remarked to Tony Gilroy that Andor had a difficult assignment: to make us care about a character whose death is preappointed. Gilroy has repeatedly rejected that premise, pointing out that we’re all going to die, and yet we don’t lose interest in our lives. That’s true, but it’s not quite analogous; none of us knows exactly how and when we’ll die, what kind of person we’ll be by that point, and what we will have accomplished. If we did know those things in advance, the journalist Rachel Nuwer once wrote, we might be “overtaken by a feeling of pointlessness”—not unlike the feeling one has while watching, say, the Hobbit trilogy, or Exorcist: The Beginning, or Dumb and Dumberer.
Prequels do have narrative handicaps to overcome, but Andor did it, in part by surrounding Cassian with well-drawn characters whose fates we don’t know, and in part by trusting its audience and using Star Wars not as means of evoking nostalgia, but as a sandbox in which to tell a riveting, relevant, and serious story. In August, our House of the Dragon entrance survey included the prompt, “Prequels are all the rage. What does it take to make a good one?” My answer: “Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.” We can add another gray-haired guy with a surname that starts with a G to that list.
Which brings us back to Nemik’s exhortation to try. To its credit, Lucasfilm tried by handing Gilroy the reins and letting him cook. Andor enters production for its second season—which we won’t see until 2024—at a somewhat dark time for Disney. The company’s stock has sunk (though whose hasn’t?), its spending on Disney+ programming has come under fire, and the old boss is back. Granted, Andor got the green light during Bob Iger’s first stint as CEO, and with one more season left, we don’t have to worry about Cassian’s story being cut short. (Iger’s rapid reorganization has a content-friendly focus, though one wonders how his intention to “rationalize costs” could affect Andor’s budget.) But are critical acclaim and the allure of award wins enough for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to double down on boundary-breaking content that caters to viewers outside the established Star Wars audience? Or will the future of Star Wars projects that emulate—if not imitate—Andor depend on its audience being bolstered by Emmy buzz, word of mouth, and Disney’s multiplatform push this week, or on how many Haulcraft toys and B2 Funko Pops sell?
“It’ll all be over this time tomorrow,” Kleya told Luthen at the end of Episode 5, to which the Rebel mastermind responded, “Or it’ll just be starting.” Andor will be over this time in 2024, but we don’t know whether its impact on the franchise will end with it, or whether its influence on Star Wars—and on IP-based storytelling writ large—will just be starting too. Maarva might advise us to take the treasure we’ve found in Andor and go find some peace. But we won’t have peace; fans will always worry about the worlds they cherish. As a wise woman once said, that’s just love. Nothing you can do about that. Especially for those who’ve never loved anything in Star Wars the way they love this show.