Main menu


Film and TV Review: Star Wars: Andor Episode 8

Every time an episode of Star Wars: Andor lands, Fantha Tracks will be giving their responses, and here are our initial gut feelings, deep dives and thoughts on episode eight of season one, ‘Narkina 5’. Beware of spoilerific elements in here.

Brad Boutilier

So we’re now 2/3rds of the way through Andor. For me some of the novelty and excitement of a top notch Star Wars has worn off. That’s not to say I’m bored of the show or anything of the like, just that it’s become a bit more familiar, comfortable, for want of a better term.

I’m really enjoying the looks into Imperial facilities. I love the design. The high contrast black and white; sterile, clean efficient. I don’t think I’d want to live or spend a lot of time in rooms designed in this way, but it’s neat to look at. The prison Cassian is being kept in is interesting in it’s shape and location.

Speaking of the prison – when is Cassian going to try and make his escape? I think he’s observed that the facilities staff are easily thrown off balance when things like schedule or procedure aren’t strictly observed, and he’s working on a plan to exploit that. It also seems that he may be able to find some willing accomplices in his cell block. I think the question is will he make his attempt before the season one finale?

I’m enjoying the way the writers are weaving several different storylines into the season, and the pace at which they jump back and forth between them in each episode. It’s nice to have a Star Wars show that treats it’s viewers as intelligent and indulges in deeper, more complex story telling. It’s also nice to have some good dialogue, that’s been one of the most consistent and pleasant parts of this series. The scenes with Mon Mothma, as well as the conversations between Luthen and Saw and Vel and Cinta were nice examples from this most recent episode.

Vel is shaping up to be an interesting character. Much like Luthen her backstory isn’t clear, and the more we learn the more complicated and mysterious they seem. I don’t think we’re going to see a bigger, fleshed out picture of who each is until we get much closer to the finale of the series. The writers are doing a great job of slowly presenting everyone, building them up, and it’s that unknown and mystery that makes them so interesting and keeps the intrigue level high.

Daniel Lo

A few years ago while doing light research for a film project, I wound up watching several documentaries on prisons. One that stuck out to me was a short piece on Norwegian and American facilities, showcasing a stark contrast in the two countries’ respective philosophies concerning rehabilitation. Prisoners in Norway are treated with an unusual amount of respect and live in an environment specifically curated to mimic real life conditions. Prisoners in the U.S. are generally treated as such, with their living facilities being a drab constant reminder of their status as criminals.

The latest episode of Andor opens with Cassian being shuttled to a prison on Narkina 5, which proves to be an odd blend of the two examples above. The aesthetics are visually pleasing and well designed. Inmates have access to unlimited food and drink, decent amenities, and sleep in pristine cells that are cleaned daily. On the other hand the food is intentionally lacking in flavor, which must be earned. Prisoners are forced to work grueling 12 hour shifts involving repetitive manual labor, and under the constant threat of punishment. Outside of your team of seven, it’s largely a dog-eat-dog performance-based dynamic and not even the floor manager is really on your side. While not a friendly face for the prisoners, as a viewer of the show I am stoked to see Andy Serkis in a live action Star Wars role. We also meet Cassian’s future brother in arms, Ruescott Melshi.

Cassian and Melshi are only the start of several first time meetings in this episode. Andor has so far been a build up of separate threads, and they are finally starting to converge on a macro. On separate occasions, Dedra has now been in the same room with Syril and Bix. Vel and Cinta have observed Bix and Brasso from a short distance across the street. While standard Imperial stormtroopers have previously appeared as fuzzy apparitions within lens bokeh, they are now in focus and creating real problems for our heroes. Luthen also has surely met Saw Gerrera before, but it’s a pleasure to see Forest Whitaker reprising his live action role as a somewhat more lucid and possibly less robotic version of the resistance fighter he first portrayed in Rogue One. The show’s relatively glacial pace could be on the verge of finding another gear.

In my last review I had joked about Syril being relegated to a desk job, forever lost in a sea of cubicles (octahedricles?). I could not have been more wrong. After an extended interlude on the side-lines, Syril has come back to life. Perhaps not yet a driving force of the plot, but he clearly has his mojo back and possibly even a little extra. No longer under his mother’s shadow and now with a bone to pick concerning his unfair firing, Syril has an elevated level of confidence that we have previously not seen and even rejects Dedra’s attempts at dismissing him in exchange for some Imperial brownie points. I admit it isn’t clear to me why Dedra keeps trying to shut him down when he is clearly on her side. My best guess is she isn’t keen on sharing credit with anyone, given the cutthroat work culture within the Empire.

The latest example of details I appreciate is Bix and Brasso visiting Maarva. It really reaffirms their close rapport with Cassian since we generally don’t visit the mothers of people we know unless they are close family friends, and even then such visits can be rare. Maarva silently choking back potential tears in response to Bix’s “she fell” says more than any amount of carefully written lines ever can. Speaking of Bix, she is now in Imperial custody and could be in for a rough day. This takes us to a rare case within the show where a questionable editing decision jumps out at me: After Dedra says “Hello Bix” and motions to the chair that an incapacitated Paak had just vacated, the scene could (and in my opinion, should) have immediately ended with Bix’s fearful stare. To then follow with a flurry of additional cuts of her being forced into the chair and the door closing feels superfluous, rhythmically awkward, and adds nothing to the gravity of the situation.

As with the fifth installment of the series, the scenes with Mon Mothma once again seem disconnected from the rest of the story. With the exception of Tay delivering vaguely negative news regarding banking regulations, they seem to mainly serve as behind the scenes looks into her day rather than moving the plot along. Probably the newest aspect of these scenes is seeing Mon Mothma in full on politician mode, as I don’t believe we’ve seen her interact much with anyone other than family members or co-conspirators.

Also, I am not completely sold on Vel and Cinta’s relationship. Their latest separation is likely meant to be a poignant moment, but it doesn’t register as anything more than two friends parting ways for a bit. It feels like an uncharacteristically weak area in the show’s writing, which is otherwise excellent on the whole. I don’t have any profound ideas on what changes would help, other than there is definitely room for improvement regarding that particular dynamic.

One last note. When I divide Cassian’s prison tab (plus day one) by 365, I do indeed get six. Maybe this is already common Star Wars knowledge and I am just late to the party, but how do they calculate years in this galaxy far far away and how does it wind up being the same length as ours? Well, very nearly the same. Apparently they don’t have leap years.

Jen Sopchockchai Bankard

In this week’s episode of Andor we feel the crushing weight of systems more intensely than we ever have because Cassian Andor goes to prison, and not just any prison but a nightmarish, twisted social experiment that reminded me of dystopian science fiction like The Running Man, The Hunger Games, and most recently, Netflix’s Squid Game. The Korean survival drama’s look and feel most closely hews to Narkina 5, I think, from its minimalism to the low, vocoded voice on the PA system.

I noticed two places in this episode Andor that very literally reflect a panopticon. After the guards drop Cassian and other new inmates off at the factory, they leave. Kino Loy, fellow inmate and “floor manager” — played by the magnetically stern Andy Serkis — says “he won’t be back. They only come to pick up the dead and bring their replacements.” The guards don’t have to physically be with the inmates; they can rely on the system in place to discipline them. Similarly, there are no bars on the cells and they can eat as much food as they want. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Sorry. The illusion of relative freedom or comfort distracts prisoners from the horrors of their confinement. The first guard they meet after their transporter lands says that they are able to “risk standing before you without weapons” because they use “minimally invasive techniques.” He implies that they should appreciate the “calm, sanitary conditions.” Obviously, when we see the “frying” from the floor and realize why Cassian and the other prisoners had to remove their shoes, it’s harrowing. But the inmates we meet once we get inside seem to mostly accept their fates and have normalized these conditions; that’s because the discipline being less invasive and less visible makes it more likely that prisoners will forget where they are.

A panopticon is self-sustaining because it rewards individual prisoners for policing their peers We learn the gamified system awards the top “team” some flavor in their food, for instance, whereas the least productive team gets “fried.” The fact that the floor manager, Kino, is a fellow prisoner is heart-breaking because I’d like to think that someone going through the exact same experience as everyone else would empathize with them and not want to inflict more suffering on them. But self-interest and survival have a gravitational pull.

When Cassian first arrives, he sees the other inmates at his table cheering each other on as they frantically try to assemble some unnamed equipment on time, he looks shocked and confused for so long because it’s unreal how enthusiastic these prisoners seem. Competition keeps people from rising up because they’re too worried about getting ahead of each other. Kino, for example, says, “I have a free hand in how I run this room.” Narkina 5 has provided him with the illusion of freedom or personal comfort at the expense of others. The system relies on individuals like Kino to be complacent enough or focused on their own wellbeing enough to not rebel.

He very consequentially extrapolates that the panopticon is actually a blueprint for all disciplinary institutions: not just prisons, but schools, hospitals, the military, and….drum roll please….factories. So the fact that Narkina 5 is both a factory and a prison is actually doubling up on Foucault’s notion of discipline. We have seen so many characters participating in Palpatine’s totalitarianism not because they are moustache-twirling villains, but because they are focused on how to get ahead in the world and meet their own needs within the system. Like the inmates that Cassian meets at his “table,” many of the citizens under the Galactic Empire are too busy competing against each other to consider how it might exploit them. The phrase “on program” on Narkina 5 is so dehumanizing, implying that they’re all just cogs in the machine, programmed for productivity. And even though no one else outside of the prison shouts that command, ordering people to put their hands behind their back, many residents of the Star Wars universe during this time are also “on program.”

For example, I originally thought that Syril and Dedra would get along immediately and that they would team up to find Andor, but the encounter we actually get between them makes so much more sense because they are too similar to each other and therefore are in competition. If Syril really is as good an investigator as he says he is, then he is a threat to Dedra’s position of power potentially. (For the record, I don’t think she actually is. To me, he’s all zealotry and no heat.) So it’s much more beneficial for her to exercise her own power over him and tell him to go back to his little octagonicle and forget this ever happened. While she does have a fleeting flash of sympathy for him on her face when he makes his final, desperate plea and in response she simply wishes him luck, she fails to see the hypocrisy of her doing the same thing to Syril that her own superiors have been doing to her. She has become a floor manager like Kino, and she’s not going to give that up. I could say the same of Commandant Jayhold from Episode 6. His main concern is getting promoted and reassigned to a better planet, and he’s willing to do anything — including commit atrocities on the Dhanis — to achieve that.

I haven’t even gotten to the scariest part of our visit to Narkina 5: that Cassian eventually acclimates to the system. I thought there might be a time jump between the previous episode and this one, with this episode starting with Cassian already in prison for some time and then someone helping him break out in classic Star Wars fashion. But it is so much more powerful to show his initial shock at this system that other inmates treat as totally normal. Then, when we, within the episode, cut to 30 shifts later, he’s sucking down his food tube and hustling to help his teammates without issue. It did not take that long to browbeat him into submission.

I never even got to Mon Mothma’s perilous party-going, Luthen and Saw’s tense, political fireworks-laden conversation, or Vel and Cinta’s star-crossed relationship, fracturing by the day due to the cause. All of the storylines were captivating, but, for me, the prison after which Gilroy names this episode clearly stands out as having the most impact.

(This is condensed and edited – with permission – from Jen’s The Long Take review, which you can subscribe to here)

Ross Hollebon

Sagrona! Cheers to another excellent episode of Andor. Weaving more players, old and new, into the melee as the urgency keeps building via a slow, rolling boil.

Emperor Palpatine has yet to make an appearance in Andor, but his looming shadow continues its methodic spread across the galaxy. We experience the citizens of Ferrix being disrupted and harassed. Cassian introduces us to Narkina 5’s work prison and inmates who have lost all their rights and contact with the outside world—whether they’ve committed an actual crime or not. Luthen has ushered Saw Gerrera into the story via a visit to the caves of Segra Milo. Each location shares the hardships and tough discussions that people are facing. But maybe the most important setting is in the belly of the beast on Coruscant.

From one perspective we get Dedra interrogating Syril after red flags have been raised for repeated false inquiries about Cassian. These empowered tools of the Empire both justify breaking rules to benefit their leaders. Syril asks the ISB agent, “Can one ever be too aggressive in preserving order?” This leads to the rhetoric discussed at Mon Mothma’s most recent dinner party.

She is working the Senate, and the room, because she needs “votes to stall the Emperor’s latest overreach.” During her discussions, we get an interesting array of words describing the Emperor: “frustrating,” “too easily provoked,” “overreactive.” All of these in the name of public order and keeping “the people” safe. Some of these lawmakers endorse the methods, comfortable with a strong arm and surveillance and prosecution without limits because “if you’re doing nothing wrong what is there to fear?” Their short view and current comfort will eventually put them all at risk.

But Mon Mothma is learning firsthand how the inner workings of the control are actually being implemented. Tay informs her that more new banking regulations are being activated. She understands that Palpatine’s financial control of the lawmakers and the worlds of the Empire will make it that much easier to control the people.

Loss. Sacrifice. Intimidation. Abuse. To those sympathetic to the Empire these are fair tactics to ensure peace. To most in the galaxy, this is the beginning of tyranny—embraced by the powerful few to further their own personal gains.

It was exciting to meet Andy Serkis as Kino Loy, to learn how Cassian and Melshi first met, and to witness the stoic Benthic Two Tubes on security detail for Saw. But it was the blatant first steps of absolute oppression—and those too self-interested in their own world to understand what is actually happening that left a lasting impression on me. We are exposed to what it’s like to be fried by a floor of electrified Tunqstoid steel for being the least productive workers—the first step towards a taste of Sith lightning from the Emperor’s own fingers.

Eric Onkenhout

Narkina 5 is the middle episode of the third arc in Star Wars: Andor, and we’re really getting to see how ruthless, brutal, cold, and sterile the Empire is. As this is the eighth episode, by now, we’re pretty familiar with how Andor progresses. It’s a slow rumble or a low simmer until the pot boils over in the third episode of each arc. Narkina 5 shows a galaxy full of weary citizens who willingly keep their heads down and those that decide enough is enough, and it’s time to hit back. But getting those groups to work together is not always a given.

Narkina 5 begins with Cassian Andor and a group of other Imperial prisoners getting divided and sent to varying prison worlds. Belsavis is one of them. Belsavis is an old Star Wars reference first mentioned in Barbara Hambly’s 1995 novel Children of the Jedi. Cassian was sent to Narkina 5, an Imperial factory facility. In prison, each prisoner had to walk around barefoot, and if they tried to escape, they would be electrocuted through the floor. The Imperial officers would wear special boots to prevent them from feeling the same jolt of electricity. It’s quite ingenious, actually.

At an ISB meeting, it was mentioned that the stolen Imperial starpath unit was stolen a year ago. This is interesting because now there is hard evidence of a timeline. However, as each episode airs weekly and the character’s appearance doesn’t change dramatically, it’s hard to understand when things are occurring. All there is to go on is Gilroy’s claim that each arc jumps ahead in time. So it’s been a year since the first episode, and it seems Mon Mothma has made little progress in her fight, and Cassian, other than Aldahni, has done his best to avoid getting arrested. Until now.

In the meeting, Meero refers to Luthen Rael as Axis, who they believe is the central hub of rebel insurgency. There is a tangible link between Luthen and Saw’s struggle with real-world rebels and terrorists like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and even Osama bin Laden. Jumping ahead to the end of the episode, Luthen meets with Saw on Segra Milo, where Saw is hiding out in a cave with his armed guards standing outside. During the discussion, they mention buying and selling equipment and joining forces with other rebel cells to fight the Empire, but Saw wants nothing to do with the other hopeless causes. Like Castro and Guevara, Luthen and Saw were friends but didn’t always see eye to eye. Even bin Laden was deemed too radical for other terrorists.

Working at his new job Syril Karn gets called to appear before Dedra Meero for questioning about what happened on Morlana One. Syril relishes getting asked by Meero as he is given a chance to show his love for law and order and lays some pretty obvious hints that he would love to join the Empire as a valuable asset, but Meero shoots him down. Just because you want something and would do anything for it doesn’t mean you’d be good at it. Karn must prove he can do the job before being considered. He boasted about one successful capture, but one right doesn’t clear the numerous wrongs.

It’s no secret there are massive nods to THX 1138 in Narkina 5. The Imperial facility is stark white, with officers (police) all over the place, just waiting for someone to step out of line. Andy Serkis appears as Kino Loy, the boss prisoner of Cassian’s sector. His time in prison is nearly up, and he’s not about to let a noob ruin it for him. For those who watched Squid Game, there are hints of that series, too, as the prison is divided into teams, and whatever team performs the best (assembling parts for some Imperial machinery) gets rewarded while the others get punished. Also, the cloning facility on Kamino came to mind. Everything is the same. You dress the same, act the same, eat the same, and drink the same. No thinking allowed.

Cassian’s name now is Keef Girgo, which is a little too close to Greef Karga. C’mon, Lucasfilm, use a name generator if you’re not going to try. Next, Melshi appears on Cassian’s team. You all remember Melshi from the Scarif battle in Rogue One. Cassian gives him a nod like, I’ll see you later. In parts of this episode, Cassian looks shell-shocked. Which makes complete sense. He was arrested and jailed for six years for casually walking by a Shoretrooper.

On Ferrix, Bix and Brasso check on Maarva. Fiona Shaw should be nominated for an Emmy for her role in portraying Maarva. She is an absolute legend. Around the corner, Vel and Cinta are on Ferrix to eliminate Cassian, but Vel gets cold feet again. Bix eventually makes her way to Paak to use the communicator, but Luthen doesn’t answer as Kleya suggests he shut down the connection as the Empire closes in around them. Ferrix is now occupied by the Empire and captures Paak and Bix for interrogation. One scene really confused me during the interrogation, Meero said she wanted Bix to see Paak beat up to know what’s coming, but when she’s brought in, she scolds the officer for bringing her in too soon. Maybe I missed something.

Scenes like the ones with Stellan Skarsgård and Forest Whitaker are things that should be only witnessed once every 86 years because they need to be savored and put away in a jar wrapped in bubble wrap. Their chemistry makes water it’s so undeniably perfect. It’s scenes like that that make you forget you’re watching acting. It looks so darn real. Absolute, 100% brilliant acting by both actors. Thank you, and goodnight.

Outside Saw’s cave stands Benthic Two Tubes and a confiscated X-wing fighter. Luthen has different hair again. It looks like Stellan’s natural hair, finally. During their conversation, Luthen mentions a guy named Anto Kreegyr, apparently, a Separatist meathead that Saw wants nothing to do with. Saw then lists about a dozen other rebel factions, which he claims are all lost and have no idea what they’re fighting for. The list: Maya Pei is a Neo republican. The Ghorman Front, The Partisan Alliance, Sectorists, Human Cultists, and the Galaxy Partitionists.

Lastly, Beau Willimon wrote this episode, and he also wrote several episodes of one of my favorite series, House of Cards. Finally, Narkina 5 was brilliant as we entered the last 3-episode arc of Andor.

Becca Benjamin

The latest episode of Andor, episode 8: Narkina 5, is a dystopian prison of mind, body, and soul. And not just for Cassian Andor, but all of the characters. No one is immune from the cost of ‘choice.’

Star Wars has always been about choices during a moment of ‘change’ or crisis. And ultimately, the cost or consequence of said choice. But Andor is ‘really’ focusing on the complexities and gravitas of choice, change, and cost/culmination, and it’s superb!

On top of that, Tony Gilroy infused some THX 1138 vibes through motifs and parallels. So much so that George Lucas would be proud. In addition to paying homage to the original Jedi Master of Star Wars, Gilroy pays his respects to the Sequel Trilogy by bringing back Supreme Leader Snoke, Andy Serkis, but as prison floor supervisor (Shift Manager) named Kino Loy. But, as Chirrut Imwe once said, “There is more than one sort of prison, Captain.” 

Prison. This entire episode is all about being imprisoned in one way or another. You see, it’s all about choices. Every choice we make makes way for change, but at what cost? That’s the ‘real’ question for all those involved, the Empire and the budding Rebellion. What are ‘they’ willing to pay for their so-called ‘victory’ or ‘peace?’ And is it worth it in the end?

Perhaps Jyn Erso says it best; “What chance do we have? The question is, what choice? Run, hide, plead for mercy, scatter your forces. You give way to an enemy this evil with this much power, and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission. The time to fight is now!”

Mark Newbold and Mark Mulcaster discuss episode 8 on Making Tracks Reaction Chats.

Coming soon to Fantha Tracks Radio

Brian Cameron and Andrew Walker discuss episode 8 on Good Morning Tatooine.