Small acts lead to a seismic change on Andor (S1, E10-12 review)

(courtesy IMP awards)

——————– SPOILERS AHEAD ——————–

Rebellions, and the revolutions they often, though not always, give rise to, are often big disruptive things.

Intrinsically a militantly passionate act of opposition to oppressive or authoritarian government, they often involve big epic moments such people deciding en masse that enough is enough, mass acts of defiance and eventually if all goes well, and it doesn’t always, the toppling of the hateful regime under attack.

All of these acts are big and bold, but what the final three episodes of Andor make graphically clear is that these momentously huge punctuation points in time, these scenes that topple the status quo is spectacular fashion, all begin through small acts of standing against power misshapen into aberrant forms that mean us nothing but our eventual, pain-riddled demise.

Small is seen as inconsequential much of the time in a world raised on the idea that big is always better but Andor, a series which proven to be manifestly intelligent and empathetically understanding of what drives people to undertake daring acts of defiance to great evil, knows that they all have a genesis in a series of small, ever-building acts or decisions, each of them layering atop the last to form the unmissable, society-changing events we think mistakenly are sudden repudiations of the established order out of nowhere.

It also understands that while it’s easy and tempting to think of rebellions as wholly unsullied good against evil, of purity of intent against maliciousness of execution, the reality is that much if what we witness has grown from, and is expressed in greys of flawed humanity, the kind that shoots for the stars (in this case, fairly literally) but which often finds itself mired in the feet of earth-clinging clay we know all too well.

This is evidenced in episode 11, “Daughter of Ferrix” when Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a man with one foot in the squeaky clean establishment of the Imperial capital Coruscant and another in the shadowy world of the Rebellion, which at this stage exists in forward-moving fragments rather than epically uniform statements and decisive action, tells a loosely-associated compatriot, led by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), leader of the Partisans group whom you will recall are central to the gripping events of Rogue One, not to take place in an attack by another Rebellion leader Anto Kreegyr (Barry Gingell) which the Empire know about and which will result in every involved Rebels’ death.

At this point, you become horrifyingly aware that Rael allows Kreegyr to go to his death at Spellhaus because to stop it and save his life and that of about 50 other dissidents would be to expose a raft of Rebel operatives, including Rael and Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) plant Lonni Jung (Robert Emms), the loss of whom would hobble the greater long-term objectives of the Rebellion.

It seems like a callously pragmatic act, and it is, but it underscores, as does Mon Mothma’s (Genevieve O’Reilly) gravely reluctant decision to marry her teenage daughter off to the son of criminal financier Davo Sculdun (Richard Dillane) to secure the money needed to keep the fight against the Empire’s cancerous regime alive, that the end most certainly justifies the means.

At least in the means of those waging the war against tyranny, and while it confronts our expectation that fighting against evil is wholly good and untarnished, the reality is that even the greatest of acts and the most thrillingly transformative of moments such as the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi (1983) follow from small but pivotal moments that together add up to momentous change.

In the 1950s-movie serial world of the original Star Wars trilogy, which eventually became the middle three episodes, good is squeakily good and evil as dark as it comes, but that’s because we are seeing the big high-level end of the fight moment when all of the many moments of sacrifice and all of the great prices paid have come to fruitition.

In Andor, however, we are down in the thousand, morally-compromised moments that lead to those epically victorious events, and while the intent is laudable and the hearts good, there are no easy ways forward, with all of them involving great pain and sacrifice, and a commitment to the cause which takes EVERYTHING as Rael quietly but firmly reminds Jung when he says he has to leave the Rebellion because of its cost to him and his young family.

Rael isn’t unsympathetic to Jung’s plight but as he, Mothma and many other characters on the right side of history affirm again and again in these sharply-written, momentously and yet emotionally resonantly delivered episodes which move between dramatic interludes and scenes of searing introspection, you don’t simply support rebellion, you are the Rebellion and there is no place for anything else as Mothma’s cousin Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) attests as she watches her relationship with Cinta Kaz (Varada Sethu) takes a firm and distant second place to taking down the Empire.

One character who knows what standing in the Rebellion takes is the titular protagonist Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who in these taut, highly emotive episodes, escapes from prison, misses seeing his mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw) before her death on Ferrix, and who is hunted down by both the Empire, led by ISB supervisor Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), and Rael for wholly different reasons but all of which dovetail to protecting respective places of actual or aimed-for power.

While he commits himself to the Rebellion at the end of episode 12, “Rix Road”, a final piece of Andor’s storytelling brilliance which builds from a slow, menacing drumbeat to full-scale fury and rebellion which is a marvel to watch, he has given up heartbreakingly huge parts of his life to do so, and because Rogue One, the final part of his story, already exists, we know —— SPOILER ALERT! —— that it ends up costing his own life too.

In fact, that loss of life almost comes at many points of these three episodes which continue Andor‘s masterfully intense narrative build which powerfully, and yet with great nuance, underscores again and again that while rebellion is seen in lustrously elated terms that a great deal of heartache, compromise and existential pain has gone into its realisation.

Knowing how much Andor himself, and countless others have to give up to get the Rebellion happening, and particularly in this context to get the plans to the Death Star, the construction of which we see in the mid-credits scene of the final episode, adds to the power of the middle Star Wars trilogy which is given even greater intensity and storytelling power that it already posseses.

Andor, from the very first episode of its premiere season – the second and final season is already confirmed – made it harrowingly clear how much it takes for good people to say and do something, and it continues in this arrestingly impactful vein right until the end, instilling in us the soul-scarring understanding that while rebellions, and their hoped-for revolutions are magnificent in scope, intent and eventual realisation, that they cost everything those fighting in them have and that we need to value what they lead to as precious beyond belief because they have cost so very much as good and lasting things always do.

Andor season 1 is currently screening on Disney+ with season 2 likely due late 2023/early 2024.

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