Andor Episode 8 explores cruel inhumanity of Imperial prison labor

Image: Star Wars: Andor/Disney+
Image: Star Wars: Andor/Disney+ /

Star Wars fans have known the Empire is the bad guy for the past 45 years. And we’ve seen glimpses of the depth of its cruelty. But the cold, dystopian hell of the prison in Andor episode 8 gives us a horrific and claustrophobic view of how bad it can get.

Episode 8, titled “Narkina 5,” checks in on members of the ensemble cast — from Mon Mothma’s (Genevieve O’Reilly) power-playing dinner parties to Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) trying to convince Kleya (Elizabeth Dulau) and himself that he’s not slipping in his rebellious efforts. But it’s through Cassian (Diego Luna) that we see the horrors of Imperial prison labor on the planet Narkina 5. After his sunny vacation is interrupted because he looked suspicious (a blatant message about the dangers of over-policing), he’s sent to serve six years in a stark-white prison  complex where he’s forced to work 12-hour shifts assembling Imperial parts.

The scenes on Narkina 5 outshine (or, out-horrify) all others in Episode 8, providing another glaring message about fascism and the inhumanity of the Empire.

Star Wars: Andor serves up a chilling vision of a dystopian prison

None of the prisoners on Narkina 5 wear shoes because bare feet make it easier for Imperial officers to electrocute them through a weaponized floor. The industrial “panopticon” disciplinary concept is brought to life in a Star Wars prison: prisoners are always being watched, whether they see the Imperials or not. Prisoners are given certain perks or freedoms based on their productivity levels.

The whole system is based on the opposite of fraternity, fostering disinterest or even contempt among prisoners to keep them from organizing. The system is personified in Kino (Andy Serkis), a prisoner who serves as an overseer of sorts. Serkis’ character, while still a prisoner serving out a sentence, is given a sliver of power, which is all he needs to become a tyrant.

There’s also a level of competition that keeps prisoners in a hopeless bubble of self-interest and self-preservation. The men are grouped into teams, which are grouped into rooms, which are then organized by levels. Each group, room, and level is pushed to work harder and faster to produce more for the Empire, and in return reap meager rewards. Failure of any kind is punished with excruciating pain.

Andor Episode 8 is possibly the darkest and most disturbing Star Wars has ever been, in part because it mirrors real-world issues. Through the last eight episodes, Andor has showcased the depth of cruelty the Empire is willing to mete out in the name of order, and how little it thinks of the billions of people under its yoke. “Narkina 5” takes things to a new low.

Saw Gerrera shows up on Star Wars: Andor

Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera returns in Episode 8; Luthen travels to Segra Milo to negotiate with him. Luthen offers Saw much-needed supplies in exchange for a meeting with a Separatist.

Saw is an extremist and anarchist who wants nothing to do with the centrists. He and Luthen exchange some tense pleasantries about their place in the larger rebellion against the Empire. Saw wants to employ brutal tactics to fight their shared oppressor, but Luthen is scared they won’t be effective. He’s sees his worst fears coming to life if the Empire isn’t stopped.

As Cassian toils away into near obscurity as “Keef” on Narkina 5, he and the attack on Aldhani are still the talks of the town on Coruscant. While Dedra (Denis Gough) makes the growing rebellion her and everyone else’s problem, Syril Karn (Kyler Soller) continuously requests information about Cassian’s whereabouts.

Now overseeing the sector that includes Ferrix, Dedra meets with Syril about his failed mission to the planet. When Syril reveals he was forced to sign off on the previous inspector’s report about what happened on Ferrix without reading it, Dedra lets him read the report and point out any missing details. With Syril’s help, Dedra is able to identify Cassian as a common denominator in this series of rebellious events, and gets closing to the unnamed operative known as “Axis” (Luthen).

Andor Episode 8 may be light on action, but not on intensity. Our eponymous anti-hero may be stuck in a cold industrial hell, but little moments suggest he probably won’t there be for long, like his glimpse of a couple of prisoners communicating between levels using sign language.

The series continues to be one of, it not the best Star Wars television series Disney and Lucasfilm have created thus far. Andor is giving longtime fans exactly what we didn’t know we wanted in this thrilling, emotional journey toward the climax of Rogue One.

Episode Grade: A

Next. Andor’s ensemble cast feels the ripple effects of Rebel victory in Episode 7. dark

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