Cassian Faces the Horrors of Imperial Prison Labor   

Dec 8, 2022

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) wasn’t lying when told Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) that being imprisoned was a “first” for him in Rogue One. Rather than shipping him off to toil away in prison somewhere, the Empire deems “Keef” a worthy candidate as a laborer, and they quickly ship him off to an Imperial factory facility on Narkina 5 to work off his six-year sentence. The eighth episode of Andor rushes straight into the chaos of the prison transfer, forcing its audience to feel as off-kilter as Cassian does as he’s hustled through hallways, forced to remove his shoes, and shackled into a shuttle for an unknown destination.

The upheaval and horror of it all transform Cassian into a shell of the man he has been up until this point. This version of him is a far cry from the devil-may-care attitude he exhibited in the premiere, or the unscrupulous rapscallion plaguing his friends on Ferrix. This is a Cassian Andor who has come completely unmoored from his reality. He was already on the cusp of it when he headed to Naimos to forget his troubles, but now that he has been forced into the sterile light of the factory, he can no longer hide in the shadows from the reality of his situation. And the irony of it all is that he’s been sentenced for crimes he didn’t commit, even though he has committed crimes that would have warranted worse than the sentence he was given.

While the Imperial factory facility does not have an obvious central watchtower, Cassian’s introduction to how its systems of surveillance function and how discipline is doled out indicates that Andor’s creatives may have borrowed from the oppressive panopticon effect. Essentially, while they are given the illusion of certain freedoms—they’re kept in well-kept and clean quarters, fed real meals, and given a certain degree of responsibilities—they’re always being watched, not just by the unseen Imperials surveilling them, but by each other.

Image via Disney+

RELATED: Why Cassian Andor Is the Most Important ‘Star Wars’ Character

The entire inception of the facility is designed to keep the prison laborers from fraternizing with each other by breeding contempt between them. Prisoners like Kino (Andy Serkis) are given positions of power that force them into a mentality to report their fellow prisoners to protect themselves and their sentences, giving the Imperials additional surveillance at the ground level. With the knowledge that they’re always being watched, they’re more inclined to report other prisoners because they fear punishment for not being proactive. The facility is also designed to make the prisoners compete against each other: each prisoner is assigned to a specific level, and a specific room on that level, and within that room, they’re assigned a specific station with seven other men where they’re forced to attain the highest levels of productivity within the room for meager rewards. If they fail, they are punished with electrocution, conditioning them to see everyone else in the factory as competition, unworthy of working together towards anything other than creating products for the Empire. Who would have thought that Star Wars could so eloquently explore Michel Foucault’s concepts of docile bodies, unequal gaze, and the mini-theaters of punishment within the prison system?

Andor’s exploration of prison labor is no surprise, as the series hasn’t shied away from paralleling the modern horrors that Star Wars has always held a mirror up to. Cassian’s expedited sentencing, where he wasn’t allowed to plead his case, is the evidence alone of policing being used as an extension of an authoritarian regime, and the inciting brutality of his apprehension continues Andor’s pointed approach to police brutality. While some might balk at the unmissable politics of Gilroy’s vision for the series, it strikes straight at the core values of George Lucas’ first trilogy and continues to explore the inescapable politics of a universe torn asunder by oppressors and knit back together by the seeds of a rebellion they tried to root out.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, the growing rebellion is Dedra’s (Denise Gough) main concern as she settles into her new role overseeing the quadrant of space where Ferrix resides. However, Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) is making her job more difficult by repeatedly requesting information about Cassian Andor—but his insistence in clearing up his own name paves the way for her to make a major breakthrough in her investigation into the stolen Imperial weaponry across the galaxy. During their brief encounter, Karn reveals that he was forced to sign off on Belvin’s report about what happened on Ferrix without ever being allowed to read the report, and she allows him to read through it to identify inconsistencies about what really happened, in order to deliver a report to the ISB that pins Cassian for a number of rebellious acts under the authority of someone Dedra has taken to calling the “Axis.” Though Karn thinks Dedra’s interest in his case against Cassian is an opening for him to seize a more important position within the ISB than sitting in a cubicle, Dedra quickly shoots him down and warns him to “forget about” the whole thing. It seems that she’s already forgotten that a few weeks ago she was in Karn’s position, being warned off of something she knew to be true.

Image via Disney+

Cassian Andor is the name on everyone’s lips in Episode 8, with Vel (Faye Marsay) and Cinta (Varada Sethu) closing in on Ferrix as they try to track him down in the wake of the heist on Aldhani. While Cassian is nowhere to be found on the planet, they keep a watchful eye on those closest to him—namely Bix (Adria Arjona) and Brasso (Joplin Sibtain), who have taken up caring for Maarva (Fiona Shaw) in Cassian’s absence. Her health is failing, and her renewed belief that the Rebellion will arrive any day to wipe out the Stormtroopers patrolling the streets isn’t doing much to help her get better. Naturally, Bix tries to find a way to contact Cassian via hidden com tower at Paak’s (Abhin Galeya) yard, which leads to nothing good for any of the parties involved. Dedra descends upon Ferrix as her investigation ramps up, first taking Paak into custody for questioning in the dead of night before the Imperial officers snatch Bix off the street the next morning. Dedra slyly orchestrates the situation so Bix sees the aftermath of Paak’s interrogation while feigning like she didn’t want Bix to see it in the first place. Andor seems to be racing towards a boiling point on Ferrix—one that might leave Cassian without friendly faces to dream of returning home to.

But Cassian isn’t the Rebel that the Empire needs to be focused on. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Mon Mothma (Genevive O’Reilly) and Tay Kolma (Ben Miles) continue their plans to funnel money into the rebellion’s coffers, while her husband Perrin (Alastair Mackenzie) continues his own schemes to coyly undermine his wife at every turn. With Kleya (Elizabeth Dulau) plotting to ensure that whatever knowledge Cassian Andor took with him never gets out, Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) ventures off to Segra Milo to rendezvous with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) with an agenda. In exchange for much-needed supplies, Luthen wants Saw to meet with a Separatist by the name of Anto Kreegyr to discuss the ongoing rebellion. Of course, making deals with Separatists and centrists is the last thing that an extremist like Saw would ever do. The pair have a very intense exchange of words about where they see themselves within the movement and where they see that rebellion headed. Saw looks towards anarchy, keen to fight against even those who agree with him in the name of railing against their oppressors, while Luthen sees himself as a coward, just trying to ensure his worst fears don’t come to fruition.

Image via Disney+

On Narkina 5, Andor makes its first time jump, with Cassian waking up to face his thirtieth shift at the factory. 30 days of hard labor have taken their toll on him—it’s aged him, shaped him, and undoubtedly broken him, but things are starting to slowly come together around him. When he was first hauled into the factory, he noticed that there was a certain degree of incompetence among the Imperial officers when it came to a lag during shift changes. But with the threat of the Tunqstold Steel floors beneath their feet electrocuting them for any minor infractions, the revelation never led anywhere. Until he notices that some of the men in his little pod of prisoners are covertly communicating with prisoners in other pods. While Episode 8 doesn’t give a clear picture of what is happening behind the scenes at the factory, it’s obvious that Cassian won’t be spending the rest of the season locked up.

Andor continues to be a rare delight within the Star Wars universe. While other shows may have sought to skip past the misery of prison labor, Beau Willimon’s script deftly tackles it, while never losing sight of the characters or the galaxy in flux around them. Toby Haynes’ direction similarly delivers on discomfort, keeping the focus on showing the ways those within the facility were cogs in the wheels of the Empire’s machine—bodies to be used without a thought about the toll exacted on them. This uncomfortable truth coalesces towards the end of the episode when one of Cassian’s fellow prisoners chooses to commit suicide by falling onto the electrified floor one night. None of the other prisoners care; they only see his death as an inconvenience to their experience—now they are one man short, now it smells like burnt flesh, now they will be punished for his actions. It will be interesting to see how the series will stage Cassian’s prison break, or if the Empire and its ilk will pluck him out first.

Rating: A

Andor is streaming now on Disney+.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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