Andor’s space prison fucking sucks. That’s entirely by design: The way the prison conducts itself is atrocious, using electroshocked floors to cow the prisoners into forced labor. Cassian’s (Diego Luna) biggest obstacle to getting out is fellow inmate Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) — at least until they discover the even more horrible truth. While Cassian and Kino thought they could, at the very least, tick down their sentences through a number of day shifts, the terrifying secret of Narkina 5 is that the prisoners merely get shuffled around, endlessly building mechanical parts for... something.
As the various teams of Unit 5-2D assemble and assemble and assemble some more, the machinery they’re constructing starts to feel evocative of something larger in the Star Wars universe. No doubt it’s a tool in the Empire’s grander mission of great evil, but: Could it be the gears of an AT-AT? An engine block for an Imperial starship? Part of the Death Star?
Luke Hull, production designer for Andor, says the point (even as of the prison break in episode 10) is to not know what they’re assembling — at least yet. As Hull tells Polygon, they’re making these parts, and the reveal is coming. Eagle-eyed viewers might even be able to make their own guesses after episode 10.
“Within Narkina there are seven prisons, and seven floors on every prison,” Hull says. “You don’t necessarily get it from watching those brief moments of other floors, but they’re making different parts on every floor. So they are essentially mass producing something.”
The glimpses we see of the other floors during the triumphant chaos of the prison break don’t amount to much. It mostly looks like variations of the same weird mechanical joist parts that Cassian and his unit are building.
But the magic of Andor and its horrendous space prison is that for now (or, even possibly, forever, if the show wanted to) it doesn’t matter what they’re building. The horror of the prison speaks for itself, and the ceaseless aimlessness and inhumanity of the production is its own story. It’s a neat Easter egg to circle back to, but as Hull points out, the structure of the prison is “like an inverted Panopticon, and the organic humans are disposable parts of the machine.” The final product isn’t the point — the cruelty is.
With Cassian and Melshi on the lam, Cassian’s relationship to the Empire has been fundamentally changed, setting him on a path to confront the unavoidable tyranny of the system. While Rogue One tells us where this ultimately takes him, Andor is still building a journey worth following at every stage of production, because the Star Wars of it all feels so supplementary to the grounded storytelling it’s doing. In a world with terrifying space prisons and brutality, sometimes that’s all you can hope for.