The tenth episode of Andor is the best episode yet of the best Star Wars show. One of the show’s more action-packed episodes, it pays off tiny moments of setup from previous episodes and is chock-full of catharsis.
The episode, the climax of the three-episode arc on Narkina 5, is representative of one of the driving factors that makes Andor such a compelling Star Wars tale: By breaking free of the constraints of the Force and the Jedi Order, there’s more room to maneuver, and more stories to tell.
[Ed. note: Spoilers follow for episode 10 of Andor.]
There’s no Darth Vader on Narkina 5, and there are no Sith Lords. But that doesn’t make the prison there any less terrifying — if anything, the lack of magic-adjacent Star Wars stuff helps make the prison feel more real and more scary.
Ever since we were introduced to Narkina 5, I’ve been excited for the eventual prison break. First of all, the events of Rogue One tell us Cassian and Melshi will make it out together. But more importantly, Tony Gilroy is not going to introduce us to a space jail without an amazing prison break sequence.
The sequence absolutely delivers, not just through tense excitement and sheer adrenaline, but with a sense of catharsis, as Cassian, Melshi, and their fellow prisoners use the tools of their oppression to set themselves free. They manipulate the electrified tungsten floor, of course, allowing them to roam freely. And crucially the weapons they use in their fight for freedom are the tools they used to build in the prison — wrenches, pipes, and even their own bodies. When the guards shout “on program” to the prisoners for the final, fateful time, director Toby Haynes shows us how many of the prisoners are hiding these tools behind their backs while holding their hands up behind their heads.
Crucially, none of the prisoners are Jedi or possess any other supernatural abilities that separate them from the rest. It is a team effort because it has to be, and the prisoners on Narkina 5 have to use every single tool at their disposal — including people they may not have previously thought of as allies. As they take control of the tools they’ve been using, they also retake control of their own bodies and their relationships with each other. Andor production designer Luke Hull told Polygon the Empire considers prisoners simply “disposable parts of the machine.” In the climactic prison break, they are reclaiming their humanity as well as their freedom.
Andy Serkis’ Kino Loy character is key here, especially for how Andor thinks about oppression and rebellion. Over the course of these three episodes, he goes from abettor of the Empire’s agenda for his own benefit to stubborn resistor of facts to eventual leader of the prison’s rebellion. As Cassian attempts to convince Kino of the horrible truth of their situation, Andor is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s masterful They Live, when Roddy Piper attempts to convince Keith David of the horrible truth in that story. Like Keith David’s character in that movie, Kino is stubbornly and violently resistant to the truth because of how terrible it is, before eventually and wholeheartedly giving into it. There is only one way out.
When Cassian and Kino Loy make it to the prison’s control room, it’s their turn to bark orders at the guards. Kino, who had previously been responsible for keeping the prisoners on his floor productive and in line, is now tasked with giving a different kind of order: Free yourself. It’s one he struggles with, and Serkis’ remarkable performance reaches another height in this moment as he seems to be physically incapable of speaking the words he needs to. It’s only after Cassian encourages Kino and tells him how necessary he is that the words can come out. In Andor, there are no singular heroes — it takes everyone doing their part.
This leads to one of the more cathartic moments in an extremely cathartic episode. Two guards remain in the control room, nervous about what comes next. Cassian barks “ON PROGRAM!” at them, as they jolt with fright. Diego Luna relishes in this moment of turning the tables, throwing his whole body into the command, and the guards quickly obey. Soon after, we see another group of guards silently cowering in fear behind a door as prisoners run joyously to their freedom.
Using the Empire against itself is a running theme throughout the show — in Andor’s excellent heist arc, the caper crew dressed up as sheepherders to blend in, taking advantage of how little the Empire thinks about common people to pull off the daring Aldhani job. And it’s Luthen’s entire deal on the show, purposefully goading the Empire into overreacting in order to foment an organized rebellion (and in this episode, Luthen even gets to deliver an eerie monologue in an ominous meeting in the dark on a bridge, dressed like a dang Sith Lord in a flowing black cape).
On Narkina 5, the prisoners outnumber the guards. It’s something Cassian has suspected from the beginning, and that we learn for certain in the explosive closing line from Kino in episode 9. But in the tenth episode, we finally see it in action. The few can rule over the many only when the many are too scared or too disorganized to fight. In Andor, that means using any tools and any means necessary to survive. Especially the tools used to keep you down.
Now imagine a version of this escape where the main character is a Jedi. How stakeless and weightless would that prison break feel? How could a rebellion ever work if it’s so reliant on the abilities of a select few? Instead, Andor shows us the simple truth: There’s only one way out, and it’s together.