If the first three episodes weren’t evidence enough, Andor’s fourth instalment ‘Aldhani’ makes it clear that the show has no desire to fall into traditional Star Wars trappings. While the episode juggles a little too much, introducing two key players and starting a brand-new story arc, the show continues to pique interest by zeroing in on the volatile political landscape in a pre-A New Hope galaxy – one filled with equal parts ambition and treachery.
Fresh off their exploits on Ferrix, Andor and Luthen chart a course for the world of Aldhani to steal imperial intel with a band of rebels. Before they reach their destination, they engage in some verbal jousting over the Empire’s iron grip on the galaxy. In one terse conversation, it is revealed that the story Andor tells about his past – a teenager forced into fighting his friends – is only a half-truth. In reality, he was a cook who fled as soon as war started.
It’s a brief line, but a significant one, adding an intriguing wrinkle that does more for the character than the prior episodes’ Kenari flashbacks. That apathy is only going to make his eventual revolutionary rise that much more satisfying – and is evidence enough of a prequel that knows how to add worthwhile layers to these characters instead of making them act in service to fixed future events.
Andor, now christened Clem for the purposes of his mission, finds himself on Aldhani – which has shades of Middle-earth and the game Death Stranding in its desolate, sprawling beauty – to snag the quarterly payroll of an imperial sector. Star Wars heists haven’t quite been so unglamorous, sure, but it all adds to the feeling that the Empire’s downfall isn’t going to come overnight. They remain a terrifying war machine, with even the screech of a TIE fighter flying overhead emitting the same sense of fear from the rebels as Vader’s wheezing breaths would for the imperial brass.
The lack of Jedi, Jawas, and other franchise touchstones means Andor continues to embrace a more intimate, human side. While rebels Vel, Skeen, Nemik, Taramyn, Cinta, and Gorn feel faintly disposable right now, their presence offers a promising glimpse of the rebellion’s ragtag origins. In truth, the episode could have benefitted from a sprinkling of action on this side of the galaxy, ultimately suffering from a distinct feeling of being a budget-saving episode – but it’s clear the show is now working in the rhythm of three-episode arcs. As a more low-key place-setter, it’s done its job admirably.
Over on Coruscant, we are introduced to Dedra (Denise Gough) at the Imperial Security Bureau. The headstrong careerist is dealing with the incident on Ferrix and believes it should fall under her jurisdiction. Unfortunately for her, she’s confronted with the twin roadblocks of red tape and snivelling by-the-book colleague Blevin, played by Ben Smith.
The Imperial scenes expertly dissect the banality of evil. The employees are, as their superior puts it, there to “identify symptoms” and crush them under the efficient heel of the Empire. These aren’t decisions born of pure malice, but ones required by quotas and bolstered by intra-office ambition.
The episode could have spent the entire time with Dedra and been none the worse for it. The inner workings of the Empire have rarely been prodded at in quite such depth and, if ‘Aldhani’ has a fault, it’s that the slow burn becomes even slower thanks to the three stories progressing at a glacial pace. That third strand concerns Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) channelling funds to the rebellion and working with Luthen and its the episode’s most undercooked – yet immediately compelling – story.
Mothma’s arrival at Luthen’s “gallery” carries all the breathless hallmarks of a great spy thriller, with eyes paradoxically everywhere and nowhere as deals are cut in the shadows. Though we know Mothma will live through her subterfuge, the show’s sleight of hand in introducing characters in her orbit that may still get hurt from her actions means the silent thrum of tension remains present throughout.
Better yet, it improves on one of Star Wars’ biggest missteps. Scenes revolving around the senate were previously a stick to beat the prequels with. Here, they are transformed. The bubbling nastiness between Mon Mothma and her husband Perrin (Alastair Mckenzie) – who is winning no fans thanks to his sympathies lying with fascists – adds much to a character who had merely been a fascinating, if underdeveloped, footnote at the fringes of Star Wars media. O'Reilly’s quiet evolution of the character, from wordless prequel appearance (she originally had a talking scene in Revenge of the Sith though it was deleted), to bit-part in Rogue One, and now political firebrand, is something that puts the fears of ‘Why does this show exist?’ naysayers to rest.
Andor, then, is slowly stepping up through the gears. It remains to be seen whether the show will be able to weave warring plot lines as effortlessly as it does here, and some may be turned off by what ultimately amounts to a slower hour of television than the one-two-three adrenaline hit that preceded it. Yet, that’s proof enough that Andor is content to continue doing things its own way.