A New & Improved Phantom Menace Arrives in ‘Andor’

Andor makes a strong case for playing dirty when battling evil, but this week's episode also offers a very George Lucas alternative.
Andor Episode Announcement

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines Andor Episode 7 and the new and improved phantom menace haunting the galaxy.

Whether or not all participants were aware of what they were doing, the Aldhani heist from last week’s Andor served as the Rebellion’s big coming-out party. Cassian (Diego Luna) was seeking credits, while Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) hungered for Imperial retaliation. The puppet master needs Palpatine’s wrath. A tighter grip on his Empire will undoubtedly invoke outrage and resistance. The omelet Luthen’s making requires an endless array of broken eggs.

Episode 7, entitled “Announcement,” reveals the dastardly lessons learned from the Star Wars prequels. Palpatine succeeded in playing to the populace’s fear. His phony Separatist agenda appeared as an apocalyptic threat while the real catastrophic weapon exposed itself as his clone army. The war was over long before the politicians and Jedi chumps knew it had started. While Obi-Wan Kenobi went off to sulk in the desert, other Republic survivors took note. Fool us once, shame on me. Fool us twice, no way.

Mon Mothma (Genevieve OReilly) states her education bluntly to her home planet pal, Tay (Ben Miles), “I’ve learned from Palpatine. I show you the stone in my hand; you miss the knife at your throat.” She calls her role as a Senator a projection. Every whisper and rumor about her is a carefully constructed lie. She’s ready for a fight but needs money to get it done. Terrorism costs, and Tay, the banker, might be able to secure her family funds.

The exchange with Tay comes after Mon Mothma’s startling conversation with Luthen. Previously, her Imperial resistance was a mental exercise. Slipping secrets under the table was easy to justify. Violent insurgencies are something else, and the obvious Imperial retaliation has her second-guessing. Mon Mothma is a warrior with words, but the Rebellion demands more. The revolution is made. It cannot be unmade.

“Has anyone made a weapon that wasn’t used?” asks Luthen. “It’s up. It grows, or it dies.” The moment these two boarded this particular train, the breaks were cut. Luthen understood this, and Andor Episode 7 is Mon Mothma coming to the realization. It burns anger into her final words with Luthen, but she accepts the logic and brings it into her conversation with Tay.

It’s their turn to be the Phantom Menace. They’re guiding Palpatine’s actions, and there will be casualties. Luthen has not only accepted this price but he’s also planned for it. Like Palpatine before him, he needs the fear to accomplish his task. When people are quaking in their boots, they’re easily manipulated. He can’t afford a clone army, but he can tether various disgruntled platoons into the armada that will eventually take down the Death Star…and the other Death Star.

Currently, the Rebellion is a delicate string of pearls, barely holding together across an infinite cosmos. One such dangling jewel is the title character. Cassian thinks he’s done playing soldier. He made his credits and fled Luthen’s ghost army. He returns to Ferrix, hoping to ferry his adoptive mother, Maarva (Fiona Shaw), to a safer corner of the universe. None exist.

She refuses his assistance. Word of the Aldhani heist has spread throughout the Empire, and the Rebels’ actions inspire her. Cassian doesn’t claim the assault as his own, but he tries to convince Maarva that the attack was nothing more than a robbery. She won’t hear it. As Luthen plotted, she’s inspired by the defiance.

Maarva explains to Cassian that there is nowhere to run. The Empire is everywhere. She might as well stay on Ferrix and bear the oppression. Cassian balks, telling Maarva that he’ll always be worried about her. She responds with a soft smile, “That’s just love.”

Maarva’s words are the first counter to Luthen’s fear offered by Andor. Love and fear are the two opposing forces in Star Wars. We’ve seen the latter tear down a Republic and sour the hearts of the Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker. We’re also witnessing it construct a militia to battle Palpatine’s seemingly all-encompassing control. However, Star Wars‘ ultimate resolution rests on love, one shared between a father and a son.

Our struggle to accept Darth Vader’s redemption in Return of the Jedi is beside the point. Luke accepts it. His belief in the goodness buried deep in his father triggered the father to propel Palpatine down the ventilator shaft. Luke’s unconditional love ignited the killing blow and the Rebellion victory. Not his fear.

Andor Episode 7 makes a convincing case for Luthen’s cold logic. The Empire is strangling the galaxy, killing with purpose as well as indiscriminately. You gotta jump into the fire if you want to wage war with demons. Certainly, ethical compromise is required by the likes of Mon Mothma and others.

Cassian is a creature who already shares Luthen’s worldview, if not his mission. Maarva rejecting his aid flies in the face of his cynicism. It’s illogical. He leaves her be and runs off to Niamos, the pleasure planet, where he is immediately captured and imprisoned by the Empire for crimes he actually did not commit. Oof, if they only knew.

We’ve seen the future in Rogue One. Cassian eventually joins the Rebellion, but what emotion gets him to hop aboard? In Andor, so far, he seems like a fear-driven character. We’re a long way from the season climax, and Luthen’s logic is due for a fall. Maarva’s belief in standing tall before your enemy could be the better motivator and the one more aligned with George Lucas‘ Saturday morning serial morality.

At first glance, Andor‘s vibe is very French resistance: Star Wars filtered through Charlotte Gray. Good folk have to play bad to topple evil. Everyone is walking away from this series with a little blood on their hands. Yet, fear cannot be the victorious force in a Star Wars adventure. Love must remain the central champion, and we see it thriving in Cassian’s relationship with Maarva and his long-lost sister. Place your bets that those bonds will prove stronger than anything Palpatine or Luthen can offer.

Star Wars: Andor Episode 7 is now streaming on Disney+.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)