Even in a universe full of space wizards, laser swords, giant robot walkers, and little murder bears, sometimes the most intimidating thing a person can face in Star Wars is their mom.
The bulk of “The Axe Forgets,” this week’s episode of the Rogue One prequel series Andor, is full of stuff you’d expect. The scrappy group of Rebels that Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has signed up with as “Clem” make their final preparations for their big Imperial heist, work through some jitters, and also process their mistrust of the new guy who was brought on last minute. However, the episode opens far from them, with milquetoast baddie Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) sulking in his childhood bedroom.
As the episode starts, Syril is at his lowest, disgraced and on the outs with his corporate rent-a-cop job, and his mother, Eedy Karn (Kathryn Hunter), is happy to give him a full dressing down. She knocks him for his posture, his lack of prospects and ambition, and his failure to hit up family connections to better himself. She is, in this fantastical world of flying cars and blue milk, the most mundane and real-world of things: an overbearing, pushy, and passive-aggressive mother absolutely steamrolling her child, in ways that probably will make him an even worse person than he already is.
Yet Eedy Karn isn’t just amusing; she’s emblematic of what Andor is doing so differently in its angry corner of the Star Wars universe, and how the show’s more grounded approach is succeeding. “The Axe Forgets” is full of loaded conversations between characters, each moving the plot forward while also hinting at specific resentments bubbling underneath. Consider:
- Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) argues with her sullen daughter about attending a government function, as it’s become clear that, of the twin charades she’s acting out, her family is the one she cares about least.
- Cassian and Skeen (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, aka “Cousin!” from The Bear) are at odds about Cassian’s motivations. “Clem” doesn’t seem to be fighting for anything — a suspicion proven right when Cassian fesses up to being a mercenary. But as mistrust builds to a peak, so does clarity. They’re all scared, and the thing that’s getting them through this isn’t merely some grandiose ideal. It’s something personal. “Everyone has their own rebellion,” Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) tells Cassian.
- Dedra and Heert (Denise Gough and Jacob James Beswick, respectively), our favorite Imperial bureaucrats, egg each other on in their suspicions of a budding rebellion, as the pencil-pushers’ ambition is stymied by the chain of command — but the opportunity is there for them to prove themselves as the best little fascists on the payroll.
In all this, Andor feels more like a costume drama than a traditional Star Wars production. It’s much more focused on character — in the mythic spectacle of Star Wars, there is often no time for these kinds of conversations, for these kinds of resentments and grievances to air out or manifest in ways that are both quiet and loud.
And that’s what makes an episode like “The Axe Forgets” so gripping: In taking the time to underline all of the emotions at play across its entire cast, no matter where they are, those emotions become kindling, ready to ignite at the drop of a hat. Something, somewhere, is likely to go wrong and light a spark, and so many of these characters are ready to combust.