Andor: The Terrible Mundanity of Evil
[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
How does a totalitarian regime solidify its reign? Through fear and intimidation? Although the Star Wars saga’s nefarious Empire is no stranger to flashy shock and awe tactics (as evidenced by their propensity for planet-obliterating super weapons like the Death Star), Andor—the franchise’s most recent Disney+ series—reexamines this brute force strategy. Tyranny, writer Tony Gilroy argues, is at its most insidious when it subtly permeates all aspects of everyday life, desensitizing the populace to its presence; the machinery of subjugation becomes normal, mundane, inevitable. Indeed, the inherent inefficiency of the bloated, underfunded bureaucracy—the false promises, the inconsequential concessions, the tangled web of red tape—becomes so utterly boring that it’s almost a comfort.
The show’s prison arc—which finds our protagonist incarcerated (without trial) on a remote penal island—explores this theme in miniature. The facility’s security staff is surprisingly minimal; instead of being locked behind iron bars and beaten with truncheons, inmates are forced to perform monotonous menial labor on an assembly line—twelve-hour shifts every day until their sentences expire. The work is as competitive as it is repetitive: the most productive teams are granted insubstantial “rewards” (food that tastes marginally better than their usual flavorless nutrient paste), while those that “neglect their duties” are severely punished (remote electroshock torture). Additionally, certain trusties—such as Andy Serkis’ Kino Loy—wield a modicum of authority, acting as overseers and enforcing the guards’ stringent quotas. These methods serve to dehumanize and isolate the victims, reducing them to individual cogs in a much vaster mechanism: by exhausting them with tedious tasks, making them resent one another, and convincing them that they pose no significant threat, their jailers ensure that they become too resigned to the abusive treatment to deviate from the routine, much less rebel.
Fortunately, the Imperials fail to account for one crucial factor: compassion. Despite his stern exterior, Kino legitimately cares about the men under his supervision, encouraging them to endure their fatigue and despair because he genuinely believes that silent, submissive obedience will guarantee their survival. Thus, when he discovers that their toil is for naught—that the calendar counting down to their scheduled release date is a total fabrication, and they will merely be transferred from factory to factory for the remainder of their natural lifespans—he immediately joins Cassian’s uprising, using the skills that he’s acquired as a foreman to inspire cooperation and unity among his former subordinates:
There is one way out. Right now, the building is ours. You need to run, climb, kill! You need to help each other. You see someone who is confused, someone who is lost, you get them moving and you keep them moving until we put this place behind us. There are 5,000 of us. If we can fight half as hard as we've been working, we will be home in no time. One way out! One way out! One way out!
Once they finally breach the exterior doors, however, Kino reveals that he can go no further: the final stretch of their escape requires them to paddle across turbulent waters, and he never learned to swim. He knew from the beginning that he wouldn’t be able to reach freedom, participating in the revolt solely for the benefit of his comrades—a sacrifice that perfectly mirrors the iconic monologue delivered by Rebel spymaster Luthen Rael during the episode's conclusion:
I burn my decency for someone else's future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I'll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude.
When confronted with such altruism, despotism wilts and decays—as all systems of oppression should.