“One Way Out”: Why You Should Watch Andor this Advent
Note: This article contains spoilers for Andor, especially Episode 10.
It’s the tail end of the Year of Our Lord 2022, and Disney is still producing new Star Wars material. If you’re like my family—lifelong fans of Star Wars, but limited in your TV-watching time—you may have started picking through which shows you actually want to watch. We’ve started and stopped a few, but devoted ourselves to those which are excellent in both writing and production value.
This fall’s Andor, which tells the backstory of Rogue One’s character Cassian Andor, is worth every minute. It is everything a Star Wars prequel should be, and even better, it is—like Rogue One—an excellent story to engage with during the season of Advent.
Andor tells the origin story of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the eventual Rebel Alliance spy who will give his life alongside Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and others to deliver crucial information about the superweapon Death Star to the Rebel Alliance in Rogue One. You can watch this show with no prior knowledge of Star Wars, the character Cassian Andor, or Rogue One and still find it excellent, entertaining, and thought-provoking. However, if you do go into Andor with knowledge of all the source material, you are in for a real treat.
A great prequel has to fit seamlessly into the world it belongs to while telling a story that is brand new. Andor achieves both these things. It tells a fresh story while upholding the ethos and thematic elements of not just Rogue One, but also of the original Star Wars trilogy—and even the prequel trilogy. As I mentioned back in 2017 for Christ and Pop Culture when I wrote about Rogue One being an Advent Story, the primary theme of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars is hope. Andor maintains this theme, even in the dark—especially in the dark. Andor is in many ways a mirror story to the original trilogy—or maybe I should say that it joins Rogue One in being a mirror story. It shows what happens in the dark to bring about the light. It shows the cost of freedom and victory.
My family watches Rogue One every year during Advent—it is a movie to watch in the dark, filled with hope, longing, sadness mixed with joy. Filled with anticipation of the defeat of evil, a joyous resolution that no one on the screen is going to see—that no one has any assurance is going to happen, aside from the faith that they have fulfilled their one good part in a much bigger fight against evil.
Andor captures this same sense by anticipating Cassian’s ultimate sacrifice and establishing the Rebellion itself in the shadow of the Empire. Star Wars episodes 4-6 are about heroes like Luke and Leia and Han—grand space adventures with cute Ewoks and exciting lightsaber battles and big celebrations where everyone lives happily ever after. And that’s the hope and celebration, that’s the resolution a great story like Star Wars needs!
But there’s no Luke Skywalker without Cassian Andor—no joyous turn of victory for the Rebellion (against all odds!) without the work of hundreds of shadow operatives who make the ultimate sacrifice. Not for themselves, but for their children. And their children’s children. Andor depicts how desperate, dangerous, and lacking in glory the Rebel life really is.
Episode 10 of Andor, titled “One Way Out,” is the singular episode that sums up Cassian’s bigger story, and the message of the show itself. In it, we find Cassian unjustly imprisoned by the Empire, forced to work every day or die. He and his shift leader, Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), have just learned that no one ever gets released at the end of their sentences—they only get recycled back into another level of the prison. The revelation convinces Kino to join Cassian in leading the other inmates in a desperate prison break.
Kino must not only join Cassian, though; as the leader and elder voice in the ward, Kino must actively lead the revolt. Kino does so, but through a mix of hope and pain. He knows he can’t survive the run to freedom, but he leads in hope for others.
Cassian and his fellow inmates are imprisoned in a microcosm of the world they inhabit on the outside, trapped by the Empire in an unjust system of perpetual servitude where the only way out is to rise up, rebel, and fight back. The prison is just a picture of the Empire—a point established when the camera pans up to reveal that the building is shaped like the insignia of the Empire. And Kino is a precursor of Andor himself—a person who must reluctantly co-lead and inspire salvation for many, but come up short of saving himself. As such, the episode foreshadows the events of Rogue One.
In the prison, there is one way out—up and over the edge of the building into the water below, where they might be able to swim to safety, if they survive the revolt. As the prisoners flock to the top of the prison to escape, Kino leads them in a chant: “One way out!” But when they get to the moment of salvation and Cassian urges him to jump, Kino hangs back. “I can’t swim,” he says. “I can’t swim.”
One way out. The episode says, remember, the Empire has already demanded your life, so claim your freedom and give it instead to the Rebellion. But freedom doesn’t always mean that you get to see the sunrise yourself.
The episode is tagged with a speech made by a character named Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård), the Rebel leader and spy responsible for recruiting Cassian. In this final scene, Luthen must confront a young Rebel agent who wants to break the vow he made, to get out of the Alliance because it’s getting too hard for him. Luthen talks to the young man from the shadows, the scene cut and lit to make his outline more reminiscent of Darth Vader than any heroic figure—not because he’s evil but to remind the viewer of the cost of freedom, that there is “one way out” for these operatives. Luthen tells the young man that he’s sacrificed everything for the Rebellion. He says, “I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see.” Which is true, of course. Luthen presumably—like Cassian, like Jyn Erso and all the characters from Rogue One—dies without fanfare, none of them ever getting to see the fulfillment of their hope. “One way out” for them means that others might live free.
Who is Cassian Andor? Or Luthen for that matter? They are no one; there’s no glory in being a spy. They don’t get to be Luke, Leia, or Han. But Andor-as-Advent-story (like Rogue One) reminds us that in the presence of the lowly, the disenfranchised, and the unknown is the true breath of freedom. There “all oppression shall cease.” Christ wasn’t incarnated in the womb of a princess—he wasn’t born into the family of nobility or wealth. Nobody knew who Mary and Joseph were; nobody was looking for the chains of sin and death to break across a carpenter’s back. Advent isn’t about gallantry and pageantry and wild celebrations; it’s about whispered hope and lighting candles in the dark, looking back on promises made and looking forward with expectation that Christ will come again.
There are now a lot of Star Wars shows to choose from, and (by all means) you don’t have to watch them all. But when you’ve cherished Star Wars since your youth, there’s something special in discovering there are still new stories to be told within the universe that are more than recycled nostalgia—that are poetic in artistry and honoring of the source material. I would encourage you to make space to watch Andor, if you haven’t already, and then to watch or rewatch Rogue One. If for no other reason than the good story told in Episode 10, for Luthen’s “sunrise [he knows he’ll] never see.” For Kino Loy’s painful “I can’t swim.” For “One way out” and the story of a world aching with longing for a freedom, a salvation, that is coming.