Andor's Luthen Rael Is a Profound Look at the Cost of Rebellion

Image:  Lucasfilm
Image: Lucasfilm

People die in the name of rebellion in Star Wars all the time. X-Wings blinking out in balls of flame above the Death Star, speeders splintering on the salt of Crait. Heroic last stands like Admiral Holdo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, or Kanan Jarrus. But this week’s Andor offers a view of sacrifice arguably as tragic, if not more tragic, than any of those deaths.

Sacrifice is the name of the game in “One Way Out,” as the prison break on Narkina 5 explodes in a flurry of chaos and death. Characters we’ve come to know across these last three episodes of Andor drop like flies, no time given to grieve or contemplate them as Cassian and Kino whip the entire prison into a radicalized force to be reckoned with. On Coruscant, Mon Mothma is asked to make a different kind of sacrifice: the hand of her daughter in marriage to seal an underhanded deal with a Chandrilan mobster that’ll get her the financial liquidity she needs to aid the Rebellion. In a brief glimpse of Maarva’s decline on Ferrix, we see the prices she is paying—her own health, refusing treatment so she can find strength in her own way to join the cause roused in her by Aldhani.

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And then in the final scenes of the episode, we metaphorically and literally plunge into the depths of Star Wars’ world—something Andor so often excels at—for “One Way Out” to deliver its most haunting musing on the cost of revolution. Meeting an ISB turncoat in the bowels of Coruscant’s underworld, Luthen Rael makes a desperate attempt to keep the wavering man on his side—a man unwilling, perhaps rightfully so, to keep balancing the delicate line between loyal agent of the Imperial intelligence operation and now, in the year since Luthen last directly met him, a husband and father to a young child. Hoping to trade a bounty of information in exchange for Luthen letting him leave the ISB and the rebels behind alike, the informant, Lonni, tearfully asks “My sacrifice... it means nothing to you, does it?”

This is what follows from Luthen—when Lonni turns the tables and asks what he could’ve sacrificed to possibly compare to his own—transcribed word for word, because it’s really worth seeing in its totality:

Calm. Kindness, kinship. Love. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace, I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion: I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they’ve set me on a path from which there is no escape. I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost, and by the time I looked down, there was no longer any ground beneath my feet.

What is... what is my sacrifice? I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life, to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see. No, the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror, or an audience, or the light of gratitude. So what do I sacrifice?

Everything.

It’s a remarkable speech, made more remarkable by an all-timer performance from Stellan Skarsgård. This isn’t really a particular shade of the Luthen we’ve seen before—a man of theatrics, subversion, and temper. There is no charismatic drawl or grandstanding here; Skarsgård steps forward on the gantryway towards Lonni in a small turbolift, edging almost uncomfortably close to the static camera. The only times we cut away from Luthen are to reflect on Lonni himself, in sweating, tearful silence. Every movement in Skarsgård’s performance is subtle and burdened with a sense of exhaustion. No waving of hands, no booming voice—until the final roar of “Everything!” Skarsgård at most raises his tone from mumbling to a determined clarity over the sounds of industry around them, and nothing more.

It’s all in the eyes, and Skarsgård’s eyes dart around, not with a sense of mania or nervous energy, but flicking between Lonni and his own past as he ponders the words flowing from his mouth like he barely realizes the depths of pain he’s revealing to this man. There’s emotion to Luthen’s speech but there’s not emotion, if that makes sense. He doesn’t growl in defiance, his sad story is not to move himself to tears. There is a grim emptiness to him as he says it, not that he doesn’t care but that he cares so much he has to shut himself off to acknowledge what he’s done. His eyes, flickering here there and everywhere, match that haunted emptiness despite their energy.

Screenshot:  Lucasfilm
Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Luthen feels empty as he says all this, because that is the sacrifice he has made to give revolution a chance to thrive across the galaxy. He hasn’t sacrificed his life with a heroic death, but he might as well be dead—the things we know the Alliance goes on to fight for, saving what they love, the unity in the bonds they make, the things we see empowering Kino and Cassian and the other prisoners on Narkina 5 to rise up in this very episode. He has made the choice to cast those aside for himself so that he might see a path to a future where everyone else gets those things. Luthen has made himself a shell, denied himself his own future, to become a vehicle for rebellion itself. He truly has given everything—and why give his life literally, is what is left unsaid, when he no longer has a life of his own to lead? What value is there in a life that lacks peace, lacks kinship, lacks love?

People die in Star Wars all the time. They give their lives for others, for their cause, and sacrifice their own chances for love and peace in death, and this is heroic and tragic in equal measure. But Andor’s not one for mythos-making, nor is it one for eulogizing its fallen. Luthen’s tragedy is not to lose his life literally, but that he must go on living having made the choice to empty it—and by chance see a future where the people around him can have the things he has let go of. And that’s just as compelling, just as tragic, and just as heroic as any of Star Wars’ grandest sacrifices.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

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