Thoughts on Ian Fleming’s Moonraker (1955)

“Peace In Our Time -This Time”

The third novel in Ian Fleming’s original James Bond series, Moonraker, offers a unique story –one that shares very little in common with the silly 1979 Eon film of the same name. Whereas other 007 adventures take us across the world to various exotic locales, Moonraker remains grounded entirely in England. This wonderful tale is a drastic step up from the previous outing Live and Let Die. In it, we return to the thrill of high-stakes card games a la Casino Royale, and from there an investigation leads to the cliffs of Dover, a high-speed chase in London, and finally an experimental rocket launch.

One of my favorite parts of this book occurs at the beginning, as Ian Fleming paints a colorful portrait of daily life inside the Secret Service. James Bond, freshly sunburned from a recent vacation down south somewhere near the equator, is completing target practice before he takes a lift to the eighth floor of MI6 where he is greeted by his motherly secretary Loelia “Li” Ponsonby (she hates to be called “Lil” by Bond). We learn that Bond is one of only three active assassins currently working inside the 00 program –the other two being 008 (“Bill”), who recently escaped from Peenemunde and is now resting in Berlin, and the other is 0011 who disappeared without a trace two months ago in the “dirty half-mile in Singapore.” We also learn that Bond typically has only 2-3 assignments per year, the rest of the time is spent like a civil servant in a desk job at headquarters. Personally, his hobbies include: evenings spent playing cards, making love to married women, and playing golf. He rarely takes holidays and earns approximately 1,500 pounds per year while living in a small, comfortable flat at King’s Road. I thought these details of the true Bond were helpful to round out this somewhat elusive character.

At any rate, Bond is summoned to M’s office on the ninth floor –Ian Fleming describes a large green baize door and inside is a pipe-smoking M and we also meet his flirtatious personal secretary Moneypenny. M makes an interesting reference to the events of Live and Let Die in which he mentions that the UK will likely retrieve the missing gold after all, despite some ongoing deliberations in the Hague. The conversation quickly turns to quiet suspicions that M has one Sir Hugo Drax, a popular millionaire magnate in the British metal industry. Sir Hugo Drax is always in the papers, and even Bond regards Drax as “a national hero.” He is a man of the people who bears scars from the war after being injured in a German “werewolf” guerilla explosion behind enemy lines wherein half his face was blown away causing amnesia for over a year. Since he could not remember his identity, he just assumed the name of Hugo Drax, an orphan from the Liverpool docks. Drax has since risen to become a multi-millionaire as a successful ore magnate of a material known as Columbite, necessary ingredient in jet engines. Drax quickly cornered the Columbite market via his company, Drax Metals, which has become a global conglomerate by buying up uranium mines in South Africa and selling military products to the Americans. Presently, Drax is a member of a high-class London gentleman’s club, Blades, where he plays cards but still cannot fully recall his true identity. He has begun to live a lavish lifestyle and has recently gifted his entire holding of Columbite to Britain as a national gift in order to build a “super atomic rocket with a range that would cover nearly every capital in Europe -the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom bomb London” (18). Naturally, the queen graciously accepted Drax’s gift and has bestowed a knighthood upon him. Now, Drax’s rocket is nearly ready for a test launch –The Moonraker.

Anyway, M frequently plays cards with Drax but he has begun to grow suspicious after he realizes Drax has been cheating. In hoping to avoid any attention from the press, and since Bond is the best card player in the business, M asks Bond to join him at Blades for the evening to investigate Drax’s cheating. Naturally, after an intense exchange involving Bond ingesting copious amounts of Benzedrine and champagne, he defeats Drax in a high stakes card game. Drax, an arrogant contemptible redhead, scoffs: “Spend it quickly, Commander Bond,” he snidely remarks, and the tense exchange leads Bond to psychoanalyze this strange titan of industry:

“Why should Drax, a millionaire, a public hero, a man with a unique position in the country, why should this remarkable man cheat at cards? What could he achieve by it? What could he prove to himself? Did he think that he was so much a law unto himself, so far above the common herd and their puny canons of behavior that he could spit in the face of public opinion?” (77).

Bond considers spending his new windfall on a Rolls-Bentley convertible, some diamond clips, and a few other things like a new coat of paint for his flat and so on while investing the rest in gold so he can retire –but he is quickly summoned back to M’s office where he learns that two men from the Moonraker plant have been killed at a nearby public house. Both men were German experts at the R.A.F. installation located along the southern coast, a facility totaling about 1,000 acres in Kent along the cliffs between Dover and Deal. Since the entire novel takes place over only a few days, Drax intends to conduct a test launch of the Moonraker on Friday in four days-time.

Following the suspicious murder-suicide, Bond is sent out to investigate the situation on the remote coast of Dover. M reminds him that there are apparently fifty or so Russians working on the project, and it would be a colossal victory for the Soviets to sabotage the Moonraker on the eve of its test run. When he arrives, Bond meets with Drax, and his sadistic henchman named Krebs, as well as a leading rocket scientist Gala Brand (secretly a double agent). Bond is given a tour, and he notices many of Drax’s employees are men with shaved heads and thick, bushy moustaches. Gala and Bond sneak away in the morning but they are nearly killed in a cliff-fall (it appears to be a sabotage attempt).

The story then leads to London where Gala manages to sneak Drax’s notebook from his pocket which outlines an alternative route for the Moonraker, one not previously notated anywhere –according to these new coordinates, the rocket will fire upon London! “On each page, under the date, the neat columns of figures, the atmospheric pressure, the wind velocity, the temperature…” (171). However, before she can report the crisis to MI6, she secretly returns the notebook to Drax’s pocket, but Krebs catches her in the act thereby revealing that Gala is actually a spy. She is then dragged away and tortured in a radio homing station in London.

Meanwhile, Drax Metals has begun selling large holdings of sterling, which sends the pound fluctuating wildly. Bond is then sent again to investigate the disappearance of Gala, but following a wild car chase around London, Bond is captured and tied up with Gala. They are taken back to the location of the Moonraker which appears to Bond as “a giant hypodermic needle ready to be plunged unto the heart of England” (200). As it turns out, Drax is German, his real name is Graf Hugo von der Drache. He was educated in England until the age of twelve, and then went to work in family’s German steel business which produced shells for the war, before joining the Nazi German army during WWII in the 104th Panzer Regiment and then was finally transferred to intelligence. He claims Hitler was betrayed by his generals as the English and Americans were allowed to land in France –he is filled with resentment and anger. Drax was then sent behind enemy lines into the Ardennes in 1944 along with Krebs, a skilled executioner, as they were both part of the secret “werewolf” German assassin troupe. While behind enemy lines, Drax was accidentally injured and, still undercover, was mistaken for a British soldier named Hugo Drax so he simply accepted the identity and returned to England. First, he robbed and killed a Jewish moneylender, and then began to build his Columbite empire around the world. He built an elaborate supply chain which extended far behind the reach of the Iron Curtain with products traveling via submarine to the cliffs of Dover in order to create a volatile nuclear warhead within the Moonraker rocket. All the bald men with moustaches that Bond spotted were merely disguises to hide their true identities.

As with all megalomaniacal villains, Drax is eager to explicate his diabolical plot before leaving Bond and Gala to die alone. He abandons them to be destroyed the following day when the rocket is set to strike London. However, Bond works quickly to use Krebs’s nearby blow torch to free one of Gala’s hands, allowing both of them to escape. They silently sneak through the base so Gala can inform Bond on how to redirect the coordinates of the Moonraker so that it falls into the sea instead of the center of London. Before the rocket launches, Drax addresses the British people in an oddly ominous, yet triumphant speech, but he then escapes into a Soviet submarine to flee to freedom, however it, thanks to Bond, it is unexpectedly struck by the Moonraker when it launches according to the new coordinates. The blast has apparently killed everyone on board –including Drax and Krebs—as well as a couple hundred other people along the southern coast of the British shoreline unfortunately.

Back in London, #10 Downing attempts to twist the story so that Drax is portrayed as a noble patriot who sacrificed for his country in order to preserve some sense of national unity. Meanwhile, Bond reflects on what might have happened to London had the rocket actually hit its originally intended target:

“How nearly it had come, thought Bond, to being stilled. How nearly there might be nothing now but the distant clang of the ambulance bells beneath a lurid black and orange sky, the stench of burning, the screams of people still trapped in the buildings. The softly beating heart of London silenced for a generation” (239).  

In the end, 008 is headed back to MI6 while Bond and Gala are instructed to immediately flee the country until the Drax scandal finally blows over. While Bond looks forward to his time alone with Gala, she has a confession. She solemnly explains to Bond that she is actually engaged to another investigator in the agency. Sadly, they must part ways. Bond says he pursues “no false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette” (244). Moonraker concludes on a touchingly poignant note as Bond is once again alone in the world.

Moonraker is often highly regarded among fans as one of Ian Fleming’s best, and ironically it could not be more different from the amusing 1979 Roger Moore film of the same name. In fact, the plot of the book and film have almost nothing in common, aside from the villain’s name (Hugo Drax), the presence of the Moonraker rocket, and a particular moment wherein M makes an offhand acknowledgement that he plays cards with Drax. Otherwise, in the film Drax is not a secret Nazi, but rather he launches a new human civilization in space based on his own theories of eugenics. In my view, Ian Fleming’s novel greatly overshadows the film. Apparently, Fleming conducted significant research in preparation for the novel –particularly on the German “Werewolf” resistance forces and the V2 rockets.

Moonraker is a patriotic novel –an homage to England– which expresses deep skepticism toward the Ayn Randian mega-millionaire magnate class. The “otherness” of Hugo Drax, aside from him being secretly a Nazi, is highlighted in his physical features. He is a large, lurching man with fiery red hair and bad teeth, as well as a horribly scarred face. A war wound garnered in the service of England is honorable, but his injury sustained in the service of Germany is shameful. Drax manages to navigate his way through these cultural biases without failure. His rocket is the symbol of his ultimate revenge on behalf of the German people. Moonraker is a cautionary tale about what happens when the public trust is placed too strongly in the hands of one man.

Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. Thomas & Mercer in Las Vegas, NV c/o Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. 1955 (republished in 2012). Paperback edition.

Click here to read my review of the film Moonraker (1979).

Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Nine “The Tholian Web”

Stardate: 5693.2 (2268)
Original Air Date: November 15, 1968
Writers: Judy Burns and Chet Richards
Director: Herb Wallerstein (Ralph Senensky, uncredited)

“If we are not careful, we shall lose the Captain and become trapped ourselves…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise is approaching the last known position of the U.S.S. Defiant, a Federation starship which vanished without a trace approximately three weeks ago. As they enter a pocket of un-surveyed territory, Spock acknowledges a strange phenomenon –the current readings on the computer show that space is apparently breaking apart. The Enterprise has stumbled onto a highly unusual interspatial rift. Then the derelict Defiant comes into view, though ship’s sensor readings suggest the Defiant is, in truth, not actually there. The Defiant floats aimlessly in space and it now appears covered in a luminescent green material –something unusual has clearly happened. Scotty is left to helm the Enterprise while Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy and Chekov beam over to the Defiant, each wearing protective environmental suits (these suits are slightly different from the suits worn in Season 1’s “The Naked Time”).

Once aboard the Defiant, the crew discovers dead bodies strewn everywhere, almost as if they died while struggling (for example, the Defiant’s captain’s neck appears to be broken). Perhaps there was a mutiny on the Defiant, but Spock informs Chekov that there has been no such recorded instance of a mutiny. There are also no life forms aboard the Defiant –everyone is dead– but the ship remains fully functional. Something dark and ominous has occurred.  

While investigating the ship’s life support systems, Chekov suddenly grows lightheaded and he nearly faints. Dr. McCoy then makes a startling discovery –the Defiant is actually in the process dissolving. His hand passes right through a crewman’s dead body on the floor. The Enterprise crew must urgently vacate the Defiant before it disappears entirely, however in this strange area of space, power is limited on the Enterprise and Scotty can only beam back three of the four crewmen before trying again. Kirk predictably remains behind while Spock, Bones, and Chekov are narrowly brought back to the Enterprise. Scotty quickly fires up the transporter again, but before Kirk can materialize, the Defiant vanishes entirely. Where has the captain gone?

Spock is now in charge of the Enterprise. He speculates that Kirk has fallen into an alternate universe and that there will be a brief window of time when both universes overlap –an unusual moment called an “interphase” which allows matter to pass between universes. Spock believes that the next interphase will occur in approximately two hours. However, while Spock explains the situation to the crew, Chekov is driven into a violent fit of madness as he attacks Spock. Other crewmen soon fall prey to violent outbursts, as well. Then a strange hostile alien race known as the Tholians appears before the Enterprise. Led by Commander Loskene of the Tholian Assembly, the Tholians assert that the Enterprise has wrongly trespassed into Tholian territory. They threaten the Enterprise, but Spock manages to temporarily persuade the aliens that the Enterprise is actually on a rescue mission, to relocate another Federation ship which is interspatially trapped. He convinces the Tholians to wait exactly one hour and fifty-three minutes, the time until which he believes Kirk will reappear, but beyond that the Tholians will attack the Enterprise. The Tholians reluctantly agree but they warn that they do not “tolerate deceit.”  

When the time arrives and the Defiant does not appear, the Tholians grow impatient and fire upon the Enterprise causing serious damage, while Spock orders return phaser fire which damages Loskene’s ship. The battle drains the Enterprise’s power and the ship is cast adrift while a second and significantly larger Tholian ship arrives and begins constructing a dangerous web-like, geometric energy field (not unlike a cage) around the Enterprise. If it is fully constructed, the Enterprise might not be able to escape. Before enacting a plan, Spock takes a few moments to declare Kirk deceased to the crew. He and Bones then squabble over leadership of the Enterprise –together, they listen to a pre-recording by Kirk which offers some sage wisdom about respecting each other’s authority in his absence. Then, ghostly images of Kirk begin appearing on the ship to the both Uhura and Scotty. Kirk is apparently trapped in between universes, floating aimlessly through space in his environmental suit –and his oxygen supply is running short.  

With time slipping away and the Tholian web nearly constructed, Spock devises a plan to entrap Kirk during the next interphase. The Enterprise will use a minor boost of its engines to get closer to Kirk and use a transporter beam while narrowly escaping the construction of the Tholian web. Thankfully, the ploy works and once back aboard the Enterprise, Kirk questions Spock and Bones about his final recording. Both men decide to sheepishly lie to the captain, claiming they did not actually watch his pre-recording.  

The elusive Tholians strike me as one of the more intriguing non-humanoid alien species to appear in Star Trek. We have seen other remarkable creatures like the Horta in “Devil in the Dark” or the tiny aliens in “Catspaw,” but none seem quite as astute or brutal as the Tholians. Perhaps this is why the Enterprise makes little attempt to form a pact with them, Spock does not even discuss inviting the Tholians to join the Federation. They seem like a no-nonsense species –precise, silicone-based, chrystalline geologic creatures –and according to later Treklore, they have geode-like heads with bright eyes and six legs. They thrive in extreme heat and are notably punctual. Their spider web, forcefield is slow to construct but apparently effective in entrapping enemies. I look forward to exploring the Tholians more as I dive deeper into Star Trek.

There are also a number of interesting themes in this episode –not least of which includes the problems associated with the successive chain of command in the event of Kirk’s death. Upon assuming the role of captain, Spock behaves as he once did in “The Galileo Seven,” and he quickly draws the ire of Bones. It is a tricky situation. If not for Kirk’s pre-recording, perhaps the ship might have fallen into a worse situation.

Also, the discovery of abandoned or derelict ships continues to be an intriguing premise –the U.S.S. Defiant almost seems like a ghostly Flying Dutchman which appears out of this strange rift across multiple universes. I can see where this episode’s horror story basis initially came from –there are echoes of ghosts and otherworldly mysteries. And while I thought this was another classic episode, a few questions still persist for me. What exactly happened to the Defiant? Is the crew’s madness a product of this particular pocket of space? Are the Tholians aware of the multiple universe interphases? How does the Enterprise successfully flee away from this place if the ship’s power is severely damaged? There are lots of fascinating ideas touched upon in this episode.    

Married couple Judy Burns and Chet Richards wrote this episode. Judy was a freelance television writer hoping to earn money for a study trip to Africa. Her initial idea involved floating spirits around the Enterprise in a horror story, however Gene Roddenberry forbade unnatural supernatural events, like ghosts and so on. Judy then transformed the idea into an interdimensional rift story. Judy developed the idea for the Tholians, while the idea behind the Tholians came from Chet.  

This was the final episode directed by Ralph Senensky. In continuing with the unpleasantness behind the scenes during the third season, he was fired during mid-production of this episode as a result of going slightly over schedule. Herb Wallerstein was then ushered in to finish up the episode. Wallerstein was a director of other popular shows like Gunsmoke and Wonder Woman.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The original title for this episode was ”The Nothing” or “In Essence – Nothing.”
  • The Tholians and the U.S.S. Defiant return in a mirror universe two-part episode of Star Trek Enterprise entitled “In A Mirror, Darkly.”
  • This episode highlights the problems occurring behind the scenes as Director Ralph Senensky was abruptly fired mid-episode.
  • There were some notable differences between the original script and final episode, such as the use of forcefield belts instead of environmental suits. The belts later appeared in the animated series. Another distinction was the name of the U.S.S. Defiant –initially it was called the “U.S.S. Scimitar.”
  • Paul Baxley
  • Nichelle Nichols praised two episodes as among her favorites: “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “The Tholian Web.”
  • Barbara Babcock, who appeared in a total of seven TOS episodes, performed an uncredited role in this episode as the voice of Loskene, the Tholian. Mike Minor created the original puppet of Loskene.
  • An ebonized statue of Napoleon III appears in Spock’s quarters in this episode. The prop also appears in classic films including It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane.
  • The US Customs department later borrowed the term “Tholian Web” to refer to an internet project to entrap and capture child predators.
  • Leonard Nimoy actually ad-libbed the line about Tholian “punctuality.”

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Review

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Director: Zack Snyder

Rating: 2 out of 5.

In taking a recent dive through the mythos of DC Comics, I endeavored to watch all of the Batman and Superman movies –thus far most have been good fun, even the bad ones, but few have matched the existential dour and drabness of Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. This movie offers a forgettable attempt to mirror the Marvel Cinematic Universe as DC/Warner Bros continues to flail with some of its extraordinary IPs, namely the popular Batman and Superman properties. Rather than pursuing a bleak existentialist string of films focused on Batman and Superman, perhaps they could instead look upward for a more aspirational tone for these heroes.

Sadly, this is not an aspirational film. The heroes are broken, jaded, and questionably moral. I watched the so-called “Ultimate Version” which added an extra thirty minutes to the film, making it clock in at over 3 hours, and even in this case the plot is hardly comprehensible. I guess in some senses it is a tale of two cities: Metropolis and Gotham. Here, Ben Affleck plays an older Batman, a reluctant and retiring hero a la Frank Miller’s celebrated comic book The Dark Knight Returns. He is alcoholic and grim, often branding criminals with a flesh-burning bat symbol so they will later be brutally murdered in prison. He begins to grow suspicious of “the Superman” (reprised by Henry Cavill from 2013’s Man of Steel) amidst oddly inserted dream sequences and visions of the future. The events of Man of Steel have led many to believe Superman is not the savior they had once hoped. Both Batman and Superman are at odds as kryptonite is discovered, and infamous entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) pits them against one another. Luthor launches a covert marketing campaign to make people believe that Superman is a vicious killer. Superman is publicly condemned as a villain, he seems to only care about his love for Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and his mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Following a series of mysterious clues, Bruce Wayne/Batman Gal Gadot makes a surprise appearance as Wonder Woman. Other notable actors in the film include Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth and Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White.

It concludes with a 40 minute “epic” battle filled with lots of slamming, destruction, and seizure-inducing special effects. Despite being a murderous killer, Batman ultimately decides not to slaughter Superman with a kryptonite staff, and then Batman and Superman decide to team up with Wonder Woman to destroy Lex Luthor’s genetically-engineered rock monster, but in the end (spoiler alert) the battle kills Superman. But wait! After his funeral in Smallville, the dirt around his burial suddenly moves, implying that Superman has been resurrected (yawn). I tried two times to get through this long, dour, grey, depressing movie, but it just a bore and many scenes are non-contiguous, making little sense to the viewer. I’m sure there were at least some ideas on the cutting room floor with this film, but actually watching it feels like the death of the superhero genre. Batman v Superman was not even funny or moderately entertaining, unlike other campy crossovers like Alien vs Predator which is at least good for a few chuckles. It is dark and weighty with no clear message or narrative thrust, and the indecipherable plot runs away from the audience leaving a sour sense of encroaching nihilism –a rare accomplishment for a movie which features two of the most popular superheroes in cinematic history. I recommend skipping this jumbled, three-hour catastrophe.

Andor (2022) Review

“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. And 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!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After a recent string of disappointingly mediocre Star Wars shows from Disney (namely, Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett), it was a refreshing experience for me to watch Andor, a character-driven show that portrays the birth of the rebellion. This shows offers a patient, mature story that is wholly unique in the Star Wars pantheon. There are no force-wielding Jedi, nor CGI-infused explosions, and the Skywalker saga is nowhere to be found. Instead, Andor presents an on-the-ground, personal meditation upon the nature of rebellion –where does resistance come from? What causes a person to become a revolutionary? Is it better to accept tyranny in exchange for security, or risk death in the hope of freedom?

Tony Gilroy, writer for the original Jason Bourne trilogy as well as the celebrated thriller Michael Clayton (2007), initially brought forward an idea for a Star Wars show to Disney focused on raw political intrigue, an exploration of the problems facing forgotten towns and places in the galaxy, all within the context of an espionage thriller. This is a tale that takes us on a slow-burn adventure among ordinary people throughout this galaxy as the “fat and satisfied” Empire seems primed for downfall. Mr. Gilroy, who worked on Andor’s predecessor film Rogue One (2016), has called this show the “education of Cassian Andor.” It captures some incredible sweeping cinematography, from neon-lit cityscapes a la Blade Runner to the mist-soaked hills of the Scottish Highlands. And to top it all off, there is a truly inspired score replete throughout the show by Nicholas Britell.

As a prequel to Rogue One (2016) –which is itself a prequel to A New Hope, and is one of the best Star Wars movies to emerge during the Disney era—Andor takes place five years prior to the battle of Yavin. We follow Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a poor boy who escaped from the rural planet of Kenari after it was destroyed by an Imperial mining disaster. He has since turned into a thief, living on Ferrix –a rusted over planet populated with working class people who dwell in an almost medieval culture and community. It is a dusty place filled with scrapworkers and shopkeeps, complete with a looming belltower which announces secret rituals and traditions that have sprung up organically within the people. However, we first meet Andor not on Ferrix, but rather on Morllana One as he trudges through the a-moral, rain-drenched streets in search of his missing sister whom he has been tracking since childhood. He quickly becomes embroiled in a scandal when two Imperial officers accost him outside a strip club, and he somewhat accidentally kills them both before. He then decides to flee the planet, returning to Ferrix, but the local authorities are keen to find him. An investigation is opened by the Preox-Morlana (Pre-Mor) Authority, the local corporate contingent on Moralana One which has been hired by the Empire to oversee the region. As an aside, this struck me as a fascinating idea –namely, that the Empire could hire private security paramilitary forces to oversee the governance of its various planets. While the regional leader of this company insists on overlooking the murder to protect his own career, the deputy inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) decides to pursue the situation anyway.

At this point, all throughout the galaxy, we get the sense that the Empire has been slowly and quietly expanding its bureaucratic tentacles. Resentment among the people has been brewing in correlation with lazy Imperial complacency. On Ferrix, we meet Maarva (Fiona Shaw), who is Andor’s adoptive mother, as well as her stuttering droid B2EMO. We also meet Andor’s ex-girlfriend Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona) a mechanic, and black-market junk trader whose jealous boyfriend betrays Andor to the authorities. This leads to a series of hurdles for Cassian Andor. He quickly tries to flee the planet by selling a rare Imperial Starpath Unit, a device used to track Imperial ships, but it turns out that his black-market buyer is actually Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a covert leader of the burgeoning rebellion posing as a high-end art and artifact dealer by day. He hires Andor for a job on Aldhani, an intense undercover heist operation in which a small band of rebels steal a huge sum of payroll from an Imperial outpost. By now, Andor remains a somewhat reluctant rebel, but he joins the cause nonetheless simply for his own payment. After a long build-up of tension, the anxiety of this undercover heist bursts forth in episodes 5-6 (“The Axe Forgets” and “The Eye”) as Andor and his band of fellow rebels sneak into the outpost while hoping to avoid detection. It is a nail-biting scene unlike any other previously shown in Star Wars.   

Meanwhile, as the unspoken and ragtag rebellion is just beginning to form, the inner politics of the Empire appear to be in a state of bureaucratic decay. Syril Karn’s career goes downhill after he fails to apprehend Andor, and he lands in a monotonous desk job on Coruscant. At the same time, other Imperial governors squabble and hide their failures as much as possible –Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), and her colleagues square off with Major Partagaz (Anton Lesser) over inane rules that govern their various systems. When Dedra Meero fights to cross boundaries and explore new solutions it is met with hostility from within.

Following the Aldhani heist, Andor escapes with his money to the tropical planet of Niamos where he is quickly arrested on unrelated, trumped-up charges. Despite living incognito as “Keef Girgo,” Andor has unknowingly stepped into a corrupt situation wherein the Empire has been arresting citizens of Niamos in a kind of mass incarceration in order to construct materials for the future Death Star. In a cruel twist of fate, Andor is locked away in the planet’s massive prison Narkina 5, a sterile institution which keeps prisoners as workers and uses electrocution flooring –just one step on the floor when illuminated will kill a man. In time, we meet Andor’s fellow prisoners, most notably Kino Loy (Andy Serkis), who collectively stage a massive prison break. Along with the heist on Aldhani, the scene of the prison escape is one of the best in the show in my view. Andor manages to escape Niamos and return home to Ferrix just in time for his adopted mother Maarva’s funeral. Her death and subsequent funeral march through the city (her funeral song has actually been the show’s theme this whole time) sparks an uprising as the people on Ferrix attack their Imperial overlords.     

One other gripping plot thread in this show features the backstory of Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), a wealthy heiress from the planet Chandrila who is well-connected within the Imperial Senate, while secretly funneling her family’s money to the rebellion via Luthen. Her story is a troubling glimpse into the kinds of life-threatening politicking necessary to stage a rebellion. The climax of her story comes after the Empire begins cracking down on wealth oversight, thus she turns to a somewhat slimy financier who requests the opportunity for his son to court an arranged marriage with Mon Mothma’s daughter. Mon Mothma is not actually a confident rebellious leader, fully sure of her decision to support the rebellion. Instead, she faces questionable problems in front of her –what is the right choice to make? Perhaps more than any other, Mon Mothma’s future lies in question. There are also other great characters that reappear in this show, like Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who learns of Luthen’s morally grey decision to sacrifice a fellow rebel leader in order to preserve an Imperials insider’s status as a double agent. Most of Star Wars portrays relatively clear delineations between good and evil, however Andor shows the often blurry decisions and trade-offs that must be made. Only zealots and fanatics believe that good and evil are always clear and distinct.    

While it’s admittedly a bit of a slow start in the first few episodes, Andor is a show that is well worth your time if you can stick it out. It offers some deeply gratifying crescendos, a cohort of new characters, and above all whole new perspective on the Star Wars universe. I hope there will be future seasons of this show, it seems likely from this vantage point. By the end of the twelve episodes, the strong implication is that there is a further story to be told. What will happen to Luthen? Will Mon Mothma’s daughter get married so that her mother can freely withdraw her money? What happened to Kino Loy? Will Andor ever find his sister? With shows like Andor, at least Disney can still manage to hit the nail on the head once in a while. With Andor we are treated to a blended political thriller and corporate espionage-heist show all in one. And all of it comes devoid the typical Star Wars mainstays like lightsaber duels and high-octane space battles. Andor offers a much-appreciated rejuvenation of the possible stories to tell within the Star Wars universe.