Inside the Making of ‘Andor,’ the Star Wars Series That Changed Everything – Rolling Stone

FOR A SENSE of what makes the ambitious new Disney+ series Andor Different from just about everything else in the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, consider this: There will be no Jedi appearing over the show’s two allotted seasons, but in the very first episode, there is a scene set in a brothel — a first in the entire live-action history of the oft-sexless saga.

For showrunner Tony Gilroy (who wrote and directed 2007’s classic legal thriller Michael Clayton and wrote the Bourne movies), throwing a tasteful acknowledgment of the existence of sex work into the same galaxy that spawned Jar Jar Binks, Ewoks, and Grogu was a test of sorts for the Lucasfilm-Disney empire. “It sure is a good tell when you turn in that first episode for them to say, ‘Whoa! OK, this is what the show’s gonna be like,’” says Gilroy. “It was a marker, but it’s also good for the story. It served double duty.”

In the series, which has its three-episode premiere Sept. 21, Diego Luna reprises his role as the dashing, occasionally murderous rebel Cassian Andor, who was introduced in 2016’s Rogue One. Along with the rest of the film’s main characters, Cassian sacrifices his life to get the Death Star plans to the Rebels, setting off all the events of the original Star Wars trilogy. Andorset over the five years preceding Rogue One, will fill in the character’s backstory — but that’s only a part of the series’ game plan. “It’s unfair that the show is called Andor,” says Luna, “because it’s quite an ensemble piece.”

The larger aim of Andor is to show the birth of the rebellion against the Empire, a revolt that barely exists when the show’s narrative begins. “It’s The Winds of War, really,” Gilroy says, referring to the vintage book and TV miniseries about the earliest days of World War II. “War is coming.” The stories and characters are meant to be ground level; even a plot twist early on, where a character calls the Imperial cops on Andor because of romantic jealousy, is fresh territory for Star Wars. “This is the most grounded that Star Wars will get,” says Luna. “We are stressing that change and revolution happen when regular people decide to do something. It’s just regular people trying to survive in the darkest time in this galaxy, and finding out they can’t take it anymore. It’s about a system that is choking society.”

And again, it’s definitely not about Jedi. “That’s a pretty heavily digested topic,” says Gilroy. “If you think about it, most of the beings in the galaxy are not aware of Jedi, and have never seen a lightsaber. That topic and the Star Wars royal family have been chewed on for a long time. It’s like, there’s a restaurant and we’re in the kitchen. This is what’s going on underneath the other stuff.”

Early on, we learn that Cassian is a refugee from the indigenous population of a planet exploited for its natural resources by the Empire. For Gilroy, the backstory gives an in-universe explanation for Luna’s accent, and explains one of Cassian’s keys. Rogue One lines: “I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old.” Luna, meanwhile, links the origin story to his Mexican heritage. “I come from a country that has the longest border with the States,” he says. “We are the connection for good and bad of a whole continent with wealth, power, opportunity. This place is built on people moving, trying to survive, escaping violence, escaping regimes that are violent or tend to marginalize people. And to me, there is an opportunity to ground that character into something that feels very real.”

Gilroy (left) and Luna on set.

Des Willie / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Rogue One was also Gilroy’s introduction to the Star Wars universe, in more ways than one. He’s long been a go-to script doctor — a writer studios turn to when a movie is in trouble — and Rogue became his highest-profile rescue operation after Lucasfilm was deeply dissatisfied with the first cut. As far as Gilroy is concerned, his personal distance from Star Wars was an advantage, both on that movie, on which he also reportedly supervised reshoots (director Gareth Edwards kept sole credit), and on the show. “I’ve never been interested in Star Wars, ever,” he said in 2018 on the Moment With Brian Koppelman podcast. “So I had no reverence for it whatever.”

Gilroy ever-so-slightly softens that stance now. “I wasn’t Star Wars-averse,” he clarifies. “It wasn’t, you know, high on my menu. It wasn’t something that I paid that much attention to. It’s really easy, [with] Star Wars, for really smart people to lose their way. And strangely, it seems they care too much. Some form of altitude sickness or vertigo happens, and they lose some natural abilities or perceptions in some way. And it was helpful, at least on Rogue, to be super-clinical and say, ‘Hey, why are we choosing to die?’ You really have to care about the people that are going to sacrifice themselves if that’s the raw material, the engine of the story.”

After Rogue One went from a project in deep peril to the most universally beloved Disney-era Star Wars movie — as well as one of the grittiest and most morally ambiguous entries in the entire saga — Gilroy remembers a feeling of “euphoria and a sense of possibilities” at Lucasfilm. CEO Kathleen Kennedy soon expressed interest in following up on the story in prequel form, and once Disney+ and the success of The Mandalorian opened the door for episodic TV storytelling within the universe, an Andor series became a top priority.

“I had blue-sky conversations with Kathy,” says Gilroy. “‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ The galaxy is just enormous. There are billions of creatures that are living their lives. And so far the narrative has been focused on a singular group of people in a centralized storyline. It just seemed like infinite possibilities to take it [away from that].”

Lucasfilm’s original concept was a five-season show, with each 12-episode season covering a year in the story, and both Gilroy and Luna initially signed on for that enormous commitment. “I realized how much I missed this job and missed this character,” says Luna. But around the time they were shooting the show’s fifth and sixth episodes in Scotland, the duo sat down, had some drinks, and decided they had agreed to an impossible plan. At the rate it was taking to make the show, five seasons would have turned out to be a commitment of 15 years. “It was just like, ‘We can’t possibly do this,'” Gilroy says. “It’s a massive, massive undertaking, and Diego wouldn’t be able to play a younger man over the next 15 years. We wouldn’t be able to physically do it. And we were like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we gonna do?’ So at first it was desperation, and then a very lucky, elegant solution presented itself.”

The solution was to push against the draw-it-out imperative of ultra-serialized storytelling in the streaming era. With Lucasfilm’s permission, they decided to dramatically speed up the pace, and turn the show into a 24-episode limited series. Andor‘s first season, which covers a year’s worth of events, as planned, was already broken up into three-episode blocks, with each block helmed by a single director. For Season Two, which begins production in November, each three-episode block will cover one year.

For one of the show’s stars in particular, the time jumps will be yet another opportunity to trace the evolution of a character she never expected to play for so long. For 2005’s Revenge of the SithGeorge Lucas cast a twentysomething Genevieve O’Reilly as the young version of Mon Mothma, a character introduced in a small but pivotal role in 1983’s Return of the Jedi as the regal leader of the Rebel Alliance. (“Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was the classic line from the Jedi version of the character, played by the late Caroline Blakiston — O’Reilly has watched that scene many times to absorb as much from the brief performance as she could.)

“I stepped into the shoes of Caroline and George’s creation of Mon Mothma at a very young age, and I was so excited to be a part of that,” says O’Reilly, who spent only two or three days on the set of Revenge of the Sith, filming footage that mostly didn’t make the final cut. “C-3PO, Anthony Daniels, he was in one of the [Sith] scenes. It had been such a huge part of my childhood that as a young person to be immersed in it was just quite awe-inspiring. I remember stepping onto those sound stages. It was one of my first gigs, and I had no idea that I would still have the opportunity to play her 20 years later.”

O’Reilly as Mon Mothma, standing in the Imperial Senate.

Lucasfilm Ltd.

O’Reilly first reprized the role Rogue Onebut in Andor, for the first time, Mon Mothma will be a true lead character. When we meet her, she’s serving in the Imperial Senate, while also secretly collaborating with the nascent rebellion — initially, we see her clandestine meetings with another key character in the series, the newly created Luthen Rael, played by veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård (Breaking the Waves, Thor). “That was so interesting about coming back to Mon Mothma this time as well,” says O’Reilly. “Previously, she’s been such a public figure, a noble statesperson. But who is she behind that veil? What you get to see for the first time is not just the senator, but the woman.”

Another key character is the first real villain introduced in the series, the junior Imperial official Syril Karn, played by Kyle Soller, an American actor who trained in the UK and has had success in the theater there — a fairly common pedigree for Imperial characters, although usually they’re native Britons. “What is it about British stage training that lends itself to playing evil dudes in Star Wars?” Soller muses. “That is a really good question. Does it train you how to express repression and anger and desire for power and control very well?” In any case, Syril, who develops a Javert-like obsession with Cassian, is a slightly comic character, so seethingly uptight that other Imperials find him annoying. “All of the Empire dudes who are super-starchy and everything is like, ‘Wow, that guy needs a fucking holiday. Like, he’s taking it too far,’” he says.

The show drifts far enough from traditional Star Wars territory that Soller, for one, was able to focus on his role and push the larger context of the saga out of his mind. Almost. “There came a certain moment within filming when I’d kind of forgotten that we were in Star Wars,” says Soller. “It was in the middle of the pandemic and everyone was just happy to be working and alive and so in the middle of this sociopolitical, complex, family-drama-espionage-thriller thing that Tony had created. I was walking onto the main, huge town set that they built, which was acres and acres wide, and there was a group of 200 people milling about right before we were filming. And all of a sudden they parted, and there were about 50 stormtroopers, just all in a line. And I spilled coffee all over myself. Like, ‘Holy shit, I’m in Star Wars.’”

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