Intricate worldbuilding and murky heroes: Behind the scenes of new Star Wars show Andor

·6-min read
 (Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+)
(Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a reluctant hero set out on a quest to join the legendary Rebellion.

Now, replace the galaxy with England, the reluctant hero with Diego Luna, and the legendary Rebellion with a rag-tag bunch of hopefuls and you’ve got yourself a behind-the-scenes look at Disney+’s new Star Wars series, Andor.

The latest offering to join the ever-expanding Star Wars TV universe (the previous iteration being Ewan McGregor’s much-feted series Obi-Wan), Andor seeks to tell a different story to its predecessors: the tale of how the franchise’s famous Rebellion rose from a disorganised bunch of angry citizens to a force to be reckoned with.

Like McGregor, the show’s lead Diego Luna has been a part of the Star Wars universe before: his character, Cassian Andor, was one of the protagonists in the 2016 film Rogue One, playing one of the members of the Rebellion who risk their lives to obtain the schematics for the Death Star before the events of A New Hope.

As he tells it, this prequel show has been a while in the making: five years, in fact, since he got the initial call pitching him the idea.

“In Rogue One we see what these people do: it’s a film about an event. But we don’t get to understand why. What gets them there,” he tells me.

“I think it’s a bigger question in Star Wars, that is kind of cool to answer, which is what’s happening in the life of people of regular people. How does oppression feel and look like? Andor starts in moments where the Empire is in complete control… it hasn’t been articulated [before].”

For Luna, being able to slip back into the role of Cassian means getting the chance to play around with a character that he’d initially written off after the explosive ending of Rogue One (where – spoilers – he and Felicity Jones’ character Jyn Erso die).

In a dark place: Diego Luna as Cassian (Lucasfilm Ltd.)
In a dark place: Diego Luna as Cassian (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

“I thought a lot about many things,” he says. “First of all, my adolescence… this idea of not being aware of my own ignorance, you know, and how that shapes your personality.

“I was thinking [about where we find Cassian] in terms of someone that believes in change, you know, that believes in change as a possible thing to come.”

The idea that Luna and the showrunners hit on was to “find a very selfish man… in a very dark moment”, who experiences an awakening over the course of the series.

But although his name is literally the show’s title, it’s not just Andor’s story: one of the strengths of Andor (the series) is arguably how it explores the idea of the Rebellion from multiple angles, and dives into the lives of existing characters to uncover new and surprising things about them.

One of those characters is Mon Mothma, a senator and leading figure in the Rebellion who has been played by Genevieve O’Reilly for close to twenty years and who gets more screentime in Andor than she ever has before.

Though O’Reilly’s version of Mothma originally started life as a homage to her predecessor in the role, Caroline Blakiston, O’Reilly has been able to branch out and explore other elements of the senator’s life – indeed, one of her first scenes in the show depicts her arguing with her husband about an upcoming dinner party.

“In Andor, I feel like it’s the first opportunity to really explore and to play her not just as a senator or as a leader, but also a woman,” she says. “Who she who she is as a woman, what her life is like, what she has to wrestle with; how difficult it is to be her.”

In trouble: Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma (Lucasfilm Ltd.)
In trouble: Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

In this show, she explains, showrunner Tony Gilroy has taken the time to explore the “mundanity” in the lives of its characters: one disgraced Empire officer returns home to live with his mother; a character has a one-night stand with a co-worker; Cassian has to haggle for spare parts at the local mechanic’s.

That sense of detail is present in the set, too: though Star Wars initially sprang from the mind of George Lucas, O’Reilly tells me, the process of making Star Wars today couldn’t be more different to what it was in the past.

“The first time, 17 years ago… it was a George Lucas set and that was all greenscreen,” she says. “Everything we sat on, my memory of it is a vast green or blue soundstage. Even the seats we sat on; the table in front of us.”

Now, the focus is all on the worldbuilding, and it’s something that every cast member I talk to is full of praise for.

“Our production designer has created such a detailed, beautiful, meticulous, interactive, tactile world,” O’Reilly says.

“It’s the actor’s dream. You get to you get to interact, you get to breathe, you get to inhabit a space; you get to be as affected by that space as you hope to affect it.”

The gallery in which O’Reilly first meets Stellan Skargard’s antiques dealer, she tells me, was fully realised, complete with artefacts. “[We] were like, you know, children in a sweet shop.”

Adria Arjona agrees: the planet where her character Bix is based, Ferix, was constructed in real life by the set design team in the UK countryside.

“You could get lost in it and go into a little restaurant and open any drawer and there was something in there for you to play with. Everything was tangible and real,” she says.

Exploring a new city: Adria Arjona as Bix (Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+)
Exploring a new city: Adria Arjona as Bix (Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+)

“It has a geography and a map of itself. And it was cool for me because I got to explore it even as a character. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is where Bix has coffee. This is Bix goes on Saturdays to have a drink or two.”

Of course, Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without the Empire, and the show’s resident baddies (though they protest at the description) are Kyle Soller and Denise Gough.

They are full of praise for the show. “To be so utterly pristine, that’s a whole new world for me”, Gough explains about her buttoned up Imperial official, before confessing that she based her entire character off Breaking Bad antagonist Gus Fring. However, they also admit to being taken aback by the scale of the show and passion of its fans.

“Star Wars fans, they know what all those buttons [on the Imperial uniforms] mean,” Gough explains. “They can tell you what your rank is.”

The Star Wars machine is precious with its world: so much so that one ad-lib Gough suggested, where her character opens the top button of her uniform after a long night at the office, had to be approved by higher-ups.

“It was sent up the line. And it came back down that I wasn’t allowed to open the top button,” she explains. “Because nobody had ever done that before.”

Regardless of whose side their characters are on, Arjona is adamant that the beauty of Andor lies in the fact that you sometimes don’t know who to root for.

“People in Andor really live in the grey area,” Arjona says. “It’s not black or white. It’s all in the greys and that’s exciting. You’ll still get all the action scenes and you’ll get these epic scenes. But I think the story in the narrative is so much juicier and so much more human.”

Andor premieres on Disney+ from September 20