How ‘Andor’ staged the first rebellion in the ‘Star Wars’ universe
Warning: The following contains major spoilers from the Season 1 finale of “Andor.”
“Star Wars” has always been about rebelling against authority, but prior to “Andor,” visitors to the galaxy far, far away had never been so deeply immersed in the workings of the revolution. Zeroing in on a single character’s radicalization and the effects of his actions on a community, showrunner Tony Gilroy’s Disney+ series explores the nascent rebellion with a keen focus on how financially unstable and politically perilous it is for its organizers. And with returning star Diego Luna, Gilroy revisits the steely Cassian Andor, a character he helped shape in 2016’s “Rogue One.”
In building out this show, Gilroy was faced with a question: How do you make a prequel to a prequel? The answer was to make something wholly original. “Why would I want to do anything that anybody had done before?” he asked in a recent interview with The Times.
Indeed, “Andor” is unlike anything in the “Star Wars” galaxy. There are no Jedi, lightsabers or physics-defying displays of the Force. “I think there’s a greater utility to our show if it works, which is that it opens a whole bunch of lanes for a whole bunch of other imaginations to come in and use this galaxy for all kinds of things,” said Gilroy. “What about a three-camera comedy ‘Star Wars’? People just need to be, you know, disruptive.”
Just about the only visible sign that “Andor” is part of an enormously valuable intellectual property is the finale episode’s post-credits scene. Previously, in a story arc that takes place in a prison labor camp, Cassian and his fellow inmates were forced to build large, seemingly unimportant pieces of machinery. But in the final seconds of Season 1’s last episode, it’s revealed that the prisoners were building components for the Death Star’s massive laser dish. The moment is the first part of the series that could be described as fan service, but the reveal provides a full-circle moment for viewers, who realize that Cassian was unknowingly building the weapon he would later sacrifice his life to help destroy.
How a prequel of a prequel, starring Diego Luna as future Rebellion spy Cassian Andor, became the jewel in the crown of ‘Star Wars’ television.
Gilroy talked to The Times via Zoom to discuss what it was like working with Luna, how he introduced two new characters to the “Star Wars” universe and what to expect in Season 2. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Your work on “Rogue One” started once that movie was already in motion. Developing “Andor” gave you more of a blank canvas on which to work. How did that change your approach?
They’re vividly different experiences. The experience on “Rogue” was clinical in a way. You come in as a fixer and a doctor. ... Even as naive as I was about what we were undertaking [on the TV series], I did realize that it was an enormous commitment. You don’t just go out and get an “Andor” tattoo and sign on to the show. There’s a very long dance that you [and the studio] do. I’ve always believed in doing a lot of free work first. I’d much rather expose a lot of things that I’m thinking about doing or want to do prior to getting involved. The main attraction was threefold. It was the size of the frame. ... The idea of having 1,500 pages to write into is just a tremendous opportunity I had. On the second hand, I had a partner in Diego [Luna], who I knew from “Rogue” and who I knew was capable of doing anything. I was really terribly impressed with him as an actor. ... Who’s No. 1 on the call sheet is just really determinant, and I’ve been blessed. I’ve had a couple of really great partners in that regard, but he’s just as good as anybody. He’s just an absolute pleasure to work with. And then the last thing is, the big canvas was about revolution. And the five-year period that I was going to be allowed to curate is this incredibly dynamic moment where this established revolution is going to sweep across a gigantic galaxy. The opportunity to do “War and Peace” was like, “Wow. OK, well, let’s try that.” That’s the gravitational pull.
You’ve talked about a version of this show prior to your involvement that was along the lines of a “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” series. Why take “Star Wars” down the path that you did with “Andor” instead of something a little bit more conventional, maybe with more of the iconic props like lightsabers?
Well, they’ve done that. … That’s probably my primary motivation. We’re not going to reinvent oxygen or gravity, but my starting point for everything is, let’s do something nobody did before. … If you’re asking me, “You want to do a show about a guy who’s going to be in ‘Rogue One,’ and he’s going to be this tactical leader, he’s going to be an emotional leader, he’s going to be so complicated a leader that he knows when to lie [and] when to change his mind, he’s going to be a soulful compatriot, and in the end, he’s going to be somebody who, with an open heart, is going to willingly sacrifice himself for everybody?” If you’re going to do a show about that guy, don’t you want to take him as far away from that as you possibly could and watch him become that? That seems to me like the show.
The character of Cassian isn’t a mythologized hero of the rebellion, and the show’s more about him becoming radicalized and joining a movement bigger than himself. What interested you about this community of people who rise up?
Believe me, when we started I did not think I was gonna have 190 speaking parts in the first 12 episodes. If you have the confidence that you can tie all these things together and they relate to one another and they inform one another and they make everybody else’s story better — it’s big-scale storytelling, and I don’t have to worry about getting it all into 123 pages.
On “WTF With Marc Maron,” you talked a bit about your knowledge of revolutions. While “Andor” isn’t historical fiction, were there any real-life events or background you brought to the creation of this show?
Variations on this question come up in almost every long piece. I found myself saying something yesterday that I want to double down on: I think it’s really sad that we look at the show and go, “Oh, it’s this contemporary take on this.” It’s really sad because [it reflects the fact that] all kinds of bad behavior ... replicates throughout the last 3,000 years of recorded history. ... The wheel of history is just a roulette wheel that keeps coming up black.
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Maarva’s funeral is packed with protest imagery, and you present this idea that when you die, your remains become a literal building brick. Can you talk about where that came from?
I didn’t realize I’d be surrounded by so many incredibly talented, imaginative, obsessive human beings. My first creative collaborator on the show, more than the other writers, is Luke Hull, a production designer, because he and I have to build everything from the start. So when you see all the gloves outside of the grapplers hall — one of the first things that we had — it’s like, “Oh my God, maybe you hung your gloves where your father hung his gloves. What does that mean?” And you start to build this sense of tradition. The place becomes real to you. ... Ferrix is such a beautiful place to me because it’s a hardworking place and everybody sweats it out, but they do take care of each other. … The first time [the funeral brick] came up is when I wanted to have [Cassian] come back in Episode 7 and remember Clem. It just seemed so appropriate that you’d want to go back into the foundation of the community that you’ve loved. Even as I say it, it makes me feel good.
It doesn’t seem accidental that Maarva’s brick is used as a blunt-force weapon during that skirmish.
That’s a nice get. I’ve been waiting over the last couple of months as the show has been out for someone to call me out and go, “Oh my God, the Sumerians used to do this,” or, “We did this in Angkor Wat,” or, “The Incas did that. ...” I’m sad that Ferrix is in our rearview mirror, but it was a lot of fun to be there.
There are some characters in this that don’t feel like people we’ve seen in the “Star Wars” universe before. How did you discover Syril Karn and Dedra Meero?
Syril comes around because I need an adversary fast. … Can I make the worst day of Cassian Andor’s life? What’s that like? I want to challenge the audience. I want to challenge the studio a little bit and put a very bold move at the top. I do almost all my sketching in dialogue. So I will just write out from that. He just sort of popped up and came alive. I go, “What if he’s like Javert, obsessed, like in ‘Les Misérables,’ chasing Cassian Andor through the whole thing? That’s a good energy. Let’s see how that goes.” Dedra, you know, I needed some Nazis. … As we really built out Dedra in our little writers room, we were like, “Oh, my God, she’s a woman in this place and no one takes her seriously, and she’s working harder than anybody else does. And she’s not getting credit for it.” And then we got to where she turns. We were really like, “Oh, my God. Wow, we were rooting for her a minute ago.”
I’m curious to know if you saw any of the social media reaction to these characters. People wanted to see Syril and Dedra get together.
Yeah, well, they get together, don’t they?
The tension in that finale scene after he saves her was so palpable. Was there ever a take where they kissed?
No, no, no, no. He has that stalker scene where he grabs her arm and stops her, and it’s really kind of assaultive and wrong. All of that’s in play. But underneath it all, you could see that Denise Gough is actually playing “nobody has touched me in years.” The touch is really why she’s freaked out.
“Andor” also features a prominent same-sex couple. Were there ever discussions with anyone at Lucasfilm about introducing Vel and Cinta?
We just did it and it was there. We just treated it like anything else. The relationship is actually quite a bit more plain Jane than a lot of other relationships in the show. There was never any pushback at all about it. We have standards and practices limitations on our show. We’re not “[Game of] Thrones,” we can’t have sex, we can’t have excessive violence. But no, no one ever said “make more of this, make less of it.” We just treated it like what it is: a relationship.
Luthen has this great monologue in Episode 10 where he kind of explains his worldview. But it seems that he changed after witnessing the events of the finale. How would you describe that shift?
I think what he says in Episode 10 is the absolute truth. I mean, it’s manipulative, but I think he’s opening a vein because his relationship with Lonni Jung is so important. I think when he’s in Ferrix [during the finale] to kill Cassian and he witnesses what Maarva is saying, he’s like, “Oh, my God, my plan is working. The revolution is happening all over the place.” That’s his lifelong dream. That’s what he’s been sacrificing for, to make rebellion.
How does this story fit into the greater universe of “Star Wars”? Is Luthen putting together the first organized rebellion?
I’m really confident that there are all kinds of rebellions happening all over the place. One of the things that was important that we got into Nemik’s monologue that he has in the manifesto — he’s talking about the fact that the revolution is natural. This galaxy is enormous and there are all kinds of factions — probably some of them working side by side and not even knowing that they’re together — that you’re going to see over the next four years. That’s one of the great tensions. How do all these groups come together? There’s a speech early on that Forest Whitaker gives when he’s challenging Luthen, he says that there are separatists, human cultists, all these different people. Which one are you? My God, you can pick a lot of different revolutions, but just look at the Russian Revolution. Look at the factions in 1916 that are going to go at it.
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We know that Mon Mothma becomes a leader in the rebellion, but the Luthen character just complicates it a little more.
What happens to the original gangsters as the Rebel Alliance gathers in Yavin? We’re going to finish [the series] at the beginning of “Rogue,” so we’re going to finish in Yavin, and there’s a coalition government. It’s contentious and it’s formed up of a bunch of different people, and some of them are a— and some of them are geniuses. What happens to the outliers? What happens [to] the original gangsters who did a lot of the heavy lifting? Where are they? So that’ll be something that we think about.
A colleague of mine pointed out that one of the antiques in Luthen’s gallery looks a lot like an Aztec sun stone and another looks like a Quetzalcoatl sculpture. Does that mean someone from the “Star Wars” galaxy visited the Milky Way or vice versa?
I have heard more conversations come out of the parsing and frame-grabbing of stuff that’s in that shop. All of it [is] unknown to me. It’s the art department. We have a very healthy mix of non-“Star Wars” people, and we have a deep bench of super geeks. And so I’m imagining that part of that latter faction has had a lot to do with curating Luthen’s gallery because it’s news to me. I keep hearing about new stuff. What you just told me is the first time I’ve heard that.
You’re just starting production on Season 2. We know where Cassian’s story eventually ends, but can you give us a tease of what to expect in the next season?
We spent a whole year, all of our first 12 episodes, going through everything, the complete radicalization, eye-opening, Stations of the Cross to becoming a revolutionary. That commitment won’t waver. That question has been answered. But now, how do you become a leader? How do all these different players possibly learn to work with each other? What do you do when paranoia is your product and you have to collaborate? Those issues will be huge. We’re going to examine the effects of time on these people and the movement forward. And the Empire is only getting stronger, as you know.
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