"The mandate for the show, the brief for it, was really, 'Let's try to make some new lanes here, and let's try to make a new opportunity,'" Tony Gilroy tells Total Film. "If you think about it, there's a billion, billion creatures living in that galaxy, and there's a lot of fascinating stories happening everywhere. Why not explore that?"
We're talking all things Andor, the new Star Wars show that's unlike anything else you've seen before, despite being a spin-off from Rogue One (itself a spin-off from A New Hope). Andor is darker, maturer, and grittier than its forebears, with a massive scope that spans multiple planets – and there's not a Jedi (or Sith) in sight.
"When you have Lucasfilm and Disney Plus saying they want to do something really, really different, and you keep pushing them and showing them different, and they keep saying yes, it's pretty exciting," Gilroy, who acts as showrunner on Andor and previously helmed reshoots of Rogue One following a turbulent production, continues.
Set five years before the events of Rogue One, the show revolves around Diego Luna's titular Cassian Andor before he joins the Rebellion. While Cassian may be something of a man of mystery, his past an enigma, Luna says that returning to the role in an expanded format allowed him to delve deep into previously uncharted waters.
"I had the chance to explore so many layers of the character that a film would not let you do," he explains. "Here with the long format, we have basically four films. Therefore, there's a big chance for you to talk about the contradictions that make someone real, that make a character real and touchable."
Luna adds that the Cassian we meet in Andor is far from the man who ends up sacrificing himself for the greater good in Rogue One – in fact, rather than just hanging out with a droid, K-2SO, he actually has friends and family. "It seems in Rogue One that he's just a lonely man, that he just has a relationship with a droid and that's it," Luna says. "And now we get to tell the story that is closer to mine or yours, where there's a family, there's friends, there are enemies, there are people in your community that are expecting something from you."
"In Rogue One, he's just on a mission, and nothing is going to get between him and the mission," he adds. "Here he has the chance to be real, to make mistakes, and to have relations like the one he has with [Adria Arjona's] Bix that is quite crucial and important. We get to experience his home, we see his mom. It's a beautiful thing, if you like a character to be able to go back and be so specific and work so much time on it."
We meet characters from Cassian's past on the planet of Ferrix, where they're living in a rusty, rough-around-the-edges, sprawling industrial community. Bix is a close friend of Cassian's, though the full depth of their relationship is only slowly revealed. "They have a longtime friendship," Arjona says. "When you first meet them, you can almost sense that something's broken, or unspoken, or maybe trust has been broken and rebuilt throughout the years. You can sense that the first second that they meet."
"Bix is trying to do her best being the manager of the sell yard and selling and making a name for herself in Ferrix," she continues. "And Cassian is on this other completely, very different journey. So that clashes when they meet, and I don't think timing is really ever on their side. [But] there's definitely a lot of love, and they're members of each other's families, and they trust each other, even sometimes to their own detriment. Sometimes they hate that. Bix sometimes is like, 'Man, I just wish I didn't care for him this much.' Her life would be a lot easier. But she's loyal and very caring, and she's like, 'Dammit, I'm doing it again.'"
On Ferrix, we also meet Cassian's adoptive mother Maarva, played by Killing Eve alumna Fiona Shaw. "What's elaborately investigated is that she is Cassian's mother, but in a very strange way," Shaw says. "And that story is revealed to us as we go on, which is great. But she herself is a very, very good person, very practical person, not an intellectual person, but somebody very aware of what is right and what is wrong."
As we learn in Andor's opening episodes, Maarva rescued Cassian from a bad situation on his home world – and made the decision to keep his true origin a secret from outsiders, instead claiming he's from the planet Fest. "It's easier to become from a new place," says Shaw. "Cassian speaks about this very well: the people who move from country to country, you think it's neutral, of course it isn't in the world we're in. Everybody has to be from somewhere, named from somewhere, because somebody else is in charge. She has adopted him, and she's saved him, but how formed was he by the time she met him at 10? So they're both very connected and quite separate."
Road to Rebellion
When Andor begins, Cassian already hates the Empire, but he's not a rebel – and he has a long journey to becoming one. Helping him along the way is Stellan Skarsgård's Luthen, a man leading a double life. On the one side, he's an antiques dealer on Coruscant, the gleaming, glitzy capital of the Empire first seen in George Lucas' prequels. On the other, he secretly plots against the ruling Imperials with the help of Genevieve O'Reilly's Mon Mothma, future leader of the Rebellion, but current member of the Imperial Senate.
"She's in a polar opposite position than we've seen her previously," O'Reilly says. "Instead of being surrounded by a band of rebels, she is surrounded by Empire. It is this high political life. She looks different, she feels different. And yet we know that, at her heart, there is such a conflict between what the Empire stands for and what she stands for. And so she has to risk. She has to enter murky territory in order to even find out what she's fighting for."
While she may be navigating dangerous waters on Coruscant, Mon's private home life is also explored in Andor. "The interplay for me, which was such a new experience – to be allowed to explore the private side of Mon Mothma, that was what was super exciting," says O'Reilly. "That push and pull between public and private, and what you can and what you can't say; obviously, secrecy is at the bed of the spy genre, so it's woven through this whole piece."
O'Reilly's something of a Star Wars stalwart, having first played Mon Mothma in deleted scenes from 2005's The Revenge of the Sith, then voicing the character in the animated series Rebels, and returning as Mon in Rogue One. "It's been this really wonderful journey," she says. "Revenge of the Sith was when I was a very young actor, it was one of my first jobs, it was just a really inspiring process for me to step into. And each time I've had the good fortune of returning to her, I've learned more about her, I've learned more about the world. And Andor in particular allows me to discover her in so many new and different ways. It feels really special to be having the opportunity to be exploring her at this level now at this time in my life."
The dark side
What Cassian, Luthen, and Mon are up against is made very clear: when Andor begins, the Imperials have the galaxy in their crushing grip. Amid all the bureaucracy and cut-throat power struggles, Denise Gough's Dedra quickly emerges as a particularly ambitious Imperial. She's still low on the ladder of the Imperial Security Bureau – as a rival reminds her – but her mission looks set to put her on a collision course with Cassian sooner rather than later.
"I was super aware that I'm one of the few women in this position, and so I'm really loving that," says Gough of her villainous turn. "But only in that you get to do things that usually the boys only get to do, and I think it's great that now they're starting to open those doors up to showing that women can be fascists too." She laughs. "Women can have no morals whatsoever!"
Dedra isn't the only antagonist in the show. A serious mistake puts Cassian on the back foot – and in the crosshairs of Deputy Inspector Syril Karn, played by Kyle Soller. To say he's dedicated to his job would be a severe understatement. "His obsession comes from a complete lack of self-belief," Soller reveals. "And further into the episodes, you understand where he came from, and you get to visit him in his childhood home and meet his mother."
Soller explains that, due to his character's difficult past, Karn found a sense of belonging when joining the dark side. "From a traumatic upbringing, he became an outsider, and as a result, created this ideal that he wasn't," he says. "And in order to fit into the ideal, he recognised that a structure like the fascist Empire could reward that kind of person, much more so than trying to figure it out in everyday life. And it also gave him power to be able to dress a different way and have power over others… That hunger to be somebody, and to make a difference, and to be somebody to his mother, who doesn't think he's worth anything, is really one of the kernels that drives him. That, and he just loves the uniforms and the hairdos."
Although there are many fascinating characters in Andor, everything comes together for a series packed with new locations and action – and Gilroy says the scale only gets bigger as the episodes continue. "Oh my God, we haven't even started yet," he says of the opening four episodes shown to press. "We're just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Why? Because I have 1,400 pages of script to deal with and we want to have a really complicated and interconnected story. I don't think I'll do this more than once, it's a one time, five year opportunity. So we're going to go all in, and I'm going to try to explore every single aspect of the revolution from the ground up – what happens to ordinary people when there's a life-changing war coming, when there's a rebellion coming. You've only seen us getting started. We're just getting started."
Andor arrives on Disney Plus with a triple season premiere this September 21. In the meantime, check out our roundup of all the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows for everything else coming soon from the galaxy far, far away.