Diego Luna as Cassian Andor.
Prior to Andor, the Star Wars universe never really got down to the grit of how and why the Rebellion came together outside of the Skywalker saga. Disney+’s Rogue One prequel series led by Tony Gilroy has injected the franchise with complex, heady themes that have astounded and made Andor can’t-miss, weekly appointment television.
It’s an impressive feat—Andor is maybe even the greatest show on air right now—so with that in mind, io9 talked to writer Beau Willimon (who scripted the Narkina 5 prison arc) and producer Sanne Wohlenberg about making the series with Gilroy, collaborating with star Diego Luna, writing without needing to center Star Wars Easter eggs and lore, and crafting characters to anchor the show.
Sabina Graves, io9: I want to dig into the meat of the behind-the-scenes here and start off with this: what really stood out to both of you about Andor that sets it apart in genre?
Beau Willimon: I knew Tony was tackling this this massive story and was chatting about it starting to come together. He gave me a call one day and said, “Hey, do you want to come work with me and my brother [John Gilroy] and help out? Maybe write a few episodes and break some story?” And I felt overwhelmed because—I mean—here’s this beloved massive franchise. I was born the year it came out, and I have a deep love for it. There are many fans that know much more about the canon than I do.
io9: On the same page here, I love Star Wars. I wish I knew all the little small things. There’s so much!
Willimon: My first fear was like, “Tony, I can’t name every ship. I don’t know every type of blaster. I don’t know every mid-rim planet.” He was like, “You don’t need that, we’ve got Lucasfilm for that. We’ve got a whole team that will make sure that we’re staying true to the canon, and that’s available to us if we need to come up with very specific and obscure ideas about this stuff. I want to tell a human story. I want to tell a story of regular people who are trying to pull a rebellion together. And what does that mean from the perspective of the human heart?” And that really excited me, that you could take that approach of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and apply it to this massive, beloved, vast franchise at that scale. That’s what really attracted me and got me excited. Just the opportunity to work with Tony—I love Tony as an artist. He’s a friend and so I just knew it would be something special and different. Whatever Tony was going to do was not going to be something you’d seen before. And to get to be a part of that in any way is very exciting and a privilege.
Sanne Wohlenberg: Definitely very exciting. [It’s] his voice creating his own series and yes, it is a prequel to Rogue One—so you know where you’re heading, but he has such a particular voice to be able to go back to a character and really tell the origin story in how he became the man that gave his life for the cause. To work in a format where you suddenly have screen time, you have enough time to really dig into the humanity and the character-driven storylines of who is at these formative years of the Rebellion—who becomes the [inspiration] for people to make inroads to fighting the Empire. It was just a really exciting prospect to go on this journey with Tony Gilroy and his key collaborators for the writing. You have another Gilroy and then you have Beau. It really is a proposition that doesn’t come along very often. And it was a really exciting and easy thing to say, “Yeah. I’d like a bit of that. Thank you.”
io9: Beau, this question is directly for you because I’ve been stressed out for the past few weeks watching every episode. We see Andor’s life unravel at an early age, and the show kind of picks up on him at the point in his life where he’s running away, but through these events he chooses to run toward the cause. Is it stressful for you to write these very stressful episodes?
Willimon: When we were breaking all this story [like] the prison sequence, [which] Tony knew he wanted there to be one, there was a lot for us to figure out. We were moving very fast under some time constraints. And this was pre-pandemic—so we were like barreling towards production and needed to develop the stuff. So there was a sort of energy and pace to the room. We were caffeinated, we were moving fast, we really had one another, and so I think some of that pulse-racing was in the process itself, which certainly informed the prison sequence. When you start to really build the architecture of the story, literally build the architecture of the prison itself, and you have to almost clinically, methodically work out all of these layers in a way, it stops. I’m not riddled with anxiety while I’m working on that. It’s almost like you’re working like a surgeon step by step in a slow, thoughtful, intentional way and sort of building all of this stuff up.
And when you’re writing the scenes themselves, of course, you’re trying to put yourself in the shoes of these characters, and whatever they’re feeling you might feel some of it. But I mean, it’s a months-long process to get to those, you know, 43 minutes or something. What’s crazy is, many months later, you watch these episodes again—[I] myself recently [did] with full VFX, score, fully edited, and everything. And I had texted Tony “I just finished watching episode 10 again, my pulse is racing. I’m deeply moved.” Even though I knew everything that was going to happen, it was still a gut punch. Wow. And it almost feels like I just get to watch it as a viewer and have the same experience and feel what you want the audience to feel. And in this case, I totally did even if knew it was going to happen.
Wohlenberg: Really, by the end of it, you know every line by heart, you know exactly where everybody’s looking. And yet what was extraordinary as you’re putting it together, we were always all completely engaged and moved again. That is really not something that happens every time. And then you kind of begin to feel, you must have done something right.
io9: Diego Luna’s presence in on the show is just so incredible as sort of our through line into the origins of the Rebellion. I really appreciated his stance on it kind of being inspired by the migrant story. I want to know more about his input on the process in developing Andor’s arcs. Is it something that he’s heavily involved in before it’s on the page, or does he give notes after he’s read the scripts?
Wohlenberg: Mostly that actually. It all starts with Tony sitting in a room and creating the overall story and really bringing a whole load of gold nuggets to the table, and fleshing them out with his trusted partners [and] really digging deep into these episodes. Diego, as much as he is very much part of us, he tends to really give Tony the chance to kind of deliver something which is a true vision and a focus. And then he gets involved and then he begins to collaborate. It is a show that really has a voice and I think that is the beauty of Andor. Everybody, from Disney to Lucasfilm and Kathleen [Kennedy], everybody appreciates that it is special to to have a voice and comment on it when you gave somebody a chance to express it. [Luna] and Tony are very close; the minute the whole process starts he’s incredibly involved and has huge instincts of who his character is and the whole story. That’s a collaboration that is really fruitful and exciting.
Willimon: Even though he wasn’t sitting in the room when we were beginning to develop the story, his presence loomed large in a very good way. He was one of the few givens at that point. Many of the characters hadn’t been cast yet. You knew that there were people like Mon Mothma that hopefully Genevieve O’Reilly would want to do, but there was a lot of stuff to add on to. But you knew at the center of this was Diego Luna, so every time we were breaking that story, you could picture him. Tony, I believe, had shared the [Andor story bible] with Diego before we ever came to the room, so Diego already knew the framework of what we were discussing. And Tony’s deeply collaborative. Like, he’s not one of those show runners that keeps the secrets from the cast as to what’s going to happen the next episode. He walks them through the entire story arc for the character, wants their input, will maintain his vision, but also realizes that they’re the people that have to embody these characters and that their input is valuable and can make it even better. So they trust him, which is great. Diego knew the broad strokes of what was going to happen and Tony comes back with some protein on the plate and says, you know, how does this taste to you? You’d add a little bit of this there. And before you know it, you have this amazing performance at the center of the show.
io9: Eedy Karn is my one of my favorite characters. She’s fabulous, incredible, and so iconic with her presence. What’s it like writing those very scathing lines?
Willimon: So Eedy is one of those characters that was fully formed to Tony when he came into the room, like the Syril/Eedy thing. He had written full scenes already to give us a sense of this dynamic. And we’re reading this like, “Oh my god, Eedy. Wow.” Like, Syril... this is what he has to contend with. It was fully [there] from the beginning. So whenever you’re tackling an Eedy scene, you’re really just trying to channel what Tony had already created and knowing that whatever you write, he’ll come in and swoop in. He might polish up anyway because that complex mixture of venom and love is somewhere in him, sprouting forth into the character of Eedy, and you just kind of hold onto it and go for the ride. And so as a writer, it’s fun because he’s gifted you this character that you almost just need to sit back and listen to, and she’ll write herself.
io9: And Kathryn [Hunter] does such a great job delivering those killer lines—
Willimon: And she’s more crushing and oppressive than the Empire. When when the Bureau of Standards is your refuge from home, you know.
io9: Was it intentional to have her mirror Dedra Meero in a way? Karn might be into that sort of treatment.
Willimon: I mean, from my perspective, not necessarily because I’ve never actually thought of them mirroring intentionally. But if you see it, there’s something there. Yeah, that’s an interesting thing to consider.
Wohlenberg: A really interesting observation I should think about.
Willimon: There are definitely some tough women around this guy, that’s for sure.
Wohlenberg: You know what I mean? It’s a huge joy. You know, Tony writes beautifully strong and complex and interesting female parts. And I think that is a really beautiful thing and always a joy.
New episodes of Andor stream Wednesdays on Disney+.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.
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