Andor doesn’t feel like a Star Wars story, but that’s a good thing

We spoke to the cast and crew of Star Wars Andor about how the sci-fi series doesn't really feel like Star Wars at all, in a good way

Denise Gough as Dedra in Star Wars: Andor

The Star Wars universe just keeps growing and growing, and now that the Skywalker saga is over, we can actually start telling new stories in the Star Wars movies and TV series. With the Andor release date upon us, it’s worth noting that the sci-fi series doesn’t feel like any other Star Wars story at all, and that’s a really, really good thing.

Andor stars Diego Luna, who reprises his role as Cassian Andor from the science fiction movie Rogue One. We go back in time to see how Andor got himself wrapped up in the rebel cause across a 12-episode adventure on the streaming service Disney Plus. What Star Wars: Andor offers is something fresh and exciting for fans of the franchise, as it explores new Star Wars characters and leaves the Jedi and the Sith behind.

The Digital Fix spoke to the newest members of the Star Wars cast, from Adria Arjona and Genevieve O’Reilly, to Kyle Soller and Denise Gough, as well as writer and director Tony Gilroy. Here’s what they had to say about how this series sets itself apart in a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: Andor deviates from the usual formula in many ways, but one of the more fascinating examples of this is in how it handles its villains. There are no evil Emperors or mysterious, lightsaber-wielding assassins here. Instead, what we have are some of the most authentic human characters we’ve ever seen in Star Wars.

First of all, there is Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), a Deputy Inspector who operates within the relatively lower ranks of the Imperial Forces. Karn is essentially a middle-management type; ambitious, abrasive, and rather militant, but ultimately struggling to find his place among the Empire’s regime.

Then you have Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), a woman who has worked hard to establish her rank among the hierarchy of the Empire. Dedra is ruthless, pragmatic, and entirely focused on the preservation of the Empire and her own personal progression up the career ladder.

These highly realistic, very normal employees within the evil dictatorship of the Empire are refreshing to see in a Star Wars series, and both Soller and Gough touched on this approach to fleshing out their characters.

Kyle Soller as Syril Karn in Star Wars: Andor

“Tony [Gilroy] created something unique in every single character. I don’t know that I would be able to look at previous villains because Syril exists in a very grey area. He’s trying to figure out who he is within the construct of the fascist Empire system. He’s in a process of becoming, finding self-meaning and self-worth,” Soller explained.

“Dedra has managed to, despite not coming from that world and being a woman, she has gotten to a certain place and she will ensure everyone sits up and pays attention to the threat. She thinks she is saving the world, she is a zealot, and when you have someone like that on the wrong side of the line, gender doesn’t matter. They will do anything to protect the structure they are living in,” Gough added on her character.

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These brilliant supporting characters and their motivations are not compelled by The Force but by an innate human desire to be seen and to be heard, to be a part of something. Their end goals were cleverly fed to them by writer and director Tony Gilroy, or as Soller described him, the “puppet master.”

“When I spoke to Tony, he said, ‘I don’t know where this guy ends up’. And I think he said that on purpose, to kind of exist within the question mark of the unknown. Because of this, there are qualities that are quite heroic, and also quite villainous. It’s a gift for any actor to play, to be on both sides and not know where I am,” Soller said.

Denise Gough as Dedra in Star Wars: Andor

“It’s a very clever directive from Tony. Because he was very specific with me and where my character was going. He helped me by telling me that. But he helped Kyle by telling him the opposite. I’m able to work within the confines and know I don’t need to apologise or be redemptive,” Gough continued.

Speaking of Tony Gilroy, this is a man who not only created the Andor series but also helped write the screenplay for the thriller movie Rogue One. If anyone knows Cassian Andor best, it is Gilroy. When given the chance to revisit the character and expand his story over two seasons of television, Gilroy saw that as a blessing.

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Star Wars: Andor

“The pressure on any show is high, and then you add Star Wars too. It’s a wonderful opportunity, though. If you’re telling stories your entire life and you’re told to use 127 pages with lots of white space, and taught yourself how to make a scene fit in a page and a half and feel like it went somewhere, and then all of a sudden you’ve got 190 speaking parts and 25 major characters and 700 pages of script. That’s not a pressure. That’s an opportunity,” Gilroy said.

One thing we’ve seen plenty of in the history of Star Wars is romantic subplots. Indeed, it is love which drove Anakin Skywalker to betray the Jedi code and fall to the Dark Side. For Andor, though, there’s not even a hint of coming close to the vibes of a good old romance movie. There’s no time for love when you’re trying to overthrow an oppressive regime, is there?

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor

Co-star Adria Arjona plays Bix Caleen, an ally of Cassian Andor’s on the industrial planet Ferrix. The pair’s chemistry is intriguing, and there’s certainly suggestions that some kind of entanglement may have occurred at some time in their past, but that could never work, according to Arjona.

“I think it’s evident that they have this like long-lasting friendship, and you can sense when they meet what was more important was to feel that there’s been trust broken and sort of rebuilt within that relationship,” Arjona said.

“I think it’s more important than necessarily a romantic relationship. Where these characters are in their lives, they’re at the cusp of a revolution, there’s a lot going on. There’s no time. Maybe if Cassian would have been a little bit more reliable and wasn’t so focused on the greater good sometimes. Or wasn’t getting in trouble, then maybe they would have had this amazing relationship, and it would have been a completely different show,” she added.

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Star Wars: Andor

A very different show indeed, but Virgin River this is not. Andor is a fully-fledged espionage story, with clandestine meetings, secret identities, and dangerous missions. Andor is more like a classic war movie than a typical Star Wars story. Sure, every Star Wars movie is full of big battles and the pew-pew of a gun, but what about the people within the conflict?

Andor well and truly digs deep into this aspect of war, offering us a glimpse behind the curtain and an insight into how the lives of even the most powerful people can be affected by uncertain times. It’s this element that Genevieve O’Reilly relished when returning to the role of Mon Mothma, a character first seen way back in the ‘80s (played by Caroline Blakiston at the time).

Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma in Star Wars

“Tony has invested time and story in this woman. We haven’t really seen her before. And for the first time, we get to see her not just in her public role, but her private life. Who is this woman? What does she have to risk? What does she have to sacrifice? How does she sleep at night?” O’Reilly mused.

“[In Andor, we] get to do what, as actors, we always want to do, which is to reveal ourselves, to reveal the machinations, the motivations or the lies or the deception and even when they do kind of enter a private space within that privacy, how much is withheld and how much is given? We get to explore a very dangerous place. There’s something oddly beautiful about that,” she added.

Stellan Skarsgård in Star Wars: Andor

This is in particular reference to a moment in episode 4 of Andor, where O’Reilly and Stellan Skarsgård share a delightful interchange. It’s a scene which perfectly represents the contrasting social classes of those in the Star Wars universe like never before; a scene preceded by a true representation of the devastating effect of the Empire’s rule on the working class.

At times, Star Wars: Andor feels like something out of a gritty drama movie, diving into the squalor and misery of those firmly under the boot of the powers that be. In other moments, you’ll be stunned by the wonderful technical achievements of the show, more akin to Blade Runner than British realism.

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Rogue One Star Wars movie

All the while, though, you feel wonderfully detached from all the restrictions of the Skywalker saga and the inane fan service we see in so many Star Wars products these days. As Adria Arjona describes it, Andor is “a lot more human. It’s raw, and you really get to meet the common characters of Star Wars.” Ultimately, Andor proves you don’t have to be force-sensitive to be compelling, and hopefully, this experiment can free the franchise from the shackles of the past.

If you want more Star Wars content, check out our guide to The Mandalorian season 3 release date. Or, you may be interested in reading our interview with Diego Luna on the process of bringing Andor back to the screen.