Google “Andor political,” and you won’t quickly run out of reading material. The Star War series from “Rogue One” writer Tony Gilroy — like many a Star War before it — is being hailed for its eerie resonance with the current moment, but Gilroy insists it’s not intentional.
“I don’t think it’s just a risk like a publicity risk,” he told IndieWire over Zoom ahead of Episode 10’s premiere. “It makes me minimize the show in my mind if I make it contemporary. The show gets smaller for me if I think about it under contemporary terms, so I don’t think of it that way.”
Gilroy is well aware of the analysis from fans and critics alike who see their own reality in that galaxy far, far away, and that’s part of the appeal. For him and fellow series writers Dan Gilroy, Beau Willimon, and Stephen Schiff, “Andor” is an opportunity to pore over history, to intertwine past, present, and future with some added droids, blasters, and flourish.
“I’m no academic,” Gilroy said. “I’m not even a college graduate, but I have been a reader of history for 30, 40 years and I’m a news consumer and I’m a freaking old white guy who listens to history podcasts all the time. I’m really obsessed with all that stuff. The history of revolution is just fascinating; from the Roman revolutions all the way through, everybody’s got them. They’re all different, they’re all the same.”
Gilroy and his team use history “as a catalog,” not deliberately planning the show’s potent prescience. “Andor” has some striking themes about policing, corruption, and the prison system, but those should enhance the experience of watching it, not serve as the focal point, Gilroy said.
“Whatever contemporary resonance it has is usually in the eye of the beholder,” he explained. “Oppression is oppression. You can drop the needle at any point on this planet in the last 6,000 years, and you can find it. All these things are the same. I’m not ducking the question — but it is not in my mind as I’m doing it.”
Gilroy spoke with IndieWire ahead of the final two episodes in “Andor” Season 1 (ducking only a question about what to expect in the finale) about the hardest project of his career, what to write and not write, and one of the best Star Wars villains in years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: Many have called this the best Star Wars project in recent memory. What were some of the challenges?
Tony Gilroy: I spent my whole life in the movie business, and I thought I was on some hard movies. I made some movies that were pretty hard movies to make. “Proof of Life” was a hard movie to make, traveling around the world. “Bourne Legacy” was a very rugged movie to make. I’ve been on movies that were difficult for other reasons — but all of that looks so easy now. I was so naive about what I was getting into when I started and how complicated would be. If you’re smart enough to hire all the right people, you’re hiring a bunch of obsessive people, right? It’s really a business driven by obsession; all the people that are great department heads and all the people that are great writers, directors — they’re all obsessed. So when you put a team together of people that are super obsessed, and then you suddenly realize that you’re responsible for 700 pages of shootable material, and it all has to be designed from scratch because you can’t use anything that’s real but you want to make it real — you have the extra level of trying to make it real — it’s a thing. It’s a thing.
No one wants to hear anybody — I never like when I read an interview or hear anybody go, “Oh, it was so much hard work, we work so fucking hard.” Everybody works hard. I’m just saying the scale of it, the amount of it, we were humbled — and are still. We’re starting again in November to shoot the second half of the story, and it’ll be the same process. It’s a lot of obsessive people just taking every detail on every piece of frame and every cue and every sideburn and every belt and every bag and every plaster and every moment and every frame and every casting choice and every music cue — just taking it all the way to the end, just chasing it down. I want to go back and make a movie someday! If I live through this, I want to go back and make a movie, just to be like, “Oh, wow,” just to take a breath.
Oh, please do. I hope you survive.
I plan on it.
Does it feel any easier going into Season 2, knowing what to expect?
I’m deluding myself exactly the same way. I think it’s like having kids. If you knew how much trouble it was to have kids, you’d be like, “I’m not doing that, absolutely not.” If you do it, you’re kind of like, “Oh, I’m really glad I did it, okay,” and then you have a kid you’re like, “The second kid will be easier, we already know how to do it.” And then you’re like, “What the fuck? Oh my god, I’m in it now. This is insane. It’s just hard.” So I’m kind of in that — or I was in that delusional state before. Some things are easier because we have a system, and our team is wound up. Some things are actually a little bit more complicated because you know what it’s going to take. It’s better not to know sometimes what you’re in for.
What advice would you give to other people who have to lead a big franchise show like this?
It’s just the scripts. The scripts have to be dead on. You could have great scripts and still mess it up, but you can’t make anything, you can’t pass go, you can’t make something great if it’s not there. When you have your first movie made as a screenwriter, there’s this gut-wrenching night before the first day of shooting where you realize, “I’m not going to be able to change anything.” It freaks you out, and if you talk to anybody going into [their] first movie, it’s like, “Oh my God.” You get way over that as time goes on, but the polishing and the re-polishing and tailoring and re-tailoring and couture and bespoke and all the things that have to go into the scripts so that they become actor-proof, director-proof by the time they hit the floor, that’s the freaking key. That’s my answer. I don’t know if someone else would have a different answer. I don’t know what Vince Gilligan says, I don’t know what David Chase would do. Everybody has their own way, but for me, everything gets a lot easier when it’s perfect on the page.
Speaking of which, one of the things that I find so stunning about the show is the dialogue. This might not be specific to “Andor,” but how do you not fall into the trap of having your characters sound like they’re in a movie or TV show?
Some of it must be ear, just natural ear. It’s fascinating; sometimes someone will send you a script, and they just have a great ear for dialogue. The story sucks or the whole rest of it doesn’t work at all, but the dialogue is great. Some of it is ear, a lot of it’s experience. A lot of it has to do with watching actors do your material. I worked on a film called “Dolores Claiborne,” which was a really educational experience for me. We were very collaborative, and we all lived together in Nova Scotia; it was one of those shows. Taylor Hackford directed, and he directed in a very communal way. We took the movie theater downtown in Lunenburg, and we’d watch dailies every night. Taylor likes to shoot a lot of footage. He’s a very coverage-oriented director and does a lot of takes — so I’d be there every night, and I’d be watching my dialogue over and over and over and over again and finally just go, like, “Why am I — oh god!”
I learned more about what not to write on that movie than what to write, and that’s what you have to learn as well. What does the camera take care of? What does the actor take care of? It’s a very complicated conversation. We could do an hour on this. There’s no substitute for seeing actors do your words. Aspiring writers, the more that they can get actors to [say] their words and be self-critical, like, “I didn’t have to say that,” or “That doesn’t come out right.” That’s a very short answer to a very long topic.
Now that we have more of the show, I’d love to hear more about your specific inspirations for “Andor” — overall or certain scenes or sequences.
If there was one show that really blew me away before I came on, the one show that really was a benchmark for me of what was possible, I thought “Babylon Berlin,” the first one or two seasons — I was just destroyed by that. I could not believe that they were doing all of that. It was big and it was ambitious and it took me someplace else. It was visually graphic. That was an inspiration, that they could do that, that Tom Tykwer and that German team could do that and that they could do it on a budget and make that happen. That was inspiring from a production point of view. From a story point of view, this is an opportunity to swing for really huge thematic issues and huge thematic landscape. To me, it’s more of a novel than a show, so it’s almost hard to compress into one single thing all the things that we get to talk about and that I want to talk about. But this is certainly a large enough canvas to get into a lot of issues that you wouldn’t be able to do in a movie. We wouldn’t be able to do it.
Star Wars has always been very political but evergreen. I’ve seen this compared to Trump’s America, but it’s also any America, any country, at any point.
Pick your revolution. I saw an analysis about Luthen’s [Stellan Skarsgård] accelerationist Marxist view. People understand these ideas fundamentally; they don’t need terms for them. They don’t need to be put in a dialectical form. They need to feel instinctive. It’s very pleasing, on the other hand, to watch people argue and find things in there that are applicable, but my primary responsibility is to the characters and to make an adventure story. This is a ripping yarn and it is an adventure story, and there’s a lot more energy that goes into the plotting and the adventure story aspect of it — no one sits around thinking about what we should do politically. It just happens instinctively.
And it’s a testament, as you said, to the scripts — to have something that is evergreen set in the space past that makes people think about their current reality or history.
I was talking to someone the other day, and they were going, “Oh my god, I love your show, and then I saw a thing about ‘High Noon,’ and I really never realized that ‘High Noon’ has all this political conflict.” I mean, “High Noon” is like — is it the blacklist, is it the Cold War? When it works, it’s all integrated and it all feels inevitable. It’s not because someone sat there — you can’t sit there and hammer out a political strategy on character, you just can’t do it.
Tell me about the structure of the season and having those three-episode mini movies.
It lined up. [Episodes] 1, 2 and 3 are their own thing, and then 4 or 5 and 6 lead to Aldani. Then we had this interstitial — I love Episode 7, I think it’s really cool with the announcement of all the ramifications of what happens. Now we’re doing three with the prison, and then we’ll have the last two. It’s not a perfect set of four, but that’s how it’s directed. Ben Caron did 7, and he does 11 and 12. But again, the responsibility is to the characters and the story. If it works out that way, it’s just the way it works out.
We had a prison break in Episode 10 —
One way out! One way out!
The plotting and the buildup are so excellent. I loved watching Kino’s (Andy Serkis) character arc in just a few episodes.
The guy who believes. It’s about faith, really. That’s what he said in the beginning: He has to have faith. Why do people have faith? Religion, in my view, is pretty much about being afraid to die. People are afraid to die! I’m afraid to die. And so, my god, if something gives you an answer to that… he’s afraid, and the faith for him is there’s going to be an afterlife: “I’m gonna get out of here.”
Last time we talked about Syril [Kyle Soller], and now I have to talk about Dedra [Denise Hough]. What an incredible villain. Tell me about crafting that character.
I saw a quote from Denise the other day, and she was talking about how people are rooting for her and then all of a sudden, you turn. That was our experience in the writers room. We started building her out like, “Wow, she’s a woman in this man’s man environment, and what would that be like?” She’s the underdog and everyone’s shitting on her and she’s not getting her place and she’s doing a better job than everybody else, and why isn’t that being recognized? You’re writing her and rooting for her and then you get to Ferrix, and you go, “Oh.”
We did ourselves, like, “Oh my god, this is what she has to do?! I was on her side!” And then you’re already plugged in! That means it’s working. I love her. These actors are just — they’re not just good to watch. If you’re a writer, they make you a better writer because you just see all the possibilities. Like wow, look what I can do, look what they can do. Look what Anton Lesser is doing for me in the show as Partagaz. That is some heavy plot exposition, and he just makes it evaporate into fun. What Kyle does with nothing, everything is being told. They got a lot of great actors over there, and they’re a lot of fun to write for.
Star Wars and, more broadly, Disney are not known for revolutionary queer representation, so it’s nice to see that tenderness between Vel (Faye Marsay) and Cinta (Varada Sethu). What did you hope to achieve with that relationship, and how conscious was it?
We’re trying to be post-anxiety about it, I guess. It’s just a normal, natural thing. Why wouldn’t you? We had it there in the very beginning, and they didn’t say anything. They were like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I’ll say the word I hate to say; You don’t want to be performative. They have a relationship, we don’t have to make a thing out of it. It’s actually good for our story. It seems right for Faye and Vel, and it was completely natural. We didn’t make a thing out of it, and it’s sad to see how much of a thing it is. It’s sad that it has to be a thing.
And a lot of times with these big franchises, there is the buildup to a queer relationship, and then it’s minimal and disappointing.
Right, I know. We’re gonna take it to some interesting places, and we’re treating it like a real thing and not spending any time worrying about it.
You probably can’t say much, but what can we expect in the final two episodes?
Yeah, I’m not gonna say.
New episodes of “Andor” premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.