Diego Luna’s daughter needed to have a talk with her dad.
After the premiere of 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which ended with Luna’s Rebel spy Cassian Andor blown to smithereens, then-6-year-old Fiona felt hurt by the climactic finale. “She was really (mad) when we came out of the cinema. My son was telling her, ‘But they sacrificed themselves!’ And she was like, ‘No, I don’t like it. That was wrong.’ ”
Both father and daughter were glad to hear there’s more to Cassian’s story: The Disney+ series “Andor” (first three episodes streaming Wednesday, then weekly) is set five years before the beginning of “Rogue One,” – which directly led to the events of the first “Star Wars” movie – and catches up with a younger Cassian at a crossroads in his life. After a violent incident with some corporate cops, Andor goes on the lam and is recruited by a rebel group to help in the fight against the oppressive Empire.
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“He’s not ready, basically,” Luna says of Cassian. “You clearly see someone that has potential, but is far from being a responsible man.”
But the show isn’t the normal “Star Wars” project like “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” Instead of Jedi, lightsabers, cute baby aliens, large space battles and usual signature “Star Wars” derring-do, “Andor” focuses more on the normal folks just trying to survive, much like the Han Solo we first met in George Lucas’ original 1977 film.
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“They’re people who are plumbers and cobblers and doctors. They’re living their lives and stuff’s going on around them, and it’s epic,” says “Andor” executive producer and writer Tony Gilroy.
The series marries “the universal with the pedestrian,” adds Genevieve O’Reilly, who co-stars as Imperial senator (and future Rebel leader) Mon Mothma. “Andor bases itself in a political climate, in a rebel climate, in a dangerous climate, but at its heart are people hoping, wrestling, fighting for their own voice, reaching for just a fairness or an equality.”
After working on “Rogue One,” Gilroy didn’t expect to return to “Star Wars” but a talk with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy sparked possibilities: “Could you do ‘Inherit the Wind’ in space? Could you do a doctors show in ‘Star Wars’?” Gilroy recalls asking. He wrote “this long manifesto in some manic phase” that became the basis for the first 12-episode “Andor” season (a second is planned, leading up to the beginning of “Rogue One”).
The show proves that “you can deliver the action and the adventure you expect from ‘Star Wars,’ then turn it into a very intimate piece about some characters behaving and relating. And then it can become this dark spy thriller that has political content and confusion and drama happening at the same time,” Luna says.
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O’Reilly appreciates how the binary, rebels-vs.-Empire “Star Wars” universe of “Andor” reflects our own complicated world: “We are more divided than we have ever been.” Luna adds that the series “makes many comments on the world we live in about diversity (and) this feeling of being marginalized.”
“Andor” explores “expression of power, oppression coming down, civilizations warped, cities destroyed, environments plagued, people being controlled, laws being ignored, laws being changed,” Gilroy says, noting “the world is an abundant smorgasbord of problems right now. … I’m not drawing any direct analogue from anything that’s happening in the headlines, but I’m a student of history, and these are the most dramatic issues.”
“Andor” breaks some new galactic ground: Audiences will get a glimpse of the bureaucracy within the Empire and characters have intimate moments with each other. And for Luna, the focus on people’s everyday existence came to life via the set built for Cassian’s industrial hometown on the planet of Ferrix, where he gets help from mechanic friend Bix (Adria Arjona). “People would be crossing the street (with) creatures and droids and tons of props,” Luna says. “You know there’s a fantasy element around it, but you also feel it. That was very special.”
In “Andor,” Gilroy adds, “we’re going really small and really behavioral and really domestic and really intense, and we’re going huge at the same time. It’s taking people that are in those kinds of relationships, thrust into the largest possible tectonic movement that they could be.”
There are still some seminal “Star Wars” traits, however, like droid pals: While Cassian’s “Rogue One” partner K2SO isn’t around (at least at first), he has a salvaging buddy in squat little B2EMO. “Andor” introduces a “childish” title character who’s not yet the man on a mission we’ve met before. The key to playing that, Luna says, was “observing my kids and bringing a little of that behavior and that energy.” He hopes his 14-year-old son Jerónimo will be “hooked” by the more grownup flavor of “Andor.”
And Gilroy – who earned best director and screenplay Oscar nominations for 2007’s “Michael Clayton” – is optimistic about the “passionate, dedicated, arterial hardcore ‘Star Wars’ community” coming along for the ride with new fans.
“It’s hard to imagine, but there are a lot of people that aren’t just ‘Star Wars’-adjacent. There’s a lot of people that are ‘Star Wars’-averse,” Gilroy says. “My wife, the only ‘Star Wars’ she’s ever seen are the first seven episodes of the show. And she’s like, ‘I want Episode 8 now.’ That’s what I want. That’s the real hope.”