From the beginning, Andor creator and showrunner Tony Gilroy focused the series as the education of Cassian Andor. We’ve watched the eventual Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hero venture into the world of the growing rebellion against the Empire. Up to this point, Cassian’s actions have largely been self-serving. He gets a brief respite from the target on his back on Ferrix by leaving. Plus, he earns a pile of credits in the dangerous Aldhani robbery. But along the way, Cassian has seen sacrifice. Then he found himself in a soulless Imperial prison labor camp. He’s perhaps seeing the galaxy with new eyes. Nerdist talked to Andor writer Beau Willimon and executive producer Sanne Wohlenberg about the theme of sacrifice in the series and Mon Mothma’s and Luthen Rael’s differing approaches to the rebellion.
Nerdist: The show has a theme of sacrifice, but we’re seeing it in different shades. We see Nemik die, Lonni’s double life, Vel and Cinta deprioritizing their relationship. What is the importance of Cassian seeing all of this and recognizing what’s happening?
Beau Willimon: We all know where this is going, which is Rogue One and it’s the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a bunch of rebels willing to give their lives in order to progress the Rebellion. That was an overriding theme from the very beginning. Tony walked into the writer’s room with a clear vision of what he wanted to do for season one. There were some gaps and some things that were more in broad strokes and some things that we tossed and replaced. But he talked about it from the very beginning season one, the education of Cassian Andor. How do you go from being a sort of self-serving ne’er-do-well to someone on the path to making the ultimate sacrifice by the end of the series. And so when you’re asking yourself that question, how does one make that journey?
Of course that percolates into all of the characters. What sacrifices are required at every level in order for this Rebellion to take root, to coalesce and to become effective? You pointed out some great examples of us asking that question of all the characters. And Lonni explicitly asks the question when we see him meet with Luthen and ask “What have you sacrificed?” The answer is everything. And in their own various ways, it’s whatever everything means to them. It doesn’t always necessarily mean just your life.
All of our characters are going to be challenged with that. And interestingly, even those working for the Empire, we have to ask that question of. They might come from a completely different ideological place of law and order, control, and rationalizing and justifying oppression, but even they are making sacrifices and taking risks. It’s a very potent theme to organize a story around.
Sanne Wohlenberg: It’s a whole host of characters, really the every man in a lot of places. We have the screen time to really go on a journey and get a real emotional connection with people. That includes many challenges that the particular situation brings and the difficult decisions they have to make.
It’s also [about] what a human being is capable of when you are pushed, even if you are not an extraordinary human being at the outset. And hence, Tony has many characters impacting Cassian’s journey in this very complex and dangerous world.
We do see a lot of relatable moments in the day-to-day lives of everyone.
Willimon: It is about ordinary people being put into extraordinary circumstances and becoming extraordinary along the way. But their ordinariness, them being regular, being flawed, dealing with the same things we are. Syril having breakfast with his mom. Mon Mothma having to contend with an unhappy marriage and a daughter that she has friction with. Cassian caring about his mother’s health. These things make them relatable, recognizable. We can see ourselves in their shoes. And so we then begin to ask ourselves these questions. What do I believe in? What would I be willing to sacrifice?
Ah, Mon Mothma. She seemingly has the most altruistic approach. She doesn’t want to necessarily get her hands dirty. But now she has to decide if she’s going to marry her daughter off for the cause. What has it been like adding more to this character’s history?
Willimon: Talk about sacrifice, right? And you’re absolutely right. I think she doesn’t want to get her hands dirty and then she’s confronted with it time and time again. Her cousin Vel is like, “I’m in the mud, I’m in the trenches, I’m eating grubs.” We don’t know what Mon Mothma is going to do post episode 10, so stay tuned. But to be confronted with “am I going to consign my daughter to the same fate that I had to experience due to Chandrilan tradition?” In some ways a sacrifice like that could be worse than death, right? Because you’re talking about someone else’s life. These are precisely the sort of things we hope give the show its power.
Wohlenberg: It’s a real connection on so many levels. There are so many different situations and decisions to be made. They are partly really empowering, partly full of hope, partly crushing. It is a real emotional roller coaster, hopefully, for the audiences to go on these journeys. Tony, from the outset, came to the writers room with a lot of key characters. He had a very clear idea that it was time for us to show Mon Mothma behind the facade, the Mon Mothma the audience has come to really love and connect with. But no one knew that, behind that path, she chose a sacrifice at 16 in order to follow the tradition of her planet.
The show is full of thought-provoking moments, and also really makes you think, “What would I do?” And Tony really dared to make all of them flawed or allowed us to emotionally connect with the people that are really on the wrong side and are suppressing our rebels and heroes. The complexity of making those characters human too is just really fascinating.
We do see different sides of everyone but I want to go back to Mon Mothma’s choices. Her and Luthen seem to have different visions of the Rebellion and what it takes to fight the Empire. Can you talk about building those paths and how it might come together to form the Rebel Alliance?
Willimon: One word that Tony used a lot in the room when we were first conjuring all of this was gravel—that these people are the gravel on the road that’s being paved towards Rebellion. They’re the people that the average galactic citizen will never hear of, never know about. Luthen even alludes to this in his scene with Lonni. What that really does is open up an opportunity to delve into how the Rebellion begins to coalesce. It is formless, it is this loose gravel that’s floating around and sometimes at odds with one another. You see this in the scene with Saw where he rattles off a whole bunch of different factions and dismisses them all. That you realize how tenuous everything is at this particular stage, five years out from A New Hope.
There is just as much of a chance, and perhaps even a greater chance, that none of this will coalesce. It takes a few maybe very flawed people with their own personal motivations and history that are relentless and adamant and willing to make great sacrifice in order to try to pull all of this together. And on the one hand it might take a ruthless risk-taking operator like Luthen who’s in the mud with these people. On the other hand, it might take an established visible senator who’s willing to raise money behind the scenes.
All of these elements couldn’t achieve it if they were working purely on their own. But as we begin to see them collaborate and deal with the conflicts amongst one another and have to pay the cost of these sacrifices, maybe there’s a chance that this can coalescence something. That was at the heart of what Tony wanted to explore and certainly fun to play around with as we were crafting the story.