With "Andor’s" mature, sophisticated take on the "Star Wars" universe, writer/creator Tony Gilroy ("The Bourne Franchise") has elevated the storied franchise to new levels of engagement in its first season now coming to an end this week on Disney+.
As a 12-episode prequel to 2016’s "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" chronicling the early days of the Rebel Alliance and its reluctant spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), this is a grounded, Jedi-less "Star Wars" tale told with style, detail and precision.
Besides its stellar cast — which also includes Genevieve O'Reilly, Stellan Skarsgård, Denise Gough and Kyle Soller — the staff's superb writing, and a riveting score by Academy Award-nominated composer Nicholas Britell, "Andor’s" broad spectrum of fashion examples imparts a deeper connection to this familiar sci-fi realm.
Award-wining costume designer Michael Wilkinson has draped "Andor" in an array of realistic outfits, uniforms and formal wear that perfectly suits the nature of showrunner Tony Gilroy’s vision.
From the ceremonial tunics of the Aldhani natives and rugged ensembles for rebel operatives to Mon Mothma's flowing gowns and Narkina 5’s bone-white prison jumpsuits, Wilkinson worked closely with Gilroy to conceive a distinct wardrobe for the entire series. Best known for his capes and cowls on Zack Snyder superhero films like "Man of Steel," "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Justice League," Wilkinson was enthused to dress the "Star Wars" characters of "Andor."
"This was my first long-format series that I’ve designed," he told Space.com. "Previously I’ve worked on feature-length projects, and so it was a thrill as a costume designer to have these very long character arcs. So you can really go deep into the analysis of the character — How did they change throughout the season, and how does the look of the costume reflect what they’re going through?
"Tony Gilroy definitely wanted the look of the costumes to be less space opera and more of a detailed, authentic approach. All of those characters he wrote were clearly well-rounded, psychologically complex, and he wanted the costumes to be also quite complex, detailed and subtle. So that really gave me a good sense of direction on where to go with them."
There’s a clear synthesis between the retro future look of 1977’s "Star Wars: A New Hope" and its prequel "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" that Andor was required to emulate, and Wilkinson found a creative balance between honoring that legacy and delivering stylish new threads for the cast.
"One of the great challenges and thrills of this job was to try and find that sweet spot with everything I did that was paying homage and respect, and doing the research of what is the canon and legacy of the 'Star Wars' costumes," he explains. "There’ve been incredible costume designers working for 45 years now on their vision of the 'Star Wars' world. It was amazing to be able to offer my own take on that universe. I also wanted to show audiences something new and compelling and surprising.
"For example, with the Imperial uniforms, it’s obviously set in stone, but within that I did find areas and moments in the Imperial Security Bureau and within branches of the Imperial forces we haven't really spent a lot of time with before I got to explore a little bit more of that and the specifics of their look in different situations."
Wilkinson’s muse embraced not only the glamorous embassy costumes of Coruscant but also the grungy world of Aldhani's nomadic culture.
"We had about seven or eight different planets that we went to; each were very heavily thought through with their own textures and colors and silhouettes," he noted. "So I think I loved them all equally. I try to be a good parent. But when I see Genevieve O’Reilly in some of her embassy party costumes, I get a little flutter going. I’m pretty proud of those costumes."
The cold white-and-orange Narkina 5 prisoner outfits carried a certain simplicity and nostalgic feel harkening back to the sterility of sci-fi films like George Lucas' "THX-1138," and here Wilkinson admits to being a bit challenged at first.
“I think I was a bit nervous, when I read the prison sequences, that they might feel a little boring and empty compared to the other episodes and worlds that we create. But they’re amongst some of the sequences that I’m really proud of in the series. There’s almost a sense of disorientation for the viewers and the prisoners themselves. You’ve got the white costumes, the white world; there’s this strange sterile, soul-destroying quality to it all.
"It’s always a challenge when you’re making a costume you’re going to see for three episodes with hundreds of men wearing the same costume. We started with an interesting fabric that we developed, a type of disposable fabric so it felt like the prison uniforms would be discarded at the end of the day. Then we liked this retro ‘70s graphic that’s running through them, with a flash of orange so prisoners would stand out in a white world so guards could spot them easily. We put lots of work in every inch of those costumes because we knew the camera would see everything.”
One of the most striking costumes Wilkinson conceived for "Andor" was the denim blue Pre-Mor security outfit and cap, which offered a color palette seldom seen in any "Star Wars" movie.
"The challenge for Pre-Mor for me was to create a new 'Star Wars' uniform that would try to be as iconic as the Imperial uniforms but that would be completely different from them. So I devised this color scheme of greeny-blue teal colors that we carefully put together with these flashes of orange. It seemed to have a kind of ‘70s retro vibe to it that I really enjoyed. We did lots of work fixing the webbings, the bindings, the velcros. We dyed everything in this specific blue.
"But we also made a range of uniforms for Pre-Mor, from the very worn-down, jaded office workers to Syril Karn’s uniform that we made a custom version for him. There’s actually a line where he says that he’s altered his uniform and done some light tailoring. His uniform is particularly fastidious and fresh and had a bit more engineering in it. That was a very enjoyable design project."
Looking toward "Andor's" future, Wilkinson is very happy to say that he’s currently working on Season 2 and that it starts shooting in a couple of weeks.
"The goal is to go above and beyond what we achieved in Season 1, so hopefully there will be lots of surprises and cool things for audiences to see," Wilkinson said. "For me, I’m just so humbled and proud to be amongst the long line of amazing costume designers who shared their vision of "Star Wars" since 1977: John Mollo, Michael Kaplan, Trisha Biggar, all these greats. It’s really an honor to offer my own take on that world."
The season finale of "Andor" airs Wednesday (Nov. 23) exclusively on Disney+.