When production designer Luke Hull was first approached about working on Andor, he felt some trepidation. He was just coming off HBO’s Chernobyl series and was worried that working within the well-established Star Wars universe could be stifling. “My biggest fear when taking this project on was that I’d have to fit within some sense of a box, or a box I didn’t understand, or there’d be a level of studio involvement that would keep us in a certain aesthetic,” he tells The Verge. “But it actually hasn’t been like that. They’ve been very supportive and very excited about doing something different.”
There are a number of things that have helped Andor stand out since it debuted in September, including its more grounded tone and steadfast focus on politics. The show, which is a prequel to Rogue One, also looks unlike any other Star Wars show out there, with a style that’s gritty and dark and yet still recognizably from a galaxy far, far away. Hull says that the goal was to “have the nostalgia of Star Wars but also a sense of modernity that can compete with other shows that are out there at the moment, so it doesn’t feel like a piece of history itself.”
“What the hell does a heater look like in Star Wars?”
Hull says that he approached the show as if he were working on a period drama. That meant researching the time period and location to find out how things should look. The difference, of course, is that the time and place in Andor are both entirely fictional. “You have to research this whole galactic universe, and what’s come before, what’s canon and what’s not,” he explains. “And choose what you think is right for our show.” This led to all kinds of interesting practical questions when designing the world. “We would talk about temperatures and climates,” says Hull. “What the hell does a heater look like in Star Wars? What do blinds look like?”
He also was very clear on what he didn’t want the show to be like. “I didn’t want any scene to feel like you stepped into a piece of concept art,” Hull explains. “It’s not about showing off. It’s not about being Star Wars. It’s about being subtle and more nuanced than that. And I think that is what makes this show very interesting.”
On a large scale, this meant a different approach to building the sets. Whereas recent shows like The Mandalorian utilized virtual sets, much of Andor was shot on location. In the case of Ferrix, the small working-class town where the show begins, that meant actually building out a small part of the city, complete with real streets and buildings. “Ferrix should feel like a working town with a small community,” Hull says. “And the whole logic of how we decided to build that as one big composite set on the back lot was based on that idea. You can get lost in it; when you’re filming, you’re not having to cut between sets.”
Filling in that huge set meant finding ways to tell stories using the actual world. As an example, Hull cites the home of Maarva, a simple dwelling that nonetheless was carefully crafted to help explain her character. “[She’s] a woman at the end of her life: can’t keep up with her house anymore, her business is gone, and her husband died,” he says. “Her life is now pretty much this chair. This is very dark as an example, but everyone can relate to that, and yet it needs to have something that feels other. That’s down to so many decisions: the chair she sits in, the little charging unit for B2, the hydroponics in the window.”
While Hull was initially unsure about working in the established world of Star Wars, costume designer Michael Wilkinson — who previously worked on everything from Zack Snyder’s Justice League to the 2010 reboot of Tron — had the opposite feeling. “I quite like starting with something,” he explains. “Maybe I have a fear of the blank canvas. I’ve done it before, like when I’m working on superhero films, I quite like there being seven other iterations of a batsuit and figuring out what is our story, what batsuit does this film need.”
For example, when it came to the background characters, Wilkinson was able to use costumes from previous Star Wars projects and pick and choose which fit Andor in order to best tell the story of the place. “I quite like the richness that is possible when you’re starting with iconography and you offer your own take on that world,” he says.
Another technique for the show’s design is merging the Star Wars universe with the real world. There are a few examples of this, but perhaps the most striking is the show’s take on a suit and tie. We’ve seen plenty of military uniforms and the garb of royal elites and religious devotees over the course of many movies and shows. But Star Wars has never really delved into the visual side of its sprawling bureaucracy. Wilkinson says that the suit and tie from Andor were inspired in part by Jacques Tati films and corporate design from the 1960s.
“It’s not about showing off.”
“We came up with this idea of a band of fabric with a specific piece of hardware that is thread through to give a tie-like effect but has a much more modern vibe to it,” he explains. “There are little moments like that where you can reference things from the real world but give it a Star Wars spin. I think it’s always helpful to give the audience visual clues from our world that we know and then leap off from that. It makes it much more relatable and meaningful for audiences.”
That attention to detail has paid off and helped Andor differentiate itself from the many other live-action Star Wars series and films. It’s the kind of thing that rewards repeat viewings — at one point during a key sequence, the team even had to think of what a bathroom should look like — as you notice new details that further flesh out the world.
“It’s a big galaxy out there,” says Hull. “And that’s always a good way to justify most of our choices.”