How ‘Andor’ Creator Tony Gilroy Orchestrated the Perfect ‘Star Wars’ Prison Break

The “Michael Clayton” filmmaker also tells TheWrap how he convinced Andy Serkis to return to the franchise as a new character

Andor One Way Out

As “Andor” has progressed throughout the Disney+ show’s inaugural season, the “Rogue One” prequel series has quickly gone beyond merely “the best ‘Star Wars’ television show ever” and cemented its place as one of the very best shows on television, period. And with two episodes to go, the series has just reached its zenith with episode 10 (“One Way Out”), the culmination of the arc that saw Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) flee from a seemingly inescapable Imperial prison.

TheWrap spoke with creator Tony Gilroy about how the episode came together, designing the prison and the internal logic of how time moves within “Andor.”

Gilroy said the episode was “really hard.” Now you’ll find out why.

Andor’s Plight

At the end of episode 7, Andor has largely distanced himself from the cause, hanging out on a backwater, Miami-ish planet. It’s on this planet that Andor is mistaken for a petty vandal, sidestepping the fact that he had recently taken part in a deadly Imperial heist. And as punishment for his supposed crime, Andor was sentenced to six years imprisonment. Episodes 8, 9 and 10 have all been set in this prison, an oceanic tomb on Narkina 5. This is a place with electrified floors and a system that, when you finish serving your time, you’re just cycled to another part of the jail, to work until you die.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this cluster of episodes is the sustained nature of the suspense. Episode 10 had to also deliver some heartbreaking character moments and, again, serve as a pivotal moment in Andor’s path to becoming the leader we see in “Rogue One.”

Building a Better Mousetrap

The prison in “Andor” (Disney+)

The idea of sending Andor to jail occurred in the writers’ room, led by Gilroy and attended his brother Dan Gilroy and “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon (who would ultimately write episode 10). They discussed. They asked themselves questions. Questions like: “We can’t do anything that anybody did before, so what hasn’t been done before? I don’t know, should we even try to make a prison? Can we even do it?” Ultimately they decided to, like Cassian at the end of the episode, take the leap.

Another idea that was born from these discussions was the prison’s use of electrified floors. “Whenever electric floors came into the conversation, because people were talking a mile a minute, someone said electric floors, they were like, ‘Oh, what about that?’ And then we jumped on that,” Gilroy said.

While working on the story, they also were consulting with the art department and production designer Luke Hall about the design of the prison. “He spent the whole day sadistically building a prison,” Gilroy said.

Maybe Hall designed the prison a little too sadistically, as it was damn near inescapable. “You build it, and then you go, ‘Well, oh my God, how the f–k do we get out of here?’” Gilroy said. “And, I’ve got to tell you, there’s a lot of times where you really wonder, did we just build a prison we can’t get out of? There’s a lot of reverse engineering, and micro engineering, and building in little inefficiencies and building in little ideas. We almost made a prison we couldn’t get out of.” Truly, Gilroy and his team made a prison of their own design.

Sustained Suspense

“Really, the hard part here, is that we’re telling an adventure story. Forget all the politics, and forget all the ‘Star Wars,’ and forget everything else. This is a 600-page adventure story,” Gilroy said. “I could do a Masterclass for three days on the problems of getting that thing to feel inevitable, feel like he’s there long enough, but not stay there too long, and how you can have a breakout that feels legit, at the same time. It’s a very complicated bunch of plotting. It was a lot of unpleasant blackboard work. And then, getting it, and realizing it’s too long and that’s too many days and that doesn’t work and starting over again. It’s a construction problem.”

Adding to the complicated nature of this episode is the constellation of satellite stories that orbit Andor’s plight – there’s Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), a Rebellion leader who is navigating her life as a senator in Coruscant; and Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) a spy posing as an art dealer who, in the episode’s second most effective moment, strongarms a double agent into staying in their post.

Gilroy said that the storytelling is aided by a simple, unbreakable device – that the show always unfolds “day-to-night.” “We’re always true to day-to-night, even though it’s all different planets. And, people go, ‘Oh, if it’d be day here, it could be night there, it could be day here. We could jump around.’ But, you’ll notice, by the time we finish all 24 episodes, we will never violate that logic,” Gilroy explained. (The show will end after the second season’s batch of episodes, which Gilroy has suggested would air sometime in 2024.) “That’s one of our basic rules is that, if it’s daytime, here, we go day-to-night for everybody. We not only have to do that for the daily clock, but where are these people, really? If he’s 30-days-later, where is everybody 30-days-later, and what happened in that space? So, the plotting is intense.”

Just as intense as the plotting, though, are the performances. Including one performance by an actor familiar to “Star Wars” fans, who took the entire prison arc to another level altogether.

Snoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

Andy Serkis in “Andor” (Disney+)

Aiding in the intensity of the prison episodes is the character of Kino Loy, played by Andy Serkis. Serkis already has a place in “Star Wars” lore, having provided the motion-capture performance for Snoke in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” But his character in “Andor” is deeply human; he’s a prisoner who acts as a sort of blind enforcer within captivity. But he too is moved to action by Andor.

“There’s a bunch of actors where you fall in love with, and they go, ‘Oh no, he played a soldier in a thing and you can’t do that,’” Gilroy said. “But when I saw ‘Black Panther,’ Andy blew me off the screen. I didn’t fully appreciate everything that he had really done. After seeing ‘Black Panther’ I became a connoisseur of all that stuff, as it rolled back by me, of all the things that he’d done.” Gilroy had always wanted Serkis, but at the time Serkis was busy directing “Venom: There Will Be Carnage.” Still, Gilroy said that a big part of his job is “writing memos and emails and pleas.” He wrote one to Serkis that said, “Hey, still thinking about you.” They kept at him. And the rest is history.

And while Gilroy isn’t sure who wrote Kino’s final, haunting line (“I can’t swim”), he is in awe of what Serkis – and all of the other performers in “Andor” – brought to the production. “It’s inspiring to know that the actors can bring it,” Gilroy said. “It makes you a better writer.”

But with two episodes left, what can we expect? Gilroy is coy but confident. “We’re going to bring it together,” Gilroy said. As to how it all comes together, well, you’ll have to join the Rebellion to find out.

“Andor” streams every Wednesday on Disney+.