When I was growing up, the cultural impact of Star Wars as a global phenomenon is something that felt like it was just a regular part of life. The first movies I was exposed to were the original Star Wars films—my father, who immigrated from Mexico City with my mother in 1989, used them as a tool to learn English through a story he already knew and loved, having seen the movies in Spanish when they had their theatrical run in Mexico.
So Star Wars movies were a constant throughout my childhood, and coincidentally so was a young Diego Luna when he was a part of various Mexican telenovelas that would air on Spanish networks my family would watch. As I got older, Luna starred in movies that were formative to my cinematic tastes like Y Tu Mamá También, Book of Life, and yes, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. So to interview him for Andor, the prequel spin-off of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, was a momentous, full-circle moment for me.
When Luna was announced as a lead in Rogue One, playing Rebel spy Cassian Andor, it was huge for the Latin American community; for my family specifically, he’s hailed as a hometown hero from Mexico City, so to see a Mexican in Star Wars was a really big deal. When I spoke to the actor about this he shared it meant a lot that he’s held in this regard within the culture—and how it was a really big deal to him, too. “Star Wars represents in my early childhood, around when I was I believe five, six years old, the tool to belong, to feel part of the world of my cousins,” he told io9 over the phone. “I’m the youngest in the family, so I had many cousins all over [Mexico]. They were all fans of Star Wars, most of them at least. And getting to know Star Wars was indispensable, you know? Like it had to happen for me to be able to interact with these guys.” Many Star Wars fans—especially those who also come from big families—will know this feeling well.
“So I started looking at it already wanting to love it,” Luna said. “And then gradually, because it became really important in my growth as part of an audience, I started looking at cinema through Star Wars in a way. It was very important, and I believe the origins of my desire to do film [are] based on that stuff I saw when I was a kid that blew my mind—and Star Wars is on that list.
“As a kid I remember waiting months to get my first Darth Vader case,” he added, describing what I think (and Star Wars toy expert on staff Germain Lussier agrees) was this early Empire Strikes Back piece. “It was a case of the Darth Vader mask that inside it had the crayons I would take to school. I would paint with them at home. I remember just like it became my portfolio [school carrying case]. Yeah, I was hooked, [Darth Vader] scared me so much but at the same time was intriguing and my favorite character.” (We also know he has a soft spot for Jabba the Hutt.)
As Rogue One fans will recall, Luna didn’t get to share screentime with his favorite villain in that film, since his first appearance within the Star Wars universe concluded with the sacrifice of his life to stick it to the Empire. After Cassian Andor’s sacrifice in the film stealing the Death Star plans, Luna never expected to continue the character’s story. “To me, it was pretty clear that the deal was, ‘You are here to do a film. It has a beginning and an end and that’s it.’ And I was happy with that and I never challenged that, ever,” he explained. “And then when I got the phone call, it was to ask me if I would be willing to explore the possibility of doing something like this. And, you know, it made complete sense because Rogue One is a story about an event—an event where you get to meet all these great and interesting characters that are willing to sacrifice everything for a cost. It is about how this mission, how this event happened and the challenges to get there, you know, but you don’t get to explore or understand too much about the scenes here and there.”
Andor was definitely a hero Star Wars fans wanted more of; one oft-heard critique of the film was that it introduced and then, well, mostly killed off a fantastic ensemble, which included talent like Felicity Jones as initially reluctant hero Jyn Erso, Riz Ahmed as former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as Force-sensitive warrior Chirrut Îmwe, and Jiang Wen as his partner Baze Malbus. Prequel star Jimmy Smits, last seen in Obi-Wan Kenobi, also returnsed to reprise his role as Bail Organa.
“This long format allows you to go deep into those kind of crucial decisions that had to happen for this character to get there,” Luna said of the upcoming Andor TV series. “And it allows us to explore what needs to happen to a character in order to get to that moment where he’s willing to sacrifice everything. You know, because we have to remember, this is not a Jedi. There’s no superheroes here, or superpowers, or mystical powers or anything like that. It’s just regular people, you know, regular people having to do something special, something extraordinary. And that journey is quite interesting to witness.”
When Andor was first announced, Luna described it as “the story of a migrant,” and that still rings true to the story he wants to tell. “No one asked when I when I was promoting Rogue One, why does Cassian speak with such a different accent than everyone else? You know, there’s no one around that has his accent. No one. Therefore, where does he come from? How come he can be calling these people his family? No one asks that.”
Luna explained that Andor’s origins are explored in the series’ first few episodes, where we see a young Andor forced to flee his home at a very young age. It all goes back to some key lines of dialogue he had in Rogue One. “He says, ‘I’ve been fighting since I was six years old.’ What does that mean? Was he forced to grow before everyone, because who fights at six years old? You know, who asked to fight at six years old when you were supposed to be a kid? All of those questions are going to be answered now about that very traumatic childhood,” he said, referring to how Andor will mirror the kind of diaspora experienced by migrant people in Latin America and globally throughout history. “The character is full of that energy. You know, it’s clearly someone that is being forced to move, like many in this show. So that is an important part of the story and definitely something that you can answer and that hopefully we can deliver.”
The series has 12 episodes across its first season, leading into its already confirmed second season, to do just that. I asked Luna how his continued collaboration with showrunner Tony Gilroy has impacted him while creating this spy thriller origin story in the world of Star Wars. “[Gilroy] pays so much attention to detail,” Luna said. “His writing is so complex but everything has a reason. Every question has an answer. It’s very juicy when you approach the material written by this man because it has that complexity that takes time. He challenges you as a reader and as an actor. Well, it’s beautiful to have that material in front of you to perform as work where you have such a strong lead. Because at the end, that also is freedom, in terms of where you can go with that because you have the tools. you have the answers. Therefore, you can commit to your choices and go all the way, knowing that there’s something there to catch you.”
In fact, the more grounded spectacle that will later intersect with much bigger Star Wars events is what Luna’s most excited to explore. “It’s very special in this universe to have this standalone by itself. You know, as Rogue One was stand-alone in the world of film in Star Wars, with the series we have the same thing. It’s a series that has a beginning and then we’re going to do 24 episodes. We are going to go through the five years prior to Rogue One, and we have that freedom to [have] different tones that are not the first thing you think of when you think of Star Wars—and at the same time, still have that epic adventure and action that make Star Wars what it is.”
The sense of pride and excitement for Andor is something that I couldn’t help but share with Luna as we got off our call. He’s a Star Wars toy now too, I reminded him, and asked how he felt about that, having once been a kid with his own action-figure collection. “It’s a weird thing—it’s something you can’t get used to, to have toys of your character because that doesn’t happen often,” he laughed. “It is definitely a fun ride to have when you have kids, because we can share every part of the process with them and they’re as excited as I am. I really love to be able to make them part of my world in this way.”
As we got off the call I thanked Luna and he sent my entire family saludos. It meant so much as a ‘90s kid whose Mexican dad introduced her to this universe when he came to America—and whose love for movies came from that galaxy, far, far away—to talk about it with Diego Luna, and it truly made it feel like we’re finally seen as a big part of Star Wars.
Andor will begin streaming September 21 on Disney+.
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