Throughout his career, costume designer Michael Wilkinson has developed some of the most iconic costumes in contemporary film history by working on projects such as Sky High, 300, Watchmen, and Tron: Legacy. He also worked with director Zack Snyder on his DCEU projects Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League, creating the iconic looks of Henry Cavill‘s Superman, Ben Affleck‘s Batman, and Gal Gadot‘s Wonder Woman among others.
In joining the Star Wars universe for Disney+’s Andor, Wilkinson said, “it all starts with writing. As soon as I read Tony [Gilroy]’s script, I spoke to him, and it was apparent that the style was canon. The characters were all written with such depth and complexity. They felt very real, and I felt that the costumes also had to have that incredibly detailed, three-dimensional approach. We see these characters in their private moments as well as their public moments. The heroes are also kind of screw-ups. They have their good and bad days. I needed to reflect all of that in their costuming. That’s quite unusual when you think of the usual flavor for Star Wars characters. I’m a huge fan of the franchise, and I had to dive deep into studying the language of the Star Wars canon. That was a wonderfully rich starting point, but the writing also liberated me from leaping forward and showing audiences something they hadn’t seen before.”
Audiences had already been introduced to Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and in the writing for season one, Wilkinson explained that “there’s such a great journey. I knew his costumes would also have to reflect that when we first see him in fabrics where he grew up. He’s kind of aimless and doesn’t really have a sense of focus or discipline. He’s messing up by losing his friends and always running into trouble. His clothes had to reflect that. They don’t have the rigor of a uniform. He’s always hiding from people trying to be skipped into the shadows. He has quite a younger way of dressing too. However, we see him grow up with his clothes throughout season one. As he gets more familiar with his particular talents, he becomes more disciplined as an instrument of the Rebel Alliance.”
As the show evolves, so do the costumes of its protagonists, which gives audiences critical information on how a certain character may operate within the series. This line of thinking was extremely apparent with Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), who, according to Wilkinson, “had a great trajectory as part of his clothing. We quickly learn his character through his clothing when we first meet him. He’s in a uniform but customized it in a very individualistic way. He has a sense of precision. He wants his uniform to be very well-maintained. He’s added a few extra details that make the uniform even sharper. I got to show the contrast between how the people around him at Preox-Morlana wear their uniforms, which are much more sloppy, disheveled, and much less care taken of.
When he arrives at Ferrix, he adopts some armor and feels the thrill of a little extra gear and kits. I love that final image of him. He’s covered with mud, and his beautiful uniform was completely ruined as things have gone haywire around him. Then he gets a job at the Bureau of Statistics, where he has a very humbling introduction to the lowest ranks of the bureaucracy, being a small cog in a huge machine. Even there, he shows more authority with his uniform. He gets a great tailored jacket. What I love about this show is that, with everyone, you see so many different versions of the characters. They’re all hiding their true identity at one stage or the other.”
In terms of the challenges that arose while developing costumes that craft multiple identities of the same character and show an evolution from the pilot to the finale, Wilkinson discussed of Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) as a prime example of “a man who has different aliases. We see a man of action when we meet him for the first time. He has more of a militant, special ops kind of vibe to his look than when we see him put a wig on and transform into an incredibly urban and sophisticated gallery owner on the very worldly planet of Coruscant. So we had to show his natural side and his Coruscant side. We achieve that contrast through changes of tone when he is in Coruscant. He’s in beautifully layered jewel tones with high-end fabrics.”
In reinterpreting the Empire, Wilkinson explained that “the writing gave me great opportunities to really go deep with the Imperial uniforms. We see a whole new branch that has only been loosely referred to through Orson Krennic [Ben Mendelsohn]: the Imperial Security Bureau. I took the white of Orson Krennic’s costume and created a whole set of uniforms for the ISB. Contrasting with that, we got the opportunity on Aldhani to show a different type of Imperial uniform, where it’s all faded and not polished at all. We’re at the most distant corner of the galaxy. It’s not an enviable posting for these Imperial soldiers. We did military fatigue in army greens, still using the iconic Star Wars Imperial armor but adding details to personalize things and make them feel real.”
Andor explores many new worlds throughout season one. In developing costumes that would each represent the language and the culture of that particular world, Wilkinson explained how he collaborated with production designer Luke Hull to “go deep with our discussions of each culture. We had so many different planets that we had to define them sharply. We wonder what sort of textiles, colors and textures, climates, technologies, and traditions inhabit the world. This would inform all of our decisions. With each planet, we would devise a very specific palette for them all. For example, Aldhani was an ancient culture that set up small villages. We devised a graphic language ornamentation that would work with that local culture. We wanted to layer traditional clothing with a modern, almost sort of sportswear mixed in. So that kind of gave it a more of authentic feel to it. For Narkina-5, it’s a completely different color. It’s white on white.
We wanted all the costumes to look exactly the same to express the world’s disempowerment and inhumanity. We created the uniforms out of paper, like costumes that felt very disposable and utilitarian mass-produced, That set up a whole different mood and color palette on that planet. For Ferrix, that was another great flavor for the production designer and me to explore a world with an industrial quality and a sense of community spirit. It’s the heart of the season, and had a really overwhelming sense of community and humanity. We designed hundreds and hundreds of pieces of work for different groups of workers based on what they did. We sourced all sorts of cool, flat, high-tech resilient fabrics and printed lots of logos to create our own hardware enclosures. That was a really fun exploration into the coolest work and designs we could develop.
In developing Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and the Chandrilans from the brief instances she appeared in previous titles for Andor, Wilkinson expressed that “the Chandrilan culture really excited me because it was a world that has been hinted at in previous Star Wars episodes but not explored at all. We took elements that had been hinted at, like the draped chain that Mon Mothma has always worn, the color palette of pale neutrals and metallic tones. We used that as a jumping pad to create hundreds of pieces for her elite circle.
We wanted the Chandrilans to have this otherworldly sense of sophistication in those elegant neutral tones and metallic textures. With Mon Mothma specifically, we’ve seen her in different chapters of our history, but not this five-year chapter. She’s behind the facade of an incredibly well-behaved Senator and is using her wealth and intelligence to fight and help out the Rebel Alliance. We had to project a very urban and sophisticated vibe in her political power dress. However, you always get the sense that there’s more going on behind this defined clothing. For example, you see her in a more relaxed state when she’s at home. You get a sense of the vulnerability. The mask can slip, and there might be a sense of loss of control behind this supreme control of her senatorial persona.”
Wilkinson is currently working on Season 2 of Andor, where he briefly teased that the team has “got all sorts of exciting things coming up, and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.” Some of the lucky ones who attended Star Wars Celebration saw a teaser of the second (and final) season, which teased many exciting storylines ahead. As for the rest of us (myself included), we have no choice but to wait until 2024, when exciting things are ahead for Cassian Andor as the season leads up to the events of Rogue One.
All episodes of Andor are currently streaming on Disney+.
[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity]