Building ‘Star Wars’ on TV: Making ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi,’ ‘Andor’ and ‘The Mandalorian’

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Ever since 1977, Star Wars has been a franchise with recognizable aesthetics: The distinctive hum of a lightsaber. Rusty armor and billowing capes on the costumes. The iconic Millennium Falcon. George
Lucas created a visual legacy that filmmakers and craftspeople have continued to honor through the feature films, live-action series, video games and animated series, building completely new “lived-in and gritty” locations that entrench themselves in that ’70s sci-fi vibe. This year, “The Mandalorian,” “Andor” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” are all vying for Emmys as they pay tribute to the beloved franchise while expanding on its world-building across various crafts.

But “you can’t mess with Darth Vader,” says “Obi-Wan Kenobi” costume designer Suttirat Larlarb of the Sith Lord. The Disney+ series expands on the story of Jedi knight Obi-Wan and his former padawan (apprentice) Darth Vader. With Hayden Christensen reprising his role as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Larlarb updated his outfit purely for mobility.

Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen)
Lucasfilm Ltd.

“The extreme physical demands of the showdown between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Darth Vader is what governed our need to re-think how to make Darth Vader for our show,” she says. “We have other processes that allow for our Darth Vader, a younger one in the ‘Star Wars’ timeline, to be more mobile and physical, helmet-to-toe. The armor he wears needed to move with his body in a way that allowed the fights to happen fluidly — and not prevent him from doing anything that was dreamed up.”

Similarly, for McGregor, it was the script that offered the costume designer insight as to how events would unfold and helped with her costume choices.

“The challenge is that he’s hiding on Tatooine, a place where the clothing is very innately similar to Jedi clothing in terms of construction, cut and fabric,” she says of the blue tunic Obi-Wan sports in the pilot. “It has basic geometric component parts in loose-weave and drapey fabrics.”

The key was not to introduce him in colors he’s traditionally associated with — yet. “With the blue, we can understand that he is not the same Jedi legend. As a Tatooine citizen, he has a more relaxed, less structured feel than the Jedi elite. We could play on the shapes of the garments to the degree where I was making choices that were less architectural than the Jedi [clothing] language. This fits into the Tatooine language, and this is the main factor. He’s hiding in plain sight among Tatooine’s population.”

By the end of the episode, he shifts to a more familiar silhouette, but “the precision of his Jedi look doesn’t come until later in the series. We build our Obi-Wan back piece-by-piece until the inarguable Jedi has returned,” Larlarb says.

The drama also gives fans of the franchise Leia Organa’s backstory, as audiences meet her as a young and mischievous princess. But the key to her story and foundation lay in Queen Breha’s (Simone Kessell) style.

The queen’s first costume serves several roles. Larlarb and director Deborah Chow knew that the future Princess Leia would have been impacted by the royal household she grew up in; her adopted mother would have been a major influence on how she dresses and comports herself, once she takes on her royal responsibilities.

“Queen Breha’s introduction also serves as a visual counterpoint to how we introduce young Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair) in the same episode,” says Larlarb.

For example, in that episode, the Organa household is hosting a royal event, and young Leia, instead of being in her room getting dressed by her staff in a formal outfit, is in her play clothes and climbing trees with her droid. “The scene where the queen stops everything to retrieve her disobedient, playsuit-clad daughter while she is dressed very formally needed to express the distance Leia still has to traverse to become the icon in that white gown we eventually know,” says Larlarb. “I wanted to make sure the references to the future, iconic Princess Leia we meet in ‘A New Hope’ were clear.”

The colors of Queen Breha’s gown are intentionally related: The ivory of the dress recalls Princess Leia’s iconic gown from Lucas’ 1977 “Star Wars” while the blue, Larlarb says, is a nod to “the established colors of [their planet of Alderaan]” yet elevated for the royal event. The motif on the blue lining of her cape also has special significance. “I asked Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo if there were certain flowers associated with Alderaan, as I wanted to employ this notion that [family] symbols on royal clothing throughout history are often derived from the flora and fauna of the royal realm, and that the queens often express a connection to their homeland by wearing clothes whose textiles incorporate the use of those symbols through embellishment.”

A “Star Wars” manga mentions an Alderaanian flower called the “struggling pearl blossom,” so she pulled from that. She built the dress from a heavy ivory four-ply crepe to control the silhouette and keep it soft and fit, is in her play clothes and climbing trees with her droid. “The scene where the queen stops everything to retrieve her disobedient, playsuit-clad daughter while she is dressed very formally needed to express the distance Leia still has to traverse to become the icon in that white gown we eventually know,” says Larlarb. “I wanted to make sure the references to the future, iconic Princess Leia we meet in ‘A New Hope’ were clear.”

Kevin Estrada /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Young Leia’s outfits — her playsuit with rolled-up cuffs and boots — telegraphed her rebellious spirit. “She would rather be in these comfortable play clothes and avoid the pomp and circumstance and the attire of her royal office she’s supposed to be dressed in — the magenta tunic set.”

Furthermore, there needed to be something she could abandon when she runs away from the event. “When Leia rips it off as soon as she can, what’s left is the cream under-tunic and pants for the beginning of her adventure, which become the base of the other layers she dons throughout the season. But it also recalls the main color of the silhouette of the Princess Leia audiences already know from later in the timeline.”

Kevin Estrada /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Larlarb got to introduce another new character, Moses Ingram’s Reva. As an Inquisitor, Reva’s look had to feel aesthetically related to the other characters — who had already been established in the universe — but also stand apart during their group’s first arrival together on Tatooine.

Larlarb looked to established villains in the Empire — in particular, how women dressed. She started by “breaking down traditional hard armor to simplify and streamline her so that the form fit in the Inquisitor language but that the details were less flamboyant than the others.”

Reva (Moses Ingram)
Matt Kennedy / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Reva is a kind of double agent — her motive is to become Darth Vader’s trusted right hand in order to kill him and avenge the deaths of the Jedi younglings murdered by Anakin Skywalker (the eventual Darth Vader) under Order 66. “There’s a detail on her leather cuirass which is subtle. [Assistant costume designer] Stacia Lang took a series of sketch lines that I kept drawing over and over down the center front of the armor and developed it into a low and long and sharp ‘fin’ that looked like a front-facing external spine,” she explains. “Moses latched on to that detail as a reference to her divided but sharpened heart. We also had the imperial symbol bonded onto the reverse of her split cape, tone on tone, which I also saw as another way to express her conflicted allegiance.”

For “The Mandalorian” costume designer Shawna Trpcic, it was about finding a way to honor the aesthetic and “give back to” the fandom, while finding ways to bring uniqueness to her characters. She hid details in the costumes for Easter eggs, a tradition she started in Season 2. But before all of that, it began with the script. Says Trpcic, “I imagine myself there, in every single scene, as a character or a warrior, and what I would do in each instance.”

The third season brings back the Armorer (Emily Swallow), leader of the Mandalorian warriors on Nevarro. Trpcic wanted her costume to evolve from what fellow costume designer Joseph Porro had set up in Season 1. Aside from wanting to embrace the feminine side of the character, Trpcic says, “She’s been on this journey so she’s tightened up and she’s stronger… We were going to be adding a jetpack, but also she would be doing stunts, and so I wanted it to fit better.”

Production designer Doug Chiang had suggested her outfit be inspired by Disney’s 1991 film “The Rocketeer.” So she worked with her painters to find a “beautiful bronze that wasn’t quite the Rocketeer and not quite the Mandalorian,” giving the Amorer a distinct look. She also reduced the size of the helmet, making it more proportionate.

Trpcic’s challenge was to create unique details without betraying the clarity of the austere Mandalorian group, including the character Kelleran Beq. Played by Ahmed Best, previously known for playing Jar-Jar Binks, Kelleran was first introduced in 2020’s game show “Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge” and the Jedi who saves Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) during the Order 66 attack. Series creator Jon Favreau pointed her to Jewish temples and the scrollwork on the shawls worn by head rabbis.

“That was my takeaway. What set him apart was different scrollwork,” she says. “I sketched some out for him. I looked at other Jedi to see what their different leather pieces were.”

Trpcic was further inspired by the actor’s own tattoos: “He had all this glorious art, and once he got into the story of it, I did my own research. We incorporated an Afro-futuristic version of that tattoo work into his Jedi robes, which completed his story of redemption from his own walk in life. I got to reinvent a Jedi robe.”

Jedi Kelleran Beq (Ahmed Best) 
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Similarly, for Charles Parnell’s survivor captain, Trpcic created a special cross piece after asking him what he’d bring if faced with an apocalypse. “He told me he would grab a photo of his family. Except there are no photographs in ‘Star Wars.’ It became a matter of looking at how such an idea would translate into the ‘Star Wars’ world,” says Trpcic. “I talked with my leather maker, and we contemplated that if you were sitting around a fire and you had a random piece of leather, you would chip out or etch in your family’s portrait. So, we did that, and we put it into his robes. Charles said no one would notice it. I told him, ‘This story is for you, and you can see he’s always holding this beautiful piece next to his heart.’”

When it came to creating a look for Lizzo’s cameo as the Duchess of Plazir-15, not only did Trpcic tap back into Disney, but incorporated “a little bit of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with the tight bodice and full skirt.” Trpcic says she was further inspired by the singer’s “positive and strong energy” and brought that into the look. Trpcic had her crew bead the sleeves and turn the costume around from fitting to screen in three days.

“Andor” composer Nicholas Britell (speaking with Variety before the strike) met with LucasFilm’s Kathleen Kennedy and showrunner Tony Gilroy, who knew they wanted a unique musical landscape while keeping in the spirit of “Star Wars.” That brief gave Britell the freedom to try new things. He began by “imagining that this is its own story, and what the sound would be.”

The series expands upon Lucas’ ideas, grounding the franchise in the mercenary trade and espionage as Diego Luna’s Cassian goes on a journey from outsider to rebel.

Maarva (Fiona Shaw) in a scene from “Andor”
Lucasfilm Ltd.

With the vast galaxy landscape the show explores, Britell discussed themes with Gilroy. “I remember saying to him, ‘There are so many ways I can orchestrate this. I can do an intimate version.’ And we looked at one another and decided why do we have to choose? We have 12 episodes.”

The end result? Britell offers 12 different opening credit themes for the short and simple sequence. “The first thing I wrote was the funeral music for episode 12,” Britell says, referring to Maarva’s (Fiona Shaw) epic farewell in the season finale. He started there for practical reasons; all the on-camera music needed to be ready before shooting started.

Through exploration, Britell imagined what the culture of Ferrix (Cassian’s current home) would look and sound like at the end of someone’s life. He says, “I was imagining this tradition and ritual. I wrote this piece that had multiple parts.” The funeral band performed live on set, but that music became what Britell calls a “seed idea.”

“Perhaps it’s connected to Marvaa and Cassian’s relationship and how it all ties together. That’s how you start learning about the show,” Britell says. He then created the “time grappler” sound and musical motif and began scoring other scenes. “At the end of episode three, after Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) has failed in his endeavors, you hear the Maarva motif at the end of that sequence, and what will be the funeral music.”

He adds, “Our hope was that over the course of the show, and the final of the funeral, we realize that was where the music came from, and that motif defined the whole set up for them.”

The same funeral band that performs in Ferrix performs the main credit sequence — “each with a sense of mystery, a touch of melancholy and a rhythmic pulse that become stronger with each version,” says Britell. “There’s a sense of, ‘what does this music around Cassian mean?’ Maybe it’s even something that Cassian doesn’t know yet. Each planet has its own sound. On Morlana, there was this dark, gritty, urban landscape [that demanded] something edgy, textural.”

The show’s VFX supervisor, Mohen Leo, was very conscious about fan service when it came to building the world of “Andor” and places like Ferrix, but still made sure it never detracted from the story and character development.

The luxury Leo and his team had was the digital backlot, so when they had to build something new or redesign a set or ship, they could lean on what had been done before. “We had 3D models of the spaceships, droids and structures. So, when we put something together, we could go through our toy box.”

Courtesy of Lucasfilm/ Andor

For Luthen’s (Stellan Skarsgård) escape from the Imperial Forces, he used the Cantwell-Class Arrestor Cruiser from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” To pull off the sequence, Gilroy gave Leo and Britell the freedom to design the sequence with the idea that the show needed a “space battle moment and inject classic ‘Star Wars’ into it.”

Says Leo, “In talking with Tony, one of the inspirations was that Luthen’s ship is what the Aston Martin is to James Bond. It has all these hidden weapons and gadgets so it can pass as a normal freight ship. That became the starting point.” During his escape, he deploys his hidden weapon: a lightsaber-esque laser beam projector that calls back to the famous energy sword.

In total, the sequence took six months to put together, from pre-production to post.

As for working with real locations versus using ILM’s StageCraft and LED virtual production, it was important that story always came first. Many scenes were shot on location and on fully built sets in the U.K.

“Shooting in-camera was important. The scene we shot in Scotland and being in nature, having the physicality of people hiking up a hill made things feel right,” says Leo, noting that unplanned weather also helped serve the storyline. “At the start of episode six on the mountaintop, there’s dense fog. That scene was never designed to be in the fog, but it worked really well.”

Lucasfilm

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