We’re just under two months away from Andor debuting on Disney+, and a new trailer dropped yesterday, showing off more of what looks like about as genuine a spy thriller as we’re going to get in the Star Wars universe. It looks like Andor is going to deal with recruiting Cassian Andor into the rebellion, and okay. Fine. I’m getting slight Rogue One Redux vibes, but I like Diego Luna so much, and Cassian Andor is one of the more intriguing characters to emerge in New New Star Wars, so I will go with it. Also, this show looks BEAUTIFUL. The teaser looked great, the new trailer continues the trend. Of course, how things look is never Star Wars’ problem. (Although Obi-Wan Kenobi had a shocking number of cheap-looking shots.)
One thing worth mentioning about Andor is that it is the first of the New New Star Wars shows—the live-action ones, that is—to eschew using the “Volume”, the interactive LED “wall” that is probably going to replace green screen, at least in many contexts, in the next few years. Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic are on the cutting edge of this technology, which combines LED panels with digital backgrounds and real-time FX engines (like Unreal, a popular gaming engine). The end result is that you can combine a physical set with a digital background, eliminating the need for green/blue screen, with the bonus that the real-time engine means the Volume responds to physical camera movements, automatically adjusting background perspective, lighting, et cetera. Here’s an explainer on the Volume and how it works opposed to green screen.
(Of course, the Volume depends on the director having designed and/or approved backgrounds and surround elements in advance, so that the digital images can be projected through the LED. This technology does not help the indecisive directors who are fiddling with their visuals and “pixel f-cking” their VFX teams in post-production.)
Tony Gilroy, the showrunner of Andor who also directed the reshoots on Rogue One, said they went “old school” on Andor and used physical sets—and green screen, obviously, because spaceships don’t exist. The Volume offers a lot of options and does make certain kinds of filmmaking simpler, sleeker, and/or more beautiful—the endless ocean vistas of Our Flag Means Death are an excellent all-around use of the Volume—but like any new filmmaking technology, people go a little nuts with it at first before finding the most useful applications. For instance, the Lucasfilm overreliance on the Volume became apparent with the sheer number of scenes in their various shows that involve actors moving three feet forward and stopping, and all action occurring within a relatively tiny physical boundary, despite the seemingly endless space around them. Nothing gives away the Volume faster than someone rushing forward only to stop and not take another step for no physically apparent reason. (Once you see it, you’ll never unsee it.)
So I appreciate Andor not indulging in the Volume, though I do think that technology will be dead useful once filmmakers get a handle and when and how it works best, not to mention how it can be used to ease the burden on the post-production pipeline, since most of the effects are finished on set, if not in-camera during filming. But I also think part of the reason Andor looks so beautiful is because there is a sense of people moving through physical space. The worst shot in this trailer is that view of the galactic senate, obviously a digital creation with little tangible sense of reality. But everything else looks like the grimy, beaten, broken down world first depicted in Star Wars. I don’t know why I keep getting my hopes up, but maybe THIS will be the time Star Wars gives us a thrilling story about rebels and unlikely heroes without all the Jedi and Skywalkers gumming up the works.