There are only four female speaking roles in the original Star Wars trilogy. From A New Hope to Return of the Jedi, only four women ever speak on screen: One is Princess Leia. Two is Aunt Beru, who bites it in the first act of the first film. Three is an unnamed Rebel stationed on Hoth. And the fourth and final woman is Mon Mothma, the regal Rebel leader who pops up in Return of the Jedi. She doesn't get much screen time, just there to deliver a quick briefing before the Battle of Endor. But she leaves a solemn impression, gravely reminding her Rebel cohorts that many Bothans died to bring them this information.
The glamorous, imperious Mon Mothma has never been a major character, but she's long been a fascinating part of Star Wars history. Caroline Blakiston originated the role in Return of the Jedi, with Genevieve O'Reilly taking over for the prequel trilogy. (Most of her scenes in 2005's Revenge of the Sith wound up on the cutting room floor, but she appears briefly as a background character.) Later on, Mon Mothma would take on a slightly larger role in the Star Wars galaxy, with O'Reilly returning for 2016's Rogue One and later lending her voice to the animated Star Wars Rebels.
Now, after nearly four decades, this elegant leader is finally getting her time in the spotlight, with O'Reilly starring in the upcoming Disney+ series Andor.
Diego Luna plays the titular spy, but series creator Tony Gilroy (who also worked on Rogue One) says that Andor is just as much Mon Mothma's story. The show (debuting Sept. 21) is set several years before the events of Rogue One, and at this point, she's not yet the stoic Rebel leader we know and love. When the series begins, she's just a politician serving in the galactic senate, trying to effect change and take small steps to combat the oppressive Empire.
Lucasfilm Ltd. Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma in 'Andor'
"We really get to develop her as a character, and we get to learn about her not just as a senator, but as a woman," O'Reilly, 45, tells EW. "[We learn] what her life is like, what she has to wrestle with, what are the dangers to her life, what it costs to be her. Tony's writing is so intricate and so taut. It lives in this world of the spy genre, of a sociopolitical drama, and yet it's set within a Star Wars world. So it feels universal and intimate all at once."
When O'Reilly first landed the role for Revenge of the Sith, she rewatched Blakiston's scene in Return of the Jedi to help figure out the character — something she still does. "I was always interested in her," the actress explains, "and each time I go to play her, I go back to that scene." Wearing that familiar white robe and short hair help her get into character, of course, but O'Reilly says the most valuable asset is listening to Blakiston's voice — particularly that iconic line about the Bothans.
"You can see when Caroline does that in that scene, for me, there was always a pain at the heart of it," O'Reilly explains. "You could see that she was carrying a pain, and I was really curious about what that was. What has happened in this woman's life? What has it cost to be her? What are the sacrifices that she has had to make along the way to be that leader of a rebellion?"
Andor hopes to answer some of those questions. When the show begins, Cassian Andor and Mon Mothma are (literally) on different planets, and it'll take a while for their stories to intersect. But O'Reilly hopes that as the two-season series continues, it'll bring a new depth to Mon Mothma's past appearances and show a new side of the stoic Rebel.
"We see her talking to senators, and then we meet her at home with her husband," O'Reilly teases. "We see the public and the private. We see her literally and figuratively take off her cloak and reveal herself as a woman in a way we've never seen before."