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'Elysium' put Diego Luna on the sci-fi map a decade before 'Andor' - stream it now on Peacock
The award-winning actor first entered the realm of big budget sci-fi with Elysium.
Star Wars has plenty of great resurrection stories within its mythology, but arguably one of the pinnacle stories belongs to Rebellion spy, Cassian Andor. Introduced in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Cassian — and pretty much the entire core cast of that film — gave their all to tell a one-shot story that filled in an important piece of rebellion history which occurred just prior to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). But then six years later, Cassian Andor became a very big thing again with the acclaimed Disney+ prequel series, Andor.
The series fills in the back story of how the character evolved from vulnerable orphan to scrappy "revolution-averse" adult, and eventually in the upcoming Season 2, the world-weary hero audiences came to love in Rogue One.
Unlike any other live-action Star Wars projects that came before it, Andor delves into what life looks like for average sentients who exist under the Facist thumb of the Emperor, Darth Vader and their Imperial rule. It narrowly focuses on the “haves” who keep the “have-nots” under their boots, and how that in turn inspires revolution. As an actor/activist/producer and director, disparity and social injustice within all sorts of societies has been a recurring theme that Luna has explored through his art and profession going back to his early film roles in the 2000’s. In fact, his first foray into big budget sci-fi storytelling wasn’t for the Star Wars universe.
Rather, it was for director Neill Blomkamp’s near future, 1 percent versus the 99 percent spectacle, Elysium back in 2013.
Now streaming on Peacock, Elysium is Blomkamp’s original sci-fi story set on Earth, 2154. It poses that our current problems of wealth disparity, climate change, overpopulation, disease and shrinking resources have only been critically exacerbated 140 years in the future. The wealthy have created an exclusive space station enclave, named Elysium, that orbits the Earth. It’s the embodiment of an idyllic future featuring opulence, plenty of resources and no more disease as the privileged inhabitants horde their advanced medical technology known as Med-Bays.
Of course, everyone left on Earth lives to exist. Poor laborers, criminals and those dying from rampant disease are left to scrape for what’s leftover. And it's not much. Diego Luna plays Julio, one of those left behind and the best friend of the film’s rebellious hero, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon). Back when the film released in 2013, Luna told American Latino that he took his first mainstream, sci-fi role because Blomkamp wasn’t creating a future just meant to impress audiences. “There’s a guy making a comment behind this film and I think that’s what’s going to make it last. At least, that’s a film that I celebrate, with a point of view.”
In fact, Julio could almost be classified as Luna’s first run at a character much like Cassian. Both live on the fringes of society, with loyalty given only to their found family, and neither have any love for the authoritarian rulers making their every day existences hell. Unfortunately, Julio isn't given the screen time to flesh out his origins completely, or even much beyond his friendship with Max. But Luna's doing something passionate with Julio that feels like the actor was laying the groundwork for a character with an immense past and sense of nobility. As they say, there are no small roles — and after watching Elysium, there's a sense he held onto some remnants of Julio that he was able to expand and deepen with Cassian Andor…just without the braids.
So if you're jonesing for more high-concept sci-fi from Luna while we all patiently wait for more Andor, Elysium might just do the trick.