The new Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels continues the epic tradition of the legendary Star Wars saga with exciting, action-packed adventures that take place between the events of Star Wars Episodes III and IV. During a dark time when the evil Galactic Empire is gaining power and Imperial forces are ruining lives, the motley but clever crew of the starship Ghost – including cowboy Jedi Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.), ace pilot Hera (Vanessa Marshall), street-smart teenager Ezra (Taylor Gray), the tough guy Zeb (Steve Blum), the warrior Sabine (Tiya Sircar) and cantankerous old droid Chopper – is brave enough to stand against the Empire, face new villains, encounter colorful adversaries, and become heroes with the power to ignite a rebellion.
At the show’s press day, executive producer/supervising director/diehard Star Wars fan Dave Filoni spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how exciting it is to be a part of continuing the stories of the Star Wars universe, why the movies and television shows are always considered canon, how the story and ideas for Rebels changed and evolved, the game plan for the show, whether fans of Rebels will have a different reaction to the show after seeing Episode VII and the spin-offs before the re-watch the series, incorporating Easter eggs, and how the advances in animation technology benefit what they can do now. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DAVE FILONI: It’s very exciting! I never take for granted how lucky I am to have landed where I am. I’ve worked hard, for sure, but like anything, it takes a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time, and then making the most of the opportunity. For whatever reason, George [Lucas] and I really clicked, working together, so that was a great learning experience to amass knowledge. Now, I’m very privileged to be a part of a group at Lucasfilm that’s carrying on forwards. It’s a fun time to be there. There’s been a lot of change, but you always need people to be a rock during the change, and I think I’m at the stage of my career where I can be that for other people and help usher in this new age.
How early on did you know that the show would be considered canon?
FILONI: Everything that I’ve worked on at Lucasfilm has been considered canon. Working on Clone Wars, it was always canon. I never really worry about it. I always figured that most things that are done in a cinematic form, whether it be television or movies, are the only things that George considered canon because it was the stuff that he helped produce. So, it made sense that this would be, as well. And I’ve always thought of it that way. I think it’s exciting that we’ve tried to align everything, so that fans are getting a real multi-media, multi-dimensional experience. It is a lot work. I can fill my day with just working on scripts and shootings stories, let alone trying to keep up with what the novels are doing and the comics are doing. But, we have a large amount of people dedicated to it. I’ll definitely give my notes and I’ll say, “If anyone is trying to use this character, I want to know about it.” We’re all taking great care to make this work.
How much did the story and the ideas for this change, from the time you got involved to what we see now?
FILONI: I was involved pretty much at the very beginning. The current idea of Star Wars Rebels started with my friend, Carrie Beck, who works with the story team at Lucasfilm. We knew that we wanted to make a new animated series. We were all brainstorming for ideas, and one of the ideas that Carrie had was for this A-team group that went around righting wrongs. And I always liked that ideas. I told her it was really similar to an idea that I had for Clone Wars, in the beginning. We wouldn’t follow the Galactic Battle ‘cause I didn’t want to interrupt anything canon, and I didn’t think George was going to let us use Anakin and Obi-Wan on that show. So, we had devised a different story about a group of people that lived on a ship that worked within a black market, and there was a Jedi Padawan working in that. It was a story concept that I had given some thought to, so when Carrie brought it up, we all felt that that was the right idea. It was something that we all wanted to see. It felt very Star Wars, in a familiar, good way.
The only thing that’s really changed is the character make-up. We didn’t know that, so we created that along the way. I would do pages of sketches of different characters and different character types. I’d get together with the story group, or I’d send them pictures, and we’d start circling in. I can definitely point at a picture of Kanan and say, “That is the one that is Kanan.” I did a drawing of Kanan that was based on Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club. Not his look, but his posture. Kanan had to have a certain kind of cool that I knew in high school, that’s one of those guys who can be a nice guy, but is a little dangerous seeming. I started sketching Ezra at my kitchen table one night, around 11:30, and my wife happened into the kitchen and was like, “What are you drawing?” I said, “This is the lead character for a new Star Wars show.” And she went, “Eh.” I was like, “That’s not the reaction that I’m looking for.” She said, “Well, what you’re drawing is just very typical.” I said, “Well, talk to me more about that.”
So, I hit my wife up for some concepts, and we started talking about older movies when we were kids. One of the movies that came to my mind was The Karate Kid and Ralph Macchio. You used to see these faces on kids, and they were interesting people. Things have homogenized a little bit, as far as the way actors look. There aren’t too many character actors anymore. So, I wanted unique faces, and I wanted people that any kid could feel like they were. I think it’s important that Star Wars characters speak universally, to kids and to people.
Assuming the show is a hit, what’s the game plan? Do you have a three-season or a five-season arc in mind?
FILONI: We do, yeah. I am a very big stickler about a game plan. I don’t like to stick to it, but I need to know where we’re going. When we did Clone Wars, I always had an end game in mind for Ahsoka, for years. What was hilarious about that was that George had an end game in mind that was different than mine. We would argue about it, all the time. He was more in the, “We’re gonna kill her off,” camp. I was in the, “No, she’s gonna live,” camp. We forged the story over that debate, year after year. So, we sat down and had a talk about, given what we know about the movies that this will run into, where does Ezra need to be and where should Kanan be? We need to know those things, so that when we get really close in these timelines, it starts to make sense. Once you have an idea of where this can go, it lets you know, as a director, how to orchestrate all of these pieces. It sounds really stupid to say, but I’m a storyteller who loves to have a reason to tell these stories, rather than just staying, “Star Wars is a great story.” Okay, but what is that great story? Luke is a story of hope and selflessness and redemption for his father. We have to know those things. As we unveil them over time, I think it’s going to be really different, unique and exciting.
FILONI: I think that’s possible. I definitely know people did that when they watched Clone Wars, and then went back and watched the prequels. Star Wars is always touching the other parts of the galaxy and influencing it. With what I know about the other stories being told, it does influence things and decisions you’re making. We also don’t want to repeat what each other are doing, but it opens up opportunities in the universe. As much as some people might think it narrows things, it actually opens up opportunities and gives a greater understanding. There are things that you can leverage. I always feel bad speaking in vague generalities, but because we’re the only thing out of the gate, I can’t really speak to the other stories yet, except to say that it’s just an exciting time to be a part of Star Wars and to be a Star Wars fan, and to see other creatives at work. In some cases, they’re dealing with similar problems that I’ve had, or they’re finding solutions and being inspired by what solutions they find. It’s exciting to be a part of this new team.
How are you incorporating Easter eggs into the show?
FILONI: It’s hard to tell with Star Wars fans what constitutes and Easter egg anymore. I could do something very simple, and then people are so excited about it and act like I put it there for them, so I’m like, “Yes, I did!” The answer is that it’s not hard, at all. What I find is that I’ll do something that feels selfish and go, “Well, I saw this in the Return of the Jedi sketch book, as a kid, and it’s never been in a film, so I want to put it in a film.” An entire generation of people relates to that. We put the Troop Transport into the show, and that was a Kenner toy that was never in the films. We needed a transport for the Imperials, and I said, “How about that old Kenner one? I had that. I loved that thing.” People are very excited about that. Star Wars works best when you can watch it over and over again and see new things in the background and realize that droid was in the background there, or this species that never talked before does now. There are a lot of fun things that you can do.
FILONI: Oh, it changes greatly, and it changes yearly. To think that, in 2005, when we started developing Clone Wars, Pixar had just done The Incredibles. It was the first time that you’d really seen stylized human characters with hair, and it was becoming believable and everyone was figuring out the style for that. Cloth, at that point, was still a nebulous element. It was sometimes convincing, but not completely. Now, when you go to the theater, none of those things are really a problem, and that’s all trickled down to my world. There are things that we learned on Clone Wars that taught us what not to do and what doesn’t look good, and ways to build these models and characters and the rigging system to be more beneficial. But in a very odd way, we use some very simple old tricks, like painted cards, and elements to just fool the viewer in an old-fashioned way, but using the new technologies to do so. That seems to work very, very well, but it’s an evolution.
The audience doesn’t quite realize how much they’re benefitting from technology, in very simple shots. They see big shots and go, “Oh, that looks like CG,” but the last 20 things they say were also CG and they didn’t even notice it. I’m a big fan of technology. Some of the technology that’s out there, that I’ve witnessed, you go, “Wow, that’s a very powerful tool,” but you have to have the right story to tell it. Figuring out how the audience or the viewer comes into the story through the technology is a big question. When CG characters got to that point, thanks to some great innovations by Pixar, over the years, and other studios that pushed them, you can see that now we can do more stylized characters and we can do simple characters very effectively, and the world opened up.
When I saw Tangled, I watched that movie and was like, “Wow, that’s doing what they did so well in 2D, so spectacularly in CG.” I was blown away by it. We’ve actually incorporated some of that look and feel into our characters. The Flynn Rider character and his expressions were just fantastic. And that’s not to say that I don’t like 2D. I am a 2D animator. I cam up in 2D. I always was a hand-drawn guy. Until I got to Lucasfilm, I had never touched a computer. I’m a firm believe that, if you’re telling a story, you need the right medium for that story. If it’s hand-drawn, then go all out and don’t be afraid to use computer technology to bolster that hand-drawn look, so that it’s something we’ve never seen before. And if it’s CG, embrace that and go for that, but know your limitations. It’s an exciting world of innovation, these days.
I always think that kids are so lucky to have all of this on their phone, walking around. If they watch A New Hope, Luke says, “You fought in the Clone Wars?” I didn’t know what that was, as a kid. I had to actually grow up and make it to understand it. These kids can just go over to Netflix and start watching it. They can watch the entire Clone Wars, and then go back to the movie. That’s surreal. In 20 years, I hope some kid has grown up that watched Rebels and is like, “I wanna tell the story of this from Rebels, and I’m gonna go for it.” It’s passing it on. That would be a great thing.
Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion has premiered on Disney Channel, and Star Wars Rebels premieres on Disney XD on October 13th.