Spoilers follow for folks who aren’t caught up with Star Wars Rebels.
Sam Witwer is one of those rare Hollywood talents who seems to be able to do it all. Typically cast in roles that require a strong jaw and an impressive physique, Witwer’s good looks belie his self-professed nerdy and introspective personality, putting him in that rare crossover category with the likes of Vin Diesel and Joe Manganiello. While that trio has a fondness for “Dungeons & Dragons” in common, it’s on Star Wars that Witwer’s lifelong love and obsession is focused. And it’s the famed franchise’s animated series and video games that have brought Witwer’s voice to the attention of legions of fans around the world.
In the video game world, Witwer has voiced Darth Vader’s secret apprentice Starkiller in the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series, played the role of Emperor Palpatine, and voiced the surprisingly resilient Darth Maul, as well. But it’s his performance as the former Sith in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and, specifically, Star Wars Rebels that we focused on in a recent, in-depth chat. Here’s your final spoiler warning.
Even if Witwer wasn’t a super-fan for all things Star Wars, you shouldn’t question his nerd status; it even extends to his dogs. His rescue dog Leonard and foster dog Buster are both named for sci-fi icons: Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) and Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon). (They’re both doing well, by the way.) It’s Star Wars, however, that’s easily one of his biggest and longest-running pop culture obsessions:
As a fan, the idea of fleshing out anything in Star Wars is like a dream beyond what anyone should be allowed experience. Star Wars is something that’s been beloved to me my entire life. Fans of my age will remember that there’s a time when Star Wars went away; huge when you were growing up and then past 1984, it started fading from consciousness. It still retained all the respect, but it wasn’t something anyone talked about. [To] my surprise, West End Games in 1987 came out with the Star Wars roleplaying game. At the time, I was a D&D-playing nerd, so, “Now they’re coming out with D&D but it’s Star Wars?” It seemed like the product was catered entirely to you; me and my friends never let go of Star Wars, even when it had faded from public consciousness.
What really made us fans who were way more doggedly devoted to this was that Star Wars roleplaying game from West End Games because suddenly you could open up a Star Wars source book and read about the fact that … there’s a crystal at the heart of a lightsaber? Wait what?! We learned that there’s a guy named Palpatine, that was the name of the Emperor, and that somehow through manipulating greedy trade barons he got the Republic to rot from within and turn into an Empire, he made himself the President and then the Emperor … we’re like, “What the hell…” Suddenly this world opened up in a way that it hadn’t from just those three movies. [They] hinted at a larger world beyond the frame … but this roleplaying game started cracking this open even more.
As the available Star Wars mythology deepened, so did Witwer’s appreciation for the broader implications and applications of the story:
If I were to go back and interrupt 12 or 13-year-old me, playing the Star Wars roleplaying game with my friends in my basement in Glenview, Illinois, and just say, “Hey, listen, you’re going to be working in Star Wars. You’re going to be doing a lot of stuff. In fact, Star Wars is going to employ you for 10 years.” It wouldn’t compute for me. The kid would have had a heart attack, he would have come out of a coma and still not believed.
To say that my love for Star Wars runs deep is a tremendous understatement because I just don’t know that there’s a pop culture mythology out there that’s as useful in educating and training and teaching young people about the curveballs that life can throw you, especially in situations that require a moral response. Star Wars is kind of the ultimate teaching tool for young people when it comes to that.