If you haven’t caught up with Disney XD’s excellent animated series Star Wars Rebels, now’s the time to do so. This fall’s upcoming third season will be introducing plenty of new faces, some of which are familiar to audiences, others are highly anticipated, and still more are brand-new creations entirely. And as the series’ plot gets ever closer to the timeline of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, fans will start to see familiar sights as the continuity knits together.
While at a press conference for Star Wars Rebels, our own Perri Nemiroff (who is continuing to provide up-to-the-minute coverage from the ongoing “Star Wars Celebration”) got the scoop on the upcoming season of the series from co-creator Dave Filoni and actors Tiya Sircar and Sam Witwer. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming up for fans of the series and the Star Wars universe at large, so we’ve provided a primer to get you all caught up.
Get to know all about Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels below:
One of the biggest reveals during the celebration was the announcement that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be coming to the series this season and that he would be considered Star Wars canon:
Thrawn was always on the list, and we were just trying to figure out what’s the right moment and how big a deal do we make out of that. The biggest thing is that, you get a character that everybody likes, that’s a really great villain, you are cautious on a weekly series to put them into a, “Oh, we’ve lost again. Darn those crazy rebel dogs.” You can’t play him that way, he’s way too smart. It’s a very similar problem I had with Vader, which was, if our guys are around Vader too much, Vader’s going to pick them out. I had to supply them with something to neutralize Darth Vader. Here, I don’t really have a lot to supply to defend them against Thrawn, so it’s going to get sticky because we want to treat him as a big-time villain.
For folks who are interested in finding out more about where Sabine (Sircar) is headed this season, the voice actor offered up these hints:
I feel like Dave maybe clued me into things for Season 3 with more forewarning than in Season’s past. This time I feel like he’s talked me through more of an understanding of what’s to come, which is awesome, because there is more to come. I feel like I have a better understanding of who Sabine is, and also, as a fan, I’m excited to get to see her experience those things and encounter people from her past, who she might be related to, some of them. With what’s happening in our world now, the stakes are higher for everyone: Kanan can’t see, Ezra has this internal battle between the Dark side and the Light side, and Ahsoka and Vader obviously … I feel like Sabine has been thrust into this leadership position which I think she is happy to assume, but there’s a sort of pressure that she hasn’t yet experienced. And then there’s all this backstory which hasn’t yet come into play.
People asked me on Twitter today, was I making my own darksaber sounds. Sam made the darksaber sounds.
Another character that has sparked fans’ curiosity is that of Darth Maul (Witwer) and where his continually evolving character will fit into the season. Witwer responded:
The thing about Darth Maul, and we’ve always had this in mind, you can’t overuse him. If you overuse him, it’s not special anymore. It’s like Vader, to a slightly lesser degree in that the threat gets diminished. If this guy isn’t on his own and trying to figure out a bunch of stuff and trying to figure out his life, and he’s focused entirely on the Ghost crew and on converting Ezra, things are going to get derailed pretty quickly.
This is a character who has been through a lot in terms of what we see on screen. Part of the fun of that character is that he’s constantly evolving. We have to keep him constantly evolving for most of the episode and show a new side of him every time. From Clone Wars to now, there’s always a new element that we add every episode. The reason for that, storytelling, I think, is that this guy in some ways is locked into a loop in his life and can’t see beyond the loop, can’t see beyond this repetitive motivation that he has, and that he would rise up to power and get knocked down, rise up to power, get knocked down. He’s rising again, but his tactics are almost …. When we met Darth Maul, he was mad; he was insane in that cave. One of the definitions of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
So I think one of the reasons we keep him evolving personally is that he does have a different perspective on things than he had before. He’s become more of an individual beyond the single-minded weapon who wants revenge. But the core of him, he’s still as damaged and misguided as he ever was.
Slightly overshadowed by the news of Thrawn was the reveal that Wedge Antilles would also be making his animated appearance in Star Wars Rebels. Filoni described the reasoning behind that decision:
He’s probably the smartest pilot in the entire saga, because he knows when to ditch. Wedge is in the story as a result of the fact that we’re inching ever closer to the time period of A New Hope. When you get to that time period and the rebellion is much more formative than it used to be, you’re gonna start to see those characters appear in story and start to intersect with the Star Wars Rebels characters.
A character like Wedge, we all thought he would be fun to see. We couldn’t use someone like Biggs (Darklighter) because if you bring Biggs in, then you’re really crossing close to Luke Skywalker’s timeline. And we’re very careful about saying to people where we are in relation to that. But Biggs has a fantastic mustache and we thought about bringing that into the animated universe.
As the show nears ever closer to existing (and upcoming) films, some of the more interesting aspects of Star Wars Rebels will unfortunately be phased out. Filoni addressed the diminishing role of the Inquisitors as follows:
As we get closer to A New Hope, I can’t see a lot of things that I could have years before, in the story. When Tarkin’s talking to Vader and he’s saying, “their fire has gone out of the universe,” referring to the Jedi, it feels like that ancient religion and things referring to the Force happened a long time ago. You realize, as you get older, that that actually happened in his lifetime. So I didn’t think that you could have too many Inquisitor-like elements that are second to our rebels’ story anymore because that starts to get continuity-clashy. You have to have that diminishing.
Don’t worry though; there will always be a thoughtful balance between the Dark Side’s presence and those of the rebellious fighters. One of the latter characters is going through a bit of an evolution himself, as Filoni described:
For everything he gained, Kanan, in strength and clarity of who or what he might be, he couldn’t take the agency to stop Ezra and Ahsoka to, what he could see, was probably a bad decision to side with this guy, and it really came back to bite him. He has reached, on one level, Jedi Knight; being a Jedi Knight in this time wasn’t enough … that’s thinking like a combatant. He has to learn the higher path of the Force, which Yoda and everybody else had learned before him. So that’s what you’re seeing as Kanan evolves as a Jedi.
It’s not just the characters and their designs who are getting an overhaul, however; the vehicles and starships have to start bridging the divide between the series and existing films as well. One particularly curious contraption caught a viewers’ eye, which Filoni explained in a rather stark answer:
I’ll tell you why there’s an A-Wing with two seats: I had a plot that needed to have two people leaving the planet; I have very few starships that could do that, and the A-Wing had one seat, and I was like, “Alright, what I want you to do is gut behind the front seat and put a second seat,” because I didn’t have the budget to create a whole new ship. And it would be weird if they had a whole new ship just to fly them to that planet. We call that the “A-Wing Trainer.”
Witwer: All of the starships have a trainer variant with a separate seat for the trainer and a pilot.
Filoni: The truth is that it was a production necessity. I am relieved to learn there’s a trainer version. The vehicles, again, you’re seeing a progression more to what you saw in A New Hope. You’re seeing Y-Wings. The Y-Wings you see in the two-episode premiere of Season 3 are actually intermediate Y-Wings. You’re seeing from Clone Wars to A New Hope how the rebels re-engineered them to be the lightweight bomber it becomes in the original trilogy. You have more room when you’re farther away from one of the movies, less as you get closer.
In a discussion explaining why the team all knew the term “Mandalorian” (they traced it back to a sketchbook that mentioned “Mandalorian armor” that they had used for their research), Filoni commented on wanting to know as much information about Star Wars as he could get because it used to be so rare, but is now ubiquitous. Because of that, the challenge to maintain continuity is more difficult than ever, but it’s still very important to the fanbase:
“You feel Star Wars,” Filoni said. “You watch it, but you don’t have a convention like this unless people feel it.”
If you thought there was a chance for a live-action Rebels movie, Filoni doesn’t rule out the possibility:
“If it made sense, if it was the right thing to do, I’m sure anything is possible … I could imagine a world where 20, 25 years from now … a kid that watched Rebels becomes a filmmaker and says, ‘That was the part that was so important to me. I want to make those characters come to life.’”
However, Filoni doesn’t think the fact that the Rebels characters are animated means they’re any less real, or that they need to be “stamped into live-action”:
“They are alive and they are real.”
Here’s a bit of trivia for you, concerning Ashla Tano vs Ahsoka Tano, courtesy of Filoni:
“Ashla was Ahsoka’s original name; when we were creating the character, we called her Ashla, and then George changed it to Ahsoka.”
Finally, Filoni closed out with some interesting insight into the new character, Bendu:
“I wanted Bendu to feel like a character out of an ancient time. You don’t know much about him. He’s like a Bombadil; he’s in the story and it’s unclear what his role is or what side he’s on, what effects him, what doesn’t … he seems to not play by the rules of everyone else in the story. Beyond what the Jedi and the Sith have organized around the Force, beyond the beliefs that they have put on it as a way, there is an older way of thought.
“The Force exists, and this is important, beyond the Jedi and the Sith; the Jedi and the Sith are a practice within the Force, a way of controlling, a way of thinking, but they are not the be all, end all. We got into that with the priestesses in the Yoda arc, and the Force-wielders of Mortis, where there are these being out there who are ancient and wise and look at the battle between the Jedi and the Sith and their self-importance as childish, to them. There are these older definitions, which to me come out of George Lucas’ mind. So the Force’s origin, of course, is George Lucas’ mind, so if you go back in time and you talk about ancient things in the Force, you’re talking about George’s initial thoughts. Bendu is actually derivative of the Order of Dai Bendu, which was the full name of the Jedi a long, long time ago. So that’s why Bendu seems to know a lot about them, about Kanan, that he’s a Jedi. He finds that kind of fun and cute, but of course [voice actor] Tom Baker has his own agenda. He’s fantastic at being Bendu.