Following the Star Wars Rebels panel at Celebration Anaheim (where the season two trailer officially premiered and the crowd burst into applause) Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, and the cast sat down to talk to members of the press about the series, including how the Story Group works throughout the various departments and the challenges the characters will face in the upcoming season.
Star Wars Rebels season two begins this summer with a one-hour movie event and continues this fall with all-new episodes on Disney XD.
Who’s going to be voicing Darth Vader this season?
Simon Kinberg: The same person who voiced Darth Vader in the original movies, Mr. James Earl Jones. One of the most, I would say, one of many surreal things making this show. Maybe, actually, the most surreal thing, Dave sent me—when he first worked with James on the dialogue—he sent me voice recordings of the dailies of hearing all of the different takes. And hearing James Earl Jones untreated, obviously, playing the part of lines that Dave and I essentially had written together was pretty insane. When you grow up, you think like I’m going to write lines for Darth Vader, but I’m not actually going to get Darth Vader to say them out loud.
Dave Filoni: James is great. You don’t really direct him as much. He sits and says, “You know, Dave, I haven’t done this in ten years. Could you remind me—,” and I’m like, “You’re doing it.” Matt Wood and I would just look at each other and high five when he’s not looking. It’s an awesome moment.
Kinberg; There were a couple of moments in the takes, though, where he coughed or he corrected himself and started over. And so, all of a sudden, you realize there is a man playing Darth Vader.
Going into season two, are you feeling any added pressure to deliver to the fans, especially now that you’re adding more characters from Clone Wars?
Filoni: I don’t. [laughs] I think maybe they do. The actors could speak to it. For me, this month is my tenth year at Lucasfilm, creating Star Wars content. April 26 was the day I officially started working on Star Wars all those years ago, so for me, it’s just fun. The story gets bigger, the stakes get higher—it’s as it should be. I feel we’re moving into our Empire Strikes Back era for our characters, where they’re really challenged. The first year is kind of A New Hope. All of their characters are going through trials of different kinds.
Kinberg: I think also there’s an automatic pressure when you do anything that has the words Star Wars in the title, so I don’t know if there’s this sort of increased or decreased amounts of pressure. I think you always feel a responsibility. It’s like writing books of the Bible. You’re adding books to the New and Old Testament. Once you start, you know the pressure is going to be that throughout.
Many kids are introduced to the Star Wars world through Rebels, so talk about that process and how’s that important to you? What are your thoughts about the future of Star Wars now that George Lucas retired and left new people in charge?
Kinberg: Introducing kids to a new Star Wars or to Star Wars for the first time, I have two boys myself, who are five and nine years old and grew up on Clone Wars as much as they grew up on the movies, actually. I see their friends are experiencing Star Wars for the first time through Rebels. For us, knowing the responsibility of that, one of the things that was really important from the beginning was to give them the experience that we had as kids, which was the first point of entry being the original films. So we wanted the tone and feel, the texture of those movies to be really present in the show.
One of the things that’s been really gratifying about the response to the show is that hardcore fans and even more casual fans, but who appreciate the original movies, see the connection tonally, emotionally, thematically between what we’re doing and what George did from the beginning. I think the future of the Star Wars movies—I’m involved in some of the films in different capacities—I think that same approach of wanting to have the ethos of the original films is what they’re doing in all the different aspects whether it’s video games or the movies, the stand-alone movies, what we’re doing. Because of that, they feel all of a piece and all of a singular voice and vision, even though there are different filmmakers involved with each. I think the fans will feel similarly about the films and other media the way they feels so far about Rebels.
Filoni: I think the future, like [Kinberg] said, is great. If there’s any pressure I do feel, it’s now that there’s so many incredible things in play that we want everything to be of a very, very, very high quality, so I think, typically, let’s just say when you get to animation, a lot of times you do an animated version of things people tend to think, “Oh it’s just for kids” or it’d be simpler and dumbed down. We never had that attitude on Clone Wars and we certainly have not had that attitude on Rebels. I think it started out in a way that’s fun and exciting, people forgetting that A New Hope was originally by George’s design for kids, but it was also designed so parents would watch it and be engaged in.
You know, when I see The Force Awakens trailer and I get excited about that, I want to deliver the same type of excitement to the audience of Rebels. There isn’t a way that I want to take it and have it feel any diminished, so we want every aspect of Star Wars that we’re working on at Lucasfilm to be truly great and to reflect each other’s great work. And I think that’s kind of the pressure, but it’s also better in a way because now I work with more people, like Simon [Kinberg], Kiri Hart, Carrie Beck, Rayne Roberts, and a writing team. It helps that you have so many people that have this love of Star Wars in common to help lead the way.
Kinberg: It is really like a singular family too. The people that Dave was talking about, they’re the Story Group at Lucasfilm. They’re involved and there’s real communication between all the different stories, so we talk to the VII, VIII, IX filmmakers and they talk to the stand-alone [filmmakers]—we are all collaborating together to tell a sort of huge story that each of us tells a chapter of.
Taylor Gray’s character, Ezra Bridger, was called a street rat in season one. The fans have taken to calling him Space Aladdin. Even his name Ezra is known as a character from Disney lore. Are there any other Disney influences or Easter Eggs that we should be looking for in season one or future seasons?
Filoni: Not that I know. That was a flattering comparison, I have to say. As someone that grew up in animation [and] loving animation, it was a great film and a great character Disney had created. Ezra’s design came about because I was sketching him on my kitchen table at home one day, which doesn’t happen a lot.
My wife had been passing by the table and I said, “What do you think of this?”
And she said, “Hmm.”
And I said, “Well, what do you mean?”
And she just kept walking and she’s like, “Well, that’s okay, but it looks like everything else.”
And this was before I changed his design, and so, it kind of made me look back at a lot of different characters, heroes, and character actors. Actually, oddly, Aladdin wasn’t one of them. If anything, I looked a little bit at Ralph Macchio from The Karate Kid. I don’t think there was any [Disney references]—I don’t do hidden Mickeys or stuff like that. Maybe my designers put them in, I don’t know.
You’ve announced that Sarah Michelle Gellar’s part of the cast. Can you tease anything about her character? Or how soon we’ll see her and what’s she like in the recording booth?
Freddie Prinze, Jr.: Who? My wife? She played the Wookiee in season one. Nobody believes me when I say that! She plays Chewbacca’s lady in our show, season two. I talked about this on a podcast a while ago and broke down the entire season two with her and her Wookiee presence. Outside of that, I can’t tell you anything because it would spoil the surprise. But yeah, she’s really hairy and has a great low growl. No, she’s a powerful actress and she can grunt with the rest of them.
Freddie, your character is still shrouded in mystery. How much of the character’s backstory did you get when you took on the role and are we going to find out more about it in season two?
FPJ: Dave gave everyone a really, really great breakdown of what made these characters tick, so that our season one performances would be reflective of the history that’s gone on so far, so I knew about his Master. I knew about Order 66. I knew about all that and how it affected him and what he did during that time. That’s thanks to Dave and Greg Weisman when we were just getting ready to do the pilot that they turned into two episodes and aired as a movie. So we kind of knew all that going in, and in season two, as far as Kanan’s character goes, you’re going to learn a lot about why he is who he is today, why he’s the type of teacher he is, his qualities and his faults, and you’ll find out a lot of that through a very special character who kind of helps motivate some of those feelings to come out. You’ll definitely learn pretty much what your—all the questions you had. There’ll still be a couple; they made you wait three movies before Vader got it in the end. You’ve got to wait a little bit, but we give you a lot more in season two.
Are there any characters from the previous stories or even the defunct Expanded Universe now that you’d be interested in perhaps trying to chase that story or do you just let it come naturally?
Filoni: I think you’ll always have characters in mind that you’d like to see interface. We throw names around the room. I mean, everybody in the writer’s room is a fan, so everybody has certain characters that they would love to see, and sometimes, you’re never sure how serious people are or not when they bring people up.
You have to be careful with that because if you’re joking and say, “How about we bring Porkins in? That’d be great!”
And then all of a sudden, something happens and you’re like, “Hey, Porkins would fit for that.”
And then the person’s face is suddenly like, “No, no, no. I was joking!”
And I’ll seize on that idea with my sense of humor and be like, “Oh no. Now he’s in.”
But he’s not.
Sometimes, you only get so far. You know, you never know. I’m not sure what makes us decide a particular character’s coming in or out. Sometimes, we’ll get to talking when we’re in the script phase, and recently, there were so many cool things happening in the script.
I said, “Simon, I literally only have 21 minutes and 30 seconds. This would be awesome as a 90-minute movie, but I have 21 minutes.”
And he’s like, “Yeah, I know. I’ve been writing it and it’s hard to get in there.”
Sometimes, we’ll try to spread stuff out. We work on this up until the last minute possible. Nothing is ever set in stone. Everything is changeable. It’s not like we just get the script, that’s the blueprint, and we follow it. We deconstruct it along the way and try to get it as right as we can. Luckily, I work with guys like Simon, Greg, Henry Gilroy—and they’re really good at moving through that as I’m trying to direct it and get the best story we can and changing, sometimes lots and sometimes little.
Kinberg: And we get a lot of time too—almost more than features for me—we get a lot of brainstorming time, so we get a lot of blue sky meetings of what should this season be. We really spend probably months on that. We’re doing it while we’re also writing episodes for the previous season. There is a lot of time to dream and to play around.
What do you think are the big lessons being taught through these stories?
FPJ: Star Wars shows you that the good guys don’t always win, right? Star Wars teaches about patience. Star Wars teaches about discipline. Star Wars teaches about a lot of social issues that most sci-fi can’t really touch on outside of racism. They deal with a lot of cultural things, a lot of government issues. In our show alone, we deal with those things. The movies can go in much more deeper in some instances, but I would say it teaches a lot more about real life than a lot of the stuff out there. You know what I mean?
Most stuff you see, you know who the good guy is, you know who the bad guy is, and you know who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. Star Wars doesn’t give that to you. I think that’s why it was always so powerful in not only my mind, but in most people, because you genuinely relate to it. It’s not, “I wish I was Han Solo”, you relate to Han Solo . . . To me, Star Wars was always kind of “this is the real world” and you can work as hard as you possibly can and do your best and still fail. And it’s, “What does a Jedi do once you fail?” And that sort of shapes us as a man, shapes us as a woman, as a human, as a Wookiee!
Vanessa Marshall: I’m moved by the hope that is present in the show. I think it’s a great thing for kids to latch onto, especially these days. I love the idea that the spark of a rebellion—that it takes an initial idea and it’s followed through with action. As Freddie said, you don’t always succeed, but at least you can have hope. I love that we seem to be giving that message to the younger generation, and also, encouraging them to follow through on their ideas and that it’s worth it to get a group together and not just talk about it, but actually take action and do it. Walk the walk, so I think it’s a great metaphor.
Steve Blum: I love that it addresses the possibility of transformation also. No matter what’s happened to you in your life, there’s always a possibility of changing and growing and developing into something better. And seeing a possible future no matter what the odds, and that’s really encouraging to me. I’m a dad too, so I love to instill that in my kids no matter what’s happening. You can always change that.
Did we see a female and male Inquisitor in the trailer?
Filoni: I don’t know. I mean, I do know, so that’s a blatant lie. I think the fun part about any trailer is that once you see it, there are things that are designed to hit you immediately, like the Rex moment to having Hondo in there. As you watch a trailer over and over again, if they’re designed well, they have layers, and each time you watch it, you get a little more out of it, so those are all the great things that become questions.
I just had a kid behind stage asking me, “Who are those other clones? Are those clones with Rex?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know.”
But that’s what I want you to be asking because it keeps you engaged and it keeps you hoping. It gives you something to ask me at these conventions. When it gets answered, it’s hopefully awesome and what you want. No one ever asks me after it’s out. That’s the funny thing. It’s always a forward thing. I always think we’ll get to it and ask me questions about season one. No, everybody’s onto season two, which is cool because that means we’ve answered all your questions about the previous season.
One of the big questions was what happened to Ezra Bridger’s parents. We haven’t seen them. Will we be covering that in any capacity in the upcoming season, and given what happened at the panel, will we hear anything about Sabine’s family?
Filoni: We will be addressing definitely Ezra’s parents, to some degree. We all noticed that kids focused in on that . . . now that he has this other family, what happened to his mom and dad? And we’ve had them visually in the show and you know what they look like. That will be part of the story. And I think the nice thing about season two is that you get a broader look at all the characters. Now that you know who they are to some level, it’s not just Sabine and what her background is, but also Hera and Zeb, Ezra, Kanan. A lot of people wanted that. You even eventually get more of a in-depth backstory on Chopper and where Chopper’s from, so you kind of get it all this year. It’s fun.
We saw a little bit in season one of Zeb’s backstory, are we going to go more into it, about his species, and why he hates the Empire as much as he does?
Blum: It could absolutely happen!
Filoni: Simon, what do you think?
Kinberg: It’d be fascinating to explore! We go deeper into all of the characters’ backstories in the second season, like Dave said. The first season is about introducing them in many ways and also about integrating a new member into the family with Ezra. And the second season, we can go a little deeper into their backstories and into their interpersonal relationships too.
FPJ: We’ve got a lot more time in season two, also. We had a shorter season in season one, so we get more time to explore everybody in season two as well.
Tiya Sircar: I feel like in season one there was a lot more about like the familial dynamics and establishing who is what within this little ragtag crew. And I feel like in season two, so far, we’ve really gotten to explore certain pairings that you haven’t seen yet within the crew and go on really interesting adventures. It’s really fun because you’re starting to see each person’s personalities as an individual coming to light, and then, you do get to find out more stuff about some of us—all of us.
Coming from being an actor in front of the camera to doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, like with the WWE, and now, still being a bit behind the camera and also in front of the camera with the voice roll, how does that feel to get back to what you were doing before a little bit more?
FPJ: That’s a long, long, long answer and the short one might sound generic. I honestly have more fun doing this than any acting job on camera that I ever did. We get to basically do a radio show every week. We’re all in the room together, there’s no hair and makeup, there’s no wardrobe people fixing my collar because it moved a quarter of an inch. It’s a lot easier if you’re a father of two to work once a week in the Valley for six hours than to go to Australia for six months and not see your family. It’s not a transition for me at all. I wanted to be a father more than an actor, so once my daughter was born, I kind of already had one foot out the door already . . . It wasn’t a transition. This is what I did when I was eight years old, and now I get to do it, and it looks way cooler because they animate it.
With Star Wars having a lot of new toys, do you own any toys of your characters or what will you see from the show become a toy?
FPJ: I’ve got two kids, so there’s a lot of Kanans and Zebs in my house. Got a couple of Jason Isaacs’ Inquisitor in there. We’ve got a lot! They’re more for my kids than for me. I’m not Rick Moranis in a room by myself, but I’ll play with the kids and stuff.
Taylor Gray: I spent a whole night putting together every LEGO set that they sent me, so I have the Ghost. I have each one of our characters. I have the lightsaber. I have Vader’s lightsaber, I believe.
Sircar: We all got really awesome stormtrooper helmets with Sabine’s graffiti on it, which is awesome! And Vanessa and I got presented with Sabine helmets made by the Mandalorian Mercs. They’re so legit! And a gun and a plaque, it was lovely. I just need the outfit now!
Blum: I don’t have nearly enough toys yet. I’m going shopping right after this!
Marshall: I have all of them as well!
How many seasons do you think it’s going to take you to tell the story up to where we need to go and where we all know it goes? If a particular spin-off movie takes place in that timeline—say Rogue One—how much information would you be able to get to give the actors some backstory that they might need leading up to that period?
Filoni: As we were saying, all of the creatives collaborate. We know what each other is doing, so the purpose of that is so that we’re always aware of the continuity and the different stories. If there was a situation where that was happening, then we would absolutely know in detail what was going on and then I could inform my actors as necessary or our writers. That’s kind of the beauty of the new Story Group scenario. It’s all interconnected. That’s the purpose for it, to keep the stories all on track, depending where people are.
Story Group is the one that comes in and says, “I like that idea, but that’s going to be happening somewhere over here, so we’re going to have that idea over here.”
As far as how many seasons we can go, I’m not exactly sure. I never know. I got asked that question every year on Clone Wars. I thought it was a two-year job, in all honesty, when I started it. Most animated series that I had worked on would be about two years, so I thought I’d move into the Bay Area for two years and move back to L.A. I’ve been there ten years, so I never know. I mean, as long as there’s a demand for it, I think I do have a little more of an arc in mind for Rebels. We talk about that bigger picture because we are running up to A New Hope. That is a flagpole that we know, so that’s kind of a question on how would we deal with that incident in the galaxy, should our timeline reach that.
Was it incidental that all of the character names are all biblical? We’ve already seen there’s a new look for Tiya coming in season two and some of the other cast, so how far along is season two? Is there a big jump from where we left off at the end of season one or is it just carrying on in the timeline?
Kinberg: The name question is interesting because—I should find the documents we have of all of our names that we tossed back and forth. One of the things we did say consciously was that there was a biblical sense to the naming and to the seriousness of purpose of the original movies. The cloaks themselves have a religious feel to them. I don’t know that, at least for me, it was conscious that each one was—that, frankly, is news to me that each one is from the Bible. We were aware that there were elements of that in the original films that we were trying to connect to.
Filoni: I definitely keyed on the idea of Luke’s name, Luke Skywalker. I like to point out when I get in the room with the writers that the names in Star Wars are very purposeful, but when you get into the Expanded Universe, they become often very odd and contain a lot of x, y, and z’s and hyphens—and that’s all fine. But, when you’re in a medium like we are—you know, Han Solo. Okay, the guy is pretty much by himself. Right? That’s kind of the genius of George, that he would disguise this stuff. I didn’t think about that one when I was a kid. You don’t know the derivations of these names, but names have a purpose.
If you know someone’s full name in folklore, then you have power over them because if you could know someone’s name, it gives you an understanding of who they are . . . To make up a name that is odd just for the sake of it sounding like a space world name isn’t really what Star Wars does, so I think that having these names—Hera, very purposeful name for they type of character that she is. Chopper, he’s a destructive little character that causes problems; he chops things up. Yeah, it’s blatant, but when the characters work, when you like the characters, it doesn’t matter. You just accept them, and so, I think that’s what we do and we try to create a lot of these names.
With Ezra, it was definitely a connection to the fact that I liked the name Luke and it was a real kid’s name. And we both, actually, know a kid named Ezra in our lives, and I’m like, “That sounds like Star Wars to me.” That was basically it . . . There was a slight intention around Bridger. He’s a bridge between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, so there’s a bridging of topics.
What would you say is a general theme for season two and is there also a character theme for season two?
Kinberg: It’s interesting, I think the way we approached season two was sort of new challenges to the family from the outside rather than from the inside. I think, in many ways, the first season, the challenge was integrating a new member of a family into an existing family. And that’s a difficult thing to do, whether it’s a step-child or an adopted child or whatever it is, new parent. There’s a lot of things in real life that are real life corollaries for what the first season was exploring.
I think the second season, now that they are essentially a unit—a family, it’s sort of how do they continue to grow individually and how do they stay together as each of them is growing, as each of them is facing new challenges, and in some ways, grow up. I think a lot of the second season is about Ezra facing some darker issues and being forced to grow up through them.
As we head into season two, what are some of the things that you might want to share or can share with fans of your characters that they can look forward to as your characters continue to develop?
Blum: We’ll see what a beautiful dancer Zeb is. We’ll witness his cooking skills. Maybe a little bit of his piloting skills, perhaps. You know, just with his rubber duckies in the bath tub. No spoilers, here. That’s pretty much all I can give you.
Sircar: [In season one, Sabine] seems very angry towards the Empire, obviously. She’s got these skills that you’re like, “How does a young girl have these skills?” And so I think, as season two progresses, you might find out a little more about what is her backstory and what happened in her past that led her to this point. I’ve been very excited about season two because I’m sort of dying to know what’s happened in all of these characters’ pasts and it’s fun to get to start exploring that.
Gray: We see Ezra grow up, so we see what happens as he gets [older]—he grows more powerful, more knowledgeable. He is learning new things every day and seeing new things every day. We saw his first time out in space [in season one]. Each episode he’s coming upon new things. One thing I saw, he has a scar now, which is cool. I just saw it for the first time out here, watching the new trailer. That’s an exciting little thing too!
Marshall: I think Hera in season one managed to fulfill her vision, which was to bring a group of people together and unite them with Fulcrum and get the cell together. I think she succeeded in doing that, and I think in season two, she can sort of let them do their thing. Now, everything is coalesced. We are a bigger group. We have other people joining us and she can sort of let them fan out and keep doing what they do so well. I think she’ll sort of oversee that and applaud them along the way.
FPJ: Specific growth is difficult to talk about for season two because we don’t want to spoil things, but based on what you saw in the trailer, I can tell you a little bit outside of just growth. He’s still on his path. You’ll see him and Ezra go through some growing pains, as you would see a teenager fight with their father if their father was teaching them how to play a sport or whatever the family business was going to be. You’ll see some rejection there. You’ll see him look towards others for advice. You’ll see Kanan have to deal with Rex and that’s going to be a tricky situation based on the nature in which he lost his Master [during] Order 66, so you see a lot of conflict. Dave addressed the fact that we’re all going to be challenged this year. Season one is to establish us as a legitimate threat. Season two is to then see where they’re at, sort of like a boxer on the way up. You give them a better fighter every single fight. You give them a couple of tomato cans to make them feel confident, and then eventually, they’re ready for the champ which is Vader. Unfortunately, Vader is Mike Tyson in his prime, so I’m not Buster Douglas.
Filoni: What’s great about listening to you guys and Simon’s answer earlier, we work so quickly on all this, you don’t often have time to sit back and look at the bigger picture. But you are so right when you say that each of the characters is really going to have to struggle with who they were and where they came from, and they’ll be confronted with those pasts. They’re going to have to make a choice, if they’re going to deal with those past conflicts and let them go. Or if they’re going to let them drag them back down into where they were. And that’s very true, I think of all us in life.
Ezra, especially, will be confronted with the idea that just because he’s been given a great power, great ability, and wonderful skills matching that, unfortunately, also comes greater evil, greater darkness, malevolence. He starts to become aware of this presence in the galaxy, which is a frightening thing, but if you truly are worthy of being a Jedi and wielding the power of the Force, you have to learn to do that selflessly. That’s the real pressure when you get down to it. Because, ultimately, you cannot wield it for yourself. You have to wield it for others and that’s what the Sith don’t realize. That’s all within season two, if you think about it.
In terms of the Kanan comic, how does the Star Wars Story Group expand Rebels in that sense, expanding to books, comic books, and video games? How do you work together with the other branches of the Story Group?
Filoni: The comic was easy because Greg [Weisman] wrote it. Greg writes comics, and Greg wasn’t working on season two with us, so the opportunity came up to have a comic book written. What happens is he writes the treatment and Simon and I see it and we’re able to make notes directly on it. I think maybe it’s rare in the crossover universe from films and television to comic books and other media, but we always get a chance to look at everything that comes by.
Kinberg: I’ve never seen anything like it, working in other franchises. There’s not the same kind of integration, so if you’re the core group that created one branch, you don’t necessarily even get access to the other branches until they come out as a book and maybe you get a free book! But you’re certainly not involved in the process. It’s kind of an amazingly small unit for the amount of stuff they generate. That Story Group that we’re talking about is like four, five or six people deep. And they’ve got the biggest movies in the world that they’re all so focused on, while being focused on a comic book spin-off of their animated show. Everybody works really hard and everybody loves it. We are all constantly talking, and there are moments on the feature side, Dave and me and different writers from different movies are all in a room together, working on one of the films. Sometimes, we bring some of those guys in when we’re doing development of the show. It’s kind of like what I imagine Facebook or Google or these campuses to be like. It has this university campus vibe to it.
Filoni: Since clones were in that story, I was heavily interested and just helping Greg with how that would all go. I think it turned out great. It’s one of my favorite things. I think the artwork in it is also fantastic, so that’s kind of a comic book home run for me.
We just saw the trailer. What was the reaction of the fans like to you? Also, will we see an Ahsoka vs. Vader battle in there sometime in season two?
Sircar: We’ve never seen it, so our reaction was the fan reaction!
Marshall: I couldn’t believe I was able to stand and sit down again. I couldn’t move after. I was paralyzed.
Blum: Just the sensory overload too from being on the stage and getting the energy from the audience at the same time. And all the emotions that are going with all of us because we’re fans too. It was intense! It was really, really intense.
Sircar: I want every episode of Rebels—I want to watch it with that sound. We were on the stage and it was rumbling—it was amazing. Also, to get to hear people’s reaction to Rex and Hondo—goosebumps!
Filoni: I think, for me, that was the part that was particularly striking. I mean, having been here and created those characters, and then all this time later, to have a reaction like that. I mean, when I got here Rex wasn’t really a thing at all. He wasn’t a character, neither was Hondo, and neither was Ahsoka. We had to plant them and help them grow over the years.
I told Ashley in the beginning, “You know, Ahsoka. Anakin having a padawan, look out! You’re going to get the brunt of this.”
She hung in there and really won fans over, so it’s kind of an amazingly moving experience for me to have a character, like Captain Rex, a clone, cheered at such a volume. I think that shows you the real powerful thing about Star Wars and the challenges that we all have as well. I grew up with the original trilogy and I love it. The biggest thing I learned from George over the years is create new characters. Create new ground. Keep moving forward. I love the past and creating a nostalgia for it, but the best work we’ve done in Clone Wars was always the new stuff we did that challenged us as writers to make it Star Wars and part of the universe.
How do you feel when you come to a Celebration and you see kids and adults cosplaying as your character?
Filoni: I love it! It’s the number one thing I look forward to. I design this stuff, I sketch it on a piece of paper one day knowing that Ventress will walk into the room . . . Bo-Katan’s Mandalorian helmet I drew on a SouthWest napkin, and then, that becomes part of Star Wars. It never, ever, ever, ever gets old. I was outside the convention and Zeb walked up to me. I mean, Hera walks up to you. It’s what it’s all about. And the amount of work that everybody does to make those costumes, I just love it. I super appreciate it.
Kinberg: My favorite one was last year at Comic-Con there was a cosplay Dave Filoni. I wish I could project from my phone up to the wall because it was a guy with that hat and a black shirt. Dave doesn’t want to believe it was him, but I think it was him . . . One of the bold things about this show when we started it was—I think the easiest instinct would be if you were creating a new show and it’s the first thing from the new Lucasfilm, essentially, you would lean on the legacy characters. You would make an animated show based on the brand names that everybody knows. And we did the opposite. All these guys up here are obviously completely original characters and that was a bold thing to do. It was something that [didn’t] immediately click and made sense for all of the powers that be. And it was an extra responsibility and obligation to create characters that were as compelling as the greatest characters of all time. That’s who they’re competing with, and so, to come here and see the kind of energy and affection that people have for these characters that didn’t exist two years ago in the world, it’s pretty incredible. Like Dave said, the amount of time someone stitches together a costume based on a character that literally did not exist out of someone’s imagination a year and a half, two years ago, is surreal and very gratifying.
Can you speak about the process on how everything changed after George Lucas left?
Filoni: From the second year I was at Lucasfilm, I would spend a lot of time with George in editorial and he would be teaching me the way that he cut Star Wars. That has so much to do with the way the films feel, the way the footage is cut together and moved around . . . It was a great master and apprentice relationship, but I heard about this faraway world, where he described being retired. I just didn’t believe until he sold the entire company, and then, I had to believe it. I’ve taken that very seriously.
I feel a great deal of responsibility to George as someone that I’ve worked with for a long time to constantly inform Simon and the rest of the story team, “Yes, I understand why you would think you’d want to do that, but in my experience, I thought that too but I would do it this way.”
I try to hold the line on a lot of that stuff. We all realize no one is ever going to replace George. It’s just not going to happen. What I think is amazing about the group of people we have working on story is that it is a collective group of people that love Star Wars. And actually, if you get to talk to them, they all love different aspects of it. In my feeling, from my perspective, working here so long is that each person brings their own aspect and love of Star Wars to the story, and together, just maybe . . . we come close to equaling the genius George had, which I hold in very high esteem, obviously. I think that’s the best way to work. I think that we’re aware of the challenge, we take the responsibility seriously, and my workflow is very similar to the way it was before. It’s just now I’ve got instead of one person to go to for the commandments, I talk to a group of people and together we come up with the answer.
Kinberg: When we finished the pilot, two episodes, we brought it up to Skywalker and screened it for [George]. And it was, for me, the strangest experience of my life. Again, the only thing I can compare it to is the Bible and you’re sitting next to God. He was enjoying it and I was just clocking him the whole time.
The lights came up and he said, “Terrific!”
And [he] really loved it and had the same kind of passion that we obviously have had for everything he created. What Dave’s saying is 100 percent right and having experienced and worked on all the different movies too in different capacities, it’s the same process. It’s the same respect, love, adoration for what George created and trying to sort of speak in his voice. I think very much what the different filmmakers, who all have their different visions and own voices, grew up on his voice and that is the singular text for all of us across the board that made us want to be filmmakers. We’re all sort of channeling him as we’re working on anything Star Wars related.
Filoni: That moment was intense. For me, it was like taking a final exam. I had been learning at Star Wars University for years and the first thing I’ve done without him entirely, without sending a story reel, where he can make some final note. It was an awesome experience. And to share it with these guys, I think it really solidified our group and we’re like, “Okay, we’ve gotten this right.” So that was a great moment for us.
Blum: From a fan’s perspective, as we came onto the show, that reverence for what George created is palpable to us in the room. It feel like the first movie—at least, my first movie. It trickles down. It’s still very much alive in the room every single time we record.
You’re working with these important characters, like Vader and the Emperor, what’s your process to safeguard their legacies as you tell more stories about them running up to who they are in the original trilogy?
Filoni: Vader, in particular, I think it’s a big challenge because you can’t undermine his power . . . One of the interesting things about Vader, there have been a lot of instinct in animation to—now that we’re not encumbered by what the suit limitations were as far as fighting—so he could be faster and quicker, if we wanted him to be, but we absolutely did not go that way. If you watch the trailer, you can see that Keith Kellogg and the animation team did a meticulous job of studying his fighting style, so that it’s very true to the stature and the power Vader has.
He was never acrobatic, in particular, he was never that fast. He’s just a mountain of fear and hate and power and that’s what we try to throw at Kanan and Ezra when they do have that encounter with him. Again, that’s why the group dynamic in story is so important because it will go through a filter of people—everybody reading this script. And together, we make sure that we’re not going too far with things, that we’re not undermining things—things that are happening in other places that we don’t know. We were very careful not to have the Emperor in season one. There would be no reason why he would be involved with our rebels, so again, the Group process is so important to keeping the integrity that you’re talking about.
Kinberg: I think we all see ourselves as custodians of the same flame. And whenever it starts to flicker out a little bit, there are a lot of safeguards along the way that step in and protect it. It’s a team of people that love the same thing, like you do.