Dave Filoni Talks Star Wars: Rebels.

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IGN sat down with Rebels’ producer Dave Filoni at WonderCon last week, and discussed the upcoming Star Wars animated series. They talked about the approach, the characters, the fans and much more…

Excerpts from the IGN interview. The interview is really interesting, very thorough with plenty of new details:

IGN: What can you say about the conception of Rebels? I’m guessing the general era was decided upon, but how did you then hone in on five years before A New Hope?

Filoni: Yeah, that all came out of the discussions initially between Simon Kinberg and I and the story team up at Lucasfilm. You’re trying to find real estate now and not affect things. I think we’re very aware of the Luke Skywalker timeline and how we don’t want to cross over with that in any way. There are things that are the big pillars that we don’t to interrupt. I’ve always believed the best thing to do is kind of find your own spot and develop that and make new, exciting characters that people can believe in. I’ve had a lot of experience with that. Even Ahsoka’s kind of now being put up on the Star Wars pantheon by many fans, and Captain Rex. I think arguably they’re the most exciting parts of Clone Wars other than, you know, Anakin got great development, but I think you remember that period for the iconic characters in it. So we really wanted to create new characters for Star Wars and not use any that we had known before. It’s kind of a bold move given the big changes that the public sees, but we felt it was a necessary thing to say, “Hey, these are Star Wars characters. They’re in the world you know.” Five years seemed like a good place in time. There are all kinds of clues and hints within the movies, frankly, that people, if they’re really savvy and pay attention, would know are the same things that Simon and I kind of hit, that we go, “Well, that’s an interesting thing they’re saying. So we can’t do that. This affects us.” It’s really forged how the rebels themselves are active in this time period — in ways that I’m not sure the fans would realize.

IGN: We’ve got these central characters. The show’s called Star Wars Rebels. At this point, what can you say as far as, when we meet them, are they connected to anything else, a larger group, or is it just these characters that have come together and all have some unity in the anti-Empire sentiment?

Filoni: Well, I would say that that is the big question, and I like that it’s a big question. I believe it’s the opening crawl of A New Hope that says, “The rebels have had their first major victory against the Galactic Empire.” That gives you some insight into how organized they are, which is not very. I think one notion we attack to make this series was, how long does it take them, the Rebel Alliance, to really become something formidable? Are they ever formidable? The Empire never actually seems that worried about them. The only ones I know that are kind of worried about them a little bit are the guys running the star fleets. They seem to have the most frontline trouble with the rebels. But as we saw on Clone Wars, there are rebels, when you get to Saw Gerrera and his sister Steela. I talked about this back on that show, that there are pockets of rebels all over. But are they an alliance? Are they a rebel alliance yet? That remains to be seen. The fleet you see in Return of the Jedi is kind of like an amazing occurrence. Vader even points out, “What about the reports of the Rebel Fleet amassing outside Sullust?” Well, that’s pretty rare – and they know about it! So we’ve really tried to look at this whole time period of the Rebellion against the Empire and tried to see, how does that develop, and how do our characters fit into it? For us, it’s really starting with five characters that are against the Empire. They know it’s wrong, and they all have their own reason for wanting to fight against the Empire. That’s the compelling thing. They all have different motivations that have put them on this path to being Robin Hoods, as it were, which is kind of more what our group is than being part of a giant Mon Calamari fleet — and it makes sense. If there was such a fleet, it would give the Empire a really easy target to go destroy, and I don’t think the Empire has that.

Also, this is maybe a — I think the diehard fan knows this — but when the Clone Wars ends and the Empire takes over, that is a really positive thing. The Senate’s cheering that. People on Coruscant think, “Finally, the war is over.” So there is a period of Imperial rule that, to the core worlds and the inner systems, is — I wouldn’t say “great,” but it is really good. It’s not what the Clone Wars was. They’re not being attacked. It’s really the Outer Rim and all the territories that kind of fell under the dominion of the Separatist rule, which are now under Imperial rule, that’s problematic. Great evidence of this is in Phantom Menace. There is no Republic presence on Tatooine, but there sure is an Imperial one [by A New Hope], and that’s how you can see how Palpatine expanded the scope of the Empire under the guise of the Clone Wars… So you see that growing thing, that Palpatine has to have more and more control over the galaxy. So all of that has to be thought out beforehand. It’s funny, because that doesn’t really come up a lot, but we know it’s there, and it’s driving how the characters have reacted, ultimately.

IGN: So let’s address that, because when Kilian [Plunkett] is saying, “This show is lighter than The Clone Wars”, what would you say to the people going, “Where’s the dark stuff?!”

Filoni: For me, if I go back and look at the original Star Wars, I wouldn’t call it dark. I think it has dark moments. I think Empire gets there, I think Jedi has some dark moments. But my intention with the storytelling is to be in that realm. I’ll easily say, we are not going to be as dark as finding Darth Maul as a shell of his former self, on a junk planet, screaming, you know? That was dark even for Star Wars. I think the other thing too is I just want this to be Star Wars in the most classic sense — a serialized television show. I want it to have its epic moments and its mythic moments. I want it to get to places where you know the villains are really villains. But for me at least to kind of map out this show, I think we’ll start in a place, not unlike what we did in Clone Wars, which was that it was a bit more fun in the beginning. I think the bad guys still have their tone, but I think, since we’re coming at it with a boy in the beginning, that it is a little bit lighter in tone. But then as the world kind of rises up around them and things get more serious, I think it allows us to bring everybody into that world, just like Luke did. Things get more and more progressively intense. But it’s always with an eye on, how can we keep the flavor of Star Wars or Indiana Jones? It’s going to be a very balanced show.

I would also say that it’s different than the previous era of Clone Wars and Star Wars because we were really the only game in town. There wasn’t almost anything else being made, certainly nothing else by George Lucas. Now we’re looking at all types of Star Wars media coming out. I think that it all can’t be the same. I would expect, as is a tradition in video games — those things seem to be darker — the new movies, what tone they’ll have I don’t know; maybe dark, maybe not dark. But I think there needs to be a range. There are other types of movies being made as well in Star Wars, and who knows what realm they’ll go into. The good thing is, we’re all on the same page at Lucasfilm… and I know more than I’m letting on. [Laughs] Obviously. But I just play it that way. No followup questions!

IGN: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. I was thinking, ‘Suuuure, they never say anything to you about the new movies!’

Filoni: Yeah, I’m totally in the dark. [Laughs] But everything kind of needs to have it’s place and space. I think that way you’re addressing it in different mediums, in different formats. The nice thing I can say is, it’s all more connected than it’s ever been at Lucasfilm. Before, we would change something in Clone Wars and people would be like, “Why are you changing canon?” We’re like, “Actually, we’re not. This is the way George wants it.” Now, that is a unified approach where I’m talking to several different people on different projects, and we’re all aware of what each other’s doing. We all get great ideas from each other and share ideas, so it’s a much more unified effort. So our tone is classic Star Wars, very much I think, I’m hoping, A New Hope, because I find that it’s probably the most balanced. I mean, Vader doesn’t pull any punches. Certainly, Captain Antilles figured that out. But you still have things like Jawas. I love a movie that can encompass both of those things. I think that when we say “lighter tone,” I just mean I hope it’s in some ways funny. I think that everyone would agree that something that Marvel has done brilliantly is weave comedy into all of their action movies. They need that. I think with Clone Wars, we weren’t nearly as good at that. It was very dark and serious most of the time. So I’m just looking for it to be more balanced now.

IGN: Yeah. Because even when you’re talking about Disney animation, it’s like, what makes you more emotional than Disney movies?

Filoni: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. I totally understand it from people, because people don’t look back at Walt Disney and think, “Well, some of things he did in Snow White were actually pretty scary to kids.” It all depends on — to quote Obi-Wan — your point of view. If you’re six and you watch Star Wars, A New Hope’s pretty intense. Empire even more so. But now when you’re in your 40s and you look back, you think, “Aw, it’s fun.” It’s not as intense. So I want this show to be — it’s probably wild to the six and eight-year-olds, but I think the adults are in for a really fun ride. I think that’s totally within the flavor of Star Wars. But I do get and respect that there are fans that want that dark, intense experience. My gosh, I fueled it in much of my recent work. But when you look, again, at Greg Weisman and all the way back to his work on Gargoyles — Gargoyles was a revelation to me for Disney. When you look at Simon’s work, I mean, my gosh — we’re all so excited to get to work with Simon. He’s such a great guy.

IGN: I’d also love to ask about the main characters, now that they’ve all been revealed. Let’s start with the duo — or it looks to be a duo in some respects — of Kanan and Ezra. Obviously, the inclusion of a Jedi is notable given the era this show takes place in. You are once again, of course, going to have years of people going, “What happens to Kanan?”

Filoni: Yes, you’re right! I’m so used to it now, though, because people are still asking me about what happened to Ahsoka. People don’t seem satisfied with the characters ending unless they die, you know? Which is kind of morbid. Yeah, Kanan is a great character to me because I’ve always wondered what happened to Jedi in this time period. Did they just go quietly into the night? Did any of them survive Order 66? How many of them survived Order 66? What were their experiences like? So with Kanan, it was a real chance to sit down and see the aftermath of the events of the Clone Wars. It’s all particularly topical for me, because I just spent the last eight years fighting the Clone Wars. So now to be dealing with a bunch of characters who are dealing with the repercussions of that era, it’s really kind of fascinating. When I look at Kanan, I could pretty quickly guess who he is and where he was. Always with Jedi you start to want to go, “Well, how can we make this guy different?” I think what people will find, I hope, is that he’s a different kind of mentor than Obi-Wan was. I really liked when we showed the difference between a Luminara-raised Padawan versus an Anakin Skywalker-raised Padawan. I think it’s important that not every Jedi teaches the same. They don’t all perfectly know all the lessons. I think that Freddie [Prinze Jr.] does a brilliant job at bringing Kanan to life as far as, what does he know about the Force? How did Order 66, these things, affect him? How did he survive it? All those things are great questions. So there’s so much to do just with him. You have all these characters too, but Kanan in particular — we even wanted his design, his armor, it kind of speaks to a bygone era. That’s something I really like about this time period. It speaks to something big that preceded it. To a kid like Ezra, he doesn’t really know anything about it. Ezra knows there was a Clone War, but he certainly didn’t watch the series. He had no idea it was on!

IGN: [Laughs] He doesn’t have Netflix.

Filoni: Yeah, he doesn’t have Netflix. So it’s great to come at it from his point of view, because suddenly you have this kid that would have all these curiosities and questions. The biggest one to me is — so you’ve got kids out there too — what happens to a kid now if he’s born and can use the Force? Because there will be, because the Force is in all of us, in some more so. When they’re born, what happens to those kids? For those people who request of me a dark side to things, well, let’s think. Was it really just Vader going around hunting everybody down like Herod? Or did he have an Inquisitor? Was there somebody else that also aided in this effort — which I think makes all the sense in the world. So then we have a character like that, whose whole mission is out there: identifying, seeking people. I imagine if the Inquisitor came across someone like Obi-Wan Kenobi he’d get on the phone pretty quickly and say, “Hey, this one’s all you.”

IGN: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. “Darth, I could use some help!”

Filoni: You know, it starts to paint that time period — and that’s all just from the Jedi/Sith world of things. We get to Hera, and obviously the fans that know her full name, Hera Syndulla, are making a lot of assumptions about what her connections might be to a character from Clone Wars, Cham Syndulla, which I think is fantastic. I’m all for that connection. I’m not going to give anything away, but it’s nice now that we can go back and look at a history of freedom fighting that went on in that other war and related to the new war. With Hera, we definitely wanted a pilot that was very confident, that could take charge, kind of not giving the Jedi every great thing to do — so dividing up the roles. Sabine is also part of the crew, and the minute you call in a Mandalorian, you get a whole side of interest from people.

IGN: The last time we spoke, you shot me down on a possible Sabine/Satine connection.

Filoni: Yeah, I did shoot that down. Well, because, you know, that was one of those where everybody else was really excited about the name “Sabine.” I hate to be a killjoy and be like, “You know, we have a character named Satine…” But maybe there’s something Mandalorian in those vowels that they happen to like very much. [Laughs] But yeah, Sabine is obviously a demolitions expert, very savvy. But each of them has their own reasons for joining this crew of rebels to fight against the Empire. I think we’ll see in time that Sabine and Hera kind of differ on what their goals are and why they’re a part of this. Same thing with Zeb. Zeb has some very deep reasons why he would want to fight against the Empire. And yet also he’s kind of stuck with this kid now, because they get thrown in the same room. There are only four bunks on the Ghost, and Zeb gets Ezra in his room, which is not always the best of situations. Again, you look at Chewie and you say, “Well, how can we differ from Chewie?” It’s not just the fact that he’s a purple stripy thing. He has a whole way of talking and walking that make him a unique character. Plus, his motivation is totally different than Chewie. Chewie seems to be along for the ride with Han because he owed Han. You get that he really cares about Han, but there’s all those wonderful theories that Chewie knew all along about the Rebellion because he knew Yoda. Those are really mind-blowing if you get into them, that Obi-Wan knew to talk to Chewie because he’d been in contact with him all along, and now was the time. That’s kind of brain-melt stuff going on. I don’t know how true any of that is, but… Zeb is definitely different from that. He doesn’t really owe anybody anything. He’s a part of this for his own personal reasons.

IGN: I’m assuming they all have something in their past that would make them become Rebels in the first place.

Filoni: That was something else. What is everybody’s personal reason for wanting to do something as daring as mess with the Empire? Because at this time, that’s kind of — you’re really taking a chance, though the Empire is very spread out. It’s kind of risky for anybody to be up at arms against the Empire, but in the outworlds, the Outer Rim, you can get away with it a little bit more often than you could anywhere in the core systems. Ezra I think really speaks to me as a kid growing up in this period of the Star Wars Universe, when the Empire is ruling, the governing Jedi, the sense of morality, is fading out of the galaxy. They’re just stories to him. He’s never met a Jedi. He’s never seen a Jedi. He’s just heard about these things, these fantastic events. So it’s a part of his life that… he would never think that he’d meet one. Everybody in their own way thinks the grass is always greener on the other side, that if there’s a bright center of the universe, they’re on the planet that it’s farthest from. I think Ezra very much feels that way in the beginning of this show. He’s a survivor, largely on his own, and just trying to “Jango” it: make his way in the galaxy. That’s what everybody’s trying to do under the Empire that doesn’t have the lofty positions that the Empire bestows on guys like Tarkin or whatnot who were in place to profit from this Imperial reign.

Then there’s Chopper — you can’t forget Chopper. Chopper’s the cat. That’s well-documented now. It’s funny, I think everybody gets it when I say that. “You have a dog? Chopper’s a cat,” and everyone’s like, “Oh,” except for the five people that have a really nice cat. There aren’t many. You have a really nice cat?

IGN: Yeah, our two cats are kind of ridiculous. The one that sits on my Millennium Falcon, I would call her more “mischievous” than anything.

Filoni: Yeah, my cats, not so much. They are just doing what they want. Like, I shudder to think what they might be doing now. I mean, they’re nice, but they’re very Chopper. Chopper, he has all these abilities, but he’s obviously made up of different pieces of astromechs. How he even got on the Ghost, I don’t even know that I’m clear of that yet… But he’s classically like a droid: he comes with a ship. So he and the Ghost are kind of made for one another. But he’s really a mess, and he’s grumpy. He is mischievous, but he’s very independent. He’s the most independent astromech I think we’ve ever had, because Beezee and all those guys on Clone Wars, they were very mission oriented. They had their clones that were commanding them. They had Jedi as generals. Chopper wouldn’t be up for any of that. It’s incredible how adding arms out of his head has made him a million times as expressive as anything we’ve been able to do. I also think it makes him unique from Artoo. But, you know, Artoo’s still the big guy. He’s the main celebrity. He’ll never touch Artoo.

IGN: It’s got to be deja vu for you hearing fan response. Even with Ezra, it’s got to be like echoes of Ahsoka, you know, like, “Why would you have this kid at the center of Star Wars? How can you do this!?”

Filoni: [Laughs] Yeah, of course. I get that. But at the same time, like I said, there will be so many stories coming out about Star Wars. This one has a young kid at the center of it, which ultimately, I mean, I was a young kid when I fell in love with Star Wars. I think Ezra’s surprising. I always understand the fear, but luckily Ezra isn’t walking around giving people nicknames and calling people “Skyguy.” I always thought that was the hardest thing about Ahsoka in the beginning. She was very lofty in her ideas and very forthright in her opinions. The fans were never going to.… “You do not get to come in here and tell Anakin Skywalker what to do!” This kid is starting out a little bit on fairer ground. You don’t know Kanan any better than you know him. So he can kind of fight for his own space against Hera, Kanan and everybody else. Taylor [Gray] does a great job. With these characters it’s all about likability. I think that he wins you over pretty quickly, which I’m very pleased with. But yeah, of course, like anybody, it’s concerning, “Ah, if we do this…” But I want the point of view. We all agreed for him to be a young kid. You’re playing with fire. There are times. But it gives you a chance to have a character that grows in ways that are just more dynamic I think than some older characters. And he forces the older characters to grow as well. Ahsoka had a dynamic growth from beginning to end. I think Ezra’s will be just as dynamic, if not more, at the end of the day. Plus, I’d like to think some people will go, “Well, they did it before, and I ended up liking the characters, so they could do it again.”

But, you know, what’s fandom without skepticism? It doesn’t exist. Fandom isn’t just about liking something carte blanche. I love coming to things like WonderCon because you can get asked questions. I was actually somewhat disappointed that we didn’t have a Q&A today. We had a Q&A from, like, emails, but I like straight-up, get-up-there-with-the-mic, ask-me-what’s-on-your-mind — I don’t care if you hate something, love something… I’ll always discuss it, because I still get it. Every time I see a trailer for something, I react like everybody else. I could go on and on. I told you about Godzilla. I love Godzilla. I have expectations, and I have skepticism. But you have to. It’s totally fair. Every filmmaker gets that. It would almost be very worrisome to make something and people be like, “Aw, that’s going to be great!” You’d be like, “That’s — wow. Why?” [Laughs] It makes me question it. So, you know, we’ll have to see. But I think that just seeing TIE Fighters, for me, stormtroopers, we haven’t seen those on screen for a long time. It’s so weird to think that way, but from basically 1999 all the way on out, it’s been a prequel-centric world — even in games for the most part. So here comes the TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers and everything else.

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Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.

Born on April 24, 1980.

Val Trichkov (Viral Hide)

Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.Born on April 24, 1980.

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