Star Wars Rebels
My children watch Star Wars Rebels every week and I’ve been known to sit down and watch right along with them. The Star Wars Rebels characters are fun to watch and the storylines are well-suited for the young and young at heart.
While we were in San Francisco in December, we sat down and talked with Star Wars Rebels Executive Producer, Dave Filoni. I was able to watch a couple of episodes before they aired and those episodes introduced Saw as a character. That was great to watch, as we saw Saw in the Rogue One film and caught the character crossover.
Director Dave Filoni, Star Wars Rebels
I know with all these big movies coming out, we still have our TV series. But it’s neat when we can have things coexist, which is really fun. And for me at least, it continues the adventure… For kids especially – once they leave the theater. I would have loved to have a show like REBELS.
How does that process work to make sure you’re staying the same between tv and film?
It’s not that difficult, it’s just all one big story. And you’d never really think in terms of this piece is a movie, and this piece is a book, and this piece is a TV series because I know these characters. I know Saw [Gerrera], because I helped introduce the character of Saw. So when they were doing stuff with him in the movie, my office is right next to Kiri Hart of the Story Group. And we talk all the time, and ask questions. Then I got to meet Gary Whitta and Gareth Edwards. And we’d talk. So it’s really just like any good storytelling.
It’s a bunch of people having discussions and talking about the things they like, things they don’t like. Getting different opinions, and then, I always feel strongly about them going off and making their choices. I did Saw for the part that I had to do him. And CLONE WARS set him up but I was excited that anybody could see where that went. So if anything, you’re more involved and that has huge pluses. Because you get to see it. But at the same time it’s like you’ve seen it and you’ve read it.
Then you work on it. So I keep trying to find for me as a fan, little pockets of STARS WARS that you don’t know. Which are almost treasured for me at this point. I would be lying if I told you it’s not really fun, even 12 years later.
Do you take more joy in creating your own storyline or do you really look forward to those parts when you can tie into the existing storyline?
I never really have a huge feeling about tying in. The STARS WARS universe was great before I got there, it’ll be great long after I’m gone. And that’s just how I feel about this, it’s not my story. I’m privileged to be in a position where I get to add to it. I’m very grateful for that. But when I look at the work we’ve done in animation especially, and the characters that we’ve added like Captain Rex, we had Chopper and Ezra, Sabine and Kanan and Hera, adding those characters can give us dimension in ways that the franchise didn’t have before. Especially when you get to add female characters.
I think it’s telling the stories that have been long overdue. We’ve been telling the stories and adding dimension to these characters. That’s the great part. And it’s fun when you have a tie-in but I like it when it’s more of a wink. It’s not something that was ever missing, if it was important, they would have done it. So I’ve always kind of looked at it that way. And I learned a lot of that from my years of working with George [Lucas]. It’s fun to do, but you have to be careful that don’t overdo it, that your fandom doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story.
On Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera
When we talked about bringing Forest Whitaker on as Saw, Dave said that it was a huge benefit because they want as much continuity for the audience as possible. If they can have the person who originates the role, also voice their character on Star Wars Rebels than that’s a good thing for the audience.
He mentioned that Forest Whitaker is a very big STAR WARS fan and that a lot of the actors do as much as they can because of the opportunity and because they love it.
So when they say the character’s gonna continue, they absolutely would like to continue being the character. They don’t really care what form it’s in. It’s always exciting when we have people come and maintain their character. You have great continuity. They’re always incredibly gracious and super fun to work with. It might not be the last one you see in that regard, on REBELS.
But he was fantastic, it’s one of the secrets when you’re a very good director, you just have a really great actor. So he doesn’t need a lot of advice — I just gotta put him into place and tell him what’s going on. And he’s just fantastic.
It was great to work with him and it’s added to a long list I think of incredibly wonderful performances that we’ve had in STARS WARS across the board. Not just on REBELS. But across the board. I just love that they want to do it.
How hard is it to balance both a parent and kid-friendly animated feature?
When I talked to George [Lucas] he would always say he created STAR WARS for kids. That was the big thing. When I was a kid it was a great thing because my parents liked it. It’s not that they didn’t like everything else but they were very big into opera, very big into the symphony, very big into those top types of stories. And there is a great relationship between those stories and what STARS WARS presented. So it wasn’t talking down.
There were a lot of things to talk about, as a family. And characters that we could relate to. So I think especially in the beginning, a lot of fans would come up to me and say, “Dave, why are you making REBELS for kids?” That’s such a perplexing question to me. I would say to them well, when did you first start watching STAR WARS? When I was six, and it was the greatest experience I ever had. And I’m like, okay. So my whole goal is never to take that experience away from kids, its to involve everybody in it, to make it a place where the best compliment we can give for the series is that it’s something that the family watches together.
I’ve had parents tell me they watch it with their kids. There are some challenging things we get too, especially when you deal with the Jedi. Things get dark at times. But you always have to monitor that, it’s like fairy tales have frightening moments in them. Otherwise when you shine bright and things are good all the time, it doesn’t shine as well. I was raised reading Tolkien, THE HOBBIT and things of that nature. C.S. Lewis and there are scary parts in those books. But then when you come through, I mean, Darth Vader is intimidating. Everybody says, “Oh, Darth Vader, put Darth Vader on,” I’m like, okay. But this isn’t – he’s scary. I used to be a little kid and freak myself out just thinking of how he breathes.
I would be alone and be like, Oh my gosh. But that’s what you want – kids to be afraid of the bad guys, because they’re evil. And they recognize that. And so I just always think of those stories I had as a kid and those relationships I had. I try to make something that’s not as much for myself but for my younger self. But my older self will still watch it and be like, that’s cool. It’s a delicate balance. Because in today’s world, I see a danger in a lot of the fans that have grown up. You kind of have a generation of filmmakers now, they’re all fans. More than you ever had before, I think.
And they’re very vocal about being fans. Which is great. It’s great because they have the understanding of why the material is important. But there’s a danger of trying to take the material and accidentally change it into being for them now. Their 40-year-old self. And you see that in a lot of different franchises out there, that things get darker. And you kinda go – but that’s not what I remember I liked as a kid. But there’s that impulse to say like, yeah, but now I would do this. And wouldn’t that be cool?
But you just always have to remember, STARS WARS is a story ultimately, the original trailer says, A boy and a girl in a galaxy. Which is the big opening of the door, and a wonderful thing. And a magic thing. And the adventure. So I just try to maintain that.
I know you voiced STORMTROOPERS number 1.
Personally? [LAUGHS] I don’t voice characters, I’m a killer AT-AT driver. I’m so good as an AT-AT driver. I told John Noll, I was like, “John, I’m such a good AT-AT driver, and I don’t know why. I mean, I should be right in there.” But I have also instinct to want to make sure that the show is good. So if I think at all, I actually need a good performance, I will not use myself. I use myself because it’s easy for me to record the lines and want to, you know, like “Stop, look up.”
It’s very hard to mess those up. But Steve Blum in all honesty is one of the best storm troopers we have. Steve actually played Storm Troopers in the Lucas games. And when the first time I heard him do the voice, I’m like, Oh my gosh, I think I’ve killed you. Several times. And it was true. And he will say otherwise if you talk to him. Freddie is, a very challenging Stormtrooper because he can’t just drop his personality, so easily.
So I’m like, “Freddie you’re just too interesting to be a stormtrooper.” But every now and then you’ll see he gets to play a stormtrooper. I make him do this kind of a little more book wormy voice. And it works. But yeah, it’s funny you saw that. A lot of people don’t see that I do that. I’m glad. Believe me. I have them picked pitch me down, slow it down, pitch it down, it helps.
What was it like to work with George Lucas?
Oh, it’s fantastic. It’s the greatest education I could have asked for, in what I do. It was like going to film school on a daily basis with George Lucas. And he is incredibly knowledgeable, he’s incredibly patient. I had to earn that relationship, I had to earn the things I got to do. The challenge I’m in CLONE WARS was to learn how to do this his way. Show him that we could do it as a group.
And then he would let go of it more and more, which he absolutely did as we went on with the series. But it was very challenging, he absolutely knows what he’s doing. If I left the tiniest shot a couple frames long, he would watch it, and I’d be like, oh no, I see. Because you know, you must have the experience, you’ll never notice many of the mistakes you have made until you are sitting next to the person you need to show it to. So we’d edit an episode all over and over and over again. And he’d come and sit down and with my editor and I’d be like, ohhhhhhh, why didn’t we fix that?
But it was a great experience. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And everything that he taught me I recall, I wrote down. And I keep teaching that to people today, no matter who it is, that I come across in the story of STARS WARS saga. Obviously I’ve added my own ingredients to what I do. But I always try to approach it from that perspective that I have. And that’s why I’m not trying to make my version of STARS WARS. Though as the years go on, I suppose that’s inevitable. But I’m trying to remain true to the point of view that he had, that he wanted for these characters.
It’s not mine, but like I’ve said before, I’m just a part of it. I have a job to maintain the integrity of this thing, to keep it special. As special as it was for me growing up. So that’s the way I see the goal. And hopefully we have achieved that. I’m so far very pleased with REBELS and how it’s evolved. And I think that by the end, it’ll be something that fits nicely in the STARS WARS galaxy.
What is one of the big things that George taught you?
There are’s so many things. Mainly it was editorial, how to look at the story, how to cut the story, how to move things. I torment everybody with it. And the script in that sense is just a beginning point. It’s not ever per word. And so the scripts that will always go the easiest for me are the ones that I write ahead of time. Because I know how I’m gonna shoot it the whole time. But there’s how you write something, and there is how it needs to be shot.
And those things can conflict and then you see the lines need to change and you don’t have all these sets and all these characters all the time. He just taught me to be incredibly flexible with the opportunities that are on hand. And when you see something, to go for it. And it’s better to attempt to do something great than to just stay safe. He will push. And we would look at some stuff we were doing, and he would say, “You know, we’re right on the edge at this time, this is either really gonna work, or people are gonna hate it. But we’re gonna go for making this great.”
He used to say, “Dare to be great.” Which is something I always say to my team, and it seems simple, right? Of course, everybody thinks that when they start out. But it’s amazing how many times you pull yourself up or you hold back or you get afraid. And in STARS WARS as with everything, fear is the root of everything that is failure and jealousy and greed and evil. That’s my real education, is in The Force. That was the biggest education.
What would you like to see next for REBELS?
We’ve been doing such a good job on REBELS, I’m satisfying a lot of that. We left a lot of open ends on it, and Ahsoka Tano – I got to tell a lot of her story on REBELS. Rex came back, a lot of characters that I felt a little bit it was more empty at the end of CLONE WARS because it didn’t complete things. REBELS really portrays them in a great way and brought a story to them that I wasn’t sure we’d get to do. I’ve been very very pleased with Sabine and her development as a character. You’ll see in the second half of this season, she gets tremendous character development.
And that’s as much a response to Tiya’s performance as anything. She is so good as Sabine. And I think kids have really responded to her, and the colors and her costume. And but also her struggle, and who she is. So I’m curious – I’m mostly excited for people just to watch stuff. Because then I can see people’s reactions. That’s the thing. But we’re too gone to change things, which is also kinda great. But I like to see reactions. It’s hard for me to remember where you guys are at in what you haven’t seen. So that’s a challenging part.
How far out do you work?
I’m so far ahead now, frighteningly [LAUGHS] far ahead. It’s not as far ahead as when we worked on CLONE WARS. CLONE WARS, we would practically work at three seasons simultaneously. But have a season that was being aired and color corrected, I’d have a season that was still in animation. And and story, meaning shooting it. And then I have a season that was development, in script, This is a little more like two. One is usually coming to an end and an another one is well on its way.
What comes first, the actual animation part or the voices?
We’ve all – we do a funny thing. We do a story reel that’s a shot proxy, the little-limited shapes and objects of the characters. But it’s very clear what’s going on. And we record that with the temp actors right here on our floor of Lucasfilm. And it’s horrible temp voices. And that fact goes all the way back to CLONE WARS. Because we developed that technique because George and I would change what was happening in the story and the dialogue so much, there was no point in bringing in the actors to record them. Because you’d have to re-record them.
I want them to react so we develop it with all those kind of temp plates but if it works with these people it will work great with real actors. I can’t even tell you. People fall in love with the temp, and I go, don’t fall in love with the temp. It’s all temp. And then we’ll record the voice actors. And what’s great about that is that pretty much by the time I see them I’ve shot the whole thing. So I know how it all fits together and I have a really tight script by that point. And we’ll do a final revision of all the lines, not all but the ones that need work, the morning of.
Then when I sit with them, I’ll be able to explain everything, the physicality, the depth, everything that’s going on. Because we have to get some very emotional places. But I try to suspend the actors so that they’re only ever in the moment that’s happening. They don’t know really what’s going to happen. Unless it’s something that’s really intense and then like I’ll take them aside and I’ll say, okay, you need to prepare for the next three weeks. We’re gonna do this story. And I’m gonna give you the broad generalization of it. But I want them to be able to prepare their mind for getting to an emotional place. Tiya had to do some very intense things that revolved around Sabine’s family.
And I wanted to talk with her well in advance of what that was. Because she didn’t know that she had all this information. So when we nailed down the story, it was like okay, so this is who your parents are. And this is what’s going on and this is why you’re not with them. She had to get a download of all that, and this is how you feel about it. And then we would discuss it in case she had thoughts about it. This is a very important relationship between the director and the actor. It’s a tremendous amount of trust in that relationship. And you have a responsibility to them to keep them and to let them realize where they are in the story.
So there were some things we were doing just this week that like only one of them could know about. Because the others weren’t present. And I want them to kind of react to that as they hear it. So it’s really fun, they are a fantastic cast. I couldn’t ask for better. We did a killer job getting them. So I’m really pleased with them.
In the episode we screened, we met a character named Klick Klack and I have to tell you that OMG! He will steal your heart. We asked Dave if we’ll ever see Klick Klack again and he says that it’s highly unlikely. We may have been a little sad. But he did tell us a few jokes about Klick Klack’s story line and how it ended. [I’m not telling because it may be a spoiler]
Dave did say that the actors hated saying Klick Klack. It’s a rough thing to say. Just watch!
You know, Klick Klack. Taylor especially. He can’t stand saying things that are like slow to him. Or mouth marbly. He had such a funny way about it. So like Bendu is one of his – I won’t say his least favorite character. But as far as interacting with Bendu is so slow-talking. So he’s literally like a real young person that doesn’t want to listen to an older person and I love that. It’s so real. I would love to see him actually meet Tom Baker. That would be fantastic – ’cause I don’t think Taylor has any idea about Dr. Who. I think his realm. But when I see my actors, the thing that really strikes me is that they are so much like who they’re playing, it’s unreal. If you just watch –
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