CS Interview: Star Wars Rebels producer Dave Filoni on the final season
With the fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels underway on Disney XD, ComingSoon.net had the chance to talk with the show’s co-creator and executive producer Dave Filoni about the fate of The Ghost crew, Kallus’ journey from Empire to rebel, and what’s next after the show ends. Check it out below!
In this final season, the Ghost crew joins the growing Rebel Alliance, struggling to unite against the Galactic Empire. However, when a new Imperial threat arises on Lothal, Ezra leads the crew back to his home world to defeat the oppressive forces of the Empire under the command of cunning Grand Admiral Thrawn. Old friends are reunited and new alliances are forged as the series builds to its epic conclusion.
Star Wars Rebels is created by Emmy Award-winning executive producer Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Academy Award nominee Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Emmy nominee Carrie Beck. The Lucasfilm Animation production is executive produced by Filoni and Kinberg, and co-executive produced by Emmy nominee Henry Gilroy.
The returning voice cast includes Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan, Vanessa Marshall as Hera, Steve Blum as Zeb, Tiya Sircar as Sabine, Taylor Gray as Ezra, Dee Bradley Baker as Captain Rex, David Oyelowo as Kallus, Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera and Lars Mikkelsen as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Warwick Davis joins the cast this season as Rukh, Admiral Thrawn’s deadly assassin.
ComingSoon.net: When we pick up in Season 4, they’ve aligned themselves with the Mandalorians and Sabine is sort of between two worlds. What do you think fans should be most excited about as we jump into the new season?
Dave Filoni: I think — it sounds bleak, right — it’s the beginning of the end. These stories, they’re all told with the end in mind. The Mandalore Peace Event is one thing, and then we get this rebellion creeping in the next week, and it’s all fitting together for the big finale. This season, to me, is one long movie. That’s the way to think about it week to week.
CS: Last season — and I guess in the books, too — Grand Admiral Thrawn is sort of known for playing these games of fourth-dimensional chess with the rebels. Have we seen the full extent of his cunning and ruthlessness yet, or is there still more to come?
Filoni: Oh, I’d say more to come, as he is the major threat. It’s rare in the show — we haven’t really had villains bridge seasons very much. The Grand Inquisitor was one and done in the first season, Vader kind of bowed out after the second season. Thrawn really, now, gets to carry over because he had a pretty significant victory for himself at the end of last season. One way to look at it is he is the main obstacle that stands in the way of these rebels having any type of success. We’ll have to see. He’s a very difficult character to overcome because of his cunning and intellect, so it makes him an incredibly fun character to work with. On a personal level, it’s really fun to think of using this character from walking into my local bookstore in Pittsburgh, PA, seeing a standee with “Heir to the Empire” on it, to here I am directing a show with him. You never know where Star Wars life will take you, that’s for sure.
CS: Agent Kallus spent last season as a man on the inside, but this season he gets to literally let his hair down and let his rebel flag fly. Is that an uneasy adjustment for him, or is it a liberating thing?
Filoni: Well, I guess letting the hair down is a liberating thing, because fans seem to have really taken to that. They seem more excited about his new look than they are that he’s a good guy at this point. You can almost turn the camera solely on Kallus and tell his story, frankly. For me, the adjustment really came when he was Fulcrum. Earning their trust and telling them all this information is kind of the way that he gets vetted. He’s not gonna change his personality, he’s still got his rulebook of justice, of what he thinks is right and wrong, it’s just now he feels he’s still on the right side of things now that he’s working for the rebellion instead of the Empire. He’s been a great character and, if I’m to listen to my crew and fans out there, made the right choice if for just hair alone.
CS: It’s interesting, too, because his journey is very analogous to the one that Finn goes through in “The Force Awakens,” except it’s not as compressed as it was in that movie, it was a much more gradual process to get him from one side to the other.
Filoni: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s always going to be characters that question whether they’re under this type of tyranny. If they can ever see the evil they’re working for as what it is, and then we can go along with them for that type of transition — even Vader, in a way, is akin to that in that he doesn’t see that he’s a bad guy. He thinks that he’s still serving a Republic but, as he becomes stronger, it has become an Empire. I think for Kallus, one example is where his men were decimated by the Lasats and the rebel Saw Gerrera. and then he painted every rebel in the galaxy under that same brush. He used his anger and remorse for what happened to those people to inflict damage on others, which is often the case. The pivotal episode is probably the ice cave, where he and Zeb are together, and really learn that they might not have the right picture painted of each other.
CS: Yeah, the “Hell in the Pacific” episode. Something I’ve always wanted to clear up: Is the ship the Ghost named after the ship in Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf?”
Filoni: No, it is not. But I should say yes, because that would be very smart.
CS: So where did the name come from?
Filoni: It had come from a writer’s room discussion, because we need this ship, and if you get a bunch of names and most of them are terrible, then I’d like to point out that someone will be really hard-pressed in a story meeting to come up the name “Millennium Falcon” and anyone say it’s cool. But it is cool. So, you just give kids something that they can relate to and because we felt our rebels needed to move secretly and invisibly, Ghost seemed pretty natural. We actually had a Ghost Squadron in “Clone Wars” at one point, so it was a name we had used before. But naming these things is an exercise in frustration because sometimes they just sound ridiculous, and it’s fun to get on each other about what someone else thinks is a good name. But Ghost really fit — we all liked it.
CS: This show, and to an extent “The Clone Wars,” manages to repurpose and bring to life so much of Ralph McQuarry’s unused concept art from the original trilogy. Is there any left to use in future projects?
Filoni: Oh, man. I don’t think there’s any end to the resources that Ralph created for the company, you know? Nothing ever goes to waste here. There’s plenty of things that we can use for characters, vehicles, you name it, not to mention the work of Doug Chiang’s group. They’ve certainly done, just for the prequels, a tremendous amount of work that we’ve also been able to mine from time to time. Our art department is vast, and incredibly creative. You could really just turn down the design department and do entire episodes with stuff that you find there, which is just fantastic, that serves your needs as well as someone else’s.
CS: I know J.J. Abrams pilfered a little bit of Ralph’s work for “The Force Awakens.” Did Kathy or the story group or any of the directors ever point to specific McQuarry art and say, “Nope, that’s for my movie”?
Filoni: You know, that can happen. We will be using something and not realize somebody else picked up on it. We all try to stay in pretty constant communication about what we’d like to use and sometimes we’ll pick a bookmark or something and say, “Uh uh, we’re using that.” You try to claim your real estate, but for the most part everybody’s pretty good. It’s an incredibly collaborative environment, and it’s not to say that things can’t develop, either. One type of drawing that we have might just be an updated version in a movie. You never know. Usually the biggest encumbrance on it is timing. I hadn’t seen the design for K2SO when we were doing droids at its size. We did another droid last year that was kind of this secret droid that is similar to K2, and had I known about the specific design for K2 I might have utilized that, but it also helps to make each thing special. K2 is such a wonderful character, you don’t want to use that in a weird way to take away from him in the movie. And AP-5 was really a throwback to the protocol droids and the Death Star droids from when I was a kid.
CS: “Rogue One” sort of confirmed that the Ghost was still around for the Battle of Scarif, ditto for Chopper and Hera. Will the series eventually take us to that point?
Filoni: I would say that would seem unlikely to me. It would be weird to see the results of a battle that we know the outcome of. We certainly don’t know what happened to them, but — it’s funny, I like to mess with people because you hear “General Syndulla,” but it’s interesting to find out that her father also went by General Syndulla. You just can’t be sure. The only thing we can be sure of is that Chopper makes it. And really, at the end of the day, I know that’s who people are most rooting for, because he’s so pleasant, and really helpful. Why not support that guy? “Rogue One” turned out to be a great moment for us in animation because we saw our ship in there, and you see Chopper go by, and the fan reaction to that was pretty eye-opening to all of us, just to see how much it meant for people to see these things just in a passing moment. It doesn’t have to be a big, important plot moment, it’s just like, “Oh my god, there’s the Ghost, there’s a mention of a character in a hallway.” Personally, I’d like to see more to those incidental glances. So much of the EU was built that way, in reverse, where someone saw a character fitting in Mos Espa and then turned them into Quinlan Vos. This is doing it the other way. We haven’t recreated the Battle of Scarif. We’ll see how it turns out, but I don’t want to give too much away here. We’re in the home stretch, I’ve been so good for so many years, I can’t mess up now. Forgive me.
CS: It’s all good. “Rebels” has gotten a little darker over the last few years, but it’s still a kid-appropriate show. I was really impressed with how Genndy Tartakovsky took “Samurai Jack” and revived it this year with more a skew towards adult audiences, a little more mature themes. Do you ever foresee a Star Wars animated property that can go to those places and be geared more towards adults than kids?
Filoni: I think it’s possible but I always try to focus things on actually being Star Wars. Star Wars, at its inception, was being aimed at 10-to-12-year olds. Of course, it’s not the only thing it serves; the beauty of Star Wars is that there’s the entire audience, but George did not stop making it the day that young kids grew up. I think you have to be careful when you get too far away from that. I’m not sure what would make it something more adult… does it get more violent and brutal? We have violent, brutal, evil characters in Star Wars, and we’re trying to overcome them. “The Clone Wars” I think is darker, “Clone Wars” was more adult-oriented, but being in a theater with fans of these shows, watching them, I gotta say when the good guys are triumphing over evil, they get super energized. There’s kind of a misperception that making things darker makes it somehow more valid, and I just don’t think that’s true. The things I grew up with in the Lucas/Spielberg era were actually incredibly hopeful and energetic and spontaneous, and it’s more about overcoming dark times and overcoming evil things. I don’t know, for me personally, I don’t think I made “Rebels” in a way that makes any concession. I would choose the same if it was live-action. I don’t think it would necessarily be darker. A lot of it would come down to the characters as well, dealing with a story centered around Mandalorians would be a little bit nastier because they’re a tough crowd. When we were doing something with Maul and his brother and the witches on “Clone Wars,” that was some pretty dark stuff. I appreciate what you’re saying, I like that animation is attempting, especially in this day, to get that wider-ranging audience. If anything, people perceive animation and they think that it’s something for kids, and there are a bunch of creatives out there, me included, where that’s not what we’re just capable of. Our medium is for everybody, and you can do any type of story in it, it’s not something that’s limited just to kids. I think for people working in animation, it’s important for us to keep pushing that particular boundary. Who says we can’t do more and that these stories can’t be as spectacular as anything out there?
CS: For my dollar, “Rebels” has been my favorite thing to come out of the post-George Lucas Lucasfilm. It really embodies the spirit of fun that the first movie did, and then made everybody really love this world.
Filoni: Thank you so much. It’s just interesting — the Ahsoka-Vader conversation is one of my favorite things we did, and it was pretty dark. And imagine if you put that, then, from an animated form into live-action. I certainly wouldn’t shoot it differently. But it is interesting how it might encompass a bigger audience, I don’t know. But I think a lot of people probably, maybe, didn’t see it because of vanity. That’s their difference. A lot of people learn watching “Clone Wars” and now “Rebels” – they get into these stories, and after a while, I’ve had people tell me they forget that it’s animated. Because hopefully they’re just watching the story, and it just becomes Star Wars. So maybe that’s my goal at the end, I just want you to be watching a Star Wars movie, and experience the way I did as a kid. Thanks for saying that, I appreciate it. There’s a lot of good work we’re doing here at Lucasfilm, so we gotta stay sharp to keep up with everybody else, that’s for sure.
CS: Do you have something lined up for after “Rebels” ends?
Filoni: Yeah, I’m working on all kinds of things, but nothing that I can talk about right now. I can tell you certainly that even after 12 years, I have no Star Wars fatigue. It’s been an incredibly creative environment, and something maybe that’s helped me is seeing these filmmakers come in — like Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams, Gareth Edwards — tell these stories. It’s invigorating. You see potential because you see somebody else doing something that’s new that you haven’t seen before. That’s exciting for me, seeing the comics coming out, the games coming out; there’s more Star Wars being created now than ever before. It’s an exciting time at Lucasfilm, we just gotta make sure that it’s all of the quality that we’re known for here. That’s the challenge, to tell a story that you like and that you believe in, it’s not as difficult as you’d think.
CS: That period between “Return of the Jedi” and “Force Awakens” is still a fertile period, it hasn’t really been touched yet.
Filoni: You never know. Everybody wants me to film the story of how Ezra becomes Snoke, but that’s just not happening. I get hit with that all the time, it’s pretty awesome. Fans now have very rich, detailed thoughts and imaginations, I fully approve it. You know, it makes me believe the future of Star Wars is so secure, because there are so many people with wild imaginations out there.
CS: The thing that’s always been the problem with Star Wars is as each new thing comes down the pike so many people build it up in their minds, but at the end of the day it has to be SOMETHING. And the people creating it have to hone in on how it can’t be everything that everyone wants it to be, it has to be this one thing.
Filoni: And you have to stay true to your vision. I hate to say it, but I’ve never really been persuaded by what the fans want, simply because our animation process is so far out ahead that when they see anything, I can’t even react to stuff if I want to. The danger there is always if something comes out and they hate it, I’m like, whoops, the entire next season’s based on that! We had to get together on “Clone Wars” when there were people that were very divided on how they felt about droid-centric episodes. They would just be solely with the D-Squad or R2, and the first of those to come out, people were like, “Oh, no, droids.” Like, well, you’ve got three more weeks and I know you’ll watch anyway, but you might not enjoy it as much as when the clones are blowing stuff up. But hey, there’s something for every Star Wars fan out there nowadays. There are probably some people that specifically got into Star Wars because they like Porgs. And they will now be the Porg generation of Star Wars fans. I’m all for it.