As supervising director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni worked closely with George Lucas, expanding the Star Wars mythos, deepening iconic characters, and introducing major new protagonists like Ahsoka Tano. Now, as executive producer of Star Wars Rebels, he and some key collaborators have done it again. Set during the age of the Empire, the series follows a motley crew of all-new rebels: Kanan, the flawed Jedi; Ezra, the troubled Padawan; Hera, the ace pilot and heart of the team; Zeb, the alien brute with brains; Sabine, the explosives expert and artist; and Chopper, the (very) grumpy but loveable astromech droid. The stakes have continually risen on Star Wars Rebels, moving from simple cargo-thieving missions to Ezra’s dangerous use of the dark side to the Empire’s no-nonsense pursuit of our heroes — with death a very possible outcome for some. In advance of next week’s season finale, StarWars.com visited Filoni in his office for an in-depth interview about the show. In this first installment, Filoni pulls back the curtain on how Star Wars Rebels was created. He discusses early story concepts, the continuing influence of Lucas, and, surprisingly, opens up his own personal archives.
StarWars.com: I’d like to start way back, in the time when Clone Warswas ending and before you knew what was coming next. What ideas did you have for a new series and did those ideas feed into Rebels?
Dave Filoni: Well, we were still finishing Clone Wars when we started developing Rebels. We had a couple ideas about doing something with rebel forces or Padawans on the run. It seemed a pretty natural progression to do a story after Clone Warsand Revenge of the Sith, but before A New Hope.
I was taught to think of Star Wars as one whole piece, one whole story — so that’s the most important thing to me.
StarWars.com: When you say you were taught to look at Star Wars as a whole, is that something you learned from George Lucas?
Dave Filoni: Oh, yeah. Everything I’ve learned about making Star Wars comes from George. I’ve been here 10 years now, and even though George hasn’t been here these last two years, everything that I execute now is based on all our discussions, editorial sessions, and story meetings. That’s how I still try to inform what I’m doing now on Rebels — with all the building blocks of Star Wars.
At the same time, I think we have to stay open-minded and have an eye on the future and the possibilities for evolving stories and types of characters. That’s why I wanted Sabine to be an artist. It was something I hadn’t really seen in Star Wars.
StarWars.com: I’d also imagine that, for one thing, you want to be excited, creatively. So, you don’t want to repeat yourself. And also, while fans might not realize it in the moment, if they’re watching things they’ve already seen before, it’s not going to be as rewarding.
Dave Filoni: It isn’t, no. It’s amazing how often you do repeat yourself even though you tell yourself you’re not. [Laughs] I think, as a storyteller, I can’t help it sometimes. I have a certain way I do things. When I have a scene, I have a certain way I shoot. There are scenes that I shot with Anakin and Ahsoka that are very similar to scenes I shot with Kanan and Ezra. The composition of the framing and everything. You do want to repeat certain motifs that make Star Wars what it is, but it’s finding those scenarios and traps and making them original that becomes difficult.
We were not so good in the beginning of Clone Wars. [Laughs] Literally, we had guys in a palace fall through the floor and into a rancor pit. Well, gee, where have I seen that before? We were much better by the end.
StarWars.com: You and Simon Kinberg and Carrie Beck are credited as the co-creators of Star Wars Rebels. I talked with Simon, and it sounds like he primarily contributed the idea of a family dynamic to the Ghost crew. Can you tell us a little about how the overall concept for the show came to be?
Dave Filoni: It’s hard to say. It was such a collaboration. Rebels isn’t an idea that any one of us came up with. We just wanted to make a quality show and follow The Clone Wars in a good, but different way.
We all had different concepts for stories. Carrie had an idea we all liked for an A-Team-style group, so that stayed on the table. I had an obsession with the pilots of Star Wars. I’m dying to do something that’s non-Force related and completely about pilots, which is what I thought a large part of Star Wars was about as a kid. So, we each had different ideas, but really with [creative executives] Kiri [Hart], Rayne [Roberts], Carrie, and I sitting around the table, we decided to focus on the A-Team idea. I’m always drawing in these meetings and that’s where some of the early character design started. When we met with Simon, he said “Let’s focus on this family dynamic,” so I drew a kid, mom, and a dad. [At this point in the interview, Dave turns toward his computer and pulls up a drawing.]