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STAR WARS REBELS Executive Producer Dave Filoni Discusses Season 1 and What’s Ahead

STAR WARS REBELS Executive Producer Dave Filoni Discusses Season 1 and What’s Ahead

The first season of Star Wars Rebels ended with quite the surprise on March 3rd. The animated series set between Episodes III and IV is showing us a universe where citizens of the galaxy far, far away are starting to rebel against the Empire. Rebels followed the crew of the Ghost as they pushed back against Imperial forces on Lothal and beyond, and by the end of the season, we saw that their actions had rippled out and affected others.

The return of Ahsoka Tano in the season finale confirmed that our rebels are just a single cell in a bigger organization, and the logical next step is to guess that this organization will eventually become the Rebel Alliance. It’s a period of intense change, where the actions of a few can influence the universe at large. I spoke with Star Wars Rebels co-creator and executive producer Dave Filoni about Season 1 of Rebels, what to expect in Season 2, and also about what Star Wars: The Clone Wars surprises he’s bringing to Celebration Anaheim.

Nerdist: The characters came a long way in the first season and so did their mission, but now, they know other rebel cells exist. How will that change their plans next season?

Dave Filoni: It’s an important point that you bring up, and it’s something that we did spend some time thinking about because I think one thing that maybe has surprised fans is our willingness to deal with the Rebellion in a kind of small way. I think most fans probably had thought that we would start where Season 2 starts, which is where we see more a proper group with blockade runners and A-wing fighters. So, there’s some sense of structure to the rebellion. But if you remember in the opening crawl of A New Hope it says, “Rebels striking from a secret base have achieved their first major victory against the Empire.” There’s this idea that the Republic, once it fell, readily accepted the Empire. And then the Rebellion had trouble gaining momentum because the atrocities and things Palpatine was doing weren’t really known at large to the universe because they were in the Outer Rim. So, a rebel movement was very slow-growing and secretive.

And for our crew, they all have different ways they feel about being included in a bigger thing. It’s easier for some of our crew that would embrace having more backup, and it’s a struggle for some of our crew that maybe have fought through the previous Clone War and seen what it does to people. I can’t go into too much detail because it is actually one of the topics that comes to the front at the beginning of next season.

Nerdist: And I heard you mention in another interview that Bail Organa and Mon Mothma are the architects of the Rebellion. We’ve seen Bail, but will see Mon Mothma at all in the upcoming season?

Filoni: Well, it’s always possible. We’re very aware of the “small universe” syndrome and it becomes a big challenge in Star Wars because you want to have fun and you want characters people like to appear in the story–like, people like Lando, and so why not make room for Lando to appear in the show? And we always have to ask ourselves, “How much? Is that too convenient? Is it too much of a coincidence?” Them knowing Bail Organa is a pretty big deal, and I think the first thing that comes to my mind is that it would be – you know, Mon Mothma at this point and Bail have to be very careful about how widely it’s known that they’re involved with any Rebellion because they’re both still technically part of the Imperial Senate. And they’re working from within the Imperial Senate to gain information and send it out to rebel leaders. It’s not until A New Hope that the Imperial Senate gets dismissed.

So, we’ll have to see. I love Mon Mothma as a character. We actually used her in Clone Wars as you know. And I think she’s a great leader and definitely will have some role in the Rebellion that we may or may not show at some time.

Nerdist: Let’s jump back to Season 1. Ezra and Kanan really developed together throughout the season, and with episodes like “Path of the Jedi,” you and your team really expanded the mythology of Star Wars. What sort of discussions and planning go into introducing mythology of that level that affects the whole universe?

Filoni: I think the big one for something like “Path of the Jedi,” when we’re bringing Yoda into it–at first, it’s not unlike Mon Mothma, where there’s a lot of care given to “Do we want to use that character? Does it make sense for our story?” But whenever it’s something that involves the Force a great deal, I have to say that I’ve really appreciated that the StoryGroup at Lucasfilm and the other writers have really asked me a lot of questions and at times will defer to me as far as how these things go because I learned it all firsthand from George. And while I try to be very collaborative in all things that we do, especially in this new era of Star Wars, there are certain things where I just feel I have to be inflexible because they were rules that I learned from George about how to use the Force, how you should think about the Force, what the Force actually is that I am trying to carry forward into this new generation of creatives.

For instance, when you look at that episode [“Path of the Jedi”], my friend Charles Murray wrote it. Charles worked with me on Clone Wars so he’s very aware of –he was in the room for a lot of the George discussions. And then I took that episode and [decided] I would personally direct that episode because when I direct an episode, I tend to do a lot of my own reworking on it in concert with Charles. We discuss things that I want to do visually, maybe, instead of dialogue-driven. I knew that episode would be a little more esoteric and that it would use a method of cutting that resembled–I wanted it to resemble the work that we had done in Clone Wars on the Yoda arc so they feel like they’re a continuation. It feels like it’s a continuation of that type of Yoda arc Force thinking.

So, there’s a lot of things, and then there’s a lot of debate. And the best thing about having Story Group is even when I’m directing the episode, I get to bounce ideas off of them and we have great discussions. But I’ll give you the best for-instance about that episode. All the way up to the final script in the episode, that episode was about Kanan telling Ezra that he’s going to a Jedi Temple to get a lightsaber. And that idea existed all the way up until we were ready to shoot. And I talked to Kiri Hart about it, and I said, “You know, I just don’t think this kid can know that he’s going to get that because if he knows, it’s like saying, ‘Here’s the treat. If you do this and it’s difficult, you know you’re going to get rewarded.’ It’s important that he do this and it be completely unknown to him so the choices he makes are real, and they’re true, and they’re more selfless. They’re not selfish: ‘If I do this, I will get a lightsaber.’ ‘If I do this, there is a reward.'”

I had to change that. Cikatro Vizago used to be involved in that story, and he was trying to get at the secrets that were in the Temple and he was there when Kanan and Ezra came out. And I just didn’t feel that he had any role to play in that. Well, I could see why he would find value in those things but I thought, “I need as much time as possible to let these ideas about the Force really sink in.” So, I take things like that out, and I make sure that I have enough time to let scenes breathe. I only have 21 minutes to tell these stories as it is. That gives you an idea of some of the evolution that we go through and the thought. Everything is up for grabs until we really lock final picture because we know what’s at stake here as far as Star Wars is concerned.

Nerdist: The Force is such a big part of the saga. Anything you add makes fans go back and reexamine existing movies, like “What does this line in Empire Strikes Back mean now and what about this other line?” It’s all connected.

Filoni: Yeah, it’s hard. You have to constantly look at all that stuff. And, honestly, if you want the simplest rule, it’s less is more. I know the Force is special, but in the original films–which everybody likes to cite–it’s not really used that much. In fact, if you think about it, there’s no ability that Luke learned. There’s no special power. There’s no fighting stance. There’s nothing that he learned like that that actually is what redeems his father and saves the galaxy. In the end, while those skills are a vehicle, an ability to get him to that point where can make a critical choice, it really becomes the choice of throwing away that power and saying, “None of that matters, because I love my father more than anything. And even if you kill me, you can’t touch that. You can’t take that away from me.” And that’s really a power the Emperor can’t possibly understand or imagine. That harkens back to what Obi-Wan talks about when he says to Vader, “If you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” It’s the power of ultimate selflessness and being in totality with the universe and every living thing that’s true power and immortality.

So, those are the things that we try to drill down on and make sure to maintain across everything, even with Ezra and his choices, though, in the end are different than Luke’s, to some degree.

Nerdist: You mentioned showing the connection to living things and one thing I enjoyed about the season was the Loth-cats and how they figured into Ezra’s training. Why did you decide to incorporate that into Ezra’s lessons?

Filoni: The Loth-cats–they came out of an idea back in Clone Wars where I was always laughing that we had these little creatures that would run around that seemed to be like rats all the time and we had no cats. In any culture, this many rats would have cats so I put cats in Clone Wars. And then when we were looking for little creatures out in the Lothal grass, I’m like, “Well, let’s use that cat again because I like them.”

But it became something where we wanted to elaborate again on a connection to, like you said, the living Force. And I had grown up–and I’m not sure where some of these thoughts come from. It’s kind of like how do we all learn the name Mandalorian or Bossk when it’s not actually ever said in a film. But I had an idea, or a memory, or a thought that the Force connected you with animal life. It might have stemmed from the fact that, usually, the wampa gets the jump on because it’s more probably naturally connected to the Force than Luke is. Not that it could use the Force, but it’s a part of nature, a part of the natural, living Force. So, at one point, Anakin Skywalker even uses the Force to calm down the big creature in the arena and I thought that, well, maybe Ezra has a natural ability to do this, and he has a natural connection to his planet, to this creature. And it’s a way of showing this ability that you could have and you could actually use it to control–which is using the dark side which we show later when he controls the big creature and summons it out of his anger–or, you could use it to bring peace. Not just to yourself, but to things around you by connecting and understanding the world around you.

So the Loth-cats, you’ll be happy to know, they aren’t insignificant here. They’ve definitely kept reoccurring with purpose. And then I think that’s a good thing, because I think it’s something kids can relate to, too. You know, early on, if you have a pet, you have to take care of that pet. It’s important. But we’re not doing it in a way that’s cliché, like, “Oh, Ezra got a sidekick.” It’s that he connects to these creatures and things and it gives him a better understanding of his universe.

Nerdist: We really saw Ezra’s skills grow by leaps and bounds over the season to the point that the others really listened to him. It was surprising sometimes. For example, when Ezra gave up his secret to Vizago, why were Sabine and Zeb okay with that?

Filoni: Well, I think there’s a certain level with the non-Force-wielding, non-Jedi personnel that they appreciate that these dealings with the Force, with whatever the history of the Jedi was, is for those guys. You know? I always got that sense with Luke it’s like—the Rebellion at large never seemed to really give much consideration to Luke running around with a lightsaber. No one was ever calling him a Jedi. No one was, like, mystified by the abilities that he seemed to have, but there was within his small group a respect for the lineage he was trying to be a part of.

I think that while we do have a group in Rebels and a family, there is that separation between the rebels–Sabine, Hera, Zeb and Chopper–and the Jedi, the spiritual side of them, which is actually Ezra and Kanan. So, he gives up knowledge about his master. Are they okay with that? I think they think that’s his choice, and they’re trusting this kid and his instinct to want to rescue Kanan and what that means. But he’s not always right, and I think that that makes him a little more likable.

It’s been difficult to balance, I think, the five characters and have them each have their moment and each have their strength and each have their failing. And I think now that we’ve laid the groundwork, in Season 2, we get a little more into that–especially the backstory of all the characters which I think helps you with why they trust Ezra at certain times. But, you know, he’s proven to be a great strength. I think, in simple terms, too, they’ve done a lot better. They’ve had great success since they met this kid. They’ve also met greater challenges but so far, so good. I think that would lead to a lot of trust as well.

Nerdist: Kanan obviously played a huge role in training Ezra, but now that Ahsoka’s in the picture, will we see her at all involved with Ezra’s training?

Filoni: Well, it’s interesting. It’s a super thrill for me to have her back on screen, to get to right this character again and direct her and have Ashley back. I can’t tell you how exciting that is. To see the response from people about Ahsoka has been just really–I hate to say it’s surprising, but it is surprising to me. I mean it was huge, and we all appreciate that like you can’t imagine.

Ahoska has a ton to offer, of course. She is, to be honest, far better-trained than Kanan. She is a better lightsaber fighter than Kanan. There’s no doubt. She had a better teacher than Kanan, who was more fight combat-oriented than Anakin. So, she definitely could, if she wanted to, give Ezra a great deal of knowledge. But I would think that she’s very reluctant to do so because Ezra’s not her student. He’s Kanan’s student, and also Kanan is training Ezra on the path of the Jedi. And I think the important thing to wonder about, with Ahsoka is, when you get down to it, is knowing where she last was leaving the Order. There should be a lot of questions around, “Well, does that mean Ahsoka’s a Jedi now, or not?” What does that mean? Would she follow, per se, the path of the Jedi as laid out by the Order of the Jedi Knights? Or, is there some other teaching and learning in the ways of the Force that she is now following that’s different?

There are a lot of possibilities there which I can’t really get into without revealing too much, but she’s really an exciting character. And part of her strength right now is there is a tremendous mystery around what she’s been up to and where she’s going. I think we show, by having her involved in the Rebellion, that, despite her differences with the Jedi Council at the end of her run on Clone Wars, she has an instinct to try to do good, to try to overthrow evil, to try to put people that have a good heart and a good intention in the right place. In that regard, I would compare her somewhat to a Gandalf type character who is maneuvering pieces on the board, trying to get everyone to do what they need to do and only really jumps to action when faced with something that’s beyond what the hero she’s moving into place can handle. And the Balrog was a great example of that. You know, “This is a foe beyond any of you.” I think that she’s kind of in that realm, though much younger, of course, than Gandalf. But she is a mover of pieces on the board and pretty wise.

It’s exciting to have her back. I’m excited for you guys to see what happens and where we go. And I personally think it’s one of the best designs of her we’ve done. Her design translated really well into Rebels. And once you get over the initial difference, I think, with Kevin Kiner’s music in play, playing her theme under it, and Ashley’s voice, you’re like, “Wow. There she is. She’s transferred from one story to the next,” which is really exciting.

Nerdist: It was a very effective reveal.

Filoni: Did you first think that Bail Organa was Fulcrum?

Nerdist: No, I had a hunch it was Ahsoka. Maybe more wishful thinking.

Filoni: It was funny. I got blitzed with reaction videos, and they were–almost to a person–all these little kids were disappointed when they see Bail Organa show up.

Nerdist: Poor Bail!

Filoni: I know! Right? Bail is a great guy! He’s a really good guy. But people are thrilled that it was actually Ahsoka, so that was pretty fun.

Nerdist: Yes it was. And now it’s so interesting, because we were worried about her fate before, and we’re like, “Alright. She’s made it past Order 66,” and now we’re like, “Oh, no. Is she going to face off against Vader?” That’s the natural line of thinking.

Filoni: I know – right? It’s so terrible because you want her to come back, but once she’s in play, things need to happen. So, it’s like you move from one stretch to the next. [Laughs] I can understand.

Nerdist: And I’m curious–you know, Obi-Wan’s obviously on Vader’s list because they ended things pretty horribly, but with Anakin and Ahsoka, it was more of an amicable split. Does Vader think of her as an enemy or does he even think about her at all?

Filoni: Well, I would say two things. First thing–and this is important and I don’t know if I talked about this before–but when Ahsoka left the Jedi Order and we were shooting those scenes, the original way we did it Ahsoka was out in front of the temple with Anakin and the Jedi Council was standing behind Anakin. And she was kind of dismissed right there at the stairwell. When I watched that rough cut with George, he didn’t like that so much. He then wanted me to move the scene where the Jedi Council says, “You can come back” and she walks away to the Council chamber, up in the tower. And then we re-shot it and then we rewrote–George and I–a scene where Anakin runs out and stops her at the steps of the Temple, and they have a one-on-one conversation.

It was very important to George to convey to kids that, while Ahsoka had come to a disagreement and a crisis of faith with the Council, that that did not exist between her and Anakin. That she understood to a large degree why he had done what he had done, and that at the end of the day, he was the one person that pretty much tried to step up for her and always spoke in her favor. I think it’s an interesting thing for people who are fans of Ahsoka to know about how George felt about that relationship. It was very important to him.

However… [Laughs] However, on the dark side of things, once Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, all the things that kind of have entrapped him into being Darth Vader… I strongly believe that Anakin Skywalker as we knew him–and I sound like Obi-Wan now–he really doesn’t exist in this timeline. He is so consumed with hatred and anger and guilt that when he sees things that are of the past of Anakin Skywalker, all he wants to do is destroy them. Darth Vader does not want to be reminded of Anakin Skywalker because to acknowledge that existence is to acknowledge the death of Padmé, his failures, the loss of all his friends who he thinks betrayed him. It’s nothing but pain for him.

So, when it comes to Ahsoka–Ahsoka is a vessel for, frankly, all of this knowledge that Anakin Skywalker had. He taught her. She knew him as a good person, the good person that he was. That would be horrifying to Darth Vader to have her walking around because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that part of himself. And in the last couple of meetings I had with George before the transition, we talked a decent bit about Darth Vader and Ahsoka and what would happen were they ever to meet. What would she think? What would she know? What would Darth Vader think? What would he know? I felt something that was really important, because it might come up, let’s just say. And I wanted to be armed with as much knowledge as I could have so fans get the most authentic experience that they can get should those two characters hypothetically, theoretically ever meet. That’s kind of where it stands with Vader and what he would think of Ahsoka. I hate to say it, but he would want to destroy her. It wouldn’t be this, “Hey, Snips, I haven’t seen you in a long time” kind of thing. Because remember he says–Luke Skywalker, when he mentions Anakin, “That name no longer means anything to me.”

Nerdist: Right.

Filoni: So, it’s a point that he doesn’t even know his son is alive. Vader is far more, I think, intense and anger-filled and violent. Once you get to the point that he realizes he has a son, that Luke Skywalker is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, it’s Luke that begins the transformation of Darth Vader by existing. Vader’s first thought is, “There’s someone alive that I could count on, that I could use, that you should join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” So, Vader’s first instinct when he sees Luke later is actually to give him the same offer that he basically was giving Padmé, if you remember at the end when he’s telling her, “We can rule the galaxy. We can make this galaxy something that we believe in.” So, it’s against the Emperor with his son. And then, as Luke–and he comes to know his son a little bit, it’s really that scene in Jedi on the bridge where you really can see what Luke sees when he says, “It’s too late for me, son.” It’s this awkward scene that’s really, really key where Vader is standing there, talking to another character, one-to-one on a personal level – which in the original trilogy is the first real indication you get of the man inside the suit.

All of this stuff is discussed in story meetings. All of it is deeply probed to make sure we’re getting it right. And I think what’s really interesting is Ahsoka, a character who was introduced in 2008, in a lot of ways has become a critical part, a critical piece and element of Anakin Skywalker’s life and the Skywalker family. So, she has to be given her moment and her story. And people obviously want to know what happens, which is really, hopefully, exciting–and, hopefully not terrifying either. We never know.

Nerdist: Just to change gears a little, let’s discuss Hera. It’s been fascinating to see all the different sides of her character, especially her conviction and leadership. Will we learn how she got to that position and will it have to do with her father?

Filoni: Season 2 really delves more into all the characters–not just Hera–but gives them, I think, a lot more dimension. I don’t think we haven’t established that now, but I think you come out of Season 1, and you get a very good sense of Ezra and Kanan. And you’ve gotten a taste of what the other characters have to offer, but kind of like Ahsoka right now, they have a lot of mystery behind them. And to your note, you see Hera make some very tough decisions. You understand that she’s one that actually is in the know and in charge. And we all thought that it would be interesting to show that it wasn’t a Jedi in charge. It’s actually Hera that has, frankly, a much better understanding of the threat of the Empire and what they’re up to, and connections to rebel activity. And as a lot of people guessed from the name Syndulla, she is the daughter of Cham Syndulla, another character from the Clone Wars.

We’ve really taken to trying to weave the story that we were doing in Clone Wars, though it didn’t seem apparent at first, and draw them together with stories that we’re doing now. And we will learn more about Hera and why she is the way she is. She’s a really interesting character because she has to be, at least in Season 1, the backbone of that group. When everybody else thinks they’re not capable of doing what they’re doing, she’s the one nudging them in that direction. When Kanan is questioning the value of teaching Ezra, or even taking him on, she’s the one that’s kind of maneuvering him to do so.

And something that not everybody picks up on is that, while Hera would recognize Ahsoka as Fulcrum, she did not know her name was Ahsoka Tano. That’s something that Ahsoka reveals to her at the end of this. The name “Fulcrum” is the name that Ahsoka went by in secrecy but now that she was drawing that group in, she let Hera in on her own secret, which is that she’s actually Fulcrum. It’s a challenging time of secrets and mystery because the Empire otherwise is going to crush you so you have to have these levels of secrecy. But season 2, I think, really picks up where we left off [and] really starts moving forward at a fast pace and brings–we have a couple great Hera stories where we’re really focused on her. And Sabine as well. You really get a look at their background. And it’s fun. There’ll be a connection between Hera and Chopper which I think you’ll find really interesting. All kinds of interesting stories.

Nerdist: And before we wrap up, let’s talk about Celebration. You and Pablo Hidalgo are going to be on a Clone Wars panel. Can you tease anything about what you’ll be discussing at the panel?

Filoni: I guess I’ll say this. Clone Wars will definitely get its representation at Celebration. The crew that is still here from Clone Wars, we’re always incredibly moved by the ongoing support for Clone Wars. I approached a couple of people here and said, “What can we do for fans at Celebration?” Because I know they’re going to be there. They’re still as excited as they were. They’re still sad the show is gone.

One of the things that Pablo and I are going to be doing is actually delving into some of the unfinished material and talking about plans that we have. I’m going to be showing some artwork that I had done, that some of my designers had done for episodes that were going to be produced. And maybe we’ll show a clip or two of not complete animation by any stretch, but we shoot proxy previs like we did with the Utapau arc that was released on We actually have footage like that of certain scenes. I’ll give you this, because I know you’re a big fan of Ahsoka, but I’m trying to get a clip of something Ahsoka that we had shot that was after she left the Temple and see if I can get that clip out of our archive here so we can show something of that. It’ll be special stuff like that, but just little snippets here and there to show what might’ve been and what some of the stories would have been about. It should be fun. For the diehard Clone Wars fan, that panel will be a can’t-miss thing, for sure.

Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels will premiere at Celebration Anaheim.

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