A lot has changed behind the scenes of the Star Wars universe since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012, but one thing that hasn’t is the man in charge of the franchise’s small-screen fortunes. Dave Filoni joined the Lucasfilm family back in 2007 when he was named supervising director for the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series. It’s a title he retains (along with executive producer) for Star Wars Rebels, a new animated series set to debut next month on Disney Channel.
Set in the time period between the prequel and original trilogies, Rebels follows a ragtag group of outcasts (one with, uh, a “forceful” secret) who are none too happy to be living under the Empire’s oppressive thumb. They begin fighting back, sparking the beginnings of what we’ll come to know as the Rebel Alliance. Filoni brought the series’ first hour with him to his hometown of Pittsburgh for a special advanced screening this past weekend, and I had the chance to briefly chat with him about his old show, his new show and what connection, if any, Star Wars Rebels might have with the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII.
BOB TAYLOR: You’ve been involved with Star Wars for a while now, but this is sort of the first big thing since Disney acquired Lucasfilm. Is there any added pressure with being first out of the gate?
DAVE FILONI: I don’t think so. I think that only the fan perspective maybe has changed. There’s a tremendous amount of public interest in Star Wars. There always is, but I think it’s magnified with a hint of “what are they (Disney) going to do with it?” Through my experience here, Disney only wants to do what’s right for Star Wars. They acquired Star Wars because they, like everybody, realizes it’s a fantastic story with fantastic characters. Pressure for me was delivering a story to George Lucas every couple of weeks and sitting in a theater with him and watching it. You’ve got the guy who created Wookies and TIE Fighters and Luke Skywalker telling you what you did right or wrong. So I’ve just really stayed true to what I’ve always done — to try and deliver an authentic Star Wars experience, now in the new era.
BT: Being that you worked so hard on The Clone Wars for all those years, how is this different? Does it feel the same for you, or does it feel like a new experience?
DF: I think it’s a totally new experience. The Clone Wars was designed to be very much like the prequel-era Star Wars films, which was a very pulled-back, more political view of the landscape. It got into a lot of details like banking corruption. These stories in Rebels are more about a smaller group of characters that are friends, that kind of come together as a family. In that regard, they’re much more like the original Star Wars films — Episodes IV, V and VI. And that was the aim. When we made The Clone Wars, we knew that we were making it like the prequels. So when we made this series, we knew we wanted to make it like the originals. They’re just different tonally, and I think we’ve achieved a good deal of success getting it to feel like the Star Wars I grew up with.
BT: The time period between Episodes III and IV has not often been explored, especially on film. Do you have a lot of leeway to create in that space?
DF: I think it’s the same as always. It is largely uncharted, though there were novels and The Force Unleashed, a game, in that era. While those things aren’t necessarily canon, they are things that I’m aware of. I have friends who worked on them, so I do take opportunities that we can find along the way to honor those things and pull them into our stories, just like we did with Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe. But we did want to design some new things. We wanted to explore some new areas and kind of set the stage in a way that really helps to define things as far as what the Empire was like and how the Rebel Alliance was formed. You have a lot of latitude, but you definitely want to make sure you’re never interfering with the major films. Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — I would never do anything to counter what’s in those, of course.
BT: Disney keeps hinting that there will be designs and concepts in Rebels that will tie into Episode VII. So does that involve big boardroom meetings to hash that out? Or how are those things materializing?
DF: I don’t know if Disney is the one hinting at that, so much …
BT: Okay, so maybe it’s just the blogosphere rumor-mongering.
DF: Yeah, the blogosphere is on fire.
BT: So then we’re not officially confirming anything at this time?
DF: [Laughs.] That’s right. We’re not officially confirming anything. But I think it’s just an exciting time for Star Wars. There are going to be more Star Wars stories, more Star Wars characters and situations coming out in the next 10 years than people have ever seen or are used to. And so one of the things we are trying to do is make sure everything is balanced, that we’re doing a good variety of stories, and also, as we create these characters, that they have their own space and place. But it’s that unified universe that I think fans have always loved about Star Wars. They always got the feeling that, no matter what they looked at, it was part of a whole. In all honesty, when I worked with George, George’s only concerns were the films and the TV series that we were making at the time. That was the continuity we stood by. I think that’s why, as we’ve gone forward with Lucasfilm, we’ve had this attitude of: we have the films, we have The Clone Wars — those are all the canon elements. And as we move forward with all the films and with TV series like Rebels, we’ll make sure they’re all in continuity. One thing always does affect the other. But in a real way, VII is so far out on the timeline from me that I’m not going to affect it too much, and what they do doesn’t affect us too much. It’s going to be an exciting time, though. That’s for sure.
The first two episodes of Rebels will air together as a one-hour special titled Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion Oct. 3 on the Disney Channel. The series will then move to Monday nights at 9 p.m. on Disney XD. Star Wars Episode VII remains on track for a December 2015 release.