So how does it feel to draw TIE fighters for a living and get paid for it?
[laughs] It’s awesome! I won’t lie to you, this is one of the situations where, as kid that grew up with the classic Star Wars trilogy, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’m very lucky; it’s a tremendous responsibility, especially now in what I call the post-George era. Having worked with him so long, I feel responsibility when we’re creating a Lucasfilm true to his vision. And part of that responsibility, as I see it, is to create great stories and great characters so that in the future there is another kid that comes along and can carry that forward and continue telling great stories – that’s the tradition of story tellers.
You obviously worked on The Clone Wars as well, so are there going to be tie-ins to that? Are you going to maybe answer questions that were left hanging?
Well, it’s important that Rebels be its own thing. I’m in an interesting position as someone that created Star Wars: The Clone Wars and now this show, and yet Simon Kinberg and Greg Wiesman who are on this show weren’t with me on that show. So I always feel like it’s a little bit selfish of me to go, ‘Oh lets do this because it relates to my other show,’ you know? I try to be fair because it’s their first Star Wars experience and I want it to be a good one, and luckily we collaborate really well as a group, the three of us, and we’re having a great time.
But I will say that we created a monster in Clone Wars and there is a generation of kids now that love those characters, it’s their Star Wars, so you can imagine that when we’re in the story room I am pitching connections here and there. And to be honest Simon and Greg have watched Clone Wars and they are excited by it. Simon’s kids watched Clone Wars so they even pitched me a few ideas on what could happen! At a certain point you don’t even feel like you make this stuff once you release it to the world and people watch it. Star Wars is such a universal thing. It’s possible, I’ll just say that. I think people would be disappointed if there wasn’t some connection, but at the same time I want the Star Wars Rebels characters to shine in their own right, and I want them to capture a new generation of fans as each, you know, moment in Star Wars storytelling does. They need their own space as well.
In operational terms, is there a Star Wars central command? What you’re coming up with is official canon, so do you guys have to co-ordinate with the big screen side as well? I’m guessing that Simon Kinberg is sort of a conduit of that.
The answer would be yes. I am aware of things that are going on all over the Star Wars galaxy. The same story team that is collaborating with the creatives on the feature collaborates with me, so I have a direct link to everything going on, which is incredibly exciting and incredibly stressful because of all the secrets that we now carry inside our astromech units.
One thing that I really love about Lucasfilm is that when I worked with George he never treated an animated TV show like it was lesser than the giant features that he worked on. To him it was all part of the same story that he was painting with a different brush in the world of animation. Kathleen Kennedy, and her team that’s come on board, feel the same, so it’s important to us as a group of creatives that all the Star Wars storytelling we’re doing be a level of canon that works with each other. That’s an exciting thing. I think that’s what fans want, and I love working with creative teams that appreciate that and take the time to make it all happen, because you can imagine that it’s a tremendous effort to have all these stories going on the whole time.
But it obviously pays off; I mean, look at the Marvel cinematic universe. People love that level of care for their story.
That’s true. I have to think, and maybe this is selfish, that the generation I am in, we grew up dreaming of a way that all of the great movies we loved could be connected. We used to just die for some connectivity, you know, like when they would hide C-3PO and R2-D2 in the hieroglyphics of Indiana Jones in the Ark room, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, does that mean it’s all connected?’ I think now that this generation is in control of things to a large extent we’re saying, ‘Wouldn’t that be great if this person walked off the screen and appeared over here?’
Rebels obviously takes place much closer to A New Hope, chronologically, than the Clone Wars. Are you tying all that together? I know you went to a lot of McQuarrie sketches to get the look of some of the characters.
The funny thing for me is that, the time period we’re writing now takes place after the Clone Wars, and we’ve literally just finished The Clone Wars. So it’s a very real-life experience for me where I’m talking to writers. I feel like a post-war veteran where I’m like, ‘Oh, yes, I remember this battle, and this is how it went…’ So there has to be a visual language that bridges these things.
Guys like Dough Chiang, who worked with Ralph McQuarrie in the past and on the prequels, are also available to me and my art director Kilian Plunkett so that we can make sure that we’re designing things that all flow together from many phases of Star Wars, visually. If we’re creating a ship or a character I can always call Doug and say, ‘Hey, what do you have floating around the design room?’, to give us inspiration in the same way that George used to have binders and binders and binders of artwork dating back to the 70s that he would pull from for inspiration.
So it’s all tied together visually, though Ralph is our main influence and we have a great love of Ralph’s work because it inspired Star Wars. It’s really nice to give a homage to a great man that did really create a new frontier of style that inspired film all the way through until today.
Do you think there’s a chance that, if you tie it more closely to A New Hope, you might pull back the older generation of Star Wars fans that maybe didn’t get into the Clone Wars but are interested because it’s coming back to the big screen?
Being of the generation that grew up with the originals, I will say it is an incredibly nostalgic thing to watch a TIE fighter fly across the screen. It’s hard for the younger generation who grew up with the prequels to understand that, to us, nothing will ever feel as much like Star Wars as that scream of the TIE fighter, that look of a Stormtrooper. There was something very documentary about George’s original work on Star Wars. So I do hope that the older fans that said, maybe, ‘Well the prequels aren’t for me because it’s younger, it’s told in a different way.’ , I think they just will see a Star Destroyer on screen and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen that forever!’ And hopefully that does bring them back.
More importantly, I hope they sit down with their kids and watch Rebels so you get that great bridge between generations. Even though I was among the first Star Wars generation it was a powerful thing to me that my dad would watch that movie and really enjoy it. He was, and is, a huge lover of opera, and he would talk about opera with me and relate it to Star Wars and try to show me where John Williams’s musical influences were coming from. When you can incite good discussions between fans or families I think you’re doing a very good and powerful thing. So yeah, I do hope it brings back some old fans and, you know, educates a whole new generation of young ones as well.
Speaking of generations, are they Stormtroopers rather than Clone Troopers in this series?
Oh, they’re using Stormtroopers, yeah. I’ll give you the big nerdy breakdown.
In my opinion, having made The Clone Wars and now working with Stormtroopers, I would say that a Clone trooper could outgun a Stormtrooper rather easily. A Clone trooper was bred, born, raised to be a soldier. Lucky for them, the Jedi gave them a lot of personality, but they were very dedicated soldiers. Stormtroopers are drafted into service; you can join through academies. If you watch A New Hope they stand around and say, ‘Hey, you seen the new BT-16?’ They seem interested in their job but you question their dedication. They’re treated as expendable by the Empire, and they definitely can’t shoot anything.
When Obi Wan says, ‘Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’, I think he’s making that up on the fact that he used to fight with clones, so he assumes that a Stormtrooper is really good. Much to his shock those guys can’t hit an R2 unit in a naked hallway, let alone be precise. So I like Stormtroopers, I find them very interesting. The Stormtroopers have better gear, better weapons in a lot of ways but it’s just a different war they are fighting than the Clone troopers’ was.
One thing that was also exciting for this show is that, despite being set at a time when we might not expect to see really any Jedi, we do see Kanan with a lightsaber.
Yes, you will see a lightsaber involved. But we’ve tried to pick our moments when we have an all-out lightsaber battle, to make it a real special thing for the show. It’s a character moment as much as anything. For example, think of it: Luke, he didn’t even fight with a lightsaber in A New Hope. Obi Wan did briefly against Vader, but we didn’t see a full-on, all-out lightsaber combat with Luke Skywalker until The Empire Strikes Back. And when he does confront Vader it’s a pretty big mistake because he learns just how out of his depth he is. We try to make all of these fights not just about combat or swords; it’s about a character driven moment that tells the audience something about where we’re going.
Will Darth Vader and Palpatine appear at all?
I can’t say specifically. All I can say is that this time period, between episodes III and IV, is a dominant time period for the Emperor – and Darth Vader, for that matter. They control the galaxy through fear and our Rebels are insignificant to them. But it is to their own undoing that they don’t recognize the spirit of individuals and what that spirit could add up to in the fight against the Empire.
So there’s a presence of power, of physical fear and power, which the Empire represents. You know I always think about the Emperor because in A New Hope they talked about the Emperor but you never saw him. And then in Empire you got a glimpse of him in a hologram but you didn’t really know who he was, so finally when he reveals himself I almost thought as a kid, ‘Wow, he’s just an old guy with a cane!’ I remember that when he confronts Luke Skywalker he doesn’t actually use his cane anymore and walks across, and you realise that he’s very manipulative and very evil and he’s the master string puller, web weaver.
That’s the Emperor that I want to have, and Simon and Greg do also, in Rebels. We want to have an Emperor that’s behind the scenes and so lofty in his power that it would take a lot to bring that spider out and down into the web that he’s woven. Our Rebels are little flies and they hit the web string and it plucks it, so first you get a certain level of Imperial officer after you. Then if you cause a bigger vibration then you get a bigger level; maybe an Inquisitor shows up. You’ve got to really start to undo the web before you get to Vader and ultimately the Emperor, and, you know, good luck to our guys if they draw that kind of attention.
One criticism that Star Wars has had to face recently was the lack of women in there. You had some great female roles in The Clone Wars and there are already two lined up here; is that something you’re trying to combat?
In Star Wars, one of the most exciting things is the ability to add new and exciting characters. In my time working on Star Wars, whenever I talk to writers or new creators that want to be a part of it it’s a very strong instinct for people to want to say, ‘What about a girl? What about a woman?’ Back on Clone Wars when we decided for Anakin Skywalker to have a Padawan we knew it had to be a girl; there was no question about it and it didn’t even enter our mind to make it a boy. We felt very strongly that we didn’t want to create just another Luke Skywalker and so we created Ahsoka Tano.
Doing Rebels, we had another interesting dilemma in which we’d just created Ahsoka and we didn’t want to do another young girl character-hero so we created Ezra. But I still wanted to have a lot of exciting women characters represented on the show, so we created Sabine and Hera – and they are fulfilling different roles. Hera is the pilot so she’s playing the more traditional Han Solo role, if you will, and Vanessa Marshall, playing Hera, does an incredible job.
Then Tiya Sircar as Sabine, really came out of an idea that I was developing in Clone Wars which was this band of female Mandalorian warriors led by Bo-Katan called the Night Owls. I thought they were really an exciting group of characters. So when I was talking to Simon and Greg about characters we create I said, ‘Why don’t we do a Mandalorian girl?’, and they were all over that and though it was very exciting. So she’s a different shade of Boba Fett, if you will.
But it’s exciting to have diversity in the cast, and something I liked about Ahsoka Tano when I would talk to kids is that –and it didn’t really matter where the kid was from, where they grew up in the world – all these kids felt that they were just like Ahsoka. So in creating the group of Rebels it was about making characters that kids around the world could look at and say, ‘That’s me. That reflects me. I can be like that character’.
I can tell you that here at Lucasfilm it’s always something that is on our mind. Whether they be boys or girls or men or women, we want the characters we create to be strong, inspirational characters – even as villains. We did a great job on Ventress from Clone Wars and what she represented too for a generation of Star Wars fans. I think it must be an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan because it feels like, more than ever, everybody is represented in our stories, so we can look at the galaxy and say, ‘I am a part of it’, which is definitely something I’m interested in as a person that gets to create in this galaxy.