Dave Filoni: Rebel Rouser – Star Wars Rebels executive producer/supervising director Dave Filoni reflects on the end of the critically acclaimed series.
After four rebellious seasons, Star Wars Rebels reached its epic finale in March 2018. As the dust settled, Dave Filoni sat down with Insider to reveal his thoughts on the animated saga.
How do you feel about Rebels coming to an end?
Dave Filoni: I feel really good about it. I think it’s important to tell a complete story. You have this point to get across, and you let the characters really grow. They become who they were meant to become and the story becomes what it is meant to be. So you weren’t tempted to do a little more before you left these characters behind? I don’t think it was something that could keep going on without it becoming a little bit stale. I don’t think of it as leaving the characters behind, because we’re creating so much Star Wars content these days that they could appear almost anywhere. People at Lucasfilm ask me whether they can use them here or there… Providing they’re still around! Certainly, when The Clone Wars ended, those characters ended up coming back in different ways. I would say that the biggest loss for me is that I really enjoy working with the actors. The team on Rebels has been fantastic, and we recorded together a lot. That’s the biggest thing: not seeing them on a more regular basis because they’re really interesting, talented people. But their characters live on, and that is really exciting and a credit to their work.
For someone who has never seen Rebels, how would you describe it?
Star Wars Rebels is about an unconventional family. It’s the story of a boy who has lost everything, and how he finds the love that he needs from another group of people who have, in their own ways, all lost things too. It’s about the strength you can have when you come together for one another and the greater good. That’s what it drives at: the sense of family and how we support one another. On many occasions, you’ve talked about the cast being like a family, too. What memories will stay with you about your time with them? With Freddie, I’ll remember how he was so Kanan in every way. He understood the character, he understood the nature of what it meant for Kanan to be a Jedi, and how this was a slightly different type of Jedi that was emerging after the Clone Wars. Vanessa came with her love of Star Wars built-in already: an avid fan of not only the fi lms but also The Clone Wars. She understood what we were going for, and created a character that is not represented a lot in Star Wars—this kind of mother archetype. There’s Shmi and Jyn’s mom, but Hera has by far the most screen time, and she takes the lead in getting everyone to fight for the greater good. She portrayed that brilliantly. Tiya really brought Sabine to life. We had the broadest canvas to paint on with Sabine when we began, and we didn’t have the most specific goals in mind for her. But through getting to know Tiya and what she could bring to the character, the way that she was performing really solved a lot of things for Sabine in terms of where she should go and what she should do. With Taylor—it’s funny—whenever I hear his voice I just hear Ezra. He’s been amazing and he’s had quite an arc himself, I think, on the series and coming to understand it. I remember, when he started out, watching Freddie and Vanessa mentor him on the nature of Star Wars and what it means… He’s had almost a real-life Ezra Bridger experience, which was Rebels has been fantastic, and we recorded together a lot. That’s the biggest thing: not seeing them on a more regular basis because they’re really interesting, talented people. But their characters live on, and that is really exciting and a credit to their work.
For someone who has never seen Rebels, how would you describe it?
Star Wars Rebels is about an unconventional family. It’s the story of a boy who has lost everything, and how he finds the love that he needs from another group of people who have, in their own ways, all lost things too. It’s about the strength you can have when you come together for one another and the greater good. That’s what it drives at: the sense of family and how we support one another. On many occasions, you’ve talked about the cast being like a family, too. What memories will stay with you about your time with them? With Freddie, I’ll remember how he was so Kanan in every way. He understood the character, he really fun to watch! His sense of humor, his snark, his character, are definitely all in Ezra. And Steve… With Zeb, Steve brings such enormous compassion to a character that is sometimes just seen as muscle. He can play the strength, but he can also play the sensitive older brother type, and he can play the wide range of emotions when he’s up against a character like Kallus. All of the main cast have just embodied these characters in a way that made it really easy to keep writing them. You forgot about Chopper! Oh, Chopper was a pain. But that’s Chopper! What are you going to do? You know droids. They’re a different thing entirely!
Did you always know Rebels would run for four seasons?
I had always thought, kind of vaguely, that it would be around four seasons, and a lot of that was from my experience of working on The Clone Wars. If a show goes on too long, you lock in your audience but you don’t really bring new people to it, because they feel overwhelmed by how much they have to catch up on. Also, I think the story has to get somewhere; the characters have to evolve in a certain way. You can only steal so many ships, or have so much fuel to find before you’re doing repetitive things. I wanted it to feel like it had a beginning, middle, and end as a series, and I think that’s made the fourth season, frankly, very successful. I think that the stories feel a little more important, and that there’s a lot more at stake, because people know we are coming to the end.
Does that mean that not everyone’s going to make it out alive?
Well, there’s always that danger! Since episode one there’s been that danger. So, we’ll have to see. But there have to be real stakes, you know? For me, what’s really working at this point is that people are actually worried about the characters. That means we’ve done our jobs well, because the audience cares. The fact that people are concerned that they might lose some of their favorite characters—or all of their favorite characters—is a good thing. We’ll see if they like what I did! What did you do differently on Rebels based on your experience of The Clone Wars? Well, The Clone Wars is really, really vast. It covers a huge amount of time and many different perspectives on that conflict. Where Rebels is very different is that it’s all this one little group. It’s a family. That makes it very strong for the character arcs, and it’s a little more rewarding for the audience following it. I will concede that—with The Clone Wars—some people just weren’t really into, say, the droid episodes. They wanted to just see clone episodes. So it’s more a pick and choose environment, where Rebels is one whole piece.
When we did some of the bigger four-part arcs in The Clone Wars, I saw how those stories would evolve, and felt that bringing that mentality to an entire series was something important for Rebels.
Did you know where the character arcs were going from the beginning, or did they develop over time?
I would say that it is a little of both. For me, it’s really important to have a plan of where this is all going to go right from the beginning. You make up a lot of things as you go along, but I need to know that we are driving towards something specific. Even if that something changes— and sometimes it can change dramatically—you are always driving towards an end game. On The Clone Wars, where I felt the main arc was always with Ahsoka, I was always driving at what her story ending was. I had different versions of that, but they had relative similarities. It’s the same for Ezra. Ever since the first week we’ve been working on Rebels, I’ve been tasking myself with: “Where does this kid go? What are the primary questions that we need to answer? What do people think when they start watching this series? What is the outcome going to be?” And I’ve tried to address those needs as we’ve gone along. The specifics have evolved and changed, but the overall ideas and themes have not. Simon Kinberg [co-executive producer on Rebels] was always very interested in the family dynamic on the show, and that was the touchstone I would always come back to. If I ever thought that I was getting lost somewhere, I’d remind myself that we’re making this story about a family, and try to see that through all the way to the end. I knew at the beginning that it was independent from the rest of the Star Wars saga—in that it does not infl uence Luke Skywalker’s story—and that was important.
It’s not even a story that has a big impact on Rogue One, because… Well, I don’t know why it would. We see the Ghost at the Battle of Scarif, but you don’t get the idea that it’s playing a major role. So the end of this series doesn’t need to be about any of those things. It has its own ending which fi ts the saga of Ezra Bridger.
What were the pivotal character moments across the four seasons for you?
The Jedi Temple episodes from each season are very important, and I throw the Sith Temple on Malachor in there as well. If you were to just see those episodes, that part of Ezra’s story would play out in its entirety. You need the episodes in-between to see his learning curve as a Jedi, but those episodes in particular are where you thread those bigger ideas together. When you hit the episode in the first season where he gets his lightsaber crystal, we’re getting back to some ideas that I was playing with on The Clone Wars. For me, each character has their own arc that you can separate out and watch in relative isolation. For Sabine, the Darksaber episode is hugely significant for her as a character. She really evolved as the series went on, and that whole arc with her and her family became very important. Kallus and Zeb have their own story, which gets woven together from the very beginning, and for Hera the B-wing episode was very important. It shows you the different side to this person and what she really loves. On a broader level, bringing Darth Vader and Ahsoka into the series was pivotal. The tone shifted with the arrival of Vader, and we had to add bigger heroes to counter him. I think that story arc tracks nicely in the background, but has a proper influence on what Ezra’s doing, too. And Kanan’s always paired with what Ezra’s doing, so there are all these different angles from which you can watch the show.
When did you feel Rebels was established enough to introduce its more philosophical themes?
It’s hard to say. For me, it’s about a young boy who’s growing up. The philosophy just naturally comes into it when he’s fighting more evil characters like Darth Vader. You have to explain what the nature of this evil character is, what’s driving them, and how it affects this boy. It’s the same with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, which is deepening everything that he was learning in the first film. You always try to keep the fun aspects, and there is always adventure, but I think people want to feel this depth of emotional investment. This deep mystery that is the Force— compelling us to the dark or the light—is in all the characters, not just the Jedi. It’s just that the conflict is most focused through the Jedi.
Can you comment on fan hopes that characters from Rebels could appear in Solo?
Not really, no! It’s always fun to speculate, and I always think: If there’s a good reason for it, sure! Anything is possible. But logically speaking, if there was going to be a story where characters from Rebels would appear, you’d think it would be Rogue One. So I guess Chopper had his moment in that, when he appeared on screen for a second. But it’s got to make sense. As a filmmaker, you are always worried about crowding everything, and having everybody know everyone else. What I like is the interest from fans saying, “Hey, we would love to see these characters in live-action.” That means we’ve achieved something in making people feel that these characters are as real as anything else they watch in Star Wars. That is always one of my goals with these series. Lucasfilm are working on some new Star Wars series.
How do you feel about the future of the franchise on TV?
I think that we always need new. New is good. When you think of Rebels, we didn’t know any of these characters before we started. Now, some people tell me they are their favorite Star Wars characters. Star Wars is a universe that people love, and my experience is that there are innumerable stories in it. We certainly never ran out of them on The Clone Wars, and we didn’t run out of them on Rebels. That’s where Star Wars really proves itself as an incredible mythology, and it’s what makes people want to visit this galaxy again and again. It’s always fun to see the old characters we know, but it’s more exciting to delve into the unknown and meet new ones we’ve never even heard about before.
Is there anything more that you’d really love to explore in the Star Wars universe?
Oh, there are all kinds of stories that I want to tell! There are a couple in particular that I’m really interested in getting out there, so we’ll have to see what happens. But I never feel like we’ve left something on the table in terms of the things we’ve done so far. One of the luxuries we’ve had is the length of time we’ve had to tell our story. It can be challenging to tell a story in 24 minutes, but to have an entire season to tell a story is a real luxury, and I think we’ve done a pretty great job of doing that. The movies have to condense their stories into an hour or so to watch, which is a challenge in its own way. Whatever I do next, for me it’s not about taking it to the “next level,” because I’ve tried to tell every story as big as I can with the resources I have. I’ve worked in 2D animation and then computer-generated animation, and they have different properties that you can exploit to tell your story. If I were to do something that was live-action… Well, there are way more similarities than differences. For me, it’s just a question of what’s the best way to tell the story. I’m definitely still excited about Star Wars. I’m 12 years into it, and creatively I still feel very strongly about it.