It’s been over two years since the last time I chatted with Star Wars Rebels Executive Producer Dave Filoni. It was at that time that he and Freddie Prinze Jr shared the excitement of a new series that was about to air. Their enthusiasm, contagious. And rightfully so. Dave is pretty much a Star Wars fixture, and during my recent Rogue One Event, he shared the tie-in with the new film and Star Wars Rebels with Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera joining the animated series.
Star Wars Rebels Executive Producer Dave Filoni
Dave was introduced to the room after we screened the discussed episode with the debut of Saw Gerrera. He was quick to jump right in as to what to expect in the new Rebels.
A battered veteran of the Clone Wars as well as the ongoing rebellion against the Empire, Saw Gerrera leads a band of Rebel extremists. Saw has lost much in his decades of combat, but occasional flashes of the charismatic and caring man he once was shine through his calloused exterior. Gerrera is bunkered on the ancient world of Jedha, coordinating a prolonged insurgency against the Imperial occupation. Saw’s ailing health has not withered his resolve to fight.
I appreciate it – thanks for watching the episode. And I know with all these big movies coming out, we still have our TV series. But it’s neat when we can have things coexist, which is fun. And for me at least, it continues the adventure. For kids especially – once they leave the theater. So, I had to imagine it after I left, with my brother, which is also good. I would have loved to have a show like Rebels. So fire away, anything.
Obviously, you knew about Saw Gerrera while you were writing this episode. How does that process work to make sure you’re staying the same?
It’s not that difficult; it’s just all one big story. And you’d never really think regarding like, well this piece is a movie, this piece is a book, and this piece is a TV series because you just know these characters. So like I know Saw because I helped introduced the character of Saw. So when they were doing stuff with him in the movie, my office is right next to Kiri Hart of the Story Group. And we talk all the time and ask questions. And then I got to meet Gary Whitta. And we’d talk. So it’s just like any good storytelling.
It’s a bunch of people having discussions and talking about the things they like, things they don’t like. Getting different opinions, and then, I always feel strongly about them going off and making their choices. And when Saw did for the part (in Rogue One), I had to do him. And Clone Wars set him up, but I was excited that anybody could see where that went. So if anything, you’re more involved, and that has huge pluses. ‘Cause you get to see it. But at the same time, it’s like you’ve seen it and you’ve read it.
Then you work on it. So you keep trying to find little pockets of Stara Wars that you don’t know. Which are almost a treasure for me at this point. I would be lying if I told you it’s not fun, even 12 years later.
Do you take more joy in creating your storyline? Or do you look forward to those points and those parts when you can kind of tie into the existing storyline?
I never really have a huge feeling about tying in. A good story didn’t need me; they hunt me and my help. The Star Wars universe was great before I got there, it’ll be great long after I’m gone. And that’s just how I feel about this, it’s not my story. I’m privileged to be in a position where I get to add to it. I’m very grateful for that. But when I look at the work we’ve done in animation especially, and the characters that we’ve added with Captain Rex, we had Chopper and Ezra, Sabine and Kanan and Hera, is, adding those characters can give us dimension in ways that the franchise didn’t have before. Especially when you get to female characters from this explosion. I won’t even say explosions; the interest has always been there.
I think it’s telling the stories that had been long overdue. And so we’ve been telling the stories and adding dimension to these characters. That’s the great part. And it’s fun when you have a tie-in, but I like it when it’s more of a wink. It’s not something that was ever missing, if it were important, they would have done it. So I’ve always kinda looked at it that way. And I learned a lot of that from my years of working with George (Lucas). So it’s fun to do, but you have to be careful that don’t overdo it, that your fandom doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story.
Talk a little bit about bringing Forest Whitaker on.
Yeah, it was a huge benefit to us. We have an attitude about the characters. Which is, if the person that originates the role, especially on screen, we want as much continuity for the audience as possible. He is a very big Star Wars fan, and a lot of these actors do as much not because of the opportunity but because they love it.
And so when they say the character’s gonna continue, they absolutely would like to continue being the character. They don’t care what form it’s in. And so it’s always exciting when we have people come and maintain their character. You have great continuity. They’re always incredibly gracious and super fun to work with. It might not be the last one you see in that regard, on Rebels, afraid of a spoiler. But I can say that. Don’t want to get in trouble.
But he was fantastic; it’s one of the secrets to, when you’re a very good director, you just have a great actor. And he doesn’t need a lot of advice – I just gotta put him into place and tell him what’s going on. And he’s just fantastic.
So it was great to work with him, and it’s added to a long list of incredibly wonderful performances that we’ve had in Star Wars across the board. Not just on Rebels. But across the board. I just love that they want to do it, is my favorite thing.
You’ve done a great job of creating a parent and kid-friendly animated feature.
I appreciate that, ’cause it is a goal of mine. When I talked to George, he would always say he created Star Wars for kids. That was the big thing. Yeah. When I was a kid it was a great thing because my parents liked it. It’s not that they didn’t like everything else, but they were very big into opera, very big into the symphony, Very big into those types of stories. And there is a great relationship between those stories and what Star Wars presented. So it wasn’t talking down.
And there were a lot of things to talk about as a family. And characters that we could relate to. So I think especially in the beginning, a lot of fans would say, “Dave, why are you making REBELS for kids?” ‘Cause that’s such a perplexing question to me. ‘Cause I would say to them well, when did you first watch Star Wars? When I was six, and it was the greatest experience I ever had. And I’m like, okay. So my whole goal is never to take that experience away from kids, is to involve everybody in it, to make it a place where the best compliment we can give for the series is that it’s something that the family watches together.
Parents tell me they watch it with their kids. There are some challenging things we get too, especially when you deal with the Jedi. Things get dark at times. But you always have to monitor that, you know, it’s like fairy tales have frightening moments in them. Otherwise when you shine bright and things are good all the time, it doesn’t shine as well. I was raised reading Tolkien, The Hobbit and things of that nature. C.S. Lewis and there are scary parts in those books. But then when you come through, I mean, Darth Vader is intimidating. I used to be a little kid and freak myself out just thinking of how he breathes.
I would be alone and be like, Oh my gosh. But that’s what you want – kids to be afraid of the bad guys because they’re evil. And they recognize that. And so I just always think of those stories I had as a kid and those relationships I had. And I try to make something that’s not as much for myself but for my younger self. But my older self will still watch it and be like, that’s cool. It’s a delicate balance. Because I see honestly, in today’s world, I see la danger in a lot of the fans that have grown up. You kind of have a generation of filmmakers now, they’re all fans. More than you ever had before, I think.
And they’re very vocal about being fans. Which is great. It’s great because they have the understanding of why the material is important. But there’s a danger of trying to take the material and accidentally change it into being for them now. Their 40-year-old self. And you see that kind of in a lot of different franchises out there, that things get darker. And you kinda go – but that’s not what I remember I liked as a kid. But there’s that impulse to say like, yeah, but now I would do this. And wouldn’t that be cool?
But you just always have to remember, Star Wars is a story ultimately, right, the original trailer says, a boy and a girl in a galaxy, which is the big opening of the door, and a wonderful thing, a magic thing. And the adventure. So I just try to maintain that.
What is one of the big things that George has taught you?
There are so many things. I mean, we had all kinds of sayings in editorial. Mainly it was editorial, how to look at the story, how to cut the story, how to move things. I torment everybody with it. And the script in that sense is just a beginning point. It’s not ever per word. And so the scripts that will always go the easiest for me is the ones that I write ahead of time. ‘Cause I know how I’m gonna shoot it the whole time. But there’s how you write something, and there is how it needs to be shot.
He just taught me to be incredibly flexible with the opportunities that are on hand. And when you see something, to go for it. And it’s better to attempt to do something great than to just stay safe. He will push. And we would look at some stuff we were doing, and he would say, “You know, we’re right on the edge at this time, this is either really gonna work, or people are gonna hate it. But we’re gonna go for making this great.”
He used to say, “Dare to be great.” Which is something I always say to my team, and it seems simple, right? Of course, everybody thinks that when they start out. But it’s amazing how many times you pull yourself up or you hold back or you get afraid. And in Star Wars as with everything, fear is the root of everything that is failure and jealousy and greed and evil. That’s my real education. It is in The Force. That was the biggest education.
See Saw Gerrera as a rebel before he became a rogue. Catch the special two-part episode of Star Wars Rebels Saturday, January 7 anywhere you can watch Disney XD, and see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in theaters now.
*I was invited by Disney to be part of the Rogue One press junket where all my expenses were paid. All opinions are my own.