Collider was recently invited to Disney Channel to screen two upcoming episodes of Season Two’s Star Wars Rebels and chat with executive producer Dave Filoni and the cast of the Disney XD animated adventure series. The exciting, action-packed half-hour show continues the epic tradition of the legendary Star Wars saga as a ragtag band of rebels – Ezra (Taylor Gray), Hera (Vanessa Marshall), Kanan (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Sabine (Tiya Sircar), Zeb (Steve Blum), and Chopper – ignite a rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire. They’ll be joined this season by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) and Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker).
At the press conference following the screening, Filoni, Prinze, Marshall, Eckstein and Baker discussed production on the new season, the lengthy process it takes to produce each episode, the evolution of the characters and their arcs, what it’s like being part of a cast of characters that are new to the Star Wars universe, Filoni’s collaboration with George Lucas, how they’re breathing new life into the storyline and bringing Vader, Ahsoka and Rex into the mix, and why it’s important to develop strong female characters. To learn more, here’s a list of 20 things to know about Season Two of Star Wars Rebels. Be aware there may be a few spoilers. And click here to read Adam’s review of the hourlong Season 2 premiere movie.
The process to make each episode of Star Wars Rebels is considerably faster than it was for Clone Wars.
DAVE FILONI: Clone Wars was easily a year. Rebels we have down, I like to say, to several months, from script to screen, to shoot an episode. Once I have the script and it’s locked, I give it to an episodic director. Then, I hand off all the staging and screen direction for what we want to happen. That takes about 6 weeks. They actually shoot it so there’s rough proxy. Then, I send it to Disney, they send it back, and we all talk about what we like and don’t like. We get two additional weeks to revise that reel. Once that 8-week period is over, it goes into animation lighting, and we’re running at that point all the way until we get it back. Probably that takes about 3 months all said. I’ve got one more shot when it comes back in color to change anything that‘s horrifically wrong, embarrassing, and/or to get something right that’s not working. Then, there’s the final sound design and music. I’d say Rebels is more like 8 months. It depends when you count the story started from its inception.
If Filoni senses a problem during production, he fixes it then rather than waiting until post.
FILONI: I don’t believe in the statement, “Fix it in post.” By that point, it’s usually too late. At every point, everything is evolutionary in Star Wars up until the last moment. There was a case just a couple of weeks ago where I was getting rid of a couple lines of dialogue in the final sound lock. It just hits you wrong. I’ve come to the decision that it’s trusting your instincts. When you’re watching something and you have the slightest little tic of “Hmmm? That’s lame,” you have to stop and get rid of it. You have to crush that. It’s harder than you think, but it can make a big different in the episode. That’s what it all comes down to.
Premiering the one-hour movie event “The Siege of Lothal” to kick off Season Two at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim last June was a great way to reward eager fans and reveal that the villainous Vader will indeed be back. It was also an exciting experience for the show’s actors and crew.
FILONI: I empathize with the wait the fans have had. I don’t know what their grand strategy was. I like to think that people are just so excited to have Darth Vader in some stuff they couldn’t wait to release it, and it’s Celebration. We had a great opportunity. We like to connect very directly with fans of Lucasfilm. To fill a room up with fans, and have them watch Vader, and we’re all in the room together was an awesome opportunity, because I had a lot of key creators from my team there that don’t get to do events like this a lot. For the actors, I think it’s important for them to hear the audience, what they react to, what they don’t. It’s an exciting experience and an educational one for my crew. That was a huge opportunity for us at that time.
Bringing Clone Wars fan-favorites Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex back into the mix for Season Two serves the story of the Rebels as they evolve from a rogue group to part of an organized rebellion. It also serves the relationship of Kanan and Ezra very well and is an opportunity to appeal to new generations of fans.
FILONI: Ahsoka and Rex’s story had to serve the story of the Rebels. That was the most important thing. I couldn’t just haphazardly bring them in because I like them. I love the characters Ahsoka and Rex. It was hard to let them go after so long telling their stories, but it had to be purposeful. For a long time on Season One, I didn’t even want to have them in it. It would be brought up to me by different members of the story group, because I think they wanted to be nice to me and say, “Hey, we’re open to this.” But I said, “Yeah, but it’s not right.” Kanan, Hera, Ezra, Sabine, and Zeb have to own that space, and everybody knew. But, once you know them and you understand their characters’ dynamics, and then suddenly, you’re around the table, you go, “Wow, I wonder what Kanan would think of Rex?” You realize he probably wouldn’t think much of Rex.
That’s very challenging, because the kids that grew up with Rex love Rex. But what if I was able to create a group of kids that love Rex, and they also separately loved Kanan, and now we have conflict? You also have a boy that didn’t know The Clone Wars, like any kid that didn’t watch The Clone Wars, so they’d go, “What’s the problem with Rex?” We found that very interesting and that helped serve the relationship of Kanan and Ezra really well.
Ahsoka’s personal connection to Anakin Skywalker also helps serve the story when you’re dealing with a formidable foe like Darth Vader.
FILONI: You can’t just bring Darth Vader into it because he’s going to crush them, like they don’t stand a chance. Ahsoka has a personal connection to Anakin Skywalker that we believe people are interested in. What’s that side of the story? People are interested in what’s Vader like before he realizes his son is alive. So, that became important. Plus, she’s a Force Wielder that’s way more progressed and defense ready than Kanan. She has much more training from Anakin Skywalker directly, one of the greatest of all Jedi, from Obi-Wan Kenobi, from Yoda. So, she brings that lineage to the Rebels but also a perspective, which is “Yeah, that didn’t work for me. I walked away from it.” Which is also challenging then when you get to Ezra, because he’s a kid and one of the first kids that’s growing up where there is no Jedi Order. There is no temple for him to go to. There aren’t 10,000 examples of what it means to be a great Jedi Knight. He’s making it up, being a student, as he goes, as much as Kanan now has to make up the training based on his memory of when he was a child. Those are all interesting story problems for Star Wars Rebels to have that made it worthwhile to bring these two [characters] into it.
Disney-Lucasfilm has breathed new life into the Star Wars franchise by offering new character opportunities and avenues to explore. With today’s technology, Filoni thinks C-3PO could have just put the Com on vibrate.
FILONI: For me, it’s really about the opportunities we have for the characters. And, if that means that things have to get a little darker at times, then it has to. You learn more about these guys in the beginning of Season One. Now, in Season Two, their life has to get more complex. It’s a natural story course for me. The only challenge I find creatively when writing it at times is that it’s now how cell phones and devices probably work better than the communicators they had in New Hope. C-3PO could have just put the Com on vibrate instead of shutting it off, and then he probably would have known there’s a trash compactor. I think a little bit about those things.
FREDDIE PRINZE, JR.: Everything is with a reason. It’s brotherly because Kanan sucks at it. He doesn’t know how to be a Master. He was on the run at the age that he finds Ezra so he’s making it up as he goes. He’s hustling the way he did as a kid. He literally says, “I don’t know what it is. Just do it.” That’s in his moments of honesty. You certainly see him try to commit to the role of Master and sometimes he looks like an idiot because he doesn’t know. It’s like fake it until you make it. When he has that moment with Yoda in Season One, it’s just a simple line where he says, “Oh, so you’re a Master basically?” And everything closes up on Kanan real quick. From that moment on, it’s like anything. Once you’re not afraid to fail, then you rarely fail. And once he’s not afraid of being a Master, he becomes a pretty good Master. You see that at the end. It’s a lesson they taught in Clone Wars all the time, which is once there’s no attachment, once the Ezra attachment is gone, the Inquisitor gets the hell kicked out of him. He even tells me, “That was a mistake.” That’s the line that he wrote. “You would have beat us, but you just messed up and you killed the one thing that was holding me back.” So, I think he’s learning at an advanced level the way anyone in the streets would learn, and I have a lot of fun doing that. I don’t feel it’s a modern twist on Star Wars because I feel it’s much more of a throwback to the original trilogy just in the look and the style and the vibe.
Freddie Prinze Jr. finds older movies inspiring, and he admits he stole a line of dialogue from Laurence Fishburne’s character in Deep Cover.
PRINZE, JR.: Certainly, the older movies are what inspire my performance. I’m not taking many contemporary things except I stole a thing Laurence Fishburne did in Deep Cover. He had this moment with Jeff Goldblum where Jeff Goldblum kills Clarence Williams III. It’s that moment where it’s a mistake. I can’t say it because it’s dirty words, and this is Disney Channel, and that was a hardcore movie. But he says something like, “Jeff Goldblum, you’re done.” I took it and made it Jedi-ish and made it my own and that’s the Kanan book. It’s a 187 by Snoop Dogg.
Rebels has a very diverse group of characters. In Season Two, they all get deeper backstories and we learn a lot more about who these people are, where they came from, what got them here, and the implications for the Star Wars Rebels universe going forward.
FILONI: It’s a different type of evolution. For example, Ahsoka was in a system where she was trained at a temple and she had a very formal system of teaching, at least before she met Anakin, and Anakin kind of changes that. But, with these guys, we have a much more diverse group of characters as far as some are weapons experts, some are great pilots, one is making it up as we go, and one is a clear cut warrior. It’s been interesting to develop. We spend less time on what their skills are and more time on developing who the people are. In Season Two, what’s most exciting is you will learn a lot more about where they came from and what drove them into the positions they’re in on Star Wars Rebels, which is what I think a lot of people wanted in Season One.
If you didn’t know Clone Wars, you’ll get a whole lot as far as Kanan having to explain to Ezra what happened to him and why he feels the way he does about Rex. You’ll have episodes where we’ll focus in on Hera and it’s all about her. You’ll have more than one this year. Her backstory is actually explained in two parts. One is very much her as the pilot and what that’s about, and one gets into her family and her father and why is she not a part of Ryloth and what has happened there, because her father was a big revolutionary in Clone Wars and you’d almost think it would be natural that she’d be alongside him. We get very specifically into those character backgrounds in Season Two, which we all found really exciting. There’s an awesome one about Tiya that’s in the new trailer we’re going to debut next week. You can thank [inaudible] for that. He was like, “We need more Sabine.” I said, “Okay. Let’s just give the farm away.” And we did. It’s definitely something that if you’ve watched Clone Wars and hear what Sabine says, you’ll be like, “Oh, that changes a lot.” So that’s good. She gets a lot of development.
We are working very far ahead in the show. As the characters have evolved, I would argue that where we end up in the future on Rebels, Sabine kind of elevates and is every bit as important as Ezra as far as what you think of as dynamically who the show is about and where does it go, because they’re both kind of the young people dealing with this war. It just became more and more important to have them elevated and have the mentor characters supportive. But they all get much deeper backstories this year and you see it. It’s not just talked about, which is fun.
Filoni respects the universe George Lucas created and wants to make sure what he does moving forward is not out of accord with what Lucas would have done and that it serves the story and characters of Star Wars.
FILONI: Before George left, we had a lot of discussions and I would bring up things that I thought were very important like Ahsoka and Darth Vader, like “If they ever met, what do you think would happen?” We would discuss it. I’ve done several drawings of that encounter. I made sure that before it was officially separated, Disney and Star Wars and George, that I had these discussions with him because now I don’t really want to bother him with it. He created it. I would tell you that it’s always going to be special and important to him, but I think he’s also excited to see what everybody does with it. I’ve shown him Rebels, so he’s seen it, and he knows that I follow the lessons I was taught as a good Jedi should. I’ve expanded on certain things that I wanted to do, but nothing that I feel is out of accord with what he would have done. Every decision I made on Clone Wars or any interview I did, I said, “Is this something I would say or do if George was here?,” because I so greatly respect that it’s his universe. Even to this day as I go forth doing things, I always ask myself, “Is that something he’d really want?”
The fans want all kinds of things, but you can’t get caught up in that, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because Star Wars is so strong after so many years and people love so many different aspects of it, you have to be careful what you’re serving. You have to always serve the story and the characters of Star Wars. I would have to say for the prequel kids who love their prequel movies, they’re very vocal now about all the things they love about it. I love them, too. They get a lot of flak for prequels, whatever. I don’t care. There are some of the most exciting moments in those films. I’ve always been a big supporter of them. I treat Rebels the same way I did Clone Wars, which is if there’s something compelling, I bring it in. So there’s still stuff from the EU (Expanded Universe) – what was called EU is now called Legends — that appears in Rebels from time to time, the same way that it appeared from time to time in Clone Wars. It’s just how I tell the stories. George is always okay with that so I continue.
Ashley Eckstein portrays an older version of Ahsoka in the Rebels storyline and she’s had to adjust her performance a bit compared to Clone Wars.
ASHLEY ECKSTEIN: It was different to perform Ahsoka in Rebels versus Ahsoka in Clone Wars. There’s often times I’ll say a line and Dave will say, “No, that’s too sweet. That’s too cute. That’s too much like Ahsoka in Clone Wars.” I did have to adjust my performance quite a bit. I almost channeled Obi-Wan more. She’s more of the master now. Kanan and Ezra are like Ahsoka and Anakin, so Ahsoka doesn’t have the relationship with Ezra like Anakin and Ahsoka. She’s more like Obi-Wan. Ahsoka wasn’t super close with Obi-Wan. She always looked up to him like a matter of reverence and respect. That’s a good comparison for her in Rebels. We worked on Clone Wars for 7 years and I was the Ezra of Clone Wars, so I automatically want to sometimes be snippy and sarcastic. I would say there’s often times I would have to do a couple more takes to really get into the Rebels’ Ahsoka.
Filoni felt it was important to maintain some of the younger Ahsoka’s personality traits in the older version of her in Rebels.
FILONI: I always felt it was important that a kid watching Ahsoka that grew up with Clone Wars can still see in there that there’s still a part of her that will wink at you and has fun because that’s who she is. As a young person and as an older person, you still keep a lot of traits, so we just need to be very specific when it creeps in. Most of the time for me with Ahsoka, I think that she’s looking at this world of these friends, and especially Kanan and Ezra. It reminds her of the way things used to be and things aren’t that way now. That all got taken from her and she’s trying to figure out how does she move forward herself. She very much respects them and cares about them and is happy for them, but she doesn’t have that anymore. She wouldn’t even inject herself or include herself in what’s going on there except in very minimal ways as she figures out her own path.
Dee Bradley Baker has done so many voices, and he’s played more characters in the Star Wars franchise than any other actor. For him, it’s like living a dream to be a part of the Star Wars universe.
DEE BRADLEY BAKER: For me, there’s a lot very different about being a part of Star Wars. First of all, this is something I’ve loved since I was a kid. I always show around the picture of the Jawa costume my parents made for me the Halloween after New Hope was released in 1977. This was something I was very interested in. It was definitely on my radar all of my life. So, to be involved in something that you really loved deeply as a kid, but to be in it, it is living a dream like no other project that I’ve been involved with. And that it’s such an enduring and beloved and interesting and rich universe that continues to expand, that makes it even better. It’s not just a one-off or a quick thing. It’s part of this evolving, growing, living mythology that covers our planet. It’s a remarkable thing. I don’t know what to compare it to. I think it’s fantastic.
Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Vanessa Marshall reveal how the relationship between their characters will grow and evolve in Season Two as Kanan struggles with his place in the larger rebellion.
PRINZE, JR.: The threats are alive and bigger in Season Two than in Season One. Season One is a bit more happy-go-lucky because we’re winning. We’re dealing with small town government and it’s not that big a deal. In Season Two, everybody has seen our summer movie now. It’s Vader! The stakes can’t get higher than that. My wife (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is playing the Seventh Sister and we don’t know the gentleman playing the Fifth Brother, but we know that there are two of them chasing us. So, there’s not going to be as much time for those sort of private moments. They may try to steal some personal things, but it’s usually going to be to resolve conflict or to help me believe in a plan that I may not necessarily believe in, but I’ve been asked to trust by Ahsoka. I don’t want to be with this guy. Rex, to me, is not deep, and I love deep. If you’ve read the comics, you’ve seen in a very visceral way why Kanan would not think that’s cool. You’ll see more of that than you will the space marriage line. It’s just not going to be as much of an opportunity. She loves me though.
VANESSA MARSHALL: I would say it’s more I’m asking him to trust more than ever before, especially if you have empirical evidence and a personal experience with a Clone annihilating the Jedi. I’m begging him to go from our small structure into a bigger militaristic structure, which he detests, and he must cooperate. I feel like if there’s an affection for him, it’s now she’s cashing that in to really get him as a call to action and to commit to what looks like a ridiculous idea. I think the ask is bigger for Hera, and the fact that he follows through and does is a demonstration of his love. I spend more time in Season Two hoping he’s still alive, and I’m the getaway driver waiting to save his life. There are a lot of really great lightsaber duels and chases and all sorts of things to look forward to. It’s more what’s said without words than what you’ll actually see in terms of banter and affection.
Sabine goes on more of a journey this season as the idea that she’s from this Mandalorian warrior culture is brought to the forefront.
FILONI: It’s important to flesh out all the characters, because especially with a character like Sabine, there are so many interesting things, like the fact that she’s Mandalorian. We dealt so much with Mandalorians in Clone Wars. It has a whole history that I’ve diagrammed on whiteboards at Lucasfilms multiple times trying to track all these families and who belongs to what. It’s a very complex world and one that I know fans are interested in. The idea that she’s from this warrior culture gets brought to the forefront as we move forward. I think people would want to know about it. Like anyone, she has parents and a family. What were they like? Now that we know that there was such a history in Mandalore, were they involved in any of that that we saw?
One of the interesting things Filoni has discovered while developing characters for Star Wars Rebels is that sometimes they turn out to have been background characters in Clone Wars.
FILONI: The interesting thing to me has been that this was a strange discovery this season, but I found there to be at least two cases where we were filming something, and they’d developed the character, and then I realized, uh oh, that character had been on screen in Clone Wars, but I didn’t even know it because they had a helmet on. When you think about it, it’s reasonable to assume that this character was standing right there. But, because in Clone Wars they were just a background character wearing a helmet, you would never know. Sometimes you find these people in this story as you evolve it. I’d say that’s a bit of the case, but some is Sabine’s history. She wasn’t around to see any of that. She was such a young child.
Filoni has made it a goal to develop strong female characters in multiple roles in the Star Wars universe. He wants to create opportunities for telling stories about compelling people that feel real to an audience.
FILONI: I can’t even get into the importance of developing these female characters in multiple roles as mentors, as combatants, as strong personalities. You want the whole range for people to look at. As you go through Star Wars, we have so many examples of so many different characters that boys grew up emulating. We need to broaden that. It’s just been a real goal of mine. My wife is very outspoken in all these things that she studies and researches. The most important thing I’ve done is listen to her and any other woman that’s come up to me to say, “This is what I feel we’re missing and lacking.” It’s the same trait I took on frankly that made me successfully work with George. I listened to him. I don’t know the best way to tell those stories. I’m in a position where I have the authority to put them into play. So, my strongest play here can be I want to activate that.
I want to create these opportunities and then see how far they can go. Tiya has earned that in her performance and Vanessa’s performance so strongly identified with girls because they go, “Oh my gosh, Hans Solo was the pilot that I knew. Now it’s Hera and she’s an awesome pilot.” What does that mean? When Ahsoka stepped on stage as the apprentice to what people identified as the most powerful Jedi of all time, it was like a bomb for fans. How can that be? It just is. Just deal with it. Guess what that means? It means that she’s a better sword fighter than Kanan. When you develop these characters, it’s so important, because it makes your universe real. People feel that these characters are real. I just think it’s the way to go and Hera is interesting. I want to tell stories about compelling people.
Chopper’s backstory will be revealed in his own Season Two episode. He also gets a friend this year.
FILONI: There’s a massively huge Chopper episode. When I talk about backstories, everybody gets it. You will find out where Hera found Chopper and how she rebuilt him. It’s actually really important. But I would say of arcs, Chopper is the only one that doesn’t arc. He’s kind of a jerk in the beginning and he’s still pretty much of a jerk at the end. It’s like your cat who will sit on your lap more but it’s still a jerk. There’s not much you can do to change it. I think it’s important for Chopper. He does get a friend this year. That’s a big step for him.
To have Captain Rex, Wolffe and Gregor join Star Wars Rebels Season Two was a very important and personal episode arc for Filoni.
FILONI: It’s a very important episode arc to me to have Rex back. You want to make sure you get that right. The whole thing with the Clones is, when I started to think about bringing them back, I guess this is because I’m from Pennsylvania. When you live in Pennsylvania, most old people move to Florida and they fish. They buy a big Winnebago or an RV and they travel to Florida. I was always fascinated by that as a kid. I would always draw Rex fishing. My grandfather used to fish and he would take us fishing. I thought of this image of him fishing, sitting on the back deck of something somewhere, and then I made the back deck of it a Walker. Then, I realized that the big gun on the AT-AT looks like a giant fishing rod. It all started to fall into place. It’s one of those awesome things too, because I could tell at certain points Henry Gilroy was like, “Are we seriously doing that?” “Yes! The fact that you think it’s weird really motivates me to make this happen.”
I like this idea that it was a difficult thing for the Clones. The old guys basically outlived their usefulness and the Emperor got rid of them. So, what do they do? Some of them go work on the docks. Some of them wander the streets as courtesans. Rex somehow managed the tank and got that and hooked up with Wolffe and Gregor. So, I can finally live up to what I promised kids about Gregor surviving that, which was cool for me. They’re these three old guys fishing, which is a very comforting thought to me. That was the whole motivation. I wanted this kind of Howl’s Moving Castle Walking tank, wonderfully designed by Andre Kirk on the design team, that you can’t help looking at without hoping it becomes a LEGO set. It was a nice story for the team that’s working on Rebels and worked on Clone Wars to tell, because it was so familiar to us and the characters were so familiar to us. And Rex, Santa Claus that he is, I think adds a great dynamic for Kanan.
There was an additional ending on this story, which was cut for time, where Gregor and Wolffe take the AT-AT. It was inspired by Kelly’s Heroes, one of Filoni’s favorite movies.
FILONI: There was an additional ending on this story. Gregor and Wolffe actually take the AT-AT. There’s a version of that AT-AT that Sabine has painted that has a giant wolf head on the side of the head. It was great. Everybody was like, “You’re not really going to do that?” They prevented me from putting a tail on it, because I just thought it looked like a gray wolf. It’s one of those things where sometimes I wanted to have more fun than the gang does. I had to cut it for time, but the whole idea for film nerds about why they would take this tank at the end was based on Kelly’s Heroes where Oddball (Donald Sutherland), the tank driver, has a Sherman tank and then he steals it. He pays for the Tiger tank at the end. I loved that movie. I had to get that in there. And there’s more Rex coming up. The sad thing is now you can feel the power you have when you know the story and no one else does. Dee hasn’t seen those episodes yet. But it is fun. You can reference stuff that Dee is in and he won’t know. You’re going to see it wonderfully soon.
Star Wars Rebels Season Two returns October 14th on Disney XD.