“Star Wars Rebels” will be the first look fans get of their favorite science-fiction universe since its creator, George Lucas, sold the property to Disney and stepped down from the helm two years ago. Naturally, fans are approaching the new series with equal parts excitement and trepidation. After all, Disney itself has been compared to the nefarious “Empire” more than a few times over the years.
“Rebels” executive producer Dave Filoni finds the notion that “Star Wars” may be unrecognizable in its new iteration “fascinating.” Yes, Lucas is essentially retired from telling “Star Wars” stories, but the bedrock of his teachings are still in practice today.
“The same team of people in lead roles making ‘Clone Wars’ is going to be responsible for making ‘Rebels,’” Filoni recently explained in a phone interview. “Not many people seem to have grasped that. To me, there aren’t as many differences as people thought as far as the people making these shows.”
The final season of “Clone Wars,” the animated series Filoni supervised under Lucas for the past six years, finally debuted on Netflix last Friday. It is the final look fans will have at the way “Star Wars” was before Lucas stepped away. And despite the carry-over in key people such as Filoni behind the scenes, the new “Rebels” series will be different from how people have come to view “Star Wars,” especially since Lucas began releasing the prequel trilogy in 1999.
Set in the time period following the prequel film “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and before the original “Star Wars,” known now as “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the new series follows a newly created group of heroes doing its best to combat the all-powerful Empire aboard its ship, Ghost. The series will chronicle the formation of the so-called Rebel Alliance that eventually included Luke Skywalker and Han Solo among its members. It will premiere this fall on the Disney Channel before airing regularly on Disney XD.
The new series is expected return to the fast-paced storytelling and punchy dialogue fans loved about the original trilogy of films. Gone will be the intergalactic politics and trade embargoes that many fans complained about in the prequel films.
“In ‘Rebels,’ you’ll be in scenarios where you hear things have taken place that are furthering the story, but you won’t be watching those politics unfold,” Filoni said. “It’s on a more human level.”
Also, don’t expect to see the kind of lightning-quick lightsaber battles that defined “Clone Wars” and the prequel films. The mystical powers of the Force will be taking a back seat in the new series.
“I think that we all agree what we liked about the Force in the original films was it was a less-is-more scenario,” Filoni says.
Further, Filoni says the new series goes back to some of illustrator Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings for the original “Star Wars” film for a lot of its look, something he had originally planned to do with “Clone Wars,” but never quite achieved. With the change in leadership at Lucasfilm, however, not everything will be a throwback to the ‘70s. The influence of the new leadership under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy will also be apparent.
“I know that Kathy is a very big fan of [Japanese animator Hayao] Miyazaki, so I told [art director] Kilian Plunkett to look at his designs and what makes them so iconic and memorable,” Filoni said. That, combined with McQuarrie’s original “Star Wars” designs, is the look of the new “Rebels.”
“The biggest thing is you want older fans to watch and say, ‘Wow that looks like “Star Wars,”’ and I want the younger fans who have never experienced it before to experience it the way I experienced ‘A New Hope,’” Filoni said.
And no one working on “Star Wars” today is better qualified to provide that original “Star Wars” effervescence than Filoni, who estimates he’s overseen something like 46 hours of “Star Wars,” working closely alongside Lucas himself for most of the eight years he’s been at Lucasfilm.
“I’m definitely the spokesman from the ‘Star Wars’ legacy side of things,” Filoni says of working alongside such newcomers to the universe as fellow executive producers Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman.
But while the people making it may change, the “Star Wars” fandom stays the same, even as it grows more excited to see the new era dawn.
“Without even one episode of ‘Rebels’ airing, people [online] have already figured out how they’re going to kill off characters,” Filoni said. “Morbid but exciting, I think.”