Fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars know this was a breakthrough season. Not only did the quality of the animation seemingly jump to lightspeed, but the stories went deeper into that Galaxy Far, Far Away than ever before with thought-provoking episodes tackling politics, financial corruption, and terrorism. Not the Star Wars you grew up with, to be sure, but a fresh new take on George Lucas’s enduring space opera for the post-9/11 era. In fact, you wouldn’t be far off if you likened supervising director Dave Filoni’s reimagining of Star Wars to Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s take on Battlestar Galactica. Especially since BSG-alum Katee Sackhoff is voicing a character on The Clone Wars next season!
Now that season three is history, we talked to Filoni about The Clone Wars’ future: Sackhoff, a multi-episode battle epic, the reappearance of Savage Opress, the likely return of Chewbacca, and how George Lucas got legendary Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) to direct an episode. Here’s what he had to say, starting at the beginning of all things, The Big Lebowski.
EW: I know you’re a huge fan of The Big Lebowski. Tell me about that reference you included in the finale.
DF: That one fat Trandoshan who shoots the Dathomiri witch was designed in homage to Walter Sobchak. He has the orange-yellow sunglasses Walter has on, the tan hunting jacket on. That character used to say after he shot her, “You want her toe? I can get you her toe.” But we had to cut it for time. It’s a film from which you take away something new every time you watch it. I get that out of The Life Aquatic too, but I’ve never put a Zissou-ism in The Clone Wars. Maybe I’ll put a red hat on someone in a cantina sometime.
EW: That could be a little more difficult to work in…
DF: Oddly, right? Big Lebowski, easy. Zissou, difficult.
EW: Why did you choose to introduce Chewbacca on the show in a Most Dangerous Game-type story?
DF: You can’t help but notice how these episodes bring together Ahsoka and Chewbacca. Ahsoka is possibly the marquee name of the show, who kids can really identify with, while Chewbacca for my generation is who we identify with…they fit really well together. That image of her looking up at him when they first meet came to my mind and was one of the first things I sketched in relation to this episode. We had all wanted to do Wookiees for a while, we were just not confident we could pull it off in a way that they wouldn’t look like big pieces of chocolate walking around just sculpted and clunky. I figured we’d eventually do Wookiees, though not necessarily Chewbacca. But we started with him first! And the great surprise is that you have all the other Wookiees at the end—Tarfful, and these other guys showing up.
EW: There’s really no reason why Chewbacca shouldn’t be a regular now, right?
DF: Well, I don’t know if he’d be a regular. Every time you use one of the classic characters, you have to wonder, “How would this affect what he’s thinking later on?” But I love that we have him and other Wookiees now, so it would be nice to see them show up from time to time. What’s more Star Wars than hearing a Wookiee? And when we make a model we like to get full use out of it. I don’t know if we’ll see him again anytime soon, but there is the likely possibility that he’ll return.
EW: The action scenes in the finale really raised the bar for the show, particularly the crash of the Trandoshan transport.
DF: George always tells me that what makes a good action scene are its layers. One thing happens that causes something else to happen, like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark fighting around that airplane. He fights one guy, then a bigger guy comes out, then the plane starts moving, then the gasoline spills, then a fire starts…so with the ship crashing we were really going for a cinematic quality, people fighting outside and inside. It’s all over water, so we had explosions, sparks, water erupting, and a huge kickup of sand when it finally hits the ground.
EW: Have you deliberately chosen to include a darker strain on the show lately? There’ve been so many deaths, including Kalifa in the finale, who was just a child.
DF: It’s important to have a dose of reality in this fantasy world. Like how the clone trooper Echo died in an everyday situation on the show. It wasn’t a hugely built-up moment, so it shows that these guys are always on the line. For Even Piell’s death, we wanted very much to show that the Citadel is a viable threat, so we had to lose a valuable character along the way. And with Kalifa, I really wanted to make sure we registered that moment for Ahsoka, that this life being lost was important to her, that it gave her sadness, but resolve too. It was important for me to see the breath going out of that character, so that you realized this was a big deal. It’s not like just an off-screen thing, or someone falls and disappears. It’s a meaningful moment that could cause Ahsoka herself to grow as a character. We’ve gotten to the point in our storytelling where we can tackle these things much more directly. Kalifa didn’t even have to say a line of dialogue as she was struggling for breath, but the animation of her face gave you the sense of what she was feeling.
EW: I liked too that the finale showed what can happen when the Jedi are cut off from civilization. It’s like, can they cling to their ideals when they have nothing supporting them? To be honest, you’d think more Jedi would be struggling with the Dark Side just fighting this war…
DF: I think it’s always an issue for the Jedi, just as it is for all of us in our daily lives. We say, “I’m going to do the right thing.” How many times, though, do you think you’re doing the right thing but then later you realize you were acting out of something else? The Jedi train against the Dark Side, so they have a lot of resolve, but at the end of the day they know they’re supposed to use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. I think Darth Sidious knows that making the Jedi fight a war on this scale makes them go against their nature. As Mace Windu says, “We’re keepers of the peace, not soldiers.” So just by fighting this war, they’ve compromised who they are, and I think maybe they have lost their way.
EW: It also seemed like Anakin and Ahsoka attained a new level of respect for each other.
DF: When we first introduced Ahsoka, all the people on the chatrooms said, “Anakin would be a terrible master.” I always saw the exact opposite of that. He really is such a compassionate person, he tends to get himself so attached to things that he would be a great teacher. The problem for him would be letting go of you. I think it’s because of that problem that Yoda thought it was important for Anakin to teach a student, and in that moment at the end when he steps back and thinks, “This girl can survive on her own,” Yoda sees that. His plan is actually working. Unfortunately, as we know, that’s not the way things end up, but it sets us up nicely for the future of the show.
EW: What can you tell us about season four?
DF: The second half of season three really sets the tone for all we’re doing in season four. If you liked the Nightsisters, Mortis, the Citadel, and Wookiee Hunt arcs, this is the way we’re proceeding. Right off the bat, we’re going back to the actual Clone War between the Republic and Separatists, and we’ve planned some stories that work on a scale of battle the likes of which we’ve never seen before on this series. It should be quite exciting for the audience, I think, because we’ve been dealing with a bit of espionage in the Citadel, the hunt in this last episode, but we haven’t seen the big, all-out battlefield stuff in a while. That’s because, frankly, it’s difficult to do. You know, A New Hope had a pretty big battle at the end of it, but what we saw on Hoth got a bit bigger than that, in terms of the number of Rebels fighting Imperials. But neither of those could compare to the battle above the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. We’re getting to that Return of the Jedi level of combatants. I think the only question for us now is, how far can we take this?
EW: Can we expect more multi-episode storylines in the future?
DF: Yes, we’re starting to plan more stories around three-episode arcs. It allows the writers to tell more expansive stories. But we have a couple really fun stand-alone episodes going forward, especially when we check in on R2-D2 and C-3PO.
EW: Would you ever consider a 24-style season-long arc?
DF: Not at present. I don’t think so. It would be difficult, because we have so many characters to check in on now. Cad Bane we haven’t seen in a while. Boba has his own arc, and we haven’t checked in on him for awhile. There are a lot of characters fighting for screen time. Savage Opress is still out there, of course. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we’ll be seeing him again in season four. Probably pretty likely, which means definitively.
EW: The great film editor Walter Murch is directing an episode next season, right? That’s really cool, since, like all film-school brats, I had to read his seminal book on editing, In the Blink of an Eye.
DF: George knows a lot of people, and he asked Walter to come try this out. I’m always surprised by not only what’s onscreen with The Clone Wars, but what happens behind the scenes. We’ve had some amazing talent work on the show along the way like Duwayne Dunham [editor of Return of the Jedi and Blue Velvet] and Bob Dalva [editor of The Black Stallion and Captain America: The First Avenger]. I mean, they knew each other, went to school together, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. It’s great to reunite some of these earliest members of Lucasfilm to get a sense of history and remind us what Lucasfilm really is.
EW: And Katee Sackhoff’s going to be involved?
DF: She’s going to be voicing a character, who’ll appear next season. Everybody here loved Battlestar Galactica. It was such a great, inspirational series, and I think fans will be very pleased with the character she portrays. Let me say this, it will be a memorable character, that is for sure.
EW: Actually, there’ve been a number of BSG references on the show lately, like how a Separatist tactical droid said “By your command” a la the old chrome-domed Cylons.
DF: See that’s me being old, because that’s classic Battlestar. The Separatist tactical droids have a similar sounding voice to old Cylons. In fact, the inspiration I had for those tactical droids was a Cylon in the original series called Lucifer. He was Baltar’s adviser. I always like the idea of this really smart droid that could calculate all these possibilities. I thought the Droid Army should have these brainiac droids that could wage battles based on calculations of probability whereas the Jedi are fighting out of heart and commitment to each other.
EW: I know 20th Century Fox sued the producers of the original BSG for copyright infringement, claiming it ripped off from Star Wars, so it’s amazing to see how it’s come full circle, with Star Wars referencing Battlestar.
DF: Well, when you’ve grown up with both, why not? It’s all good now. It’s one big community.
EW: By the way, let me thank you for including my suggestion to have Tarkin on the show. Okay, I realize you had already planned his appearance ages before I pitched it to you in the fall, but still, many thanks.
DF: (laughs) We finally had an opportunity to have Tarkin where he just wouldn’t be a guy talking on a bridge. He’d be really involved in a plot, and there’d be something at stake with the information he carried that would make you question his intentions. We could express the fact that he doesn’t really agree with the Jedi, that he and Anakin see more eye-to-eye than Obi-Wan is comfortable with. And George thought Tarkin would be great for this, so once you have approval from The Maker, it’s a done deal. I also think you asked about Wookiees too, and I was like, “Yeah, that would be awesome.” Meanwhile I was probably looking at footage of Tarkin and the Wookiees that day. You’ve probably mentioned stuff in today’s interview, where I’m like, “Yeah that would be awesome, but I can’t tell you.”
EW: I want to check in on the Mon Calamari on the show, visit their home planet, have it be underwater. Now that would be amazing.
DF: That would be incredible. Sounds expensive. There seems to be almost this big checklist out there of what fans want to see, and when fans tell me “I want to see this,” they don’t know it yet, but we’ve already done it. The only thing I can say we’re not doing is Ben Quadinaros
EW: What? NO!
DF: Like you’re so disappointed by that.
EW: I really am.
DF: Yes, such devastating news. That’ll be your headline now. “Forget Chewbacca. Quadinaros nowhere in sight.”
EW: There won’t be any more podraces?
DF: Well, I don’t know if that means there won’t be any more podracing without Ben Quadinaros….
EW: Ben Quadinaros IS podracing.
DF: I think you need to turn that into a bumper sticker. Okay, here’s the deal. If the NFL can resolve their lockout before the start of next season, then I’ll consider putting Quadinaros in. If I get my Steelers, maybe you’ll get your Quadinaros.
EW: I’m holding you to that.
DF: I said “I’ll consider it.” So you can hold me to the fact that I’ll consider it.
Be sure to check out our full recap of the Wookiee-fied Clone Wars finale!