Interview: Dave Filoni Talks 'Star Wars Rebels' Season 3

The third season premiere of Star Wars Rebels will air over the weekend. As you probably know, fans went crazy when it was revealed that Grand Admiral Thrawn had been resurrected from Legends and has rejoined the Star Wars universe canon as the season's big villain. The morning after the episode was screened at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016  I was lucky to get a chance to sit down with Star Wars Rebels creator Dave Filoni and talk about the upcoming season.

We talk about a wide variety of topics, including where we are now in the Star Wars timeline, how Ezra has made so much progress since we last saw him, when we will finally get some X-Wings in the rebellion, his thoughts on The Force Awakens, if it's possible to actually kill off a good guy or turn them to the dark side on a kid show, if Darth Vader or more Inquisitors will appear in Season 3 of Rebels, the idea of Force neutral characters, how Saw Gerrera ended up in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Wedge Antilles new canon backstory, if Rebels will end before A New Hope begins, the process of adapting Grand Admiral Thrawn back into canon, and much more. Some of these answers have been broken out into stories on the site already, but there is also a wealth of material never published before as well.

And don't worry, the interview is season three spoiler free. Read our complete Dave Filoni Star Wars Rebels Season 3 interview, after the jump.

Star Wars Rebels Season 3

Dave Filoni Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Interview

PETER: Hey, Sir.  Nice to meet you.

DAVE: How are you?  Nice to finally meet you.  All right.

PETER: I've been a fan of the show for I guess three years now and it's good to finally meet you.  I was wondering, you see Ezra in this and he has developed a lot of skills since the last time we saw him.  He's very accomplished it seems.  How much time has gone by?

DAVE: Well we always keep the time very fluid in these stories.  I don't like to nail it down specifically like days per se.  But I'm thinking it's at least around half a year.  You know, almost feels like a full year, the way we have time measured out in seasons.  It seems like each season is probably a year of this kid's life for the most part.  So there's a fluctuated amount of time going on, you know, you can get scientific, how the Star Wars Universe measured it.  But it's close to a year, a little less.  And they're still dealing with the fall out of what happened at the end of last season.

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PETER: Oh for sure.  The developments he's made are incredible.  Is that the power of the Sith Holocron? 'Cause it seems like he made much greater progress than he did under Kanan's teachings.

DAVE: Yeah.  Well it's the quick and easy path by definition.  And I think that's the allure of the Dark Side is that you're gonna be given a lot of these abilities with much quicker returns.  And so that's deceptive.  You think oh I'm getting more powerful, you don't realize you're kind of getting enslaved to that power and that idea of power and control.  As opposed to like the discipline of learning a skill and taking time with it.  Which is something that kids struggle with, you know.  Like practice, practice makes perfect, you know.  They don't wanna follow that.  So they want an easy answer.  So Ezra's got the quick and easy answers and the challenge for him is he's had success applying those things to the betterment of the team.  And even the team like Zeb is kind of like yeah, Ezra has saved us again.  So you get this feeling that he's using it for good, you know.  But that doesn't always work out in the end.

X-Wings

PETER: So it seems like we're like two or three years away from A New Hope.  When are we gonna get some X-Wings?  

DAVE: Everybody wants X-Wings, you know.  It's a tricky thing in Star Wars because now we have so many things going on across so many platforms.  That, you know, when you're creating a show and you're able to create, you know, stories in Star Wars, I try to see well how can we make this different?  So one of the choices that we made early on was that we weren't gonna have X-Wings at least early on in the show.  We've done B-Wings.  Now we're doing Y-Wings.  But I've tried to stay away from a lot of the original trilogy kind of New Hope backbone stuff, because that, I want that to be clearly this is not that story.  We're a different cell.  That being said, if and when X-Wings do show up it'll probably be awesome.  Kiri Hart and I always talk about Empire of the Sun.  We love the movie Empire of the Sun.  And to me the X-Wing moment, this is probably a giveaway, will be like the Cadillac in the sky moment when the P-51's come to the camp where the kid is.  It has to have that kind of feeling behind it.  That you're so excited to see these things.  Then they have value again.  As opposed to just saying, oh look there's an X-Wing.  You know, I want them to appear in a moment of oh my gosh, I've been waiting for this.  So...

Star Wars: A New Hope

PETER: I think the assumption has always been the show is gonna end before A New Hope.  Will the show end before A New Hope or can it somehow continue past that like event?

DAVE: Honestly you can engineer anything.  Right?  If you wanted to.  But I think that in a lot of ways it would feel like a complete thing if it ends before A New Hope.  So then you've told this piece of the story and then that is the story continues.  And in a lot of ways you could also argue, so how do we connect Rogue One then as far as like kids watching the story unfold and can they watch this and then it goes into that?  So there's been a lot of discussion about that with Rebels.  One thing I am determined this time though is to finish. This'll be a complete piece.  A complete story that has the feeling of a big arc and a beginning, middle and end.  And unlike Clone Wars which I got kind of abruptly cut from what I was doing, Kiri Hart and I are determined to make sure that this comes to a close.  Simon Kinberg and I have talked from the very beginning when we first started working together, where do you want this voyage to go?  One of the big things that's always concerned me is that you see in trailer and you noted Ezra's powerful.  Well where is that kid in the time of A New Hope?  In the time of Empire Strikes Back?  He does things Skywalker never did on the screen.  You know, he's a capable warrior Jedi.  Luke is more of a kind of a cerebral Jedi, you know?  So we have to deal with that.

PETER: So you do have a plan for why all these people aren't mentioned?

DAVE: Yeah, oh yeah.  Oh yeah.  We've had to.  And it's been important since the beginning to be working.  Well it come off, will it work?  You know, who knows?

The Force Awakens

PETER: I hate to put you in a position...

DAVE: It's all right.

PETER: But at the premiere of the season 2 finale, you said some things that gave me the impression that you shared the views of George Lucas and James Cameron that A Force Awakens didn't do enough to push the story forward.  I was wondering, what are your thoughts about A Force Awakens?  

DAVE: Oh I think it's great.  I mean, I think it's a remarkable achievement too.  You have to think of just everything the film had to serve as far as not just Star Wars, but a fan culture, a global culture, a shift in the story of Star Wars from being this one man's vision and his company to kind of a global company and a broader vision.  And I think that that, admittedly or not is gonna affect you as a storyteller.  So I think J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had a challenging task to say how do we get this all together again and show people in no uncertain terms, I think this is gonna be a pain, this is gonna be exciting, this is gonna be the Star Wars you remember.  And I think in a lot of ways that's why you see so many things that are similar to Classic Star Wars in it.  But I will say that the things that you remember the most from that film I would argue are not the things that were the same, it's the things that were different.  It's Rey.  It's Finn.  It's Poe.  It's BB8.  BB8 is like the icon of it.  And so it's a tremendous thing to take on the task of being the one that has to set that all in motion.  And now I think going forward when you see what Rian Johnson's doing and as the story develops, you know, it goes further there.  And I made this comparison for people, I was saying when you watch the first Force Awakens trailer, right, well what's the big cheerable moment for everybody is when Han and Chewie come on and say, you know, Chewie, we're home.  Oh my gosh, my icon.  And people watched the rest of it and they go this is cool and I recognize some things, but not really.  But, you know, the first time Rey comes on the screen in the new trailer will be a moment where people lose their mind.  Because now that's their friend.  That's someone they know.  And so you have to build these things over time.  And remember that Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon that's been spanning how many years now?

PETER: Yeah.

DAVE: So that's really the task at hand forthwith.  You know, yeah, it's great to be a part of Lucasfilm now.  Like before and now and now we're producing so many stories.  That's the big difference as well.

Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Trailer

PETER: It's exciting. And in the last few episodes of Star Wars Rebels , you're getting pretty dark.  And I like it.  As an adult watching the show, I like it.  But I do think it is, I mean, no offense, but it is a kids show.  What I'm wondering is can you really kill off a beloved character like Ahsoka or turn a main character that's beloved like Ezra to the Dark Side on a kid's show?  Like is that actually possible?

DAVE: You know I would say absolutely you can.  And I would say that I don't mind at all you saying on a kid's show, because talking to George he would always remind us that Star Wars is for kids.  You know, I think that over the years as adults we've kind of taken something we grew up with as children and morphed it into something that's incredibly powerful to us and important to us.  But when my parents loved Star Wars.  They say they loved it.  They liked it because it was relevant to a lot of things they knew.  And my Father was big into opera and music and those things.  And so he could relate to some themes and things in Star Wars.  But there wasn't this big adult culture around me that was like certainly dressing up like Stormtroopers and fans.  That has changed in the course of my life.  Now whereas fans, we kind of hold onto these things so hard.  At times I think we change them too much and darken them too much and we forget their initial purpose.  Our fundamental responsibility at least for me as a storyteller needs to be captivate the imagination of kids.  You know, because they're the ones that we need to give them the ability to 30 years later still love it like we do now.  If we change it too much and make it too dark, then we kind of deny them that ability because they're too frightened by it.  But yeah, you can, you can, you know, you can kill off characters.  You can turn them if it serves the story.  That's something George always warned me about.  You know, if you do this, do it for a reason.  A reason that kids will understand.  But don't just do it to do it.  Which is sometimes a hard thing not to do, to be tempted by.  But, we'll see.  It's good to get you to the edge.

Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebels

PETER: Watching that trailer, which is great, I was taken by just as much of what wasn't there and what was there.  We didn't see Darth Vader.

DAVE: That's right.

PETER: And he was a big part of last season.

DAVE: Yeah.

PETER: Is he gonna be in this season?

DAVE: I've kind of gone on this course, which is pretty, pretty direct about certain things 'cause I don't like to tease people along and then have them be disappointed.  So it's really an elected decision to not have Vader around because he's, as we get closer to A New Hope, I want him to serve as that story.  And I don't wanna take up too much of, it sounds funny, Vader's time.  I don't wanna fill in every hole of his story.  I don't know what we benefit from that.  As much as you need to say, okay, this is a major point in his life when he's confronted by his former apprentice.  That is worth doing.  Him chasing the rebels of the Ghost crew around is never something that really interested me.  Mainly because I didn't think they could survive it for very long.  And now that I have Thrawn, it's more interesting to me to setup this completely different kind of villain that's gonna play a long game against our guys that they're not typically used to.  So that and I appreciate James Earl Jones' time.  He's a very busy man.  He is performing on stage all the time and he is gracious to take time to come and perform for us.  And to play the role of Vader.  And I really appreciated that.  And I just wanted to make sure that it was a limited thing and, you know, could he ever come back?  Possible, but not presently.

Star Wars Rebels Inquisitors

PETER: The other thing missing from the trailer is Inquisitors.  Are they gone?  Is that done?

DAVE: I'm not gonna define if they're done not or yet.  But I feel like you have to start to phase those things out.  Because you get the feeling when Tarkin's talking to Vader in A New Hope that Force wielding usage wasn't something that was very prevalent in A New Hope.  He talks about it like something that's a bygone era.  So it was risky to me to have these kind of modern Force wielding guys around as close to the timeline as we were.  And so I've kind of tried to push them away and kind of got rid of them a lot in one fell swoop last season.  And now I'm bringing in more of a military man who I think actually fits that type of feeling and time period more like the Piett's and the Togg's and those kind of bad guys.  'Cause when I was a kid and remember Tarkin says that line to Vader about basically being their fire's got out in the galaxy.  I felt like it was hundreds of years.  You didn't realize as a kid how recently it was.  It was in Tarkin's lifetime that the Jedi were running around.  But yeah, it's gotta be feeling like it was a while ago.

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PETER: I love the idea of the Force neutral creature.  And I was wondering where did that come about?  Like did you talk to George Lucas about like the idea of that there could be Force neutral beings in this galaxy?

DAVE: I had a lot of discussions with George about the Force and a lot of that stemmed out of our discussions for Mortis that a lot of it dealt with our discussions on the characters that were the kind of multi-personality being that Yoda finds, the Priestesses in the end of The Clone Wars.  And so we were really getting into the nature of the Force as being the cosmic Force and the living Force and what that all means.  And so Bendu for me is an extension of those conversations I had with George.  And I'm trying to really get down in the story lore a lot of the things he and I talked about.  So he wasn't a character we talked about, but I knew there was opportunity for a character like that.  Once you get beyond the concept of the Jedi and the Sith where kind of religion's working using the Force, there is the Force itself which exists all around us.  It's just life itself.  And the balance of the Force never speaks in terms of destroying one side or the other.  That's an attitude we put on it saying okay, the light must vanquish the dark and the dark wants to stop the light.  Those are imbalances, which nature corrects all the time.  So there were a lot of conversations around the nature of what the chosen one is and how these things operate that Bendu kind of speaks to.  And but mainly my influence for Bendu was Tom Bombadil, the character from the world of Tolkien.  Someone that's not really on either side, but seems to be more on the good than the bad.  But he's not really influenced by either.  And he's so old, it's just a whim to him and a fun thing.  But if he tires of you, he will tell you to leave.  So yeah, Tom Baker of course does an excellent job portraying this character.  And he understands this mythic lore type of storytelling better than anyone.  And you can see his voice is just fantastic.

saw gerrera rogue one

PETER: Yeah, he's great.  As we're getting closer to A New Hope and with Rogue One coming out and we're getting closer to the timeline of that film as well. I was kind of expecting us to maybe see like a Rebels character in that.  And when it was revealed that Saw Gerrera was gonna be in that, I was surprised that they chose a Clones character. So how did that happen?  Why are there no Rebels characters, but there's a Clones Wars character in that movie?

DAVE: You know, I don't know.  It's interesting to me.  I will say, I feel that as the productions have moved along, you think about Rebels was up and running and we're figuring what all of that is and Rogue One is up and running and they're telling that story, I feel there's a nice bit of continuity between the two pieces.  I think that they are going to fit really well.  And of course I know John Knoll well.  And I've met Gareth Edwards several times and Gary Whitta as well.  So, we as a bunch of fans can conspire for little things.  We want each thing to be unique in its own way and have its own thing.  So a tough thing is that I never wanna put something out ahead of its appearance in say Rogue One.  I want it to be special when it's on screen there.  And they don't wanna ape anything that we're doing.  So we try to collaborate to figure things out.  I like the reaching back into Clone Wars, because obviously for personal reasons, but Saw is a character that makes a lot of sense for the type of story they were telling.  And I like that it seeds off of the ideas that we had at Lucasfilm in the very early days of Rebellion story, which is that it is rooted out of Jedi's training these groups on a small planetary scale.  And that those are the seeds that were placed throughout the galaxy of the Rebellion.  So in that way it makes a lot of sense and, you know, again, personally I like that it points you back towards that material and since hey, you wanna know everything, you should probably be watching this.  So I think that it's pretty strong for that.  And I think Forest Whitaker is pretty exciting as Saw Gerrera, right?  So...

PETER: Oh he's awesome.  Did they talk to you very early on when they were developing that script about Saw?

DAVE: Oh I heard it was happening and I talked to them a little about it.  But for me it was easy, I was like yeah, go watch the episodes.  You know, go watch the episodes.  Then if you have questions, let me know.  And I think that it's like anything.  It's gonna find, you know, it's own footing and as a character it's so many years later.  They had a lot of room to decide, you know, who is this man now?  But I talked to them about what I thought and how I thought he was affected, especially to Kiri Hart.  But yeah, we'll see.  It's exciting.  And you never know what ends up in these films.  You know, so we'll have to wait and see.

Wedge

PETER: Yeah.  Another thing we saw in the trailer was Wedge, and in an unexpectedly new uniform there.  Can you talk any bit about that?

DAVE: Just a little.  It's kind of a fun thing. One of the biggest things and it may be the rain cloud in the room, but, every writer that comes on, they pitch I'd love to see this, I'd love to see that.  What about Biggs?  What about Porkins?  You know and but you wanna be careful not to make it like the Celebrity Laugh-In show where celebrity guests are appearing.  But we hadn't had someone of that nature.  Kind of like a pilot.  We have a lot of Rebel pilots.  And well maybe some of these guys crossover.  So you get Wedge and you get Y-Wings, which is kind of showing us again that we're building towards that New Hope moment where the Rebels seem to be structured in a different way than we were in the beginning of Star Wars Rebels, which is they were just a band on their own with very little communication to a major core.  And I've said for a couple seasons now that they're building towards a more Rebel Alliance.  But at the point we started you didn't have Alliance.  You had ragtag groups spread throughout the galaxy that had different ideas about politics.  But all they could agree on was the Empire's bad.  And you'll see that as we go that some of those characters that you know more famously from the Rebellion start to come into play now from Star Wars Rebels 'cause they have to.  And Wedge is just, you know, everybody loves Wedge, 'cause he somehow inexplicably survived all three films.  So he gets a lot of fan love for that.

PETER: Yeah.  That's a new back story for him, right?  That's new canon.

DAVE: Yeah, it is new canon back story.  So I'm sure that, you know, it's violating something somewhere.  But, you know, if you wanna be a good pilot you were probably enlisted in the Empire.  So...

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PETER: Okay, my final question is Thrawn.  He's a fan favorite.  Everybody loved him and everybody thought he was gone from canon.  So now you're bringing him back into canon.  How does that work?  Like how do you pick and choose what you're gonna use from that Extended Universe or the Legends or what you're going to make your own?

DAVE: I guess the most honest answer would be well because I can write it and do it, then I'll pick the things I liked.  That might is not the most fair, but we have a story group and I lean on them.  And Kiri Hart and I have very similar feeling about things and how Star Wars works and what feels like the Classic Trilogy and what doesn't.  Thrawn always did to me from day one reading him.  I was actually really thrilled the first time I read the book and like I'm so glad that the primary villain of this trilogy isn't a Force wielder.  I found that immensely fascinating that you could have somebody that could go toe to toe with them.  I'll be honest, I was never that excited about Ysalamir and this idea of a Force bubble.  I thought he could be actually smart enough to counter Jedi without that.  So you're never probably not gonna ever see those things show up.

The way I would write something like that is to say that they were something that was rumored and that's very true in Zahn's version.  That they're hard to find.  That they're almost legendary beasts.  But Timothy Zahn's right in saying that like okay, if these things exist, why isn't everybody using them?  You don't wanna kind of create those type of flaws in our world.  So we've kind of tried to up his patience and his intellect and his analytical skills.  We had a crazy crossover that Kiri and I were always excited about with Sabine.  We have actually a character that's making art operatively.  Which is one of the key things Thrawn uses to kind of dissect and undermine his opponents.

So you'll see as the season goes on that he's actually really interested in what Sabine is doing and how her graffiti and the tags she leaves and whatnot can work against them because he's learning.  He's constantly learning.  And I think for fans as well with Thrawn, they have to get used to a very long game.  Simon and I were very concerned as was Henry Gilroy about having Thrawn and having him on a losing record every week.  You know, and we just can't do that to our villains.  It's always a problem.  We did it on the Grand Inquisitor, we did one with Vader.  So I think we've done a pretty good job of writing it so that no matter what's happening in the episodes, you know that Thrawn is kind of watching this like in the first two episodes.  And he's like oh there's only three ships there?  Call off the attack.  That's not the Rebel fleet.

So he's interested in learning about these guys where all the other Imperials are kind of just dismissed them and gone in head on.  So that's what's exciting I think to me about Thrawn.  And those are a lot of character traits that he had.  And we'll just see.  It was pretty successful yesterday I thought just to reveal him.  The excitement.  And I think it's good honestly for like Lucasfilm as a whole company to acknowledge that excitement around the character that came from the E.U.  And, you know, everybody needs to take a look at these things and say, what's there?  Sometimes we're going we wanna create a new character.  And Pablo Hidalgo and I go, we'll go I hear what you're saying.  There is a character like that that was in the E.U.  Maybe we could take that character, bring them back and just tweak them a little bit to meet our needs.  And I'm very interested in that kind of stuff because fans have such a history with those characters.  And you see how meaningful it was yesterday when we revealed him.

PETER: I agree.  Thank you very much.

DAVE: Hey, nice to talk to you.  Thanks for all the articles and the video blogs, you know.  Your opinions, It really helps just to have word out there on a show like ours.  People that read and discuss and, you know, so thanks.

PETER: I love it, it's really good.

DAVE: Thank you so much.

The Clone Wars

PETER: I honestly never got into Clone Wars and–

DAVE: I know you didn't. It's a different type of show...

PETER: I've been meaning to delve into it.  And but Rebels has been really like–

DAVE: One of the big differences between the two shows is how we follow one group of characters on Rebels.  And in Clone Wars, you'll do an episode arc about Clones, an episode arc about Ahsoka, an episode arc about Droids.  And it's a much more broken up feeling thing.

PETER: It was very episodic, which was what I–

DAVE: Yeah, a variety show feeling.

PETER: I've only seen the first season.

DAVE: Oh yeah, that's not the best.

PETER: I've heard everybody tell–

DAVE: The later seasons, yeah.

PETER: Everybody tells me season two.  Start with season two. 

DAVE: Yeah. I mean, I sometimes tell people that. You can start with season one, but you might like it more if you start with season two or three.

PETER: But I'm a completionist who hates skipping around. Like I'd never skip to chapter 4 of a book.

DAVE: And also, you know, because of the arcs, you can feel an episode is very like political in nature.  And you can say well maybe I don't wanna watch that one.  I don't wanna watch the Jar Jar episode, you know.  You can kind of pick and choose like a buffet with Clone Wars.  So...

PETER: Well thank you very much, Dave.

DAVE: Thank you.

PETER: I appreciate it.

DAVE: Have a great day.