To celebrate the DVD and Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 4 (get it on DVD for £28 or on Blu-ray for £36 from Amazon.co.uk) featuring the shock return of Darth Maul, we caught up with Supervising Director Dave Filoni to talk Sam Witwer, the Expanded Universe, the fan following of Ahsoka Tano and what to expect from Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 5…
Hahaha, I know man, it’s awesome, huh? You got it right?
You’re already a couple of episodes into Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 5 in the US, so what can we expect from it?
This season… obviously, the easiest thing to say is that it’s our best season – and I think it is. The animation is much more developed and the stories are much stronger. I think if you’re new to Star Wars, you’re entering at a great point because there are really dramatic things happening to the characters, I think the story is much more forward – not that it didn’t used to – but we’re definitely reaching a point in the war where we can say “I see how these things connect to the Star Wars films much more directly,” and if you’ve been a watcher of The Clone Wars each season, there’s some really nice payoff for you with the characters and with the events within the show. So it’s a really big season for us, a really exciting season.
Do you have all these big key points – Anakin flirting with the Dark Side, etc – mapped out as you creep towards Revenge Of The Sith?
I think we have generally idea, you know? The writers and I always try to keep in mind the big events in the Star Wars timeline and where those are at, and when we meet with George [Lucas] we kinda touch base as far as “Hey, we’d like to do this, and this would connect pretty directly with that,” so we get his sign off on all these kind of things, which is pretty fantastic for us, as we always know we’re going to work with what George intended. Right now, I have a really good idea of how everything fits together – I’ve been having meetings with George this week about some big overall story points, so it’s a really good time for us story-wise and we can really see a pretty complete picture of our series now.
It’s kinda designed to start out with a lot of whimsical stories; a lot of fun, high adventure-type stories, because it kind of symbolises how the Jedi were before the downfall, and now as we’ve crept closer to Revenge Of The Sith, as you’ve noticed, things have gotten bleaker. The stories have a lot more dimension and things have gotten more at stake then there used to be.
Is it difficult knowing where to start expanding characters like Darth Maul, who has about three or four lines in The Phantom Menace? Do you scour the Expanded Universe for inspiration, or does George hand you a bunch of notes, or do you bring a lot to it from scratch?
It’s a little bit of all of those you’ve mentioned, in truth. First and foremost, because we work directly with George on this, we have the ultimate resource – you can say “Hey George, would he do this?” and he’ll say yes or no. It’s pretty definitive, you can check a source book or read a comic all you want – I’m sure all those artists would tell you that if they had direct access to George, they’d ask him what he thinks of those things. So we are very fortunate that he has always, since Season 1, taken the time to work with us really closely. He has invested a lot of his time into the storytelling of Clone Wars, and it has obviously been to our advantage, because it has informed myself as a director and storyteller and my writers, you know, everything we that we do.
When we were creating Darth Maul – it starts right there, that was George’s idea to bring him back – he had an idea of what he wanted Maul to be like and where he wanted to expand on that character that he just didn’t before. So we all had a good lead in and his ideas were beaten out in the writers’ room. We all wanted to see Maul be a bit more intellectual, that there was actually a brain beneath that fighting force that we found in The Phantom Menace. When working for his master he was much more subservient, but now he much more independent and he needs to survive, so he’s got to be thinking on his feet. We were able to create a character that still fits what happened in the films, but gives you more substance and more dimension – he has more dialogue, I think, in 2 episode of The Clone Wars than he ever did in the film, that’s for sure. It is a challenge, but because we have George there to back everything up and help us approve all of it we know we’re doing it the right way.
We honour different material, like one of the designs of Maul with the strange robotic legs that he got at the end of Season 4. That came inspired from a comic-book, so it’s kind of a little nod to that creation there. We service all areas of Star Wars in The Clone Wars, there’s bits in there for everyone!
Sam Witwer voices Maul, and he also voiced the Son [in the Mortis trilogy] prior to that as well as Starkiller in The Force Unleashed – is he becoming your go-to guy for Dark Side characters?
It seems that way, right? It’s a reputation he’d be happy with I’m sure! Sam’s really unique, he’s a fantastic actor first and foremost, but he has that little extra something which is an immense knowledge and respect for Star Wars and for George, and I think that really comes through in his performances – he embodies these characters. He really commits to becoming Darth Maul, and before that when we had him playing the Son.
I was in a situation where I needed this role filled, and I needed somebody who would understand that it’s not just cool that you get to play Darth Maul, he’s not just a villain, but that you understand the mythic implications of Darth Maul and bringing him back and what a Sith really is, and how is this gonna fit in. Plus the pressure from fans, the instant, intense “Why are you doing this!?” that you’re gonna get hit with. I needed someone that could be out there answering the questions about it when I can’t be on hand and Sam, he fills in that role, too. It’s a really interesting thing to anoint one of the actor’s with those responsibilities, and luckily Sam – like my main cast – is able to handle it.
Ashley Eckstein, when she started with Ahsoka, I had to sit her down when the movie was going to premiere and say, “Look, I know you’re really excited about this, but your character is not one the fans are going to universally like right off the bat – you’re going to have to fight and earn their respect.” Because this franchise has existed 30-plus years, it’s beloved the world over and our fans have very strong opinions about everything and that’s what, frankly, makes them great. They’re passionate people about Star Wars – even casual fans.have really strong opinions! I think they’ve all been brilliant playing these characters and keeping Star Wars alive.
The success of Ahsoka seems really incredible in itself to have the POV character for a show whose target audience is really pre-teen boys be a kick ass girl. She’s not alone either, and over the last couple of seasons more and more storylines rely on characters like Asajj Ventress, Savage Opress and Mother Talzin who are unique to the show. is it satisfying to have something on screen be ‘pure Clone Wars‘ in a sense?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the thing is we had to build those characters, like I said they had to earn their respect, they their place to stand alongside the Obi-Wans and the Anakins and the Padmes and say “You’re going to be really interested in these characters, too.” I think that’s the thing people really latched onto after a while was “Well, what happened to these guys? I’ve been watching for a while and why aren’t they in the movies? Where did they go?” and we go along way to explain that at the end of the day. I think we have a lot of latitude with them because their stories are open ended. It makes it really valuable when we do things that connect to the films – it fits in better, it makes those moments more special. We couldn’t do every week about Anakin and Obi-Wan without getting too far into material where we might disturb things that were in the films – there’s a lot of chance for error in that. It’s a lot of fun to build these characters into the ‘What’s going to happen to them?’ moment, and eventually having it pay of is going to be something.
We have a whole generation of kids who you’ve noted that know The Clone Wars as their Star Wars. Ahsoka and Rex and Ventress and those characters are in some ways their Han, Luke and Leia as I knew it, so it’s going to be fun and intense as we reach the ending of the whole thing.
Was it quite a big thing to bring in the Nightsisters, because they add an element of ambiguity to the whole Dark Side/Light Side dichotomy?
Yeah, again another fantastic idea brought to us by George Lucas. I gotta say, he came into to the writers’ room and said, “I want to do these witches.” That was something new because it really fits with those mythological ideas of the witch and the earth mother kinda character. Are they evil? What is their ultimate purpose? Again, anything that makes us question that in such a well defined universe like Star Wars is a really good creative area to be in.
It’s kinda interesting looking back. We have created the Cad Bane and Savage Opress characters, but for the most part I would say the strongest and arguably the most interesting characters we’ve created within Star Wars are more your Mother Talzins and your Ahsokas, fleshing out Ventress’s character, even the Mandalorians Bo-Katan and Satine. It just seems like even with Princess Leia and Padme, there was room for strong female characters in Star Wars and we’re at a time in fandom when female fans have a much stronger voice than they used to.
People are ready to recognise that girls are just as much into Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings and Avengers as boys are, so that’s our changing world.