Star Wars Rebels Season 3 “is Empire Strikes Back.5”

Dave Filoni on Thrawn, Wedge & the future in Star Wars Rebels Season 3


Season 1 of Star Wars: Rebels seemed to drawn on A New Hope, whereas Season 2 was very much about the dark times of The Empire Strikes Back. What’s the theme for Season 3?

I think we’re still in the Empire Strikes Back world, personally. When you’re in a middle movement, which is kind of how I see it, we’re still coming up with new adversaries, and the characters are still trying to figure out how they’re coping with the fallout.

In that way, it’s almost like if you look at Empire, there’s tremendous things that occurred: Han frozen in carbonite, Luke losing his hand, so the characters are all faced with a lot of adversity coming out of that picture. We’re dealing with the immediate fallout of that and how it changes our characters, so it’s kind of a like an Empire.5, where we’re getting a little bit deeper into those character results and how they deal with the fallout.

Jedi skipped ahead a little bit to the rescue – we’re not really to the rescue yet, which I think is kind of exciting. In a series you can kind of dig down in that and take a little bit more time with these things.


One of the big talking points of this season is Grand Admiral Thrawn. How did his involvement come about, and do you think the precedent he sets is significant?

We had been interested in Thrawn since the beginning of Rebels as a possible character. [Head of storytelling] Kiri Hart and I had discussed him over the years, Simon Kinberg… we thought that Thrawn really would fit in nicely, but in Season 1 we were introducing the Inquisitors, and we thought it would be a bit too competitive with your villains to have these two characters, trying to explain the Inquisitors and also trying to have Thrawn.

In Season 2 we had Vader, and we didn’t want to have Vader and Thrawn at the same time – they didn’t seem to give enough space to one or the other, so in Season 3, after this big Jedi meltdown at the end of Season 2, it seemed like we could bring in this villain that was not really involved with the Force much, not really involved with that type of mysticism, but a pure military commander that would rise to the challenge and recognise the Rebellion as a threat, where a lot of other Imperial officers are more ambitious politically and not as military minded as Thrawn is, so he seemed to fit really well for the time that we need him right now.


Kanan and Ezra both went through life-changing events in the Season 2 finale. How does this affect both of them?

Very dramatically. I think for Kanan you get to a point where you think you’re starting to understand how things work, and a little bit of hubris can come with that, and then for Kanan it’s from building up with what he thought it meant to be a Jedi knight, into this period where he is a little bit indecisive in the finale, and it costs him and it costs his friends.

I think in his mind things aren’t really working out the way he thought they were going to, and I think that’s a lesson everybody gets; it’s not like a lesson just for Ezra alone; Kanan is the mentor. He can take that on, but how well is he doing it, and what does he do when there’s adversity now?

And it’s the same for Ezra. He learns a lot from Kanan, and he learns some things from Ahsoka, but how is he going to apply those things he learned, and is he going to stick to what he was taught, or is he going to try something else, given that in some ways they won, in some ways they were roundly defeated in the finale?

it wasn’t a clear-cut situation of a win or a loss, and I think for Ezra he feels like… many people make the mistake of if they had more power, maybe these terrible things wouldn’t have happened, so I think his mind is drifting in that direction.

There are new challenges for the crew of the Ghost in Season 3 of Rebels

Likewise, Darth Maul also manages to escape just about intact. What’s his aim now, besides attempting to take Ezra?

Maul is an interesting one, because he’s not… people have asked me, and I say, “Well, he’s not a Sith anymore”; he pretty much says so. He’s another one of these Force-wielding characters that is kind of in some ways lost their way.

I think that for Maul he’s tried in the different series in Clone Wars, and now to reclaim some amount of power, and that really hasn’t worked out for him, so now he’s looking for a type of legacy and meaning to his existence, and we’ll see how he resolves what that entails.

It’s a little complicated tale that involves Ezra for sure in what Maul actually wants in life and where his life might have gone wrong.


Also, this season you have Tom Baker playing Bendu, who represents another layer to the Force. What was the thinking behind his character?

I love Tom Baker – he was essential to actually creating this character. It would have been a lot more difficult to pull of without him.

When I worked with George [Lucas] on Clone Wars, we got into different areas of the Force, and there’s the light and the dark, and the Jedi and the Sith who are kind of orders that have taken on some responsibility to train users of the Force – some more dark, some more light, but with Bendu and then when we were doing the ‘Mortis’ arc with George, there were these more Force gods that were more archetypes of good and evil, and a balance, the we did these Force Priestesses.

George was really interested in expressing these different representations of the Force, and I feel that Bendu fits into that category. He’s not really a traditional Jedi – you certainly wouldn’t say he’s a Sith, and Bendu doesn’t really care much for what these titles mean at the end of the day. He’s just a being that’s so old that he doesn’t really feel a need to choose sides.

One of his inspirations for me was the character of Tom Bombadil in The Lord Of The Rings. Bombadil is a very interesting character, because he seems almost outside of the influence of the War of the Ring and everything that’s going on there.

I would say the difference is that Bendu has a twist to him where he’s not necessarily a good character, but he’s not necessarily an evil character, and we’ll have to wait and see what that means, but it’s one of the things that Kanan’s going to encounter and have to puzzle out this season.


Speaking of the Mortis arc, for many that was a huge highlight of Clone Wars. Is it likely to ever be revisited in Rebels?

That was a very tricky story to tell, and it’s interesting, because it has seemed to have a lasting impression on people. That story arc was one of the first times George kind of talked in such an archetype way in the Clone Wars series, where a lot of what we did was evolving the politics of war and things of that nature. Those were more of the, I think, Joseph Campbell mythology archetypes that people come to think of Star Wars as being, and we didn’t do a lot of it in Clone Wars, but when we did we sure went all the way with it!

I think it’s especially because of my involvement with it in writing so much of it that when I think of the Force, I think of it as a whole big piece of it. It’s not something that is outside of knowledge for me; it’s definitely within Rebels, and there are already references to that story arc in this series right now, and there’ll be a bit more as we go forward as it’s necessary to tie into the overall idea of what the Force is and how it works.


Also slightly overlooked is that Wedge Antilles will be appearing in Season 2. Can you tell us a bit about his role in the show?

He’s a survivor, that’s what everybody loves about him, right? Wedge for me makes the greatest move of the saga when Luke says, “You’re no good to me back there Wedge”, and he doesn’t even question it, he’s out! [laughs] It’s why he’s a really smart pilot.

Wedge is kind of an everyman of the Star Wars galaxy, and he gets to represent a summary of a lot of the pilots who maybe have much briefer scenes throughout the entire saga. Wedge Antilles is the most famous of them, so it seemed proper to bring him in.

We do deal a lot with pilots, and seeing a character like Wedge showing up also tells you that we are going to get a lot closer to – and probably interact with – the bigger portion of the Rebellion that we’ve seen in A New Hope.

STAR WARS REBELS - A brand new "Star Wars Rebels" trailer debuted at Star Wars Celebration Europe today and revealed some big hints of what's to come in the hit series' third season, including new characters Grand Admiral Thrawn-a fan-favorite from Star Wars Legends voiced by "House of Cards" Lars Mikkelsen-and Bendu, an ancient and powerful new character voiced by classic "Doctor Who" actor Tom Baker. (Lucasfilm) HERA, SABINE, ZEB
All the characters will embark on their own journeys in the new season.

It’s noticeable how the different mediums fit in with each other – for instance, the lack of life of Geonosis in Season 2 episode ‘The Honorable Ones’ is also mentioned in Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader comic-book series. Do all the different story groups work together?

We work really hard at making all these different things stay consistent, and that takes a lot of diligence from story group to be aware, because they’re the ones who are going to be the most aware of what’s happening in different corners of the galaxy.

Every time we do something it gets noted down, and we’re always looking for opportunities for connections as well and how we can make things tie together. It doesn’t always need to be a big thing; it can be a small mention that becomes quite meaningful, especially for fans that follow it in the different mediums.

I think it’s just going to be a consistent thing, because we really do feel Lucasfilm are telling one big story in the Star Wars universe – we want it to feel like a complete universe, so we’re always going to try to have these connections across the different storylines, and they definitely, besides referencing our own stuff, there are mentions of other things in every season, small and large, so if I see a vehicle or area I like in a different thing I’ll say, “I want to use those too,” and I think that as a fan I always like that kind of tied together, what they call it down: shared universe, cinematic universe, I think it’s something we all enjoy as fans.


Katee Sackhoff confirmed recently that she would be returning as Bo-Katan – can you tell us much about how she’s changed since the events of The Clone Wars?

I’m not going to talk too much about Bo-Katan at this point – I will say that that would be a very, very far way off for everybody.

I would say that when it comes to Mandalore and Mandalorians, it’s surprising how much of it has turned up in Rebels. It wasn’t something that when we started I said, “I’m going to continue this story about these people,” because we did a lot it in Clone Wars. It’s funny, I used to hear people say the characters tell me where they want to go when I write the story, and I say “Really?”

I didn’t quite understand that, but it actually turns out to be true: we needed more of her story told, we needed to explain why she is the way she and where she came from, and you can’t tell that story without involving Mandalore, and with that all these characters start showing up, and so we’ll have to wait and see how they all fit together, but it is one of the more exciting stories I think we’re telling in Rebels; the Sabine arc and who she is has definitely risen up – to me in every way she’s as big a hero as Ezra this series.


What’s in store for Hera, Zeb and Chopper this season?

For a character like Zeb, he really had such a big turning point last season when he actually didn’t destroy Kallus when they were trapped on the Moon [laughs], that was a big moment for him, and Zeb is kind of dealing with the fallout of that change in perspective for a person that he thought was his enemy, and what does it mean for them – it could mean something more. So there’s a maturity there in Zeb where besides being a warrior, he’s looking at his enemy with new eyes.

I think for Hera, there’s always been this dream and ideology for her of what it means to rebel, and if the Rebellion is something that can compete with the Empire. I think she’s on the verge of realising this dream, and seeing the stories with her father, you understand how her life has really been one where she was raised during a time of war, and war is all she’s own, and conflict, even with her own family, so I think there’s always that push and pull between the personal for Hera, which would be more connected to how she feels about Kanan and the bigger picture, which is who she need to be to lead people in this difficult time against the Empire.

Chopper for the most part I would say is pretty much Chopper – he’s the one character that knows best who he is. It’s more to me that the audience learns more about him and maybe the way they judge him, being kind of just a jerk, is not always necessarily true. He’s like that grumpy older person who doesn’t want you to know they actually care, but he actually does, and the more cantankerous he is, the more he actually likes the crew, so you’re going to see a little more of that from Chopper this season.


With the series edging closer to the events of A New Hope, realistically how long can you see the series going on for?

[Laughs] It’s hard to say at this point. I mean, I try to feel these things out, as telling the stories and talk to Simon and Kiri about it, and the one thing that I’m very certain about with this series is that I want it to feel like a complete story; I want it to feel like a complete tale. I feel for the fans of Clone Wars – I know, because they’re vocal to me about it [laughs] – they wish they had more of an ending, because they know we had all these scripts planned, and I understand that as fan, I totally hear and get that, so it’s something that I have my eye on with Rebels.

Sometimes, no matter how much you love the characters, you have to finish their story because you have other stories to tell and new characters to meet, so we have our eye on it, and right now what’s exciting is we’re going into the third season, with Thrawn appearing and Bendu and characters like that, that it still feels like a very fresh and exciting piece of the Star Wars story that people are very interested in, and I think with Thrawn alone, how many seasons could you do with that guy? He’s so compelling a villain, so who knows?

I still enjoy doing it, if you tell me in 12 years I’d still be making Star Wars stories like I am, I don’t know if I would have believed it, but Star Wars has this ability to just keep on going and being exciting and adventurous and new, it’s one of the strengths of the entire saga, and the story of the Star Wars universe, so as long as people want them it seems like we’ll always keep telling them!


Star Wars: Rebels – Season 3 will air on Disney XD in the UK from 1 October 2016. You can download Star Wars: Expanded Universe – The Complete Manual from, and watch our video review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens now. For all the latest Star Wars news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.