Mr. Beaks Enlists in THE CLONE WARS with Director Dave Filoni!!
Published at: Aug. 1, 2008, 2:55 a.m. CST by headgeek
Every time I think I'm done with STAR WARS, they pull me back in!!!
I wasn't supposed to conduct this interview with Dave Filoni, the director of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (which is the second animated take on this chunk of the STAR WARS saga); basically, I was just sitting outside of one of the press rooms transcribing another interview when WB's Orna Pickens reminded me that AICN had a 1:1 scheduled with Filoni, and that it was to begin in five minutes. Knowing Quint and Capone were off doing interviews of their own, I nervously jumped in to chat with the director, hoping I could hold my own without having seen the Lucasfilm panel eariler in the day. What I failed to consider was that, deep down, this would just be a back-and-forth between two lifelong STAR WARS fans. I can do that in my sleep. Hell, I probably have done that in my sleep.
In other words, what started as an off-the-cuff interview essentially turned into, I think, a very worthwhile conversation about the challenges of a) creating within a bookended universe (THE CLONE WARS takes place between ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH), b) differentiating this version from the hyper-stylized "micro-series" dreamt up by Genndy Tartakovsky, and c) finding the light in what is inherently a tale of defeat. I was surprised to find myself fully engaged, and, ultimately, very excited about the direction of the STAR WARS franchise post-prequels. When the publicist came by to break us up after twelve minutes, we were both disappointed; even now, a good, nerdy STAR WARS conversation can go on for hours.
In case you're wondering, the 98-minute STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS that's getting released to theaters on August 15th is the kickoff for the animated series, which is currently slated to premiere this fall on the Cartoon Network and TNT. And without further ado, here's Dave Filoni (you might already be a fan of his work on Nickelodeon's AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER).
Beaks: Every now and then, I encounter folks in the press room who've been coming to Comic Con for years as fans, and now they're on the other side of it.
Dave Filoni: It's crazy, huh?
Beaks: And maybe some kind of validation for the fans.
Filoni: Yeah. Hopefully, they'll get here, too.
Beaks: I know this is terribly superficial, but the one thing that gets me every time I see the CLONE WARS trailer is that this is the first STAR WARS movie we'll see without the 20th Century Fox fanfare. (Filoni laughs) I know, I know... it means nothing at all, it's still a Lucasfilm production, but... it still takes some getting used to.
Filoni: (Laughing)It's still Star Wars, but it is something. I remember driving home in my car, and one of the nice things about the soundtracks is that they have that fanfare at the beginning. When the prequels came around, I was so looking forward to hearing those trumpets call out the Fox fanfare. Being a big fan, and knowing that, with Warner Bros., we're not going to have that, I thought really long and hard about what the heck we're going to do to try to bridge that gap. That's part of STAR WARS. The solution came from a surprising source. I think the sound guys - Matthew Wood, David Acord and Juan Peralta - came up with an interesting thing to do at the beginning of the movie. At the very least, it lets you know that it's STAR WARS, but... in a different way. I watched what they did, and it kind of struck me. So I said, "Let's just go for it, and see what happens." It's already different, like you said, with the Warner Bros. logo, but I think this will help tie us in, that this is the Clone War.
Have you seen the movie yet?
Beaks: No, I haven't had a chance yet. Everything I've seen has been online. You know, we've been through this chapter once with Tartakovsky's animated series, and now here we are with this. Could you explain how the two will coexist?
Filoni: The way George explained it to me going in was that THE CLONE WARS micro-series was really an experiment to see what kind of audience there was for Star Wars in an animated form. There have been droids and Ewoks, but that was a long time ago. So he brought out THE CLONE WARS micro-series, and it was super action-packed and exciting and really short installments. And it proved that people wanted to see STAR WARS in a lot of different mediums. So when we into doing this, I think that, now that George is done with the prequels, he wanted to reestablish the rules a little bit more, like "Mace Windu can't take out hundreds of battle droids by himself, otherwise the arena on Geonosis would've been a wipeout; [The jedi] would've won, and there be no Clone Wars. Those are exciting installments, but we don't tie directly into them; we tie more directly into the film that preceded us, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and the one that comes after us, REVENGE OF THE SITH. We take cues from [Tartakovsky's series]. I definitely pay a big homage to them in some of the design look of it. Anakin wears an outfit that was definitely inspired by what we saw in the other CLONE WARS. But there's no direct link-up.
Beaks: It's definitely less stylized. I mean, your film is stylized in its way, but... was there a sense that this was supposed to look like an animated George Lucas film? Did you have freedom to put your spin on it?
Filoni: There was a lot of freedom, especially in the beginning. George said, "Just make it something no one's ever seen before."
Beaks: (Laughing) "Oh, okay."
Filoni: (Laughing) Yeah, I was like, "What is that? I guess I haven't seen it either." In a way, I kind of used the two measuring rods in STAR WARS: I had Genndy's CLONE WARS one end, which was really super action-packed, exaggerated force powers, exaggerated proportions in the ankles and the waist... just awesome. They're the masters of that design sense. And then, on the other end, we've got ILM's super-photorealistic live-action STAR WARS. So I thought, "For this CLONE WARS to be a success, I'm going to have to shoot for somewhere in the middle. I don't want to exaggerate things too much; I want to stay in keeping with the powers that I've seen the Jedi use in the films, but I don't want to be photorealistic because I know there's a live-action TV series on the horizon." So it had to be very different from that. That was probably the biggest reason - besides doing it so quickly on television - to stay away from photorealism. There's another impending STAR WARS television show. We wanted to be unique and different, so I kind of shot in the middle. I took a little dab of things that I liked from working on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER. We had been studying everything from MONONOKE to MACROSS on that show. Those are all things I like, so there's a little dash of those here and there.
Beaks: Those are good references.
Filoni: Yeah. Ashoka has a lot of San from MONONOKE in her, the wolf girl - her movements and quickness.
Beaks: You know, I remember talking to one of the writers from SMALLVILLE, and he told me that when Warner Bros. was developing SUPERMAN RETURNS, they'd often come up with a great story arc for the show only to have it nixed by the studio because it was something that might turn up in the movie. I wonder if you've had any similar experiences on CLONE WARS, where you get this killer idea only to have George or someone else say, "Eh, we might address that in the live-action series."
Filoni: (Smiling) It's interesting you say that. Early on, there were a couple of things that we were not going to go near because they were, like... Lucasfilm is famous for having ideas that are "reserved". "You can't touch this because later on it's going to be developed." There were definitely some areas...
Filoni: ...that I can't tell you about that we couldn't use. But as we've gone on, THE CLONE WARS has a large, expansive area to tell stories - wider than I thought, actually. It's not just all battles. There are many stories to tell.
Beaks: Obviously, one of the few characters that has yet to be touched on in the filling out of the pre-OT universe is Han Solo. I think a lot of the fans are dying to know when or if he's going to get worked into one of these series.
Filoni: Well, I'll tell you my stance on the big, big canon characters. I never presume I'm the person who should be defining anything about them or their past. He's not in this show - I'll say that quite clearly. If George came one day and said we were going to do that, it'd be very daunting because defining that would really be something else. I kind of like characters whose origins are mystified and still a little unclear, so I'm very careful when we use canon characters from the original trilogy. Very careful.
Beaks: But you still have plenty of cool prequel characters to work with. Kit Fisto has turned into a huge fan favorite.
Filoni: Yeah, that's a big thing I have with my friend Giancarlo [Volpe], who's now with THE CLONE WARS: he's a huge Kit Fisto fan, and I'm a big Plo Koon fan. And it drives me nuts that Kit Fisto gets, like, twice the merchandising that Plo Koon does. It's that smile. We did an episode with Plo Koon in THE CLONE WARS and we did an episode with Kit Fisto, and everyone was like "That Kit Fisto episode's awesome!" And I'm like, "Whoa, wait a minute! What about the Plo Koon episode?" You saw today's clip presentation, right?
Beaks: Actually, one of our other guys was in there. We've been having to switch off all day, so it's been a bit of a jumble.
Filoni: That's too bad. We showed a clip of Luminara today, and that was pretty exciting. But you're right. It's fun to work with those guys and say, "Well, how did they talk and how did they act? What were they like? How are the Jedi all different from one another?"
Beaks: But you have a sort of fixed destination with this series' narrative, correct? It's got to bridge right into REVENGE OF THE SITH.
Filoni: I definitely do. And I have a lot of ideas surrounding the end of it, but I haven't really gotten around to discussing that point-blank with George yet. We'll get there one day.
Beaks: Any chance of there being an upbeat ending? I mean, it can only be so upbeat, obviously. But could there be some small sense of triumph?
Filoni: I suppose there's a possibility. I'm keeping it open-ended for now. But it's a war. And one of the things I like about THE CLONE WARS is the impending encroachment of the idea of the Empire; it's slowly taking over despite all the efforts of the Jedi. And the Jedi's effort - even in REVENGE OF THE SITH - that they're going to cling on to and pull this shattered republic out of the debris and keep things the way they were... it's one of their mistakes. They're trying to hold on to something that's already lost. I like that idea, and I like that maybe it gets that dark eventually; I'd like to see how we can do that in an animated series where things don't typically go that far.
Beaks: But it's strange that, whereas we were able to end on such a high-note with RETURN OF THE JEDI over twenty years ago, we've been mired in this sadness and failure for so long. I'm not saying this is a bad thing; it's a part of mythmaking. But it's peculiar that STAR WARS has been so downbeat lately. It does seem to reflect the tenor of the times.
Filoni: It's interesting. Look at THE DARK KNIGHT, and what a huge success it is. It's so dark, but people are going out to it. It's fantastic, and the movie seems to be resonating. But I think you're right: there is room for the good, and I think we have to show that. Part of what we're trying to do is show Anakin as a very good person. George has always talked about that, how Anakin is a very good person. And we have time to show that in this series. What is this guy like as a hero and a good friend? I want to see him as the good person his son is. I always say our Anakin in THE CLONE WARS is going to be a cross between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker: he's got the grease monkey attitude and cockiness like Han, but he's backing it up with a lot of naiveté about the galaxy and his role in it like Luke. I think together, that really spells out who Anakin is. I think it means he's still a good person. I want to see that so that maybe we can have a positive outcome before he hits his low.
I always bring this up to my crew: Luke never did anything that was that evil in the movies we've seen him in, but when he gets Darth Vader down and chops his hand off, and the Emperor says, "Strike your father down and take his place at my side"... I believe Luke might do it. And I believe if Luke had done it, he would've turned to the dark side. That's a really powerful thing, and I think Anakin is not that far off from that. It's just that we see the big points leading up to that. (Laughs) He slaughters a camp of Tusken Raiders, so he's got a leg up on Luke already. He's descending farther, but there's still good in him.
And with that, I'm officially hooked for both THE CLONE WARS and the live-action television series, which is apparently still gestating. All too easy.