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The new mid-season trailer for Star Wars: Rebels has blown fans' minds by linking together various pieces of galactic lore, from the 1977 original movie, to the animated Clone Wars series, to the brand new blockbuster The Force Awakens. Entertainment Weekly spoke exclusively with executive producer Dave Filoni to take a closer look at the puzzle pieces he's throwing out there. The series resumes on Disney XD on Jan. 20, and in this gallery we'll explore everying from that Kylo Ren-like green crossguard lightsaber, to Yoda, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and (at the very end) the resurrection of a certain red-and-black Sith lord ...
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The most common fan reaction to this was: WHAT? Star Wars lore tells us Kylo Ren's crossguard saber was a weapon of ancient design, and Filoni decided to include some foreshadowing. “I wanted to put a nod to this new history we’re seeing in The Force Awakens. It’s important to have these links between stories in major ways and subtle ways,” he says. “Here you find a sword we’ve encountered before, and it gives a little more context to something that turns up later.” Where does young Jedi Ezra Bridger find this weapon — and what does it mean? Filoni says you'll have to wait and see ...
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There seems to be a crack in the night sky. But how is that possible? "They look like stars, but are they stars?" Filoni says. This shot actually appears to be underground, with pinpricks of light shining through the planet's crust above. It was designed to emphasize the deceptive nature of light and dark, and it's surrounded by a haunting legacy...
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The landscape surrounding this temple is littered with crude figures that resemble, in our real world, the plaster casts made of victims buried for centuries in the volcanic ash of Pompeii. Filoni says this temple is meant to evoke dread. "It is an ancient place. And it is a dangerous place and one that will challenge our characters," he says. "They come out the other side and are not the same."
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By the looks of things, the Sith have taken up interior design. "This place would be well liked by the Sith, I’ll say that much," Filoni says. This temple was originally suggested in an unfinished episode of The Clone Wars, which was posted to StarWars.com in incomplete form after cancelation. "Long ago, in forgotten times, when the Sith and Jedi fought for control of the galaxy, weapons there were of unimaginable power," Yoda says. "Always at their heart a kyber crystal was." (That's the main component of any lightsaber.) When it's suggested those were just children's stories (not unlike Star Wars itself), Yoda replies: "In legends, we often find great truths." Similar words are spoken by Anakin's former apprentice Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) at the beginning of this trailer.
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This would appear to be the surface above that temple, and the beam of energy blasting forth calls to mind the Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. “History repeats itself,” Filoni says. “There are always these ideas in Star Wars about power, control, and might. This wouldn’t be the same thing as Starkiller Base, but you’re picking up on the visual similarities, which I think strengthens the mythology.”
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The first new episode, airing Jan. 20, will introduce us to a teenage Princess Leia, voiced by Julie Dolan, who has played the character in videogames. (Carrie Fisher originated the role on the big screen, of course.) “We were really focused on trying to discover who Leia was prior to A New Hope. We know that she’s very strong, somewhat rash, super intelligent, but how did she develop those skills?” Filoni says. “In A New Hope, she’s really an impressive character when you think of her standing face to face with Tarkin, standing face to face with Vader, talking back to them, lying to them, deceiving them, misdirecting them.” Here, we’ll see how she acquired that grit.
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Here we see Leia accompanied by ... Imperial Stormtroopers with a giant AT-AT in the background? Filoni says one surprise about her is that she's not a Rebel. Not yet anyway, although she's sympathetic. (Remember, the Rebel Alliance isn't quite a thing yet.) "Leia is technically a part of the Empire at this time. Her father is still working within the Senate, and she would be seen by the Imperials as someone who's more on their side," Filoni said. "She can't just pick up a blaster, necessarily, and start shooting Stormtroopers like she did on the Death Star."
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Darth Vader has turned up in some early storylines of Rebels this season, and the final 10 episodes will again bring him into contact with the inquisitors known as the Seventh Sister and the Fifth Brother (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez). "Vader and The Emperor think that if they can get Ahsoka, she would be a key that leads them to other Jedi survivors," says Filoni, who says he plans to wrap up that storyline by the end of the season. "The Emperor has a most-wanted list. Yoda and Obi-Wan are right up there." Before Vader (voiced again by James Earl Jones) can move on from his past, he'll need to confront them both. We know how that resolves itself with Obi-Wan, but Ahsoka — who doesn't turn up in any of the subsequent movies — remains a question mark.
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“I like a lightsaber fight like anybody, or a big action sequence like we’ve done in the past, but I always find that those have little meaning if you don’t have the emotions going into it to support it — you don’t have the tension and the stakes," Filoni says. "There’s some really powerful scenes coming up for fans involving Ahsoka."
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One thing that separates Ahsoka from the other Rebels is that she knew the galaxy's prime terror before he was Darth Vader. Filoni juxtaposes images of the dark visage we know from the later films with the voice of Anakin Skywalker from before he was turned. Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin in The Clone Wars series, got to make his return as the voice she hears in her head, although James Earl Jones (as previously mentioned) is supplying the ominous exterior voice of Vader. "It makes it actually very emotional since we loved working with Matt. So it was a fun day in the studio," Filoni said.
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With Ezra being tempted by the Dark Side, it was important for him to lay eyes on Vader before he became the man in the metal mask. "It occurred to me that as Ezra had a Holocron because of Kanan. It had a recorded message from Obi-Wan Kenobi in there, so maybe one of the things, some of the lessens the Holocron was teaching, was how do you sword fight? And who would be better at teaching that than the great Anakin Skywalker?"
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Ezra also confronts Darth Vader is his current, damaged and menacing form — seen here floating down atop a TIE Fighter. An entrance like this "makes him more god-like and powerful, especially to a boy like Ezra," Filoni says. It was scary to the TV show's crew for another reason. "Whenever you use Vader, he eats up a lot of my cloth from budget. Because Vader has to have the cape!" he says. That's why the Holocron of Anakin features a form-fitting new training outfit instead of the long Jedi robes. Even animated shows have wardrobe budgets.
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Another Force-powerful figure from the past makes an appearance, although he looks a lot different than he did in The Clone Wars. Filoni says part of that is to differentiate the characters between shows and movies, but also this is a vision that Ezra experiences, so the animators justified the change by saying Ezra would be picturing the tiny Jedi master through the lens of his own imagination. "A huge influence was the old Kenner action-figure of Yoda," Filoni says. "We stopped short of giving him the orange snake. We highly considered it, because I’ve never seen that orange snake, and I thought, 'We could be the ones to finally put that orange snake in there!'" But in the end, that little snake was too costly to animate for the sake of a little toy nostalgia. Blame Vader's expensive cape?
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It's slipped in very subtly, but alongside the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister is a new, masked Inquisitor. "Gotta have another," Filoni says. "It's fun to design bad guys because they always have fantastic outfits." So while this figure is definitely on the Dark Side, Filoni isn't ready to reveal much more about who is behind that mask.
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The voice of this mysterious character — who warns that Ezra is susceptible to the Dark Side — sounds a lot like a certain Supreme Leader we saw in The Force Awakens. But Filoni won't say who the actor is, and he seems to enjoy the connections fans may make — legit or not. "That’s part of the mystery, part of the fun. There will be so much more to talk about once this stuff is out," he says. "Star Wars fans are brilliant about running with stuff. Give them a tiny little kernel and they will run all the way to the finish line and practically produce a whole trilogy in their minds. That’s why I love them. They’re a creative group."
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While the identity of this person can't be revealed yet, it's probably not Snoke. (Sorry.) Filoni says he's unlikely to resolve any major secrets from the films — just as he wouldn't want the movies to tie up any loose ends involving the characters from his shows. "For anybody in Star Wars, I think one of the questions you’re going to get asked is, 'Is that Snoke?' It's one of the mysteries right now. So, anybody could be seen as Snoke," he says, while volunteering his own crazy theory involving the surly droid from Rebels. "Maybe Chopper’s Snoke, you know, and his hard drive gets uploaded into the mind of an organic being. Chopper seems kind of evil at times."
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Filoni will say that these masked figures are Jedi Temple Guards, who turned up in The Clone Wars series. In Season 2 of Rebels, they battle not just our Rebel friends, but also the Dark Side Inquisitors, so their precise loyalty is in question. "I will say that it plays very strongly into Kanan’s character and who he is, and becomes an important moment for him," Filoni says of the older, fugitive Jedi (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.).
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The back half of Season 2 will also explore the history of the show's central characters. Zeb, the crew's Chewbacca-like muscle (who was modeled on an early Wookiee design by original Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie), thought he was the last of a species known as the Lasat, but here we see him with two other similar creatures, including a little old lady version. "He might not be the last one," Filoni says. "He would certainly be surprised to see them."
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Hera (voiced by Vanessa Marshall), the pilot of the Ghost starship that serves as the central vessel of the Rebels show, gets a visit from her father, Cham Syndulla, who was a Twi'lek warrior from The Clone Wars show. "This poor guy, right? His whole life has been war when you look at it — fighting in the Clone Wars, and probably right when it looked like things are breaking in a good way for him with a Republic and the end of the Separatists, here comes an Empire," Filoni says. But Cham's history of organizing his people against oppressive forces proves useful as they lay the foundation for a new rebel alliance.
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Sabine Wren, the character who sports the Boba Fett-like (and vibrantly painted) Mandalorian armor of her warrior tribe, meets up with two more unnamed Mandalorians in upcoming episodes. Who they are and who voices them are still under wraps. "People have been very excited about Sabine, and we wanted to get more into her background and her history and her family history, and [actress Tiya Sircar] has done a great job at evolving the character. So there will be some episodes which dive back into the Mandalorian realm and show a couple new things about them that perhaps fans didn’t know," Filoni says. "I think it opens up the door for more Mandalorian madness in the future."
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At long last ... we come to "Old Master." Peer into the eyes of this shadowy figure and scan the markings on his skin, and it's impossible to deny that this is the demonic Sith Lord we once knew as Darth Maul. Yes, if you only saw him in The Phantom Menace, you would think he had died — but fans of The Clone Wars series and Star Wars comics know that Maul and his newly mechanized lower half lived on. What became of him decades later? Filoni doesn't even want to say the name, since part of the fun for fans is speculating. "Even if they guess right about everything they think they’re seeing, they won’t know how it comes together, which really becomes the fun part for me," he says. "So if you’re guessing right and the character is who you think it is, it still doesn’t answer: What in the world is that character up to?"
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Rebels is having its characters explore ancient archeology in hopes of avoiding or preventing the mistakes of the past. “I think that the challenge for everybody who decides to take an active part in the Force, is: Am I doing it for myself, or am I doing it for others? Am I controlling this power? Am I using for good, or what I perceive to be good, in Anakin’s case? Have I become a force for evil?” Filoni says. “[Ezra] has to ask himself those questions, especially because he’s taken up arms and is very much involved in a resistance against an empire.”