By Geoff Boucher
March 14, 2013 at 05:49 PM EDT
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In the end, Ahsoka Tano wasn’t the only one who walked away. The fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars reached its finale last weekend, and as many suspected, the episode turned out to be a swan song for the CG-animated series. Lucasfilm announced Monday that it would go “in a new direction” with its animation pursuits: “We are exploring a whole new Star Wars series set in a time period previously untouched in Star Wars films or television programming. You can expect more details in the months to come.”

What might that mean? On both the silver and small screen, the chronicles of the Jedi universe have been fixed on the life of Anakin Skywalker, but with the announced Episode VII film, newcomer Kathy Kennedy is turning the cinematic focus for the first time beyond the fiery funeral of Darth Vader. (That’s a sharp turn from the tack of the now-retiring George Lucas, who had in recent years stated that the most relevant stories in the Star Wars universe ended with the torching of Vader’s corpse on the forest moon of Endor.)

The costly postponement of the 3-D re-release of two prequel installments only underlines Kennedy’s resolve to get this new plotted course underway with all moviemaking engines pushing in the same direction. This week also brought word that Detours, the planned series that would spoof the Jedi universe, might turn out to be a dead end. Time will tell if Lucasfilm television animation will follow the feature film saga into the post-Vader years or if it will jump into another direction to give the theatrical flagship plenty of room to manuever.

But what of Clone Wars?

The final broadcast episode was an especially evocative one as Ahsoka Tano (the character created for the series and the namesake 2008 animated film) was wrongly accused of sedition and murder. Her ultimate fate had been a topic of fan speculation for months and now it seems to dovetail with the fate of series itself. We caught up with Dave Filoni, who directed the episode and had become the Lucasfilm face of the series as supervising director for all five seasons, to talk about the young Jedi trainee nicknamed Snips.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There must be a jumble of emotions these days on a number of fronts but talk a bit about the character of Ahsoka and how the finale and her fate resonate for you.

DAVE FILONI: As we kept writing the character of Ahsoka we knew it would be — well, I don’t want to say an uphill struggle — but we knew it would be a challenge to place a character like her in the midst of the Anakins and Obi-Wans of the Star Wars universe. It was a spot we would definitely have to earn for her and judging by the reaction to last Saturday’s episode it seems that everybody here, and especially Ashley [Eckstein], was able to make it happen. It was a situation where at first [fans were] like “Why is this kid here?” And now, five years later, people are like, “Wait – why is she leaving?” They were sad about it. So that was kind of good for us to see in the reaction.

How far back did you see this ending coming? I know they were surprises along the way but did you know the general destination?

The question from the very beginning was “What are we going to do with this character, now that we’ve put her in play?” I was always leaning towards, “I think she should make it through.” And the great thing was that on the other side of it, George was very much, “Well, we have to leave everything open. You know, she might die.” It made me really look as we went through the series and developed her character and things kind of twisted and turned [for her]. The whole thing with Ahsoka, we’re always asked, “Why do we need to have this character? Why is she important, not just for Anakin, but for Star Wars?”

What were some of the answers?

There are the avenues that she opened up for female fans to carry a lightsaber at conventions. I watched the fanbase to see if their reaction to her would slowly [evolve] and, you know, it did. It was surprising at the end because we worked her into this position with this story arc where she walked away. And I think the initial outlined instinct was that we’d just bring her back into the Jedi Order at the end of this. But I kind of put my hand up and said, “Well, wait a minute. Let’s say that maybe we don’t do that…”

Because membership in the Jedi Order means she would be set up, presumably, for death in the purge. A lot of people thought she would be part of the body count.

This season as it evolved with our characters seemed to be about “Let’s do something really big here. Let’s kill off the team. Let’s kill off Pre Vizsla, let’s take Savage Opress out of the picture. Let’s implicate a character like Barriss Offee as being a traitor,” because people wouldn’t expect that and it was the right thing to do given the relationship with Ahsoka’s character. Let’s take all these things and because of that I thought we would have fans on edge. They’d be saying, “Well, they’re not pulling any punches this year, they killed off a lot of pretty big-name characters.” It created an opportunity where it made it very believable; there was tension and doubt that she could survive and walk away.

Does all that death add more meaning to her survival as well as the surprise?

In a way. It was one of the things that we were struggling with at the very beginning of Clone Wars, which was: “Where’s the tension because we know Anakin and Obi-Wan survive this whole thing, right?” And we created several characters that were our own and I think that when you show a willingness to, you know, just take people out of the equation, the fans that watch the show go, “Oh wow. Any week something could happen here that I’m not expecting.” I know. I’ve had this with when I watch Downton Abbey. I’m like, are you kidding me? What other terrible thing can happen to this family? You know? But I think there’s something really compelling about that. There’s a reality to it.

Now that you mention it, I suppose destiny and suspense aren’t national complements.

With Star Wars, which is very much a fantasy and fairy tale, it’s [not easy] to get that kind of sitting-on-edge-thinking-wow-they-might-really-kill-this-girl place. Well, once we’ve shown you we’re willing to kill other characters, it just brings the tension back. It made the finale I think that much more powerful.

When Clone Wars first arrived I thought the look — a sort of carved marionette vibe — was a savvy choice to tell the tales of long-ago knights. The look never really stayed in one place though, you guys seemed to be chasing something throughout. The ambition of the animation, that shouldn’t really be taken for granted, should it?

No, it shouldn’t. And I appreciate that. It’s easy for people to assume that somehow we’re some offshoot of ILM working with all this. You know, super technology, but it’s really just not the case. When we put out the Clone Wars movie we knew we wanted the series to look substantially better than that. I mean, that was the best we could do at that point with the timetable we had. We were making it our style as fast as we were making it. One thing I’m very proud of and Joel Aron, the CG supervisor, will be very proud is we’ve never said “Okay, here’s the look and it’s good enough.”

We’ve constantly said we want to figure out ways to make it look better. That really helped draw people in because we would watch the show and realize that we weren’t getting the emotional reaction we wanted. It was because the character’s [visages] weren’t portraying them emotionally enough. And I think now we have the facial performance to support the voice acting it adds up to get this kind of credible performance that, you know, in Season One and Two it’s just not there. And in the end you could see the impact.

Read More:

ABC sizes up ‘Star Wars’ live-action series

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