Dave Filoni on making The Clone Wars finale and Mandalorian season 2
After the original 1977 Star Wars and 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars property that's probably the most universally beloved by the franchise's fandom is the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which comes to an end May 4 on Disney+. And close behind in the hearts of fans just might be the Disney+ live-action series The Mandalorian, which premiered in October and returns for season 2 this fall. A creative driving force on both shows is Dave Filoni, the animator, writer, producer, and director who serves as supervising director on Clone Wars and an executive producer and director on Mandalorian (which has Jon Favreau as its showrunner). Given Filoni's work on the two acclaimed series, as well as supervising the animated series Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars Resistance, Filoni has arguably told more hours of Star Wars tales than any other person — including saga creator George Lucas, who is Filoni's mentor.
The Clone Wars is also, perhaps, the most gorgeous-looking animated TV series ever made. The show feels exactly like classic Star Wars (if a live-action film had an endless budget). The series tells the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker along with a long list of supporting characters (including breakout Jedi heroine Ahsoka Tano), and takes place among and between the events the prequel films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. As the series approaches its finale, its story is running parallel with the final act of Sith, as Darth Sidious prepares to execute his Jedi-annihilating Order 66.
Below, we talk to Filoni about finishing The Clone Wars — and, naturally, try to get some scoop on The Mandalorian season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what excites you about the final two episodes of Clone Wars?
DAVE FILONI: I guess that we are bringing this to a close. I find that exciting. I've been through it before with Rebels. It helps frame the rest of the work. It feels like it gives it a purpose. For me it's 15 years now, and to just apply all that and say, "Let's do this the best we can possibly do it." And it seems like that's coming across, from what people are saying. I've had this story in my mind in various versions for a while, so there's something unique about finally putting it down and saying it's done.
There are a lot of questions fans have that the final episodes could answer. Which questions are the ones you think are important for your show to address?
I was trying to get at answering what Ahsoka's story was about, what Rex's story was about, giving those a shape. George covered Anakin's story in the film, so I've tried to always work in support of that, but then also give a point of view on it that comes from these other characters that know him, or other characters that are around him, while not changing the nature of what George's messaging for Star Wars was in Anakin's path. Those are some key things I had to do in Rebels. You know, Rebels wasn't about just making a story that wound up running into Rogue One or A New Hope. It was about telling a story about a kid and his family. I'm trying to give a big perspective on the Jedi in this war that they fought, and how the galaxy up became an empire, in greater detail than had been done before.
When people watch Revenge of the Sith after watching your finale, will they see the film differently in some respects?
I suppose that's inevitable. But there's nothing that I show that wasn't something that I learned from watching the film or from George. I have that privileged point of view from having worked with him and talked so much about these stories with him. I'm privy to details other people aren't. But I feel a lot of what I've brought to light is actually already in the structure of the films themselves and what is said about the Jedi in the film and how they begin to believe their ability to use the Force is somehow being limited. That their vision is clouded. Some of the younger [and] even older Jedis are becoming arrogant — it's all in the dialogue there when Mace, Yoda, and Ki-Adi-Mundi are talking [in ROTS].
I was always very interested in those scenes. I was very interested in what the Jedi were like in this era. So the films are just a real delight for me to watch and rewatch over and over, and then to get to work on that time period is a really great experience. So I was just bringing those stories to light, whereas the films concentrate very much on Anakin's story and how everything is affecting him.
We’re now at a point where we’re so close to the ending of Revenge of the Sith, and The Clone Wars has deftly avoided showing scenes from the prequels. I’m wondering how you avoid that in these final episodes while making your show still feel complete when it comes to honoring its key characters.
I have to be aware of what's happening in time and space around the story I'm telling, given that we are so close. But I don't have a lot of desire to tell any of those scenes necessarily again — unless it's from the point of view of the characters that we need to see it happen. So it's just a challenge not getting something chronologically out of order. Luckily I've watched those movies a lot, so I think it all works out. But yeah, I did some fun things there.
Something I've wanted to do for a long time is to have the end of Clone Wars be this coinciding story that frames where some of these people that weren't in the films are. Because I think that alone is a valid question: Where were these guys? Ahsoka seemed like she was important, so was she invited to join the Sith? Where was Rex? I felt like that needed an answer because they were, after so many episodes and stories, obviously such a big part of Anakin and Obi-Wan's life. If there's a big enough important enough thing going on at the same time, you go, "Yep, I get that they were busy."
I’m curious if the Bad Batch were basically a way of explaining why the use of clones fell out of favor for the creation of Stormtroopers and the First Order started conscripting kids instead, like in the recent film trilogy?
There's an element of that, for sure. I never liked to get too in the weeds because I like fans to watch as I did and glean from the stories themselves, and they add tremendous insights where I'm like, "Oh, I didn't think of that, but I guess that's true." For me, it's a story about the soldiers fighting the war, which is the Bad Batch group of episodes. And you get a perspective on how the clones have grown. George and I always talked about the clones as individuals, and how the Jedi made them more so than normal. So all these clones are the same, but they're actually acting like individuals, and there's no greater expression of that in that time period than the Bad Batch.
They are the most unique, so much so now that they're even looking different physically. Also going with that series of episodes amounts to civilians and people trying to just make it every day in this Galactic Republic while this giant war's going on. You get insight into the people that the Jedi and the Republic claim they're trying to protect and what their lives are actually like, versus what Ahsoka maybe thought it was like, and that's why telling the Trace and Rafa story is important, because it ties into the ideas that what you were seeing in Ahsoka's story before that where she leaves the order because people are telling her that the Jedi aren't what they used to be, that they've lost touch with the people. The Republic isn't what it was. You have this challenging point of view where she's kind of lived in this temple and maybe not been out there amongst the population as much as she should. Maybe there's some lost perspective. These are questions that we were exploring before the first end of the Clone Wars. But they were valid things that you need them to understand going into the end of things.
It's been reported that George chimed in on these final episodes, such as the creation of the Bad Batch. What's something we've seen that he had a specific comment about?
That's largely been taken out of context in people's enthusiasm. George and I still talk, and I'll ask him some things. But he's just really enjoying watching them. What's in play are things we had discussed years ago. The Bad Batch were series of stories we had written in story meetings with him, and the Trace and Rafa arc were adapted off of outlines from then. These last four episodes were probably the least developed of what we had done.
There are elements that were always the same. Like the Siege of Mandalore. We knew Ahsoka went there to confront Darth Maul. I even had versions of those stories. Because The Clone Wars process got stopped, I didn't think we ever would finish it, but because we finished it, when you make a story real and watch it, there's still a lot of notes and revisions that need to go on, and dialogue changes and scene changes and a lot of work. He hadn't really seen anything until you're releasing it here. I respect him so much, and having worked with him, I just always want make sure I'm getting it right. So I check in with him time to time. If I've had success, it's really because he was teaching us and took the time to teach us. He was teaching what he thought made this work and what didn't. One little mistake can ruin a lot of things. So hopefully I got it more right than not.
Given that there is an Obi-Wan live-action series coming to Disney+, is there anything that you're to lay groundwork for that, as there's so much interconnectivity between Star Wars projects now?
Not in particular. I mean, I wouldn't talk much about that anyway. There's a lot of groundwork laid already. It's an exciting time to be here with so many creative people coming to the forefront and these characters leaping back onto the screen. I can't wait to see what happens with many of them. I've been here for a while, but I'm still a fan of it all. I never would dream years ago that there'd be so much Star Wars happening, so many exciting opportunities for people and fandom to explore it.
There are so many lingering Mandalore questions, from why the Empire targeted Mandalore to why their tribalistic rules changed. To what degree will your bridge the gap with what we know from The Mandalorian?
Those are really interesting questions, and fascinating and valid. But I don't know if the job of this story is to bridge that. This story should be about what these characters need and what their wants are. There might be things that shade in certain directions; I'm sure people will see connections that I don't see. It wasn't like one of the primary goals. There are touchstones with everything, Jon [Favreau] worked on Clone Wars with me, he was a voice on it, so he's aware of it. I'll bring those things up, and we talk all the time. You make what connections you can to make it feel like the big, vast galaxy that we would like it to be. There are little things, but mainly more within Clone Wars itself and probably more likely to reflect on Rebels, because the Rebels time period is closer in proximity to the end of Clone Wars.
Is the finale the same length as regular episodes, or are you going super-sized with that one?
The great thing about Disney+ is episodes could be whatever length I needed them to be, long or short. I'm like in the Yoda school: "Size matters not." A lot of these episodes have been longer than what fans are used to. Normal Clone Wars episodes were 22 minutes. These have all been a bit expanded. I looked at it as four parts to tell this one big complete story. And each part is a considered stage of what's important.
You're also in post-production on The Mandalorian season 2. How would you describe it compared to the first season?
It's a lot of fun. Maybe that's just me reacting to making it. Now that I have a year of it under my belt, doing live action — and I need so much more experience. I wrote in Clone Wars "experience outranks everything," and I need to get some. So it was a great learning experience, working with a great team of people, working with Jon. I've applied what I've learned into the second season to the best of my abilities. And I think everything is getting better and better, and everyone was energized from the reaction we got from the first season. We're looking forward to sharing it with everybody when we're finished.
What can tell us about your live-action Ahsoka?
All those rumors! Over the years people have always asked me about that character and potential live-action possibilities. It's a real credit to the animation team and everybody that's been involved with her over the years to make a character that fans say, "Hey, that would be great. We would want to see that." And the debates that surround that. When we started in 2008 giving Anakin Skywalker a young Padawan wasn't at top of mind for a lot of people. It seemed a bit out of left field and risky. George always knew that it would work if we did it the right way. The great thing about the character is she's proved herself and earned her place among the Star Wars leads out there. So whatever the future holds, who knows? But for now, we'll get to see this ending of Clone Wars and see how that goes.
Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…