Star Wars: The Clone Wars is how a whole new generation of fans are learning to love the universe that has taken over the minds of pop culture for over 30 years. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re at Star Wars Celebration VI in a big way, with multiple panels and events.
The press got an intimate occasion with the stars and head of the Clone Wars crew Saturday afternoon, as Dave Filoni, Joel Aron Sam Witwer, Dee Bradley Baker, Ashley Eckstein, and Matt Lanter answered questions about the past, present, and of course, future of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
We’ll do this simple Q&A style.
Q: With George Lucas’s semi-retirement, will your role step up beyond just Clone Wars, Dave?
Filoni: No, I don’t think so. His retirement even just means he has more time to come and see the show while we’re working. He told me when we started that one of the reasons I’m here is so that when he’s not around I can make sure things are going well. It’s amazing for our confidence and our crew that he feels like he can retire.
I look forward to all the things we’re doing in the LucasFilm Animation division, but Clone Wars remains my focus.
Q: How many seasons do you think you’ll do?
Filoni: We’ll keep making them as long as you’re watching them. Season five is completely done, but Season 6 is being written and worked on now in advance. We go season to season, Cartoon Network has been a great partner to us, and right now we’re focused on Season 5.
Q: Why the change in the schedule from Friday night to Saturday morning?
Filoni: They actually changed their entire action block to Saturday mornings.
Q: Any chance of a second Clone Wars movie? You mentioned it is better on the big screen…
Filoni: You know, it’s always about what the fans want. We focus on making the show as cinematic as possible, we shoot in 2:35 and it’s ready to be projected at all times.
Q: We recently had a fan poll at Star Wars Insider, and Revenge won, why do you think that resonated?
Witwer: In terms of Darth Maul, the guy has the Boba Fett factor going on. He looks cool, and there was an attitude that was affected in that movie. We can’t do the same thing, we can’t bring the character back exactly as he was.
We talked about how he couldn’t just be good at sword fighting, you have to pick a guy who is really smart and could eventually take over the mantle. The big thing for Revenge and Brothers was not to just show you the cost, but the unadulterated Dark Side of the force. He’ll get funnier as he goes on.
Q: What’s it like closing out Season 4 and starting Season 5 focused on you, Sam?
Witwer: You know, it’s the Star Wars show, it’s not the me show. It’s all about how the scenes are shot, how the character is written, how it’s lit, and that makes my job so easy.
I have to say, too, I had no idea that Lanter did the voice of one of the pirate captains in that episode last night! That was great!
Lanter: Yeah, what was his name?
Lanter: Sweet, I’ll add that to my list!
Q: Is there anything intensity wise that doesn’t make it into the show?
Filoni: A lot of kids haven’t seen Revenge of the Sith and they shouldn’t! It illustrates my problem, that I have Clones on one side and Revenge on the other, and one is way more intense than the other.
One thing I noticed last night at the premiere though, was when Obi-Wan rose up and [omitted for spoilers] the crowd went nuts, and that means we’re doing things well, we’re making the villains bad enough, and making the heroes have their big moments.
Q: Dave, are you surprised that Hasbro isn’t making more of the Clone Wars toys?
Filoni: Not particularly; there’s such a legacy of the live action and cinematic looking figures. I think it’s exciting that they’ve taken some of our characters like Ahsoka and done those in the live action fashion. Whatever decisions they make, I’m sure they do for reasons.
Q: For Ashley, it was brought up at the panel that 34% of the audience is female, your character headlines that, what do you think of that?
Eckstein: Oh, it’s not just Ahsoka! Padme of course, Ventress is an awesome character.
It’s something that of course I hoped would happen. We talked about that a lot, I said, “Hey is this a hope, do we want to create a female audience?”
Filoni: And we actually just chose to go with a girl because we didn’t want it to just be Anakin or Luke all over again.
It worked out great, you’ve been an ambassador beyond belief for the fans. You’re a tiny powerhouse!
Eckstein: I will say I’ve seen a difference, after doing 4 years of Disney Star Wars Weekends; the first couple years it was mostly boys and fathers, and the past two years it’s been probably 80% moms and daughters, so that’s great.
Q: Any directors you’d like to bring in from outside of LucasFilm Animation?
Filoni: You know, we do that at George’s request sometimes, but I have five killer episodic directors, and I like to showcase them, they all do such great work. You’re going to see some amazing stuff from them this year.
Q: Any chance of Mark Hammil doing a voice on Clone Wars?
Filoni: You know, Mark, as you say is a huge talent; if we were going to bring him on it has to be something really awesome and really special. I want to be able to cast Mark in a way that’s meaningful for him to come in and perform. It’s on my mind, it’s on my list of things to do. It won’t happen in Season 5 but hopefully before it’s all said and done I’ll get Mark back into the Star Wars franchise. It’ll be unexpected.
Q: Matt, do you have a desire to go more into Anakin’s dark side?
Lanter: I really like being able to play both sides, and it’s a great challenge to take him smoothly from the swashbuckler to the point he’s at in Revenge of the Sith. I think that’s really fun as fans to see that as well. I don’t like playing one side more than the other at all though.
Q: How will the 22 episodes of Season 5 pan out in terms of storytelling?
Filoni: It’s pretty much like previous seasons, except this season they’re mainly four part arcs. We tied the premiere directly into last season which we haven’t done before. The next few episodes past that are about the Clone War and Onderan. Each of these four episode arcs are designed to play out as an 88 minute movie if need be. Ahsoka is always the thread, you can watch her and tell where we’re at.
There are also some considerations for timing where we’ve say blown up a base, and it remains destroyed.
Q: For Ashley and Matt, is there any limitation to voice-acting in connecting to your characters and developing them?
Lanter: Aside from the obvious of not having props and scenes, there’s not a whole lot of difference. This stuff is beautifully written, some of the character interactions and development as a team is top notch, so no, it rolls really smoothly!
Eckstein: Yeah, one of the misconceptions of Voice Acting is that Voice Actors aren’t actors. There are so many talented actors that are part of this cast.
In one episode that we did this season, my heart was beating out of my chest! You get emotional.
Witwer: Yeah, I’d like to say wiht the limited characters I’ve done on this show. I don’t know if you appreciate the pressure that these two actors are under for their roles from the fans. These guys, every episode are faced with something that Dave gets letters about, so they have my respect totally for being able to handle that, it’s a cool thing.
Q: Some actors say they can’t go back and watch their performances, is it easier for you because it’s animated?
Witwer; Um, absolutely! I love this show!
Baker: You know, I love going back and watching these, it’s a very different idea and experience.
Witwer: Who would’ve guessed 20 years ago that we would have troopers that have real lives and you know the guy behind the mask?
Q: One of the things the show has done best is reveal things we’ve heard of in one-liners but not gotten to see, is there another big reveal like that?
Filoni: Yeah, there’s a lot of that. This season we deal with a lot of big questions, and in future seasons. This season is really focusing on the characters we created in the Clone Wars, the Satines and Ahsokas, and Hondos of the world. There are unexpected consequences for these characters.
There’s the new planet Onderan, a new planet called Skippio, the home of the banking clan. We’ll answer a lot of questions on the formation of the Empire itself. You’ll be, at the end of this season, just like the Jedi, looking around and thinking “wow, we didn’t see this coming, this is more than we thought was going to happen.”
Baker: It’s knock-out, too. I’ve only seen a fraction of it, but it’s really a knock-out season, I’m really excited to see it.
Filoni: Yeah, it’s funny they never get to see it. Most of them last night was the first time they saw the premiere, with you! We go away and do a whole bunch of other episodes and forget about that.
I think sometimes its actually more interesting for them to watch because they had almost no context for what they were saying, and now they get to see how it all plays out.
Witwer: What’s cool is how as the show gets more complicated, it looks and sounds better and better (he pointed to Aron while saying). They could’ve jumped right into Mortis or something, but it wouldn’t have been the right move, and that patience in storytelling is something really amazing and special.
Aron: Yeah, we don’t light it like animation. Because of that, I’ve tried to push it even moreso cinematically with influences of movies like Drive; we’re talking about Season 5, I can’t just have characters talking to each other. We want the audience to throw out the idea that they’re watching animation.
Baker: It’s so exciting for us, there’s a three dimensionality to a vocal performance too. When we get to see it on a theater screen in digital clarity, we’re thrilled by it just as much as everyone else.
I got so excited seeing Gregor (the lost Republic Commando) today. I remember recording him and doing his story, but to SEE him, you don’t have to know anything about the guy, and you see him putting on the helmet and it’s just so exciting!
Eckstein: I want to underline going back to our vocal performance, it is all about Dave’s direction. He’s the best director I’ve ever worked with, and he’s brilliant. He knows us indivdually and knows how to get the best performance out of everyone. He makes it simple and easy.
Witwer: And relaxed, too! I remember I had to do some extra shoots alone with this side studio, and the studio guy came to me and said he’d shot features and TV shows and this Filoni guy was the best he’d ever worked with!
Filoni: What are you trying to do, make sure I don’t kill you off?
Witwer: I think Maul becomes their friend! (all the panelists laugh)
Baker: (to Lanter) Sure, you’re laughing, you’re the only one who’s safe!
Q: Sam, we talked about Matt and Ashley’s pressure, but how do you deal with that with Darth Maul?
Witwer: Just take a Xanax and go! (laughs) No, you know, it’s so much easier with the writers, you know they’re not going to make you look foolish, and just talked a lot with Dave Filoni.
Filoni: You know, I thought there were so many great moments, but in that first episode where you were going completely crazy, then there was just the one line where you look at Savage and say “Revenge” and that completely brought it back to the Phantom Menace moment.
Eckstein: We love with guest actors or new people like Sam come in, because it makes us raise the bar and just try to get better and better.
Lanter: You were talking earlier about watching episodes and insecurities as an actor, I had that the other day in the booth, where I wanted to redo a scene and Dave said we got it right. These characters are so great and so complex, we want to get them right!
Star Wars The Clone Wars Season 5 premieres Saturdays at 930am this fall!