There’s an almost ominous feeling when, while waiting to get connected with “Star Wars Rebels” executive producer Dave Filoni, the hold music at Lucasfilm is the ‘Imperial March’. The sound of Darth Vader’s theme cannot help but feel like a foreshadowing of the events and dangers the Ghost crew will face in the upcoming third season.
The season two finale of “Star Wars Rebels” left fans stunned and heartbroken. Though the finale did bring back fan-favorite villain Maul (“Formerly Darth”), it ultimately led to the blinding of Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus. It also saw Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s former apprentice, face off with Darth Vader, only to meet a rather ambiguous end.
Season three picks up six months later and the effects of Malachor are still present in the minds of the Ghost crew.
“I think we’re going to spend some time showing that in season three,” Dave says about the group dealing with the loss of Ahsoka. “I think that the thing to understand is that Ahsoka, while she was helping out, it’s not like she was running the war for anybody or really commanding any battalions. So she was kind of there but on the side.”
That’s not to say that her presence wasn’t important. Dave says that although Ahsoka was not a prominent figure, she gave the group more confidence.
“It’s like you feel like you have some power against the more powerful evil,” he relates Ahsoka’s presence to. “I would say it’s similar to the [Fellowship of the Ring, where] the Fellowship sets off with Gandalf, and then they lose him and they still have to find a way to move forward. So now it’s really up to [the Rebellion] to find their resolve to see if they can keep going. But it is a big loss and I think it’s something that’s going to impact different members of the Ghost team especially for quite some time.”
It’s the confidence that Ahsoka gave to the Ghost crew in particular that is going to be needed as they face up against one of their toughest opponents other than Darth Vader.
Grand Admiral Thrawn has been teased in the season’s trailers and that alone has fans thrilled at his first appearance in the new canon. Seen as cold and calculating, Thrawn brings new war tactics to the Empire in the fight against the Rebel Alliance.
Clearly pleased and laughing briefly at the mention of fans excitement, Dave describes Thrawn’s character as unlike anything the Rebellion has experienced.
“For the most part, a lot of the Imperial commanders they’ve faced, with the exception of Tarkin – Tarkin’s strategically intelligent – but most of them are very politically motivated,” Dave explains. “Even Tarkin has this thing where he wants power for himself and that’s one of his goals. In Thrawn, you have someone who is clearly focused on the rebel threat – clearly focused on the military strategy of any given situation. He’s not ambitious in the way where he needs to see himself promoted, or a governor one day. He purely wants to dissect them; that’s what he enjoys! He enjoys finding out what their weaknesses are and for a while, the rebels aren’t even going to be clear of what they’re up against. It’s just so different for them to have a bad guy that’s, you know, actually smart with how he uses the Imperial war machine!”
There is one “bad guy” that might be inching toward a gray area.
Agent Kallus is an Imperial officer who has had multiple run-ins with the Ghost crew over the first two seasons of “Star Wars Rebels”. Most recently, in season two’s episode ‘The Honorable Ones’, Kallus finds himself trapped on an icy planet with Garazeb Orrelios. The two have had it out for the other since the beginning, when Kallus taunted the Lasat about his participation in the cleansing of his home planet. Forced to survive together in the cold and unforgiving environment, Kallus and Zeb work together to escape. After turning down Zeb’s invitation to hop aboard the Ghost, Kallus sees the lack of camaraderie within the Empire compared to the rebels.
When asked if the audience will see Kallus still dealing with the ramifications of the events that took place in ‘The Honorable Ones’, Dave laughs softly once more.
“Well, I think you see at the end, that Kallus is challenged by ‘What does this all mean?’ He has an existence within the Empire and he obviously believes that he was serving what he thought was the greater good of this Empire that he was a part of.” Dave alludes to the fact that Kallus might not realize the really terrible things that he’s a part of, or rather that what he has thought to be right for a good portion of his life, might not be.
“What we tried in that episode to draw was a very clear line that Zeb has people that care about him and that are looking for him and very clearly, Kallus doesn’t,” he explains. “We need to see what he does with this knowledge, that he might be on the wrong side of things here; that he might not be fighting to save something worth saving in the Empire and see what he does in season three.”
It’s due to the possible change of heart that fans felt was hinted towards at the end of ‘The Honorable Ones’ that Kallus might be taking up the seat of Fulcrum, the name of a secret informant who helps to organize groups of rebel cells into a bigger alliance. Fans first came to know Fulcrum as Ahsoka but with her fate unknown to the Rebellion, it’s only a matter of time before someone else takes over.
The major theory amongst Star Wars fans that Kallus takes on the identity of Fulcrum was later fueled by the first season three trailer where a voice, assumed to be the new Fulcrum, announces, “There are Imperial cadets at the Skystrike Academy who wish to defect to the Rebels.”
“Well, we’ll have to wait to see,” Dave says about the possibility of this theory being true. He teases, “There could be many Fulcrums. Fulcrum is really a tactical idea that Ahsoka and Bail Organa put into play so we’ll have to see.”
One could easily hear the smile that takes hold on Dave’s face, and joy he has for his job, even over the phone, as he says, “I can’t answer that question directly. The identity of Fulcrum always must be a secret. If I was to give it up, that would be bad on my part. I would be hurting the Rebellion to do so!”
Trailers for season three have also revealed an artifact that audiences haven’t caught a glimpse of since “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Sabine Wren is seen holding up the darksaber, a black-bladed lightsaber that previously belonged to the Jedi Order before it was stolen by Mandalorians during the fall of the Old Republic.
Considering the fact that Sabine’s weapon-comfort lies with blasters and explosives throughout the series, could Kanan find a new student in training Sabine how to use the darksaber? Dave says Kanan taking on another student is always a possibility.
“A Jedi can teach multiple students. I think the requisite is that the former student has to achieve the rank of Knight. Once they achieve the rank of Knight, then you can move on and teach another student if that’s what you choose to do.”
While Dave stays tight lipped on whether Sabine could be Kanan’s next student, he does say, “We’ll have to see what it means that Sabine’s holding up this darksaber. It’s something that became a possibility to have her intersect with this weapon, and obviously I wanted you guys to know about it so I put it in the trailer. But, it will take a little bit to fully understand what it means for her, in its own unique way. I think it’s one of my favorite moments this season for sure.”
Sabine’s storyline this season will take a front seat as fans get to learn more about one of their favorite Mandalorians. Given her heritage, it makes sense that fans are also curious as to if more information about the Siege of Mandalore will be released. “Not particularly the Siege of Mandalore, though I’ve found different ways to get out information about that particular storyline here and there throughout the many things we’re doing in Star Wars,” says Dave of the finale story arc for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that, unfortunately, never came to be.
Although Dave would love for a book or animated special on the siege, there’s nothing at the moment. He says that there will be mentions of it, referring to the specific details he’s dropped so far in “Star Wars Rebels”, but doesn’t give much away other than that. If he were able to one day bring it to a “theatrical form visually”, he says that would be great. “I’d want it to be new and valuable in that moment. So we’ll have to wait and see. It’s something I’d love to do as long as I think the story’s worth telling,” explains Dave. For now, his Mandalorian focus is on Sabine.
“I think Sabine’s backstory is very important and personal, obviously to her. She was rather young for all those other events so she’s not really that keenly aware of it. But because Maul is in play now, you have to then go around and start answering these questions as far as, ‘What does Sabine know about a guy like that?’ because Maul was so heavily involved with Mandalore. We were all like, ‘Okay, so what does that mean for our friends, the Mandalorians?’”
“There’s a lot of things to discover as far as character relationships go,” the executive producer teases in reference to a possible connection between Sabine and Maul. “And I think that’s one of the most exciting things about “Rebels”, is that each week we deal with the same group of characters and we deal with a little bit more about how they fit into each other’s worlds in this ever-broadening galaxy.”
It’s this constant glimpse into the world of the Ghost crew that have fans craving for more. They want to see more of the various connections between characters and in particular are curious of the possible low-key romantic relationship between the captain of the Ghost Hera Syndulla and Kanan.
“I think a lot of things start to become clearer,” Dave comments. “The characters have made a lot of choices, and some of them they’ve already alluded to. It’s definitely something that we are leaning more into as we go. Hera for her part, is a fairly business oriented person as far as what she’s trying to achieve, but I don’t think that means she doesn’t have tremendous feelings for Kanan.”
He pauses to laugh as he thinks over his upcoming statement. “Of the two of them, I’d say Hera’s further along in understanding what responsibilities she has for the galaxy, and Kanan’s kind of always struggled with that. Somebody that ability and power comes to easily doesn’t always understand how people are relying on you all the time, because he can just conjure up ability when he needs it.”
Dave says that all the characters have these important relationships with one another in the group, and that’s what got tested towards the end of season two. “As we go into season three and beyond, [what is tested] is how are they going to come through that and are they still going to believe in each other or are they going to drift farther apart?” He brings up a true fact of life, that while sometimes friends get closer, there are times where some friends get farther apart. “We’ll have to wait and see. But I think the personal stories have definitely taken more of a center stage as we’ve gone along in the series. And I like that. I think the audience does too.”
The close-knit and personal relationships each member of the Ghost crew has with one another is what helps set Ezra Bridger’s story apart from that of Anakin Skywalker.
Since the beginning, it’s been easy to compare their stories. Both are force-users who grew up on a desert planet, becoming a padawan later in life than usual, and, due to previous losses of loved ones, seek power as a means of protection for those who are still close. Yet, it is the relationships they’ve formed that set them apart.
“I think when you are a character that has abilities and powers like that, that it’s natural that you all kind of come to similar points in it,” says Dave of keeping Ezra’s story uniquely his. “You have to deal with similar challenges. But at the same time, I think that one of the things that makes Anakin stand out to me is how alone he was in so many ways. He had this friend in Obi Wan [Kenobi], but we didn’t really get to see them interact a lot, even in ‘Clone Wars’. While they were brother-like, they were part of an order and Obi Wan definitely had his very serious, ‘Obi Wan’ ways of dealing with things.”
On the other hand, Ezra’s part of a family unit. “When you’re part of a more tightly knit family like that, I think that your actions affect a very specific group of people around you. I think that’s going to be a big difference for him, is how his actions are affecting the crew of the Ghost right around him and his friends, and his mother and father figure in Hera and Kanan. And we’ll see how he deals with this kind of power that he’s gaining and how he decides to use it or wield it.
“But yeah, there’s this story when you have these Jedi-like characters. They are going to go through these moments where they have to question, ‘How do I use this power? Do I use [it] for good or for evil?’ And sometimes you think you’re using it for good and you’re not,” Dave explains, possibly even hinting towards Ezra’s actions in the season three premiere. “There’s all kinds of challenges wrapped around this ability to wield power.”
Ezra’s actions of trusting Maul in the season two finale proved to have disastrous effects on his master. After Maul helped Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka defeat the Inquisitors on Malachor, the former Sith betrayed the trio and attempted to kill Kanan. Although he didn’t kill the Jedi, he succeeded in blinding him. It was only in a moment of clarity and focus, much like the one in the first season’s finale, that Kanan was truly in tune with the force and used his connection to help him overcome Maul despite his recent injury.
However, without the ability to see, Kanan is forced to relearn much of what he knows. He begins to do this through the Bendu, a part of the Force that is neither light nor dark but rather in the middle.
“It’s one of his big stories this year,” Dave reveals about Kanan and the Bendu. “You’re never done learning, right? So even with Kanan, while he’s been predominantly in the series as the master – even though he would admit he’s not a very good one – he needs to learn and he needs to grow. Now he’s at this point in his life where I think he perceives he’s been somewhat of a failure to himself and less so, but also, a failure to the crew. Ahsoka has, you know, gone who knows where or who knows what, he’s injured, and Ezra has been behaving erratically at the end, and I think he’s having second thoughts about what it means to be this teacher. So he might need someone to kick him in the pants and say, ‘Stop wallowing in your indecision here,’ and ‘You’ve got to see things differently now.’ I think those are big questions for Kanan now and how he answers them is going to make up a large part of his arc this season.”
With “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” character Saw Gerrera finally getting his live-action debut in December’s Rogue One and “Star Wars Rebels” bringing in Wedge Antilles from Episodes IV – VI, fans are left to wonder if there will be any tie-ins to the upcoming film Rogue One in season three.
“That would have to wait and see!” exclaims Dave. His tone is happy as he says, “I wouldn’t want to say – I wouldn’t want to spoil anything that might be in the films.” Excitement laces Dave’s voice as he speaks of Rogue One. “I’m real excited for the movie of course, and all the hard work that everybody at Lucasfilm has done on it. I just think that our whole job is to create an experience in storytelling like nobody else and in the Star Wars galaxy, I’m just really proud of the efforts that we’re putting forward. It’s nice to kind of have seen it develop the whole way and work with different people involved with production – that’s always exciting for me. So we’ll have to see. I’m just excited for anybody who’s about to release their story to the world. It’s a great moment.”
As much as the moment is exciting, Dave relates to the worry that comes as a creator: What are people going to think about it? “But it’s Star Wars and I think people are going to have a great time and enjoy it.”
“Star Wars Rebels” places its characters in a unique timeline. It takes place between the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, beginning five years before the latter. With season three leaving two or so years until the events in A New Hope, Teenplicity had to ask if Dave had an idea of what the fates of the Ghost crew are at that time.
“I would say for the most part absolutely,” he says after a moment of thinking. He’s quick to add, a slight laugh edging at his voice, “Providing they’re still around, I would say I know what they’re doing.”
Dave explains, “I think that I always have to have an endgame in mind, especially for the show that we’re doing – where is this going and why are we telling these stories? That doesn’t mean it doesn’t evolve. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t change kind of based on what the characters show you. But yeah, I like to think of those things and crossovers. Were they actually there, we just didn’t know it? All of which I think are possibilities. It’s one of the more fun things, actually, to think about is if they are around, what are they up to and why aren’t they more involved? I give that quite a lot of thought from time to time.”
Fans have theorized the whereabouts of the Ghost crew come the time of A New Hope. But, don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly in a bow at the end of “Star Wars Rebels” in the hopefully far off future. While Dave does admit finding out their fates is a possibility, he says, “It’s one of the things that I wonder, depending on how far we go, how would we cover some of those things. And then, you don’t want to do everything all at once and give up everything and say, ‘This is how every character’s story ended!’ I think one of the things that’s compelling to me about Star Wars is how it’s a story that began being told when I was a little kid and now, I’m an adult and the story is still being told. The saga of Luke Skywalker is still revealing itself and I think that’s really fascinating. And while I think there are definitely things that happen to the crew of the Ghost, there might be things that I am unaware of. I mean, you never know. My whole goal is always to make characters that are compelling enough that kids want to keep telling their stories and imagine where they are and what they’re doing. I look forward to that time where, maybe, who knows, I’m watching about Ezra Bridger or Sabine Wren and I’m being told how it finishes. That would be kind of fascinating.”
For the meantime, fans will be able to enjoy season three of “Star Wars Rebels” and uncover the situations they’ll be faced with as the Rebellion and their foes grow.
Dave laughs and the smile is evident in his voice as he teases what he can about the third season. “Well, I can’t tell you everything to expect because that would take out the surprise if you’re expecting it. But I think that the season has a different feeling because of Thrawn. It’s interesting watching each episode and trying to unravel what he knows and what he doesn’t know. And every time you might think that there’s a victory for the heroes, you have to be careful because Thrawn is taking everything in and his is a master planner, a master strategist. So I think that that’s been really fun to work with and something that’s different and challenging, even for the crew of the Ghost.” He mentions that one challenge in particular relates to the fact that Hera and Kanan never read into the Empire. “They don’t know what’s coming,” says Dave.
“[Lars Mikkelsen’s] performance [as Thrawn] in this kind of very cold, calculating way is really interesting. And I’ve had a great time writing it and directing him. I think we’ve done the character well. I’m pleased with the performance of it and I think so far the reaction, from what little people have seen, people seem to be saying this does feel like Thrawn. So that’s one of the big things.”
Dave is quick to tease, “And then Maul! Maul is around and what’s great is that Thrawn is so impressive and all unexpected, that people aren’t even looking for Maul. He’s kind of lurking in the shadows, so you’re going to have to watch out for him.”
“Star Wars Rebels” returns to Disney XD tomorrow night at 8:30PM EST/PST with a special one-hour season three premiere. Be sure to tune in and watch “Steps into the Shadow: Parts I and II”.