SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains details about the series finale of Star Wars: Clone Wars “Victory and Death” on Disney+.
For Star Wars: The Clone Wars producer-scribe-supervising director-animator Dave Filoni, the animated series has represented a 15-year journey that began when he arrived at Lucasfilm from Nickelodeon’s The Last Airbender. He promptly found a mentor in George Lucas, learning and working with him on building out the Star Wars universe between the feature installments of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in Clone Wars. The animated series was a massive ratings success, and at one point was one of Cartoon Network’s highest-rated shows during the series’ initial run and delivered five Daytime Emmys and two wins to Filoni. But when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion, they halted Clone Wars, only to resurrect it on Disney+ for a seventh and final season that ended on May the 4th.
Even though the credits have rolled on Clone Wars, Filoni has left the Star Wars canon with a character who will thrive for decades to come, and that’s young female Togruta Jedi Ahsoka Tano. She was one of the first characters he drew upon arrival at Lucasfilm, and drew inspiration from the kid Attack of the Clones character Ashla and the early Episodes trilogy character Shaak Ti, as well as making “little nods to Princess Mononoke,” Filoni tells Deadline. Fanboys erupted with glee earlier this spring when news hit that Rosario Dawson would reportedly play Ahsoka in the second season of The Mandalorian, a show that Filoni also writes, directs and serves as EP on with creator Jon Favreau.
Alhough initially deemed by some Star Wars fans as being too whiny, Ahsoka was eventually embraced as she grew from being Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan to a warrior who parted ways with the Jedi order at the end of Clones’ fifth season. While she didn’t show up in Season 6, she appeared in Filoni’s co-created animated series Star Wars: Rebels (which takes place 14 years after Sith) to face her old mentor, now turned as Darth Vader.
While some of the Star Wars faithful have become disgruntled with the direction of the franchise in Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, they also exclaim Filoni as the savior of Star Wars, particularly with his big fingerprints on Mandalorian, and of course, Clones. Mandalorian director and voice-over actor, and future Star Wars director Taika Waititi reportedly calls Filoni “an encyclopedia of all the Star Wars Lore.” The dust may have settled from Clone Wars, but Filoni remains an important Jedi master for many years to come in the galaxy far, far away.
DEADLINE: With Clone Wars over, do you think we’ll see another season of Rebels?
DAVE FILONI: No. Not really. I was really happy with how that series turned out, and I feel like we got to tell a complete story there. It was one of the things that really drove me to thinking, well, it would be great to have a complete feeling like that for Clone Wars, so now to have both is really great. I think that there’s always potential for stories that involve the characters from Rebels, which is maybe a better way to put it. They’ve all earned their place in the galaxy, so to speak, so I’m sure there’s some more of them to do.
DEADLINE: I ask not only because of Ahsoka Tano’s ending here with Clone Wars, but there are many who’d like to see the arc of Sabine and the black-bladed lightsaber. Do you think we’ll ever see another continuation of that storyline?
FILONI: Oh, I think it’s possible. I mean, it’s definitely something that I left hanging at the end and part of that reason is just it’s always nice in my mind when there’s another story. I like things in a series, even when I read or watch them, and there’s always a bit of sadness when something does come to an end, so potential is a great thing. I love that people are thinking about these stories in the same way that I wondered about many stories. As a kid I wondered what happened to Luke after Return of the Jedi and all my heroes. I think it’s a natural part of enjoying this, and I think there’s always potential for further stories. Certainly, I will say it’s something I’ve given a decent amount of thought to, so you never know when or if it will actually ever take shape.
DEADLINE: The ending for Clone Wars, where Vader finds the lightsaber of his old Padawan Ahsoka — was that the finale you were always envisioning or was there an alternative? Also, what was your thought process on how deep you’d take the last season into Revenge of the Sith?
FILONI: I always had in mind an ending that would somehow involved Vader. I thought it was really compelling and the imagery of the lightsaber and him holding it; that spoke so much. It also spoke to something that I discussed with George (Lucas) over the years as far as the aftermath of the Clone Wars. The reason why we never saw too many Jedis fighting against the Empire is the fact that a lot of them felt that they failed in their goal to protect the Republic, and they were all deceived. And so a lot of them realized that fighting a war maybe isn’t the best way and created violence. They set their sabers down, they tried to find different paths to helping people than perhaps, you know, being violent, and so there is an old idea there.
I think also it was an interesting way in these four parts to tell a complete story of Anakin [Skywalker] that’s not the same as the film, and one of the things that I was very careful to do is, while I am near the film and paralleling the film, and sometimes interwoven with it, I never want to change anything that’s happening in there or say if you look at it from this way, it’s different. I’m trying to maintain the integrity of what George did in his work and just say, this is how it went for Ahsoka and Rex. And so it was easy at the end to kind of split things apart, and it wasn’t really about saying, “Here’s the greatest hits of things, remember this from Revenge of the Sith?” All the scenes that you saw and moments that cross over are actually very relevant for Ahsoka and Rex, and at a certain point I needed that story to kind of go in its own direction to make sure I wasn’t violating the space that belonged to the Anakin Skywalker saga. So, that remains intact, because I’m over here talking more about the Ahsoka Tano/Rex saga, which is the end of the Clone Wars proper. So that’s why I didn’t go too far into [Sith]. All these other events that were covered, were covered by George, and that’s where they’re important and from his perspective is important.
DEADLINE: Rosario Dawson is reportedly playing Ahsoka Tano in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, and there’s some great excitement about how this character you first drew for Clone Wars is finally making her live-action appearance. What is about her in your opinion that has mesmerized fans? She’s one of the few female heroes in the galaxy that includes Leia, Padme and Rey.
FILONI: I was fortunate enough to learn directly from George Lucas kind of the do’s and don’ts, and it was a learning experience. If my team and I have had any success now, it’s improving and getting better over the years, and learning from George. That’s what makes this all work. I think people like Ahsoka because they relate to her. I think that her being very young and very brash and the way that she behaves allowed the greater scope for her to have a maturity, for her to progress and grow as a character that over a long period of time paid off. I think when people go and watch Luke Skywalker as a young man in A New Hope, a lot of people commented, “Oh, he sounds whiny.” George knew to begin with a character of inexperience, whether we like that or not, and grow them in a way that the audience came to respect them.
Kids related to Ahsoka because she was a kid first and foremost like them. She was someone growing up at a time. Maybe they related to some of the difficulties she had or some of the challenges she had. She’s right next to one of the greatest Jedi of all time, Anakin, and one of the most skilled and one of the most knowledgeable, Obi-Wan Kenobi. It can be hard when your older brother is somebody that’s impressive and somebody that’s sure of himself.
I always try to look at it as relating to kids, because I was a kid when I first watched Star Wars. The more real world you make that experience as a character, even if the situation itself is fantastic, the better it relates to the audience, and that’s something that George reinforced time and again to me while I made this stuff.
DEADLINE: Outside of The Mandalorian, are you trying to develop another project featuring Ahsoka Tano, but more in the live-action realm, whether it’s a TV series or a film?
FILONI: I couldn’t speak to anything at this point. I have a lot of ideas and I’m really fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity now to work in both animation and live-action, so just getting that exposure is interesting. First for me there’s a story and then I have to decide what’s the best medium, and I think there are certain avenues open to me at this point. Right now I’m really enjoying the collaboration I have with Jon Favreau on Mandalorian. We’re having a great time making that show, and you know, we’ll see. But first, before I decide where it’s going to go, I need to decide on a story I want to tell, and invest my time in, because it’s a lot. I mean, there’s a lot riding on everything Star Wars, especially for me personally, being here so long, I want to make sure I get it right. I’m learning, you know.
DEADLINE: Did you direct a couple of episodes for Season 2 of The Mandalorian like you did for Season 1?
FILONI: I just did one episode this coming season. I’m really excited about it; I wrote it and directed it, so you know, that’ll be a fun thing for me, and I’ve been learning from Jon. He’s a great mentor. You know, to be in that situation in a live-action show with someone like him and a fantastic team of people, it’s a really fortunate place for me to land because you’re with people that can really help you and realize the things that you’re trying to do story-wise.
DEADLINE: What about conceiving another animation project? Or are you just focused on Mandalorian Season 2 now?
FILONI: Yeah, I’m really focused on that, working with Jon, and we’re having a great time. I’ve got a bunch of things that I’m preparing and mulling over.
DEADLINE: What has the biggest challenge been in wrapping up the final season of Clone Wars?
FILONI: The middle four episodes, which is kind of Ahsoka on a walkabout, experiencing what it’s like to be living in the New Republic in this time of war, were a pretty difficult arc. That took a lot of working and reworking just to establish what this experience is supposed to be for her. It’s a path intended to inform a different point of view for her on the entire war. So, that had its own challenges.
And then I wanted to drive the narrative of Bo-Katan and Darth Maul into that story, and set us up for the ending. Allocating time was key in the last four episodes. I had to make a real decision to have Anakin and Ahsoka reunite, and that took about half of that first episode. Anything less than what I did would really be shorting the audience, because they had looked forward to that for so long.
So, you have to be managing the expectations of this versus the reality for the characters in the moment, because they don’t know. Ahsoka doesn’t know it’s the last time she’s going to see Anakin. She doesn’t feel the time the way the audience does. Those are the challenges, but that’s what I love to do, and I was really just pleased with how it all turned out.
DEADLINE: You mentioned George Lucas instructing you on the do’s and don’ts in the universe. In the wake of Disney pausing its initial spinoff movie plans following Solo: A Star Wars Story and extending the brand into streaming, what is the elasticity in regard to what the fans will and won’t allow? Do you feel you’re continually walking a tightrope in regard to how they might react?
FILONI: Well, I don’t know. I don’t really ever think of it in those terms. George and I, we never really talked in those terms as far as what the fans would allow. It was more his experiences making the films and more his sensibilities that we always discussed. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, as the storyteller you have to tell a story that you like and hope other people like it too. I think that there’s enough shared sensibilities of what we all liked about Star Wars as far as this being an adventure, it’s fun, there’s a great deal of tension and mythology, but you know, everyone can come at it from a different point of view.
Working with George I would be able to watch firsthand decisions being made and instincts he had, and I’ve tried the best I can to replicate that, but ultimately as a fan, I put these stories in the context that I like. I always felt if you’re just chasing what fans are going to like or not like, I don’t think you’ll ever get done. And really early on when I worked here, when I first started on Clone Wars, I thought, if I can’t make this show in a way that’s natural to me, that George likes, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it. I would be wrong for it, and that would be fine, but I had to take my crack at doing it off of what he taught me and see if it worked, and so far so good. Fifteen years later, I’m still here, so I guess I get it right most of the time, I hope.