The cast and crew of the upcoming Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels took time at Comic-Con International in San Diego to speak to the press about the newest addition to the popular space saga.
Stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar and Taylor Gray joined creator Simon Kinberg and executive producer Dave Filoni in discussing the October-debuting show set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Rebels follows a ragtag bunch of rebels who band together aboard the freighter ship Ghost even as the Empire strengthens its grip on the galaxy and hunts down the last remaining Jedi Knights.
Prinze stars as the young renegade Jedi Kanan, who’s “perceived to be the number one on the [Ghost], but he’s really not.” “He’s second to Hera,” the actor explained. “He’s in a time in the Star Wars timeline where you don’t get to be a Jedi or you’re dead. So nobody really knows except his immediate team.”
“As far as what motivates Kanan or why he is the way he is,” Prinze continued. “I can’t give away too much for fear of getting slaughtered by Lucasfilm, but I can say his master was taken during a time in Order 66, and his training may not be at the level of a master, which is both good and bad. It gives him room to grow as a character, but when people are trying to kill you, it’s not a plus. At the same time he gets a kid who he takes under his wing who’s going to be, literally, at a certain point, calling him master even though he doesn’t feel like one. He’ll be dealing with a lot of self-doubt, which as you know isn’t very good for a Jedi.”
As any Star Wars fan knows, doubt can lead Jedis down a path to the Dark Side. However, Prinze said this won’t be a threat, at least initially, to Kanan. “As far as a threat of him going to the Dark Side, he’s far enough in his training that he knows where doubt will lead,” he explained. “He may need to be reminded sometimes … I believe [Kanan is] in enough control of his emotions and feelings, for the most part, that that is not an immediate concern for him or the crew.”
Prinze said Kanan’s mysterious past will also come into play. “I know who my master was and where we were at in my training,” he said. “The Inquisitor sort of gives it away early in the show because he recognizes my fighting style. But it’s less refined than what it should be. So yes, we do go back to that and we go back to it fairly early on.”
Among the crew of the Ghost — Kanan, Hera, Zeb, Ezra, Sabine and the droid Chopper – “there’s a very big family dynamic,” the actor said.
“It’s almost like the Huxtables,” Prinze said. “They give each other grief. There’s a lot of levity in Star Wars, and we take advantage of that on the ship. Chopper isn’t R2, he talks trash to us. We actually get to see the beep beep beeps that you guys hear in the script. He’s not polite. He curses at us. He uses more F-words than I’ve used in this interview, which is quite a lot.”
Prinze revealed that the casting process for Rebels was as secretive as you’d expect for a Star Wars project.
“It was not called Star Wars; it was called The Wolfpack, he said. “I went in, it was at Disney, but I didn’t connect that they had just bought [Star Wars] for four bazillion dollars. So I went in and it was just called ‘=The Wolfpack, and there were terms like ‘sunsword.’ The dialogue was like, ‘You stole my sunsword!’ I was like, ‘Man, that’s from Thundarr the Barbarian, you can’t steal that shit!’ Something felt fishy. They kinda jacked Star Wars. Then I saw character descriptions and they were straight Star Wars characters. I looked at them and thought, ‘Well, either they are about to get sued or this is frigging Star Wars!’ I walked into the booth and saw Dave [Filoni] and another writer we had on Season 1 named Greg Weisman, who also created Gargoyles, which stared a good friend of my dad’s Keith David, and the first thing I said was, ‘Is this Star Wars?’ Dave got a little knowing ‘I’m the czar of Clone Wars’ look on his face, and then I knew what I was in store for.”
Steve Blum, who plays the Ghost‘s “muscle” Zeb Orreslios, had a similar experience. “I had absolutely no idea [it was Star Wars]. It wasn’t even at the callback [that I figured it out]. It was at the recording. I was at a convention in England when I got the call I booked it. I had to find a studio in the middle of the country, and I’m working in a studio in some guy’s house. There’s no air conditioner and I’m in this box sweating, and he hands me the copy. I get about halfway down the first page and I saw ‘stormtrooper.’ I thought, is this Star Wars? And Dave and the other guys on the other end goes, ‘Dude, what did you think this was?’ And I had this 8-year-old fanboy squeal. That was the moment. That was when everything shifted for me. I thought, ‘Whoa, I’m doing something big now.’”
However, Vanessa Marshall, who plays pilot Hera Syndulla, wasn’t as easily fooled. “Being a Star Wars fan, I see people in the grocery line and think some guy is Darth Vader. Everything is Star Wars to me. So when I got the script, while it was called The Wolfpack, I felt there were elements in the story that were Star Wars. When I got called back and I saw a picture of a Twi’lek on the wall, I had a heart attack. I had a nervous breakdown … Greg Weisman said I was the only one who knew.”
Marshall went on to describe her character Hera. “She’s like the love child of Leia and Han in the sense that she’s got the compassion and moxie of Leia and the skills of Han, if you will,” she explained.
Every member of the cast was in agreement that Marshall is the biggest Star Wars fan by far. “My fandom was very private before this, and I feel like I’ve had a coming out party,” Marshall said. “When Season 6 of Clone Wars came out and we were hanging out afterwards and I got to discuss the Yoda arc with Dave, I think my brain exploded. I think I cried the whole drive home because I was thinking, ‘How is this my life? How is this even happening?’ It’s sublime.”
The younger crew members aboard the Ghost are weapons expert Sabine Wren and thief Ezra Bridger, played by Tiya Sircar and Taylor Gray, respectively.
Sircar described Sabine as “a very special character.” “I mean, obviously, who doesn’t love a Mandalorian? They’re awesome,” she said. “And she is all of those things. Don’t be fooled by her decorative armor — she’s a warrior. Highly skilled munitions expert and weapons expert. She likes to blow things up. She’s not messing around.”
She’s also the Ghost’s resident graffiti artist, which Sircar thinks is right on point. “At the end of the day we’re rebels, and what is more anti-establishment than being a graffiti artist?” she said. “The Ghost crew will attack the Empire, and Sabine will leave a nice little graffiti tag to let them know who’s attacked them.”
Gray said his character Ezra is “a con artist that goes and steals little things from the Empire that don’t matter to get by. All he’s needed is a slingshot. But it’s a very cool weapon.”
Could the two teenagers be destined for romance? Sircar didn’t dismiss the idea outright but said, “Ezra is a cocky little dude. He comes on thinking he’s got this under control. He’s a 14-year-old boy and he’s like a little ragamuffin, too. He’s not some sheltered little guy, he’s been on the streets for many years. He fends for himself. But Sabine kinda puts the kibosh on that. Sabine’s 16 and Ezra’s 14. Sabine doesn’t have any time for teenagers.”
Gray admitted he’s the cast member least familiar with Star Wars, but he was able to use that to his advantage. “I had seen the original three movies. I love them, and I think they were awesome,” he said. “I hadn’t even seen 1, 2 or 3 growing up. When I got the show, I thought I should probably go do that to see what I was getting into. But Dave right away said don’t. He said he loved that I didn’t know. It would come through and bring something new to Ezra because I had no idea what was going on.”
Asked what it was like to be a Mandalorian, one of the most revered species in Star Wars lore, Sircar revealed she had actually become an official Mandalorian earlier that day at Comic-Con. “Vanessa and I were honorary inductees into the Mandalorian Mercs,” she said, “and they gave us our own Sabine helmets. Full Sabine helmets, blasters, and I got a plaque with my name on it.”
Rebels executive producer Simon Kinberg said his Star Wars journey began “almost two years ago now, the summer before last, before Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney.”
“Kathleen Kennedy was hired by George Lucas. She met with a few people and I was one of those people,” he explained. “There was no talk of a TV show, it was just about the features, and she brought me up for a meeting. It went well. She brought me up to meet George which was the most surreal meeting of my entire life.”
“I’ll tell you this story because I have the job now and I can’t lose it,” Kinberg continued. “I have to medicate to fly because I have a flying phobia, and we were flying up in the morning to meet George at Skywalker Ranch. I was medicated to fly with an anti-anxiety medication and I saw I’d need like four or five hours once we hit the ground to get it out my system and be able to focus again. They said no problem, George can’t meet until after lunch. So we get to the ranch at 8:30 in the morning and his thing was canceled so he could meet now. So I was basically high meeting George Lucas for the first time, something I had dreamed of since I was child seeing the movies. But I guess I held it together enough that George liked me and they hired me, at the time, to work on one of the films, to be determined. Didn’t know if it was going to be 7, 8, 9 or a stand-alone movie. They had a clear sense they wanted to make sequels and a couple stand-alone movies.”
He tried to impress just how huge the task he’s been handed really is, saying, “I think Star Wars is the biggest story that’s been told over the last 100 years. I really do … With Star Wars, it’s like if you were a priest and somebody told you you get to write a new book of the Bible. It’s like … OK, the Bible has been around a long time. People have memorized it. You are creating a new chapter of something that people have based their whole lives around. Star Wars has that in a unique way, more than any other novel, comic or movie. I think it’s its own category.”
Asked how much of George Lucas’ original blueprints for the new trilogy are still being used, he said, “It depends from movie to movie is the answer. It’s definitely a part of the planning of all the different movies and is something that I was exposed to from the beginning of the process.”
Finally, executive producer Dave Filoni sat down to discuss the visual tone Rebels. “We are mining everything we can, and not just from Ralph McQuarrie,” he said. “We’re looking at John Mollo’s and Joe Johnston’s sketches, too. Our Scoutwalker is actually a Joe Johnston drawing that I saw in the ‘80s Empire Strikes Back sketchbook as a kid. I thought it was a little bit sleeker and smaller. So it’s the most guilty-pleasure awesome part of my job, I get to make these things that I always wanted to see.”
Filoni, who previously directed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, said he’s going for a different look for the animation in Rebels. “The animation was very stiff and rigid and the characters were very angular [on Clone Wars],” he explained. “That was like an experimentation in design sense. George wanted to push things people hadn’t seen before … When we did this show, [Rebels art director] Killian Plunkett wanted to attack this in a more animation-friendly way. These characters are a bit more rounded in shape. They have more exaggerated expressions than anything we did on Clone Wars. Clone Wars was very life-like and realistic, but I wanted to capitalize on some of the bigger expressiveness that you can do in animation. Some of that was influenced, I’ll be honest, by the movie Tangled. I thought the animation in that was fantastic.”
Asked whether he ever considered taking a photorealistic approach, Filoni admitted it was a struggle, “because almost all of the software is designed to make things realistically, no matter what you try to do.”
However, he was never really tempted to change to more realistic animation because, “There’s going to be these incredible Star Wars movies coming out that are photo-real because they are real. You don’t want to compete with that.”
Look for Star Wars Rebels in October on Disney XD.