As soon as the lights dimmed and the Star Wars Rebels logo appeared on the screen at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the room filled with hoots, hollers and applause. A clip immediately began, showing undercover Jedi Kanan Jarrus and Force newbie Ezra Bridger fighting The Inquisitor, whose spinning, dual lightsaber came as a surprise (we later learned it’s based on an unused design for the Star Wars: Force Unleashed shared with the production team by a game designer).
Moderated by former LucasArts sound design and voice director David Collins, the panel featured executive producers Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg, and cast members Freddie Prinze Jr. (Kanan), Vanessa Marshall (Hera Syndulla), Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger), Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren) and Steve Blum (Zeb Orrelios).
Filoni explained their initial approach to Rebels began by determining when in the Star Wars timeline the story would take place as well as the “way out of balance” state of the Force.
“We all loved the tone and the essence of the original movies,” he said, “so we wanted to create a show that had that in it and was a precursor to those films. So that was the first decision that was made – that it was going to be pre-New Hope and really be the origin of the rebels and the Rebel Alliance. That gave us a lot of freedom in terms of Sith and Jedi, Force abilities and trying some things that even the movies haven’t done.”
Prinze said that, as a huge Star Wars fan, he’s excited to be part of that universe. “The scar on my chin is because I was playing Star Wars, and the [lightsaber] hit the ground before I did and stabbed me in the face and my chin fell off basically,” he said.
“I feel a lot of pressure. I was born and raised in it. I said ‘May the Force be with you” as much as I said ‘Hey’ in the fifth grade,” added Prinze, who described his character Kanan as “a cocky Jedi; it’s kinda like being a jumbo shrimp.”
The actor said he tries to bring a samurai mentality to the character, based on the old movies he watched with his grandfather. “There’s an adolescent dark side that he still has since that’s when his training stopped,” he explained. “Everything he wants to control within himself, he teaches this kid. You’re going to learn he has some limitations to patience. … There’s a fine line because you want to play a Jedi perfectly. I take it very seriously.”
Another clip was shown of Ezra running from Stormtroopers as Zeb shows up in a TIE fighter to rescue him – but only after the teen concedes they’re even when it comes to saving each other’s life.
Filoni said that kind of comedy “was a huge part of the original films” that “came from character,” just as it will in Rebels.
The actors said they appreciated being able to record together, which generates a different energy than the isolation of video-game voiceovers. “When we’re together, the speed of it is amazing because we can see the action in our minds,” Marshall explained.
Although there isn’t much improvisation during the recording sessions, Sircar said they’re encouraged the actors to make the characters their own.
Blum was praised for his voice work on the Stormtroopers, a role he’s played in several video games. Filoni admitted that occasionally leads to déjà vu. “I thought, ‘I swear I killed you before,’” he said. The actor even has specific sounds based on how each Stormtrooper dies, and will ask for details before recording a take.
For their roles, Marshall and Sircar were inducted into the Mandalorian Mercs, and received replicas of Sabine’s helmet and blaster.
“We’re the only two chicks on the show,” Sircar said. “Hera and Sabine have a special relationship – they always sort of stick up for each other and always have each other’s back.”
“Although Hera’s much older, she has a profound respect for Sabine,” Marshall added. “We learn from each other. While I’m still like the mother, they teach other.”
After another clip, which showed Sabine and Hera investigating a darkened site filled with hostile creatures, Filoni said it was important to keep alive the Star Wars tradition of strong women, naming Leia and Ashoka to a round of applause.
Noting the tense nature of that scene, he addressed the versatility of the franchise, saying, “The great thing about [it] is you can tell any kind of story. And we tell funny stories but we also want to tell suspenseful ones. … You have to think these characters can die or there’s no tension.”
To that end, he mentioned there’s a “hierarchy” to the show’s villains; no matter how formidable The Inquisitor is, there’s worse out there. Putting it in another way, Filoni said “they haven’t [cleared] enough dungeons to fight the big bosses yet.”
“This is the origin story of the Rebel Alliance,” he said. “They’re not part of a larger organization yet. If you were to tell the origin story of the American Revolution and it was just a few guys meeting in a barn talking about taking this land back from the British, that is this story, with the Empire, and it’s just four or five people bonding together against seemingly insurmountable odds. And what’s cool because we have seen eventually where the Alliance leads, we know one day, maybe after their lifetimes, they will win. But this is the very, very first moments of resistance.”
Rebels is a personal story, Marshall said, adding that, “Order 66 broke my heart, and this takes place directly after that. It’s a time when Kanan’s a Jedi but he has to keep it on the down low. If he takes his lightsaber out, they want to kill him instantly because he should’ve been exterminated long ago. Things are very secretive, and the idea that you can make a decision and decide to do the right thing, and the you get two people together, and then three, and then four, and then you have a movement, I just think that’s such a powerful metaphor for the human spirit and what we can do in our own lives. When I see that in a script, it’s really inspiring.
Filoni said that some fans think that when the Empire formed, there’s was automatically a Rebellion. However, that took a while to get started; people went along with the Empire for the sake of peace, and the Rebels were viewed as traitors. There’s a period when the Empire has complete control of the galaxy. “You actually see people abused by the Empire, so you see why someone would stand up and fight,” Prinze said.
“At the end of the day we’re trying to get food and gas,” Marshall added. “It’s a way of bringing levity to what’s essentially a genocide.”
Gray noted that when it comes to Ezra, “everything is so new to him. He just saw a lightsaber for the first time a few days ago. He has so much faith in Kanan that he believes everything is going to be all right.”
When the floor was opened to questions, a young woman dressed as Kim Possible asked whether Obi-Wan Kenobi, who’s seen as a hologram message in the Rebels trailer, will be seen more in the series. Kinberg could only say that there will be more of Obi-Wan in the show than what was viewed in that sequence.
In an aside, Filoni mentioned that if R2-D2 is like a dog, Rebels’ droid Chopper is like a cat, in that he does what he wants when he wants. The cast noted that sometimes Chopper’s “dialogue” is actually written in the scripts.
Filoni and Kinberg are asked what Clone Wars characters will pop up, and they predictably replied that they couldn’t answer, Hoever, Filoni conceded “it would probably be insane for me to create that show and for absolutely nobody to show [up]. At the same time I feel like this new cast and new show has to stand on their own.”
Kinberg remarked that while the design of Rebels is based on Ralph McQuarrie’s original Star Wars concept art, they want to keep the look now. “The intention is for everyone, especially the new generation of fans, to fall in love with these characters,” he said, noting this will be the “first” Star Wars for his two sons, who are 5 and 9.
Asked whether the characters will travel to a lot of different locations, Filoni said the show is more contained, staying in one system as the audience gets to know the new characters. One of the reasons for that is that it’s taxing for the production team to digitally build a setting that will be used only once.
An excited young fan noted the similarity between earlier Stormtrooper designs and the ones seen in the clip. “They’re the most dangerous ones,” Filoni said. “Not the Stormtroopers, the kids.” Giving a shoutout to the 501st Legion and the work its members do in recreating the armors, he said, ”I’ve always seen it as my duty to design new armor so they can make a new [ones]. … If you like new armor, I will do my best to give that to you.”
As the panel came to a close, the audience was treated to the Season 1 trailer cut by Kevin Yost, who’s made all the special trailers from the Clone Wars. The inclusion of R2-D2 and C-3PO triggered a big reaction from the audience.
Star Wars Rebels premieres in October on Disney XD.