The Star Wars: The Clone Wars panel at Comic-Con International kicked off with an action-packed highlight reel before moderator, and Star Wars author, Pablo Hidalgo invited Supervising Director Dave Filoni and Head Writer Matt Michnovetz to take the stage to talk about their process and tease what lies ahead in Season 5.
Hidalgo was keen to start the panel where Filoni and Michnovetz had left off in Season 4, with the stunning reveal that Darth Maul is alive. Filoni explained that the idea to bring Maul back came directly from Star Wars creator George Lucas, and that the character is actually far more intelligent than some might have assumed.
"What you've never seen before is that he is really quite sinister and he's quite tactical and he has a great knowledge of why Sidious was successful as a Sith Lord himself," Filoni said.
Michnovetz told the crowd the writing staff had to dig deeper to find the right motivations for the Sith Lord's return. "It was really a challenge, I think, to make him somebody that audiences can kind of empathize with, as opposed to just this cool-looking character that runs around and cuts people's heads off all the time,” he said.
And speaking of Sith Lords: There are now four of them wreaking havoc on the Republic, leading Hidalgo to ask what that meant for the galaxy. "Big problems -- it's a continuity nightmare." Filoni laughed. "It demands a solution."
"Evil is everywhere," Michnovetz echoed, prompting Filoni to take issue with calling Savage Oppress an official Lord of the Sith. "He's not really that well-trained," the director explained. "He really didn't get that far. He's kind of like the Frankenstein, and he and Maul kind of have to work out some issues between them."
Hidalgo then introduced an exciting clip from Season 5 premiere, "Revival," and said the episode would officially debut in August at the fan event Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida.
Michnovetz, who wrote the gripping "Umbara" arc in Season 4, credited Lucas with the idea for the story, and cited The Caine Mutiny and the James Cagney classic What Price Glory as sources of inspiration. "He came into the room and kind of pitched us this idea," Michnovetz said. "He draws a lot of inspiration from classic movies and so as a writer on this show, it's part of your homework to go and look at the inspiration for these things and see what you can draw from there that will apply to the story."
A climactic scene from the "Umbara" storyline was shown alongside a preliminary render comparison, allowing fans to see the incredibly detailed progression the animation goes through during production. Filoni explained that this proxy style of animation renders is actually how The Clone Wars is shot on film. "Unlike a lot of animated series, we don't do a storyboard," he said. "We have all of these virtual sets and we lay everything out like you would block actors on a stage and then we actually have the whole thing portrayed as if actors are actually doing it and then we put the cameras in the sequences and film the different angles to get coverage."
It was revealed that Michnovetz is working on the eagerly anticipated Star Wars 1313 game. "They have really great technology behind it," Filoni said. "If you've seen some of the gameplay, it's absolutely fantastic. We look at that to see how that might help us in the animation. We're really working together at Lucasfilm in new ways."
While Michnovetz and Filoni didn't say much about Star Wars 1313, they did offer a few spoilers for Season 5, noting that one of the fun things for the writers was challenging the concept of Anakin and Padme's perfect relationship. "There's always been this idea that it's this perfect bond, somehow formed right before they go and get attacked by giant monsters," Filoni said. "He's a lot younger than her. He can be impetuous. He can be childish. She's mature. She's an intellectual. She's a senator. Does that cause problems for them? And I think that's one of the things we look into."
Filoni also promised fans would learn just how much Obi-Wan knows about the doomed couple's relationship, and that it will be a big year for fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano. "We set some things up with the character Lux Bonteri last season,” he said. “We follow through with a lot of that this season and then we continue on to see some pretty big things happen to her this year."
He briefly discussed the loss of actor Ian Abercrombie (Army of Darkness), and how his death has affected the show. "I can't say enough about what he did to bring Palpatine to life and Sidious, and it is such a loss for us not to have him," he said. "He's almost irreplaceable. I don't know how to do it, but luckily for us, he's in Season 5 almost all the way through so you will be hearing his voice for pretty much the whole season."
The director also noted that for the first time, Sidious would be appearing in the flesh -- and not as a hologram.
When the panel was turned over to fans for questions, Filoni was clearly touched by one young mother's story about how proud she was that her daughter had a strong role model in Ahsoka Tano. She said her daughter would also be devastated if anything terrible happened to the character. "You're an agent of [voice actress Ashley] Eckstein, I can tell," Filoni said, before promising the woman and her daughter, "I am proud of that character and she does great things."
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 5 premieres in September on Cartoon Network.