Kinberg & Filoni Usher 'Star Wars Rebels' Into its 'Empire Strikes Back' Era for Season Two

The first season finale of "Star Wars Rebels" wasn't such a long time ago, but because the Disney XD series accrued such fan love, it might have felt like it. But now, the crew of the Ghost is back.

The animated series, set in an era between the two existing film trilogies and executive produced by Dave Filoni (who previously produced the much-admired "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" series on Cartoon Network) and Simon Kinberg (screenwriter of several "X-Men" films and currently at work on the various "Star Wars" theatrical films), was welcomed with open arms by both the "Star Wars" faithful and a generation of new fans, praised for creating characters, action, storytelling and an overall sense of fun that felt utterly in line with the tradition of the franchise created nearly 40 years ago by George Lucas.

The second season continues in the same vein, the producers promised after previewing the two-hour season premiere "The Siege at Lothal" at Star Wars Celebration ahead of its June 20 TV debut. Things are about to get notably for Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus, Hera Syndulla, Sabine Wren, Zeb Orellios and the feisty droid Chopper in same way "The Empire Strikes Back" cast a shadow over the lives of the Original Trilogy's heroes. And then there's that other presence that helps links "Rebels" to the epic "Star Wars" saga: a certain Dark Lord of the Sith.

On the overall tone of Season Two:

Dave Filoni: The story gets bigger, the stakes get higher -- as it should be. I feel a little bit weird moving into our "Empire Strikes Back" era for our characters, because they're really challenged. The first year was kind of "A New Hope" and I think all the characters are going through trials of different kinds.

Simon Kinberg: We go deeper into all of the characters' backstories in the second season. The first season is about introducing them in many ways, and also about integrating a new member into the family with Ezra. And the second season, we can go a little deeper into their backstories and into their interpersonal relationships too.

I think the way we approached Season Two was new challenges to the family from the outside rather than from the inside. In many ways, in the first season the challenge was integrating a new member of a family into an existing family, and that's a difficult thing to do, whether it's a stepchild or an adopted child or whatever it is, new parent. There's a lot of things in real life that are real life corollaries for what the first season was exploring.

Now that they are essentially a unit -- a family -- it's sort of how do they continue to grow individually? And how do they stay together as each of them is growing, as each of them is facing new challenges, and in some ways, grow up? A lot of the second season is about Ezra facing some darker issues and being forced to grow up through them.

Filoni: Each of the characters is really going to have to struggle with who they were and where they came from, and they'll be confronted with those pasts. They're going to have to make a choice: if they're going to deal with those past conflicts and let them go; or if they're going to let them drag them back down into where they were. And that's very true, I think, of all us in life.

Ezra, especially, will be confronted with the idea that just because he's been given a great power, great ability, and wonderful skills matching that, unfortunately, also comes greater evil, greater darkness, malevolence. He starts to become aware of this presence in the galaxy, which is a frightening thing, but if you truly are worthy of being a Jedi and wielding the power of the Force, you have to learn to do that selflessly. That's the real pressure when you get down to it, because ultimately, you cannot wield it for yourself. You have to wield it for others, and that's what the Sith don't realize. That's all within Season Two, if you think about it.

On the mystery surrounding Ezra's parents:

Filoni: We will be addressing definitely Ezra's parents, to some degree. We all noticed that kids focused in on that -- now that he has this other family, what happened to his mom and dad? And we've had them visually in the show and you know what they look like. That will be part of the story. And I think the nice thing about Season Two is that you get a broader look at all the characters. Now that you know who they are to some level, it's not just Sabine and what her background is, but also Hera and Zeb, Ezra, Kanan. A lot of people wanted that. You even eventually get more of an in-depth backstory on Chopper and where Chopper's from, so you kind of get it all this year.

On the inclusion of Darth Vader:

Kinberg: [We have] the same person who voiced Darth Vader in the original movies, Mr. James Earl Jones -- one of many surreal things making this show. Maybe, actually, the most surreal thing: when Dave first worked with James on the dialogue, he sent me voice recordings of the dailies of hearing all of the different takes. And hearing James Earl Jones untreated, obviously, playing the part of lines that Dave and I essentially had written together was pretty insane. When you grow up, you think like "I'm going to write lines for Darth Vader, but I'm not actually going to get Darth Vader to say them out loud."

Filoni: James is great. You don't really direct him as much. He sits and says, "You know, Dave, I haven't done this in ten years. Could you remind me...?" And I'm like, "You're doing it." Matt Wood and I would just look at each other and high-five when he's not looking. It's an awesome moment.

Kinberg: There were a couple of moments in the takes, though, where he coughed or he corrected himself and started over. And so, all of a sudden, you realize there is a man playing Darth Vader.

On the excitement over the returns of "Clone Wars" favorites Ashoka and Rex:

Filoni: When I got here Rex wasn't really a thing at all. He wasn't a character, neither was Hondo, and neither was Ahsoka. We had to plant them and help them grow over the years. I told Ashley [Eckstein] in the beginning, "You know, Ahsoka. Anakin having a padawan, look out! You're going to get the brunt of this." She hung in there and really won fans over, so it's kind of an amazingly moving experience for me to have a character, like Captain Rex, a clone, cheered at such a volume.

I think that shows you the real powerful thing about "Star Wars" and the challenges that we all have as well. I grew up with the original trilogy and I love it. The biggest thing I learned from George over the years is create new characters. Create new ground. Keep moving forward. I love the past and creating a nostalgia for it, but the best work we've done in "Clone Wars" was always the new stuff we did that challenged us as writers to make it Star Wars and part of the universe.

On excavating the Star Wars Universe for fondly recalled characters and concepts:

Filoni: I think you'll always have characters in mind that you'd like to see interface. We throw names around the room. I mean, everybody in the writer's room is a fan, so everybody has certain characters that they would love to see, and sometimes, you're never sure how serious people are or not when they bring people up. You have to be careful with that because if you're joking and say, "How about we bring Porkins in? That'd be great!" And then all of a sudden, something happens and you're like, "Hey, Porkins would fit for that." And then the person's face is suddenly like, "No, no, no. I was joking!" And I'll seize on that idea with my sense of humor and be like, "Oh no. Now he's in." But he's not.

Sometimes, you only get so far. You know, you never know. I'm not sure what makes us decide a particular character's coming in or out. Sometimes, we'll get to talking when we're in the script phase, and recently, there were so many cool things happening in the script. I said, "Simon, I literally only have 21 minutes and 30 seconds. This would be awesome as a 90-minute movie, but I have 21 minutes." And he's like, "Yeah, I know. I've been writing it and it's hard to get in there."

Sometimes, we'll try to spread stuff out. We work on this up until the last minute possible. Nothing is ever set in stone. Everything is changeable. It's not like we just get the script, that's the blueprint, and we follow it. We deconstruct it along the way and try to get it as right as we can. Luckily, I work with guys like Simon, Greg [Weisman], Henry Gilroy -- and they're really good at moving through that as I'm trying to direct it and get the best story we can and changing, sometimes lots and sometimes little.

On the legacy and future of "Star Wars":

Kinberg: Introducing kids to a new "Star Wars" or to "Star Wars" for the first time, I have two boys myself, who are five and nine years-old and grew up on "Clone Wars" as much as they grew up on the movies, actually. I see their friends are experiencing "Star Wars" for the first time through "Rebels." For us, knowing the responsibility of that, one of the things that was really important from the beginning was to give them the experience that we had as kids, which was the first point of entry being the original films. So we wanted the tone and feel, the texture of those movies to be really present in the show.

One of the things that's been really gratifying about the response to the show is that hardcore fans and even more casual fans, but who appreciate the original movies, see the connection tonally, emotionally, thematically between what we're doing and what George [Lucas] did from the beginning.

The future of the "Star Wars" movies -- I'm involved in some of the films in different capacities -- I think that same approach of wanting to have the ethos of the original films is what they're doing in all the different aspects whether it's video games or the movies, the stand-alone movies, what we're doing. Because of that, they feel all of a piece and all of a singular voice and vision, even though there are different filmmakers involved with each. I think the fans will feel similarly about the films and other media the way they feels so far about "Rebels."

Filoni: I think the future is great. If there's any pressure I do feel, it's now that there's so many incredible things in play that we want everything to be of a very, very, very high quality, so I think, typically, let's just say when you get to animation, a lot of times you do an animated version of things people tend to think, "Oh it's just for kids" or it'd be simpler and dumbed-down. We never had that attitude on "Clone Wars" and we certainly have not had that attitude on "Rebels." I think it started out in a way that's fun and exciting -- people forgetting that "A New Hope" was originally, by George's design, for kids, but it was also designed so parents would watch it and be engaged in.

You know, when I see "The Force Awakens" trailer and I get excited about that, I want to deliver the same type of excitement to the audience of "Rebels." There isn't a way that I want to take it and have it feel any diminished, so we want every aspect of "Star Wars" that we're working on at Lucasfilm to be truly great and to reflect each other's great work. And I think that's kind of the pressure, but it's also better in a way because now I work with more people, like Simon, Kiri Hart, Carrie Beck, Rayne Roberts, and a writing team. It helps that you have so many people that have this love of "Star Wars" in common to help lead the way.

"Star Wars Rebels" Season Two premieres June 20 at 9 P.M. on Disney XD.

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