The third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series has featured appearances from old favorites in the Star Wars films such as Captain Tarkin (who would later rise to be Grand Moff Tarkin in the original movie) and Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn as well as new characters, most notably the villainous Sith apprentice Savage Opress and the witchy Nightsisters of Dathomir. But nobody is more awaited than that loyal and lovable Wookiee Chewbacca, who pops up in the hour-long season finale April 1. By the request of Star Wars guru George Lucas himself, Han Solo‘s hairy co-pilot shares an adventure with Ahsoka Tano, the fan-favorite Jedi Padawan, as the lizard-like Trandoshans are hunting down Chewie as well as other Wookiees. Having Chewbacca as part of The Clone Wars was such a big deal, supervising director Dave Filoni brought in the one creative consultant probably better than Lucas: Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy. I talked with Filoni about the season finale and what’s coming next for Star Wars fans, so read below for our conversation and check out an exclusive clip from next week’s episode featuring Ahsoka and a particularly pesky Trandoshan. Also, keep your eyes peeled on the blog next week for an interview with Chewbacca himself, Peter Mayhew! “Rrrrrrrowwwwwwrrr!” indeed.
Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm
What can you say about the season finale?
I really see it as Ahsoka’s story mainly. It’s very much a coming of age for her, a big test and challenge for her. I love her character development in it. And Chewbacca is back and it really is him in every way. Everybody did a great job studying him and I think we faithfully brought him to the screen. You’ll see him in a bit of action, which I think is important, in ways we haven’t seen him. He does more than just shoot the bowcaster and run around. There are homages to the classic movies sprinkled in here and there, even in some of the ways he’s posed every now and then. And they’re up against great villains, which are these Trandoshan lizard hunters who’ve always been talked about as the nemesis of the Wookiees. These are lizard people who hunt them down and sell them off to slavery or use their skins. I mean, who doesn’t like a talking lizard/velociraptor guy? It doesn’t get much better than that. [Laughs]
With it airing next week, do you get to take a break now?
[Laughs] No. That is not the life of a Jedi. There are no breaks. There is no shore leave in this clone army. But that’s fine. You can’t complain when you get to come in every day and work in this galaxy. It’s pretty exciting, but it is relentless. We’re hard at work on Season 4 right now and making it as best we can bigger and better than what we’ve done before. In the season finale, fans will get a glimpse of what Season 4 is going to look like. We take such a leap technologically and story-wise in the last two episodes, where the visuals are even stronger than they’ve been the whole series.
The last time we spoke, you talked about how animating the rain on Kamino was a pain. How about Wookiees and their massive amounts of hair — was that on par or even harder?
The challenge with something like the Wookiees is more how are you going do it. There are a lot of stylistic ways you can pull it off, and we just wanted to make sure we attack it the best way we could. We experimented with different ways to do fur when we did aliens like the Talz in Season 1 on that snow planet. We have a good idea after some animals we had done what the results would look like — that way, we didn’t have to risk putting a Wookiee on screen and being like, “Nah, that looks terrible.” It was a big consideration. It’s Chewbacca, too. I think it would have been a little bit easier had it just been a Wookiee but George wanted the Wookiee instead, which put even more pressure on us. But luckily, along with Chewbacca in the show, we got Peter Mayhew as the grand advisor to the whole spirit of Chewbacca, and that helped us immensely with knowing what we were doing was going to be correct.
Did just having him in the room with everyone elevate everyone’s excitement level?
Oh yeah, there is not doubt. One of the main reasons why I requested Peter to come up to the animation studio and meet everybody is I of course saw the movies as a kid and a lot of the staff had, but we also have a lot of the younger people on the crew now — younger people being in their early 20s. [Laughs] Remember, they didn’t see the classic films in the theater the first time around. They have seen them during the special edition releases in the late ‘90s but their contact with Chewbacca was probably a lot different than ours. I wanted to make sure that they understood Chewbacca from the man who played it, his point of view. Especially with Chewbacca, there’s a kindness to that character. If you think back when you’re a kid and you remember that Chewie, when they got out of the garbage pit [in Star Wars], he was actually afraid to go back because of the creature that was in there. He acted kind of like a big family dog: He desperately wanted to protect his friends, but he would at times get afraid of things. I wanted to make sure that that characterization came through in what we were going to do with Chewbacca so we had the correct personality. Hearing Peter talk about being on the set of the old movies, it makes all the difference in the world.
You’re a fan who’s so tapped into everything involving Star Wars. When was the first time you met him, and do you secretly geek out or do it openly when you get to meet one of those original guys?
[Laughs] It’s all secret geeking out. I was at a convention like Comic-Con when I worked for Walt Disney, and was just down there as an animator, looking at all the stuff, trying to find a cool Godzilla collectible or something I wanted. You pass these tables of all these guys, and you look and it’s like, “Oh my Gosh, that’s Chewbacca signing autographs over there.” I never actually went up to him or got an autograph, but I always remember Peter from that scenario. When I got this job and became aware of talking to some of the original cast, I would talk to Peter when I went to the conventions on behalf of Clone Wars. I was always thinking in the back of my mind, “Man, this guy is great. I really would love to get him to be a part of Clone Wars somehow.” He so loves Star Wars and appreciates everything that it’s done for him and his career. It’s great to be around someone who’s been around it for long like he has and still loves it and cherishes it and is in contact with the fans. But you do secretly geek out, I’ll say that. This was definitely one of those times. I’m sitting in a theater first with George Lucas and I’m presenting him an episode that has Chewbacca in it and I directed it, and you’re sitting there going, “OK, this is really strange. I’m about to be judged and I worked on a character he created.” That’s happening every day — when it’s Chewbacca, the context is a little stronger. And then I’m sitting there with Chewbacca, Peter’s watching the episode and I’m thinking, “Man, I really hope he likes this because he’s an honest guy and he’ll tell me if he doesn’t.” But of course they both liked it and that stands out to me in my memories of all the crazy things that have happened on the show as one of the best.
So what led to George playing the Chewbacca card?
It came about in the writers’ room. We meet to go over all the stories we’re going to do for a season, and George knew that the fans had been wanting Wookiees on the show for a long time. It’s something that I mentioned to him. Wookiees had come up and I said, “I think we’re ready to do it.” And then he sprung Chewbacca on me. He very much wanted to see Ahsoka and Chewbacca together in an episode. He had a keen insight there to try and draw very clearly together the old films and this new saga in The Clone Wars. When you get the image of Ahsoka and Chewbacca together on screen, you really do start to make a connection that this is really one big story from George about the Star Wars saga year after year after year.
Will Chewie be a more active cast member in Season 4?
I would say it’s just special for when Chewbacca shows up. I feel very strongly about the classic characters obviously, and I feel very honored when we get to add them to the story arc of The Clone Wars, but I also like to be very careful with them. How much Chewbacca knows about Ahsoka or anything that’s going on, we need to keep a fairly big mystery so that when you see him in the cantina [in Star Wars], it still makes sense with what we know.
Can you spill anything about what’s to come?
I can definitely say that the second half of Season 3 very much speaks to the types of the episodes and stories you’re going to see in Season 4. When we started with the Nightsisters trilogy and Savage Opress, that was where we really took off on a whole new level of storytelling and animation. We have gotten better and better at everything we’ve been doing in the second half of Season 3 and just up that going into Season 4 to a scale that’s going to be pretty impressive. You’re definitely going to see battles on the scale of likes you’ve never seen on The Clone Wars before. The bigger the battle doesn’t always mean the better, but in this case it’s pretty impressive what the guys have been able to render and get on screen for a television series. I’m really excited for people to see that. The end of Season 3 is a foreshadowing to the technology that is going to provide a lot of increased excitement in the future.
Will next season keep the same balance you struck of new and old characters introduced?
Just like the Force, balance is allegedly what’s best. Something that’s often hard for us to understand is the kids love a lot of the new characters we’ve created in Clone Wars, and as an older fan, though we get really excited about bringing in a Tarkin or a Chewbacca, these kids are completely into Cad Bane and Captain Rex. We’ll still do a mix, but we definitely are going to have stories that focus on some of the characters we’ve created for the show. The audience has grown to really enjoy those stories as we’ve moved forward. They love the special moment of having a Chewbacca show up, but they also want to know more about what’s happening to Ahsoka now. A lot of people say they want to know more about her, and along with that goes Rex. We have a plethora of bounty hunters we’ve created over the seasons, and it’s probably more than triple the number of bounty hunters we used to know about, which were basically the ones on the Star Destroyer [in The Empire Strikes Back]. We have a whole bunch of these guys now, not to mention other Jedi like Kit Fisto, who really hasn’t starred in an episode in a very long time. We’re trying to get all these different actors screen time, basically. [Laughs] A little old and a little new is always good, and sometimes the new ones can be the most exciting because the audience doesn’t know anything about them.
Well, if you’re taking requests for bounty hunters, I’m still waiting for Dengar.
[Laughs] Dengar, huh?! Well you never know. When you wish upon a star…
Just like when the movies came out, there are more and more Clone Wars action figures hitting stores as well as those geared toward the post-movie Expanded Universe. Do you collect them all?
I get them when they come out! I’d like them to make a new Plo Koon fugure, but I’m probably the only one. We improved his model for the season finale. I gotta say, when you talk about do I ever silently geek out, definitely the fact that I can look over on my shelf and see a bunch of action figures that I had a hand in helping create is really one of the things that makes you pause. And to see kids playing with them the way that I did when I was a kid is something special.
You’ve probably built up some trust within George and the rest of the Lucasfilm fan community. Was there ever a talk of expanding the animation you do beyond Star Wars, like doing an Indiana Jones series, and would you be up for that?
Stuff like that is always interesting. It’s just a matter of bandwidth. The Clone Wars itself is a pretty big undertaking. Who knows? George seems limitless in his creativity, and that’s not something certainly that I know of that’s on the table, but you never know. Who thought there’d be a fully fledged animated series to this extent going on? I certainly didn’t when they called me and offered me the job. [Laughs] It’s one of the interesting things about Star Wars — it seems to be able to just continue and continue, and I hope it does for a very long time in our case.