Toon Zone sat in on the Star Wars panel, focusing on the upcoming CGI Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie. In attendance were director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, co-writer Henry Gilroy, and editor Jason Tucker. The panel was moderated by Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm’s Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations.
Steve began the panel questioning with Catherine Winder. As one of the earliest members of the team, he asked her to discuss how she approached the running of the Clone Wars operation. One of her first tasks was to pull together a creative team for such an important project. She spent a lot of time searching for the right people and mentioned that she was very fortunate in coming across Dave, Henry, and Jason. Once they started working together, she felt they were going to make something special.
Dave Filoni is not the only fan of Star Wars on the team. Steve asked him what the most significant difference was between being a fan and being an integral part of the creative process. Dave said that he didn’t believe there was much of a difference, though he felt it was imperative that the entire crew felt the same way he did about Star Wars. They grew up with and believed in Star Wars, and it inspired him creatively.
Sansweet picked up on Filoni’s mention of the different opinions of fans on the Star Wars franchise. Dave continued the thought, saying each episode of Star Wars was very different; a lot could be told about a person by which movie they most connected. Steve followed this by asking if the team discussed the more profound philosophical meanings and whatnot. Dave revealed one of the most recent team arguments was whether or not a lightsaber could cut Superman. He believed the answer involved the blade being infused with kryptonite and the super hero’s proximity to a yellow sun.
Steve moved on to Henry, establishing for the audience that Gilroy had written for Star Wars before this project. Sansweet asked Gilroy to talk about his earlier projects in relation to what he’s working on now. Henry had worked on the comic book movie adaptations for Episodes I and II for Dark Horse, as well as several Star Wars Tales stories. Having written for the property so often brought about familiarity with that universe that he equated with writing about “home.”
Next, Sansweet spoke with Jason Tucker. Jason had been very nervous going into this project, as he had heard Lucas’ favorite part of the film-making process was editing. He was put at ease when he learned how much respect George had for it. Tucker noted that the most important lesson he took from working with George was the clarity editing brings to the storytelling process. He was often amazed that all suggestions from George really helped enhance whatever scene they were working on at the time.
Steve then asked Catherine what the expectations for the series were. She said it was unclear as to how much George would participate in the project. As they began developing the project and he saw the material they were producing, Lucas became increasingly excited and more involved because he was having fun. Winder made special note of one of the “eureka” moments involving a short animation test involving Yoda walking across a room, in their new “painterly style.” George saw it and went “crazy” when he saw that it was beginning to achieve the unique look he was going for.
Filoni asked her if she remembered what precisely what Lucas had said at that meeting. She did but wanted him to tell the audience. He further described the test as an atmospheric shot with Yoda walking across Chancellor Palpatine’s office from shadow to light. George stopped the frame and told them they weren’t making television. They were making cinema. He went on to say that they were looking to create something beyond your typical animated show and to stay true to the films cinematically.
Sansweet asked Filoni what he gained from the Padawan/Master relationship of working with Lucas himself. Past his newfound ability “to Force choke his editor,” he spoke of it as both a privilege and nerve-wracking experience to work with the man who created THX-1138 and American Graffiti. He felt Lucas was ready to take a group of people and pass on what’s he has learned. As one of the first projects George had created during his time at USC (University of Southern California) was an animated film, Filoni felt this project was a natural extension.
Steve asked Dave to introduce a clip from the film. A significant battle from the beginning of the film was screened, involving Obi-Wan and Anakin stranded in the Outer Rim.
Sansweet asked Winder how and why the decision was made to go from a weekly television series to kick Clone Wars off as a full-fledged animated feature, with the follow-up being the weekly series. Lucas had made the call after reviewing some of the early studio material’s potential with Catherine and Dave. He told them to put a plan together.
Steve asked Filoni how he went about accomplishing this without merely taking a few episodes and sewing them together. As it so happened, the first story arc worked well for the transition from the multi-episode to movie format. The introduction of Anakin’s new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, worked well for the plot of the movie. Filoni mentioned the surprise of the fans by this development in the mythology of Star Wars.
Sansweet asked how the development of a continuing weekly series differs from that of a movie. Dave took this question, say that a series allowed them the opportunity to attack unique issues and different scenarios. In contrast, the film was one complete idea that introduces a new main character and specific situations.
One example he gave involved spending twenty-two minutes with the ground troops on the front lines and the clones. They could take obscure characters from the background of the movies and comics and explore what they were like, what they sounded like, and how they interacted with their troops. As they explored this idea, they found that the Jedis’ personalities were rubbing off on their soldiers, which affected the clones, as it would affect human soldiers. For instance, they would paint their helmets and gunships because they’re real people. He also noted that they were able to explore other ideas, such as Padmé Amidala’s interactions with the Senate. Jason Tucker added the opportunity to tell stories beyond those involving war and including mystery, romance, and horror.
When asked whether the retro, signature Star Wars edits, and transitions, such as the inter-cutting of scenes and wipes, would be in place, Tucker confirmed they would be.
Gilroy was asked to touch on how far they went in conceptualizing ideas for the movie and series. Henry said they always tried to tune into the same things that inspired Lucas. He described Star Wars as, “this great big stew of awesome cinema,” with elements from the Flash Gordon serials of the 30’s, westerns and Warner Bros. cartoons of the 40’s, samurai films of the 50’s, and war epics from the 60’s, along with a fairy tale theme we can all relate to. George would assign Tucker and Gilroy movies to watch each week that they believed he had been influenced by, such as Battle of the Bulge. Their story ideas weren’t often shot down. They were usually encouraged to be more ambitious and make their stories bigger in scope.
The panelists also touched on the expansion of characters that had not previously had significant roles in the Star Wars universe, including the use of Asajj Ventress as a major villain. They said that George is a fan of the comics and would make note of visually compelling characters and tell them that he’d like to see that character. There are a few they think the fans of the comics are going to love seeing realized. They also mentioned going to Leland Chee, their Continuity Editor, and “The Holocron,” whenever they ran into potential “Boba Fett” situations.
Sansweet asked Gilroy how his background in writing for animation helped or hindered him. Henry had worked on Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Bionicle for Miramax, and the Lilo and Stitch television series. Star Wars has all of those elements and has able to take every tool he used on those and bring it to this project.
Act One from the episode “Look of Darkness,” involving Luminara Unduli and Ahsoka Tano, was then shown.
Steve asked the panelists to tell the audience what, over the last three years, they found the most satisfying aspect to be. Tucker said his most satisfying experience was the collaboration. Gilroy echoed the same sentiment. He further mentioned adding to the Star Wars saga had been a pleasure. Winder found having had the opportunity to see the project from a blank piece of paper to the final product made her proud and honored to be a part of the project. After 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, Filoni was unsure as to what the future held for Star Wars. He was happy to be a part of keeping Star Wars alive and moving the story forward. He added that he was proud of the crew and being excited about the live-action television series Lucas wants to do. He called the Clone Wars experience, “humbling” and said he was glad he could give something back. During the panel, the panelists expressed an enormous sense of responsibility in approaching their respective roles on this project.
As the panel concluded, Steve asked the audience to give a big hand for the panelists and thanked the fans for their support over the years.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated feature films hits the theaters on August 15th, 2008. The animated series premieres this fall on Cartoon Network and TNT.
(Return to Toon Zone’s San Diego Comic-Con 2008 Complete Coverage)