This past weekend at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, the cast of Star Wars Rebels joined executive producer Dave Filoni in a discussion with members of the media about the latest in Star Wars Entertainment. Kicking off the event was C-3PO and R2-D2 who also took questions from the press but of course anything involving Episode VII was met with a typical response about not being allowed to respond.
Attending the discussion were the following:
- Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan Jarrus
- Taylor Gray as Ezra Bridger
- Tiya Sircar as Sabine Wren
- Steve Blum as Zeb Orrelios
- Vanessa Marshall as Hera Syndulla
- Dave Filoni, Executive Producer
Q: FOR THE CAST: When you guys decide to take on these roles, does it come with a lot of pressure? Is it intimidating? How do you guys deal with it?
Freddie Prinze, Jr.: For me, yeah. There’s pressure. Guys around my age, this is sort of in their DNA, you know. You say “May the Force Be With You” often [laughs] and the scar on my chin is from playing Star Wars. I take it real, real seriously, man, and there’s pressure. You’re the appetizer for the next main course that’s getting ready to happen whether you want to be or not so it’s special and you want people to remember it.
Fortunately, with Star Wars they keep things in-house and they keep the family that do great things doing more great things so it takes a little bit of the pressure off. I’ve already heard a lot of good feedback from people seeing it, but, yeah, man, you read some of those speeches and you’re all “oh my God”, I was 12 years old and dreaming about saying that, so yeah there’s pressure. But at a certain point you have to say “if it sucks, it sucks, I’m just gonna go for it.” [laughs]
Tiya Sircar: I don’t know if I felt the same kind of pressure as Freddie did because I didn’t grow up as a girl playing Jedi but I also knew what I was getting into, I mean, in fact I didn’t even know how… it’s a big deal getting to join the Star Wars Universe and so for me it could’ve been more daunting and initially it was a little intimidating but I will say that the fan have been overwhelmingly supportive and welcoming us into this family. For me, personally, it feels like being welcomed home so I think it’s been wonderful. We do have to perform to this guy [Dave Filoni] but we’re also in good hands, you know!
Steve Blum: My first response was an 8-year old “squee” and then it went to the pressure because I’m playing a character that’s a new species to the Star Wars Universe based on a Ralph McQuarrie design, so no pressure there, but by the second or third episode that settled in my brain, that’s when I started peeing my pants.
Tiya Sicar: It was a delayed reaction.
Steve Blum: Yeah, it was.
Q: FOR DAVE FILONI: Were you a huge Star Wars fan as a kid?
Dave Filoni: Oh yeah I was. I mean, it’s interesting. I wouldn’t know there was such a thing as being a fan when I was a kid. I was just a kid and lucky enough to be born when Star Wars came out. My brother and I, we were only 1 year apart, we would ride in the back of my dad’s car and pretend it was the Millenium Falcon and blast other cars coming by. It was the first posters we ever had in our room, so we were just being kids and playing Star Wars. That’s why I find it strange when some people ask me if I’m making Rebels for kids and my answer is “Absolutely! Who else do you think Star Wars is really for?”
It’s just that now, you know, close to 40 years old and I’m 40 years old… so I think the expectation is that it grows up here and there but I think Lucasfilm has been really good at making it a story that older fans and younger fans can both enjoy. The best compliment I think I get now about any Star Wars things that I’ve worked on is that it’s something that people watch with their whole family, which is something I know that George always intended Star Wars to be.
Q: How far in advance do you know about your storyline?
Tiya Sircar: The day before [laughs]. Storyline or like scripts?
Q: A little bit of both.
Tiya Sircar: We get our scripts very shortly before we get together in the studio and record an episode. Like the night before?
Vanessa Marshall: The cool thing is that they’re so well written that it’s very easy to read what’s on the page. And I’m not just saying that, I really mean that. Our personalities are so close to the characters that we play, I mean…
Steve Blum: What are you saying?
Vanessa Marshall: You’re awesome! How cool is Zeb? I love Zeb! You’re amazing. Smells a little funny! I’m the mother of the group, I’m always feeding everyone and making sure everyone’s happy. And it’s not much of a stretch although of course with Steve Blum, but the energy that he embodies which is sort of a playfulness and a good heart at the core of his roughness, he is the merry one of the bunch. But anyway we have a family energy that it doesn’t matter when we get the script. We just bring it to life so naturally and have so much fun it’s almost criminal. We have a great time.
Dave Filoni: And we work on the story right up, as much as we can to the last minute. Once we have a script, it’s not like that’s a final document to me, it’s different than a lot of shows that way, especially in animation. When you’re directing this stuff the magic of Star Wars really, I learned, is that so much happens in editorial. So you’re constantly moving things and changing things. You’re thinking more in terms of a live action picture with footage as opposed to just shots, so we’ll rewrite dialogue often and even scenes in situations in editorial. And I want to get them the most complete picture as possible.
Sometimes I’ll send the script into them with ideas that say “this is going to change but this is the general idea of where this is going to go” but you know, we work very quickly in television so we try to push it as much as possible to make this as big a cinematic experience as you can possibly get and I need every possible minute in the day to do that. But they’re so great as the cast and very flexible, plus when we work in the booth we work ensemble. What that means is that as they’re doing the scenes if they feel that a line can be said differently or if they see an opportunity, I always say to make me aware of it and we have a discussion so it’s a very creative evolutionary experience and process making Star Wars and you just have to adapt to it. And luckily from my cast to the crew, I got people that can work that way.
Q: Freddie: Remember First time you saw the film. Recording. Is that comfortable for you?
Freddie Prinze Jr.: I’m old enough to remember when cable was invented. There was an actual cable that went into a box. And the first movie I ever got to see was Star Wars and at about twenty minutes in, the sound went out and I couldn’t hear about ten minutes of the movie and it finally came back. I was with my cousin Chris who was also the cousin that we played with the flag pole and I got stabbed in the face – yeah we did everything Star Wars together. As far as recording, I learn fairly quickly but it definitely was a challenge at first because as an actor on film you can use your eyes or body language to show different things or not show certain things. In voice acting, originally I felt handcuffed. And I didn’t feel like I was good at it.
I then did this game called Mass Effect where I just kind of said “screw it, I’ll see what happens” and I started being more comfortable in my own skin. And when you see Steve Blum just go for it like nobody you’ve never seen anyone go before, you just go “Oh!” if he can go that bananas then I can go a little, you know what I mean? It just makes you more comfortable. It was like acting school 101, he had a very different style of acting than what my acting coaches had taught me and it was a matter of taking a call from him at 2 in the morning and he’d demand that I buy him some True 100 cigarettes and I’d go get him smokes at the Essex House and bring ‘em to his room and then he would literally talk to me about acting and what was necessary to execute a good moment on film.
I watch these guys and they’ll go “oh we all learn from each other” but I learned a lot from watching these guys and seeing their techniques and what they do. I’m much more comfortable now than when we started.
Q: Cast: What is your favorite trait about each of your characters, and for Freddie, who would win in a battle between Kanan Jarrus versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Tiya Sircar: Can we go there first?
Freddie: Well, you know.. Buffy probably has more experience than Kanan does in her career, BUT, she doesn’t have the Force. I think Sarah [Michelle Gellar] would agree, I mean we can fight and see but I think probably Kanan. The Force pretty much trumps all. Superman doesn’t mess with Jedi.
Tiya: You once said something I really liked, he said “Buffy might be international but Star Wars is intergalactic!”
Vanessa Marshall: I play the voice of Hera Syndulla, she’s the lead pilot and I would say her courage.
Taylor Gray: Ezra, I like his self confidence. I think it’s a lot of fun.
Freddie Prinze Jr: He’s a smart-alec! [laughs] As far as Kanan goes, his best quality is he’s hyper loyal. I see him as that one dog that follows you home and that appreciates the thing you did so he’s going to stick with you forever and if anyone comes in he’s gonna bite ya. Hera is his master. He’s on a leash.
Tiya Sircar: I play Sabine Wren, gosh I don’t think I have that one word but I think she’s really savvy and smart in a way that I feel honored to play a young female character that is so whips mart and she gets down to business. I really like that about her. She’s not concerned about the superficial. I really appreciate that.
Steve Blum: I see Zeb as kind of a work in progress. He’s a big dude, he’s a warrior but he’s got a lot of growth potential. As the series goes along we’re gonna see a lot of change in him and I’m looking forward to what that looks like because that’s kind of mirroring my life. [laughs] You don’t wanna know. [laughs]
Freddie Prinze Jr: I didn’t mean to laugh that hard.
Steve Blum: No, it’s okay. I’m not ashamed.
Q: For Freddie or anyone else who has young people in their life, how many cool points did you get for being a part of this? Are your kids aware of it?
Freddie Prinze Jr: Yeah, I try to keep it secret from Charlotte because I sort of want her to… I don’t want her to know how the magic trick is done. But that got demolished because her friends at school found out and were all “HER DAD’S A JEDI, OH MY GOSH!” so she knows. So I’m excited to watch it with her. A little bit of the magic is gone but you know when she saw the Disney parade and she saw Lord Vader walking, which is weird for me because he was this frightening figure, and to see him hanging with Aladdin was strange. But for her, it was nothing and she was still taken aback so he still has this presence. And you can still feel that the alpha male was in the room. I definitely gained some kid cool points when I picked up my daughter from school the boys would be all “you’re a jedi!” they think they know something. Boys are dumb.
Steve Blum: My kids are in their 20’s and I got a lot of cred by doing this. It’s cool. They’re pretty excited.
Q: For Dave, how much interaction have you had with George? Does he call you?
Dave Filoni: (joking) I turn my cell phone off.
Steve Blum: I told you never to call me here. [laughs]
Tiya Sircar: How did you get this number? [laughs]
Dave Filoni: George hasn’t been involved in Rebels at all. He’s never seen any of it, you know, which is very different for me. I’ve been working on Clone Wars and I worked with him all the time. You’d be hard pressed to find some body that has more respect for George, the way he treated us, the way he instructed us. I mean, he’s a fantastic teacher, which is probably the greatest gift that I’ve ever been given in my creative career. But all the while he told me that “one day I’ll be gone. I’m gonna retire. The people that know how to do this.” And I’ll be “uh huh..” you’re gonna retire. Because if you know George’s work ethic it’s unparalleled. On days we had reviews it was really hard to beat him to work. I would try to but he’s up early and I’d ask him “why do you do this?” and the answer was that he loved it. So he gave up something that he loved dearly but he gained something even more dearly which was family he has, he’s always given a lot of time to, so it’s been great to see him in that way.
I have lunch with him from time to time and we wouldn’t really talk about Star Wars and then he said one day “How’s that new show doing?” and I’d say “oh it’s going well, it’s called Star Wars.” [laughs] I love to mess with him, it’s my favorite. You know he said that he’d love to watch it if it’s finished so we actually did take it and show him a couple of weeks ago and he really enjoyed it. And I would know the difference because I’m used to him giving me notes for eight years and he honestly liked it. And he talked to us about it, you can see how engaged he was. For all of us I think in the new Lucasfilm era, it was almost our big final exam research paper to show George something Star Wars and have him appreciate it. I think it’s great for our company going forward to know that we can create this stuff and continue on in a vein that the creator of it appreciates and respects.
Because that’s the thing for me is that any film is a reflection of the artist that makes it and if you say you like Star Wars, you like that hand that paints that picture. And so when you subtract that that, I think it’s a good question “well, what happens now?” I think the unique thing in Star Wars is that you have an entire generation of people that really love that story. I know that talking to JJ Abrams about how much he loves Star Wars, Gareth Edwards is a huge Star Wars fan, we all want to do it right. Everyone at Lucasfilm does. Everyone at Disney respects that and wants to make it great. I think for me it’s just a great reflection of a man I admired as a kid and it’s a gift back to him in the end.
Q: For Dave: Creative process, what kind of complications do you get staying true to the Star Wars Universe and not just appeasing the fans?
Dave Filoni: Well Wookiees are really hard to deal with. They get hair everywhere and they’re messy. They have outdoor habits not indoor habits. You know, producing Star Wars is always a challenge because you’re trying to figure out what the audience hasn’t seen yet. We don’t want to follow things, we want to originate. I think part of it is that you fight nostalgia for what people think Star Wars is. And having worked with George I learned that Star Wars can be anything you want it to be, but you have to keep moving it forward. I was talking with Denis Muren and when they made Empire Strikes Back they certainly weren’t thinking about A New Hope going “remember when we did this and that was great” they thought “let’s put Walkers in the snow.” “What’s a Walker?” “I don’t know yet.”
When they did Return of the Jedi they did a really fast speeder bike chase through trees and dodging them. “We never done that before, how do we do that?” “I don’t know let’s figure it out”. So, if you’re not doing things and challenging it, with an animated series people think you can do anything but you have a budget and time and restrictions like anything, so you push yourself to say “let’s get these people, make them live on the ship, and let’s do our own version of that chase but do it on a freeway differently with cars coming and you find ways to take what’s old and kind of make it new again or find avenues to build it different but it is a challenge now because when the original movies came out there was nothing like it. Nothing even close.
I think kids today live in a world where there’s so much media, there’s so much attention, you know there’s stories on their iPhones, everywhere. Really, what’s fundamentally true before and now is that you have to make stories that people care about. Because everybody has big set pieces now every summer. Everyone has big spectacles. So the spectacle level has kind of leveled out in a certain way but what is really hard to do is to get people to care about it. You see amazing things on screen but eh, it was neat but I didn’t really care. So then there’s no tension. So you establish tension by worrying about these people and I think we have created engaging characters. But it’s the biggest thing I learned, if there’s something new and different and we came up with it in the writing room, our first question is “man, how will we do that? That’s probably something I wanna do.” Because it’s challenging. And you get better stories out of that because you actually have to figure it out and be challenged. It’s certainly not the quick and easy path… which is the dark side. [laughs]
Q for the panel: Who is your favorite Star Wars character? And is it easier joining a franchise playing new characters or taking on our old favorites?
Taylor Gray: I like Jabba the Hutt.
Dave Filoni: Why?
Taylor Gray: I also like Han Solo.
Vanessa Marshall: I like Chewie. I have a soft spot for Chewie. It was my very special first action figure that I got and his character is just adorable. As far as female icons go I gotta go with Leia. Her moxy, and class and braun and nerfherder commentary. She really gives it and is a really positive female role model. And Hera similarly, although we don’t know much about the twi’lek race, we’re discovering that more everyday…she also is a great female icon so it kind of dovetails. So a softspot for Chewie, female icon: Leia.
Steve Blum: (as Zeb) Love Artoo, Hate Chopper. [laughs]
Tiya Sircar: Getting to play Sabine I really appreciate so many things about Leia. Like her strength and ability to kick butt but also she does it with such grace and poise and she’s smart and she doesn’t take no crap from nobody which I really like. So I looked at her as inspiration for Sabine and for myself also but I really really love Han Solo. He’s hard not to love. (laughs)
Freddie Prinze Jr: The correct answer is Boba Fett (laughs and cheers). He’s the coolest. He’s the best.
Dave Filoni: I don’t know that I had a favorite character, I mean, growing up I was always obsessed with odd characters, so I loved the AT-AT driver. [room erupts in laughter]. (Defensively) I mean he piloted the Walker! The giant robot-like dinosaur thing! I drove my mother nuts looking for that action figure.
Tiya Sircar: Did they make one??
Dave Filoni: Of course they made one! I found it. So I like that character and in the prequels I loved the character Plo Koon. I love the guys that just sit there and seemingly do nothing but fans would wonder and imagine. Fans know the names of every bounty hunter on the Star Destroyer in Empire yet they are never named in the movie. But we all know the names cause we all played with the toys, so I was in a really neat position that I got to do Clone Wars and got to make Plo Koon, a character that never did anything. I got to make him do things.
In this show I liked a toy I had as a kid called the Imperial Transport and I was always fascinated as a kid that it was something that never appeared in the movies but I had it as a toy. So when I got this show, and it was in the right time period, I put that toy in the show because I always thought it was really cool. And it’s really funny I can do all those things. I met the guy from Hasbro that worked for Kenner in the 70s that designed that and he was blown away that we put it in the show because he still works there today and still works on the Star Wars brand. So Star Wars is a real legacy thing for people, it’s very special, it’s really like nothing else.
When you’re in a position to do these fun things I can take any story I played out with my figures as a kid and literally put it in Star Wars. It’s a power I wield with tremendous respect. It’s really fun. These guys coming in, these troopers, I remember drawing that helmet in my sketchbook and now here they walk into this room and tells you this press conference is over (laughs). So it’s a really a unique thing.
Tiya Sircar: Can you erase them too?
Dave Filoni: I can kill ‘em off yeah. [laughs]
Q for Dave and the cast: We left off with the prequels, we were introduced to some dark themes, especially where we left off with the Clone Wars. From what we seen so far, a lot of the characters have really dark back stories. What’s it like handling these darker themes in what is marketed as a children’s show? Is it a hard balance to strike?
Dave Filoni: I don’t think so. When you look at any classic fairy tale which has always been for kids, there’s some dark stuff going on. I had a chance to talk with Frank Oz when he visited Lucasfilm for a bit and he spoke about some of the ideas Jim Henson had about telling stories for children and he said he felt that when children were scared it was an essential part of the storytelling development for them. You know one of my favorite animated films recently was Coraline and I thought that it was pretty intense but I noticed the kids in the theater were never really afraid because she wasn’t afraid and she overcame great things.
Luke faced great obstacles, you know. Luke got his hand cut off and it blew my mind but it gave me something to overcome and it gave me a confidence watching this character overcome it. So rather then shy away from things that I think might be perceived as scary or dark or intense, I think there’s a tradition of storytelling that was always a way for kids to kind of learn about things that are bad or evil or amoral and see other characters overcome them and say I can overcome these things too. That’s kind of how I was raised in a opera rich family with my mother reading me Lord of the Rings and I would sit there and see Frodo or Aragorn do these great things and you say “well, why would I act any differently? I want to be like those characters. I wanna be like Luke Skywalker.”
Han Solo changes his destiny and becomes something else in the trilogy when he learns to become more selfless. I think that’s a responsibility as the storyteller. You don’t want to scare kids and definitely I’ll admit I think Clone Wars got too dark, frankly, but we were heading to a point where the heroes all lost and the even the Jedi were so flawed their hubris overcame them and it caused their own destruction. So we are dealing with the aftermath of that. What you get in that time period is a period of hope that leads to the great new hope which is Luke Skywalker. But I think it’s a valid question to ask what was everybody else doing? What about these kids that were born who could obviously use the force but they were just forgotten? And so we are telling the story of one of these kids who may be to everybody else in the galaxy was just some ordinary kid that would have been left or lost, or that was never found but lucky for him he found Kanan and this crew of people and he learns how to be selfless and he learns how to be greater than himself.
I think that’s what we are all trying to do as people, saying how do we be the best version of my self. I think it’s a worthy story to tell. I watch the reactions of kids and they seem pretty excited by it especially when our heroes achieve something great through struggle.
Freddie Prinze Jr: And kids are sharp, man. Remember the movies that we saw when we were kids. I mean, The Never Ending Story wasn’t a feel-good feel-good, I mean but the horse dies! So it hurts and you have pain. The Wizard of Oz… I mean the witch is legit! My daughter made me be obsessed with her because she wants to be evil (laughs) but she’s scary. She’s gonna be a heel for sure. She’s a villain in the making (laughs). But kids are smart, so I think the stakes need to be as real as they can be or they smell out fluff, man. Kids know. They know if they’re watching the Smurfs or if Gargamel is going to get them or not, they know. It needs to feel real to an adult for it to feel real to a kid.
Steve Blum: In the real world we’ve all had levels of dysfunction that we’ve grown up in or known somebody who’s had severe levels of dysfunction and I think its great that its addressed in this in that way. And it gives the opportunity for growth for my character and everybody. We’ve all been wronged by the Empire (laughs) in one way or another in real life and on the show and its always an opportunity to see that there is hope and it’s a great element to the show
“Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion” premieres on Disney Channel on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT) ushering in the series on Disney XD beginning October 13 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT).
Photography by David Yeh.