As director J.J. Abrams gets ready to start production on Star Wars: Episode VII later this year, fanboys will have a whole new story to engage in on the small screen with Star Wars Rebels, premiering with a one-hour special on the Disney Channel this fall, before transitioning to its regular network home on Disney XD.
Unlike the popular series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which was set between the prequels Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, this new show focuses on the formation of the Rebel Alliance in the time between Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and the film that started it all, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.
Producer Simon Kinberg, who is also writing one of the theatrical spin-offs, revealed in a recent interview that the series will take cues from the original films, creating an Imperial World where viewers will see the true, evil nature of the Empire.
"The world we're creating is an Imperial world. You're seeing the impact of the Empire, of stormtroopers around the galaxy, abusing and oppressing people. Thematically and politically, it goes to some dark places. But for the tone of the show we took our cues from the original movies, which had fun and adventure and swashbuckling with emotion and grounded human characters. We took all our cues from the original films. Obviously there are slight tonal differences between New Hope, Empire and Jedi. But I think the closest intended voice of the show is A New Hope. So there are places where we get into darker backstories, there are places we see how cruel and malevolent the Empire can be, but for the most part it's a fun and character-driven story. Again taking our cues from the original films, it's less maybe political than the prequels and more personal. It starts with a few character introductions that will precede the show. I wrote the first two episodes, they're like a one-hour story across two episodes where we introduce the main characters in the show."
The only mandate going in was that LucasFilm wanted an animated series, although the producers weren't sure, at first, where it would fit within the Star Wars canon. It didn't take long for the producers to realize that the untold story of how the Rebel Alliance was formed was the best way to go for this series, although.
"They wanted to do an animated show and I loved [Cartoon Network's] Clone Wars and grew up with a lot of animated shows. So we just started to talk about where it would fall in the general Star Wars timeline. Really there was no predetermination going in. It could have been a prequel, sequel, a stand-alone universe. The main thing for us is how do we tell a story that enhances this universe, that answers questions that audiences may or may not have had but at least will make it feel like the world is fuller after watching the show. We pretty quickly got to this idea that though Rebel Alliance that was such an integral part of the movies, we know next to nothing about the formation of at least in terms of the movies and The Clone Wars. There was nothing in the canon that had delved deep into it. That's where it started - let's tell the story of the formation of the heroes in the original movies. And that put us in a time line between Episode III and Episode IV. You don't want to be too close to New Hope so that it feels like it's repetitive, you want to feel like you're watching the earliest seeds of what will sprout into a full-blown rebellion."
He added that this series offers the opportunity to tell an untold story, comparing the Rebel Alliance's formation to the American Revolution.
"The reason I wanted to do this. I really felt like there was an opportunity to tell an untold story. I'm a fan of The Clone Wars and aspects of the prequels, but really the original movies were the reason I wanted to get into movies. I always loved origin stories and the origin of an entire organization, I don't think we've seen that before, and we've approached it in a real-world way. If I told the story of the American Revolution, I wouldn't want to start with the most famous battle I'd want to start when it was just four guys in a room, the earliest spark of that seems dramatic and cool. That's a big part of the fun of it, the little back-room dealings, the first time you see it's possible to stand up to the Empire."
A brand new villain was created for the series, dubbed The Inquisitor, which was one of the most challenging aspects of the production since the theatrical franchise already has, arguably, the most iconic villain of all time, Darth Vader. The villain was first teased back in October, when it was revealed that this character is tasked by Vader himself to hunt down the remaining Jedi Knights in existence. When asked about how they came up with this evil character, Simon Kinberg revealed what aspects they wanted to implement, without making him too Vader-like.
"That was probably the most daunting part of this process. George (Lucas) obviously created the best villain of our time. So we spent a lot of time brainstorming and working with the artists to come up with the Inquisitor. You've seen that image of him. We wanted somebody terrifying, a nightmare character for a kid but not somebody too foreign, too creature-ly. We didn't want him to have a helmet for obvious reasons - the comparison [to Darth Vader]. We talked about a character who was cold and calculating and could tap into people's emotional weaknesses as much as their physical weaknesses, and had a specific relationship to Jedi and the ways of the force. He would be somebody that the remaining Jedi would be especially scared of."
Since The Inquisitor directly works for Darth Vader, the producer was asked if this legendary villain, or The Emperor, would appear in the series, and if they plan on using actors from the theatrical franchise to voice any returning characters. While Simon Kinberg wouldn't give a concrete answer regarding Vader or The Emperor, he did say that they hope to bring original actors back.
"I don't think I'm allowed to answer that. I can say that wherever possible we would want to use the original talent."
The show not only has the movies to draw from, but a massive expanded universe of novels, comic books and other materials. While he wouldn't tease any specific characters' involvement in the show, he did talk about their resident expert Pablo Hidalgo, and how his ideas help shape the storytelling.
"We have characters from all the different parts of the universe. One of the awesome resources is Pablo Hidalgo he's the resident Star Wars genius and he knows everything of every possible word or image that was created for Star Wars. So we utilize him a lot and he's very integrated into the process. He will say there's a cool cantina in this comic book from 1994, or a cool creature that not all of us know. He will bring that stuff to us. Or we'll task him we're trying to create a muscle for this villain with a cool backstory. Sometimes it will be a character or a planet we don't know about. Instead of being just an Easter egg, sometimes it will turn into an a whole episode."
Our report from October revealed that the series went back to the original trilogy concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, some of which was never used in the films. Simon Kinberg also spoke about how this art was a major influence on the storytelling and the visual look of the show, which will be vastly different from Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
"It will look quite different. The intention of what I've seen so far, and we're pretty far down the line, the intention is for it to feel quite different from Clone Wars. The place we went back to as to a visual template was Ralph McQuarrie, who was one of the original concept artists for the original Star Wars films. His art is softer, a little more figurative, more of a feel of being drawn, less computer generated. The first few movies had a bit of a hand-made quality. We wanted the show to have that. There's also in the archives where (George) Lucas keeps all the original art and props, there's tons of art that's McQuarrie's musing on the Star Wars universe that was never used in the films. There's places where we've quite literally taken world-creation or vehicles or creatures from his original art that was never used in the films and made that part of show."
When asked specifically about the pilot episode's plot, he wouldn't divulge too many specifics, but he did say that there is an inciting incident that causes these heroes to get together for the first time.
"Um, I'm going to be a little vague about it. It's less because I want to be secretive but more because part of the fun for me, and I know this will sound very nostalgic, part of the fun of the original movies is not knowing too much about it. I will say when we pick up the show when the Empire is in power and the inciting incident is the Empire doing their bad-Empire thing and our heroes meeting up. There's a lot of new characters in the show. The prequels were centered around the origin of familiar characters, there's a lot of new characters in this show. The main characters are new characters."