Star Wars Episode VII is due to be released in December 2015 as the first new film in the series since Disney bought Star Wars producer Lucasfilm in October 2012.
In the meantime, there’s Star Wars Rebels, a new animated TV series set in the Star Wars universe, airing on the Disney XD channel and aimed at children – although a fair few adults are likely to be tuning in too.
Star Wars Rebels’ showrunner is Dave Filoni, a young fan of the original films who grew up to work with George Lucas on Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series and film.
“One thing he felt was important was that we would never treat any content like animation as any lesser than the films that he made,” said Filoni in a keynote speech at the MIPJunior television industry conference in Cannes this weekend.
One key aim for Star Wars Rebels is to attract a new generation of children to the franchise, with a new set of characters rather than the familiar faces from the six films to date.
“It has to have a broad reach of characters: you can’t just rely on Luke and Leia,” said Filoni. “We have to give each new generation of kids a new generation of characters to follow.” He added that Star Wars Rebels aims to bring back some of “the funny” from the original trilogy that was missing from The Clone Wars.
Action sequences are just as important to Star Wars Rebels as they were to those original films, although the inspirations for those in the new series vary.
Some episodes, like one where the heroes steal a TIE Fighter, were inspired by Filoni’s childhood games with Star Wars toys. “When I was a kid, I had a TIE Fighter that I’d put the good guys in, because it was so cool,” he said, adding that he hopes Star Wars Rebels will inspire similar real-world play now.
“It goes to show why I think it’s so important that we distribute these stories and get them out there, that kids are inspired: they role-play Star Wars and play with figures,” he said. “Maybe we’re grooming the next director of Star Wars. It’s possible!”
Some other action sequences are inspired less by Star Wars, and more by another famous film franchise, though. “A lot of our action is actually inspired by Indiana Jones,” said Filoni. “Indy will inform the audience right off the bat ‘here’s a problem, here’s how I’m gonna solve it’, but then other two or three problems emerge that he didn’t foresee... and that’s what drives the tension.”
There are other thematic links between the original Star Wars trilogy – episodes IV, V and VI since the prequels were released between 1999 and 2005 – and the Star Wars Rebels show though.
Filoni said that once again, the heroes often “don’t really know what they’re doing”, and often run away from enemies rather than take them on, at least until the time is right – matching the exploits of Luke, Han Solo and co in the original films. “The only time they come face to face with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, they’re quickly captured and have to sit down and have dinner with him!” he said.
One important change for Star Wars as a franchise is that from now on, all TV shows, games, books and comics based on its universe will be part of its “canon” – unlike what was called the “Expanded Universe” in the past – and overseen by a new “story group” formed within Lucasfilm to ensure new storylines are connected.
“Now I have talks with the people doing the spin-offs, I’m in collaboration with the guys doing video games, so I know what’s going on in several different fronts,” said Filoni. “In this day and age, something fans love is when they see something on television, and it’s reflected in the movie, then they play a game of it, and it all fits together... and Star Wars is this big continuous thing.”
That opens the way for characters who prove popular in one part of the Star Wars universe – like Star Wars Rebels – to appear or at least be referenced in the upcoming new films. “I’d say there’s always a chance. Given that it’s all one big universe, you never know,” he said.
“I would say it has to make sense for the time period. Episode 7 is quite a long time after the time period I’m in... But the excitement of generating Star Wars content for people is it’s going to be more connected than it’s ever been, and that opens up exciting opportunities.”
Filoni’s role on Star Wars Rebels may be showrunner, but he stressed that he’s also there as an enthusiastic fan, keen to pass on his passion to children who aren’t familiar even with the prequel films, let alone the original movies.
“I want kids watching Star Wars all the time,” he said. “I want them to be obsessed with Star Wars. Because I was!”
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Sunday 12th October 2014 11.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010