With the 10-year anniversary of Lucasfilm Animation storytelling coming up, we here at TFN and the Forcecast are celebrating in style. Join Ryan and Daniel on the May 4th episode of the Forcecast as they celebrate 10 years of animated television storytelling. Featuring a dream line up of guests you wouldn’t believe if I told you from both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels TV shows, they’ll discuss how Lucasfilm Animation changed the game forever back in 2008 and continues to reinvent itself today.
But first, some history…
It may be hard for some to imagine a Star Wars universe that doesn’t include a regularly scheduled animated TV series’, but for those of us who have been in the game a while, that was exactly the case prior to August of 2008. That was when Star Wars: The Clone Wars series was launched and would essentially change the galaxy for good. The success of that show cannot be understated as it would not only launch several professional careers at Lucasfilm but create a host of new characters that have become so engrained into the fabric of Star Wars, its hard to contemplate a time when they didn’t exist. It truly was a game changer.
But before we get to that, let’s travel even a little further back in time, to 2002 in fact. After the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the Hasbro Toy Company was looking to boost sales of its Star Wars toy line and get a jump on the marketing and promotion for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. They approached George Lucas and Lucasfilm with the idea of producing an animated series that would follow the actions of already known characters set between the two films.
Veteran producer Genndy Tartakovsky was brought in to adapt, produce, direct and co-write the series with Lucas overseeing things and together they came up with the name “Star Wars: Clone Wars”. This would be the first Star Wars television show since the 1986 cartoon “Star Wars: Ewoks” but would bear little resemblance. Since the show was produced by Tartakovsky, the style and animation of the show reflected that of one of his previous series titled, “Samurai Jack”, and would not incorporate the Autodesk 3D software that would become synonymous with Lucasfilm Animation.
Since the show was considered a micro-series, the 25 completed episodes were all less than 15-minutes in length and would lead directly up the events depicted in the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith. The short series, which ran from November of 2003 to March of 2005, was a huge success for all involved and won several awards including 3 Emmy’s. Besides being the first animated Star Wars show in 17 years, it was perhaps most notable for introducing us to two now infamous characters, General Grievous, Commander of the Separatist Droid Army and Asajj Ventress, a powerful Force user who was once the apprentice of Count Dooku aka Darth Tyranus.
It was around this time that Lucasfilm Animation was formed by Lucas as a means to tie together all the various forms of media including video games which were becoming a massive marketplace revenue stream. Stemming from his original idea for “Clone Wars”, which Lucas referred to as a pilot, the announcement was made at Celebration III in April of 2005 that a new 3D series was launching and would be a continuation of the “Clone Wars” short series.
Animating Director Dave Filoni was brought in as Supervising Director and although his original ideas for the show involved an entirely new cast of characters and stories that wouldn’t affect the continuity that currently existed, Lucas would step in and stay with known characters. The only character of Filoni’s that would stick around however would be that of “Ashla” a young Jedi Padawan who would later be known as Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein). As for the show’s stars, many voice actors would continue their roles in the new series including James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Tom Kane (Yoda), Terrance Carson (Mace Windu) and others. As for the voice of Anakin Skywalker, Mat Lucas who voiced the younger version in the “Clone Wars” was replaced by the more mature sounding Matt Lanter.
Official production began in mid 2005 and the following year Lucasfilm Animation gave us our first image, poster and trailer. At the 2007 Toy Fair they revealed the first image in the form of a 3D Yoda and a couple of months later at Star Wars Celebration IV, Filoni along with executive producer Catherine Winder revealed the series’ first poster and dropped the show’s first of many trailers.
On August 15th, 2008 The Clone Wars film was released in theatres to kick off the series. The film, which was basically four episodes mashed together, was directed by Filoni and written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy. Although it was received poorly by critics, it managed to earn a good profit and stylistically set the tone for what was to come. It did so by giving fans their first look at the style of 3D animation Lucasfilm had implemented and newer characters such as Ahsoka Tano and holdover Asajj Ventress. The film also introduced us to music composer Kevin Kiner who would compose the score for the entire series’ run and would follow Filoni to Star Wars Rebels as well.
The weekly series debuted on the Cartoon Network on October 3, 2008 and at the time was the most watched series premiere on the network. The show would run for five full seasons on the Cartoon Network, ending on March 2, 2013, and an added sixth shortened season of only 13 episodes on Netflix. These episodes form the sixth season were called “The Lost Missions” and the last one aired March 8, 2014. When it was decided the show was ending in 2013, there were still many already written episodes that hadn’t been finished yet, with “The Lost Mission” episodes being 13 of those. The rest were released in either story reel formats on starwars.com or in books and comics.
The decision to end the show was brought on by the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, who felt the show had run its course and aged “up” preferring to target a younger audience. That coupled with the expense of producing a show of this nature simply meant Lucasfilm Animation didn’t have enough resources and couldn’t systematically produce two shows simultaneously. This decision to end the show was met with fervor by the ever growing fan base who had come to love the series and the show had developed a very loyal and devoted fan base. This loyalty and appreciation went beyond the characters on screen as Dave Filoni, Henry Gilroy, Kevin Kiner and the newly developed story group all became celebrities themselves within the Star Wars universe. Part of the reason for this was their deliberate accessibility to fans on social media and were all very out front and present at conventions and celebrations.
Of course, by this time, certainly after the sale, George Lucas was no longer involved with the show and had stepped away to pursue other interests. In his absence, Dave Filoni had emerged as the face of Lucasfilm Animation and it wouldn’t be long before he would unveil his next opus.
Not only did the sale of Lucasfilm mean a new way of doing business but it meant an overhaul at some of the top positions within the group. While this change in ownership wasn’t necessarily felt at the ground level, the most significant change to the universe at large would be implemented by new Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy. She would bring in long-time TV writer/producer Kiri Hart and form the company’s first story group whose primary purpose would be to abolish the old canon hierarchy system (G-canon, T-canon, C-canon, etc.…) and usher in a single form of continuity.
This new “canon” would officially make all new media part of the same timeline, which included The Clone Wars and any future series’. One of the first people brought into the group was Carrie Beck who, along with Filoni and Executive Producer Simon Kinberg, were put in charge of creating a new animated series. This new series as it turns out would eventually be Star Wars Rebels and it would become the first major Star Wars project released under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner.
It was Beck who came up the with original idea of “this A-Team group that went around righting wrongs” which Filoni took to right away as it reminded him of his original concept for The Clone Wars. In an effort not to be monotonous Rebels would show a different point of view of the Rebellion, through the eyes of this small band of rebels who were focused to one particular part of the galaxy. Also, visually it would look to separate itself from The Clone Wars and employ heavily the concepts and designs of Ralph McQuarrie who influenced the look of the original trilogy. The visual FX team lead by CG Supervisor Joel Aron, who had worked on The Clone Wars as well, was given this task and it was Aron and his team who accomplished this by adding brushes that emulated McQuarrie’s techniques to Adobe Photoshop.
Kennedy and the team this time around were looking for a more serious tone as opposed to Disney’s thoughts on the series which preferred a light-hearted approach, meant strictly for kids. What we got of course was a wonderfully deep-rooted Star Wars show heavily based in classic mythology while the soft animation and cleverness of the writing gave kids easy access to the material. The light banter and familial aspect of the Ghost Crew juxtaposed the heavy militarized tones and Imperial occupations and subjectification of the people of Lothal. Because of the new “canon” approach, Filoni and the other writers could include classic Star Wars tropes and characters as well as move the timeline in different, sometimes unexpected directions. This included, but was not limited to, bringing back old expanded universe characters with great effect, such as Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The show, which still didn’t have a name, was announced only a week after The Clone Wars ended its fifth season on March 11, 2013. It wouldn’t be until May 20 of that same year that the name and premiere date would be announced. And so it was, after 16 months of promotions, announcements and character reveals, Star Wars Rebels premiered with a one-hour special on October 3, 2014 with the episodic premiere happening 10 days later.
The one hour special was shown on the Disney Channel but the remainder of the series would air on its sister station, Disney XD. Ratings wise the show performed well out of the gate but eventually would settle below that of The Clone Wars, the difference being Rebels was a huge critical success with each season getting a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans and critics loved the liberating aspect of the characters and storytelling, particularly with Ezra Bridger, who had shades of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo but wasn’t overtly bootlegging those classic characters. The brisk episodes contained smooth action sequences that were tight and crisp and the scripts were intelligent, witty and full of exposition.
Even within the diverse Ghost Crew itself there was something that everyone could relate to, whether it was Twi’Lek pilot Hera Syndulla, Jedi Kanan Jarrus, Lasat warrior Garazeb Orrelios or Mandalorian Sabine Wren. Each character was well conceived and executed, even their trusty old droid Chopper emitted thoughtful and emotive beeps and boops. Fans took to these characters in a big way and a few of them, in particular Hera Syndulla, have become immensely popular, right up there with the classics. But the show didn’t rest on its laurels as it has expanded the Star Wars universe in a way no one thought possible and it did so as all other forms of relevant media seem to augment as well.
Rebels would embrace the past more than most and re-introduce us to well-known characters such as Mon Mothma, Lando Calrissian and Wilhuff Tarkin. Filoni, not one to disregard the past, would bring back characters from The Clone Wars in spectacular fashion including Ahsoka Tano, Maul, Saw Gerrera and even Anakin Skywalker who had now become Darth Vader. And like The Clone Wars, the show would receive plenty of accolades along the way including Saturn Awards and Emmy Nominations.
Yes, the show seemed to be firing on all cylinders as each Star Wars Celebration saw larger and larger crowds embracing the animated side of Lucasfilm. Which is why when Dave Filoni announced at Celebration in Orlando last spring that the upcoming season of Rebels would be its last, everybody was absolutely stunned. As such, the last two episodes of Star Wars Rebels aired on March 5, 2018, with the latter being a one-hour two-part special, five months away from the premiere of The Clone Wars back in 2008.
We now know of course that Filoni is releasing another animated series in the form of Star Wars Resistance and based on the ambiguous nature of the ending of Rebels perhaps there's more to come. Looking back now, with dry eyes and presence of mind, it makes perfect sense to end the show when they did. With the events on Scarif right around the corner, followed closely by the Battle of Yavin, this brave band of rebels weren’t running out of time, they were simply running into history.
George Lucas, Dave Filoni, Kiri Hart, Keith Kellogg, Kevin Kiner, Simon Kinberg, Steward Lee, Henry Gilroy, Carrie Beck, the story group and all the cast and crew at Lucasfilm Animation have given us 10 years of Star Wars programming of the highest caliber. Who knows what the next ten years will be like, but if the last ten are any indication, we’re in for a hell of a ride.
Check back here for more 10th anniversary coverage and be sure to listen to the May 4th episode of the Forcecast as Ryan and Daniel talk to folks from both The Clone Wars and Rebels and travel back in time to look at ten years of Star Wars magic.
Till next time…MTFBWY.
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