'Star Wars Rebels' interview: New series goes to dark places, embraces 1977 film's spirit
By James Hibberd on Jan 23, 2014 at 2:12PM
The next Star Wars
TV series is embracing an era from a long, long time ago: 1977. Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels is the franchise’s first major storytelling return to the original trilogy since Return of the Jedi, with producers even utilizing original trilogy artist Ralph McQuarrie’s decades-old and previously unused concept art for aliens, planet and vehicles. Below executive producer Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) tells EW his plan for the new show — as much as he can at this early stage, anyway — which premieres this fall.
So how did you land on the premise for the show?
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 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.
How will this look or feel different from Clone Wars?
It will look quite different. The intention of what I’ve seen so afar, 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 [creator 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.
That’s fantastic. What about story-telling differences? How dark can you go on Disney XD?
We haven’t talked in those terms. But 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.
You’ve created a new villain, the Inquisitor, what makes him special?
That was probably the most daunting part of this process. George 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.
Will you include characters from the expanded universes, like Admiral Thrawn, or just the films and your own creations?
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.
Is Darth Vader and the Emperor in the show? And if so is any possibility of the original voice talent being used?
I don’t think I’m allowed to answer that. I can say that wherever possible we would want to use the original talent.
We wouldn’t want that. So what else about the new show Rebels that you think fans would be particularly interested to know that you would feel comfortable discussing at this juncture.
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.
Can you say plot-wise what’s the inciting incident that kicks off your story in your first episode?
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.
Are those heroes familiar?
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.
Can you describe a couple of the new ones?