Star Wars: The Clone Wars showrunner on crafting a worthy ending


Star Wars: The Clone Wars was arguably the greatest Star Wars story ever told. Showrunner Dave Filoni breaks down how he ended it right.

Dave Filoni has been working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars since 2008. Originally brought in for his animation expertise by George Lucas himself, Filoni ended up running the whole thing before its series finale aired on Disney+ on May 4, Star Wars Day.

The Clone Wars was a computer-animated series set between The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith. You could argue that the show improved the prequel movies by filling out their less-explored corners, introducing characters like Sith Assassin Asajj Ventress and Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, as well as detailing the individual stories of the clones and even bringing back Darth Maul from the dead.

Filoni — who also serves as showrunner on The Mandalorian — recently sat down with Nerdist to reminisce extensively about the series, including how he decided which stories to tell for the seventh and final season. “It was tricky,” he said. “It’s really a combination of several things at play there. One of them was definitely that some of the episodes you saw were very far along in the pipeline. So, for example, the Bad Batch pipeline was just about ready to go into animation. It wasn’t animated when we shut down before, but it was right there.”

"So it seemed natural to do those episodes. Also, I felt very strongly that we needed to have a clone-centric arc to remind the audience or to bring a new audience in that maybe hadn’t watched The Clone Wars before. Since we were going to be on Disney+, [I wanted] to familiarize them with these characters and who they are and what they’re like. That was an important arc to do."

After that, we got a storyline involving fan favorite character Ahsoka Tano taking up with sisters Trace and Rafa, and the season finally ended with the long-awaited Siege of Mandalore arc.

If I’m being honest, the Bad Batch and Martez sisters side-stories kind of felt like filler, but Filoni had a reason for including them. “The second arc was also one that was in production at various levels, but I hadn’t felt that we’d actually nailed the story yet,” he said. “It went through a lot of different revisions to reach its final form with Trace and Rafa. And that story arc was important because you have to frame Ahsoka’s story and her ultimate ending with what the world is like outside the one she knows. How is this Clone War affecting regular people? What’s the impact on that? And she needs that perspective in order to even consider going back into the world of the Jedi and the combat and the fighting because she has to understand what she’s fighting for and what she represents. She needs a point of view that’s not her own.”

"It helps frame what was underlying all the things that, frankly Barriss Offee was bringing up, and all the things that episode arc was bringing up. If you look at the episode arc where she leaves, there are protesters outside the Jedi Temple. Letta Turmond is saying that the Jedi aren’t what you think they are anymore. And so you’re actually getting that point of view shored up more."

Once all the side missions were over and done with, however, The Clone Wars served four of the best episodes in its history. “Then of course, really the whole exercise for me was about getting to do the Siege of Mandalore and the ending,” Filoni said.

But it could have gone in a different direction. Apparently, Filoni considered going with a new arc exploring how Maul got away from Dart Sidious. “I felt that that was going to be important, but I couldn’t fit it into the arcs and I didn’t want to jam it in there,” he said. “And we had done it as a comic book release, and I was really appreciative of Dark Horse for doing that. So I thought, ‘Well, the information is out there for people that want to do that deep dive.’ I just have to tell the story in a way that explains who he is and that he’s loose. And I actually added him to the Trace and Rafa arc. He was not a part of that in its original inception. In its original version neither Bo-Katan nor Maul appeared in that arc, which I think people would find a little surprising.”

"But again stories evolve, and they change, and you figure out what their form is. And the thing that I can definitely say is that because some time went by, because I learned a lot more and my team learned a lot more—we learned so much making Star Wars Rebels, making Star Wars Resistance and my additional knowledge gained on The Mandalorian—The Clone Wars benefited from all of that and was a much better show at the end for it. And I do see the Siege of Mandalore as my final statement with the team on our work for the past 15 years."

In the final two episodes of the series, Ahsoka and the clone trooper Captain Rex have to fight their way free of an entire ship full of clones who are carrying out Emperor Palpatine’s infamous Order 66 to kill all Jedi; Rex is only able to resist the command because his brain chip has been removed. Filoni didn’t want to show Ahsoka mowing down clones that were heroes of the story up to that point. He reasoned that she would care too much about them to hurt them.

“The idea that Ahsoka could be very blunt about things and say, ‘Well now they’re trying to kill me so I should cut them down,’ doesn’t really work for me,” Filoni said. “I thought it wouldn’t work for her. It’s about not compromising her value of who she is.”

"For these clones, it’s about understanding that they are in a situation where they don’t have free will. I tried through every method possible, visually, musically, color-wise to show that they became somebody else. The going sentiment in the Republic is that they ended up at war and their civilization was threatened because they were weak, because Valorum was weak, because they didn’t have a standing army."

I’m glad Filoni talked through Ahsoka’s state of mind during the Order 66 ordeal, because it clarifies things. Indeed, Ahsoka would never indiscriminately killing the same clones she fought shoulder to shoulder with against the Separatists, no matter what they were doing.

Filoni also gave his take on the in-world politics of the situation, and doesn’t spare the Jedi their part of the blame for what happened. “The Jedi get framed, of course, for starting an army. But one thing that the people largely come out of it thinking is that the Republic needs to work from strength. That’s why democracy dies to thunderous applause and they elect an emperor who they think will keep them safe.”

"So the clones are seen as people that are putting down an uprising by many people in the Republic. The Jedi are basically accused of staging a coup. To the clones, that’s believable to a degree because the evidence is there. I mean, what was Mace Windu going to do when he walked into the Chancellor’s office? At first, he goes to arrest him and then he decides he’s going to kill him. So they’re in a really compromised situation."

A key part of Palpatine’s plan involved the seduction of Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. Anakin’s problem was always that he was unwilling to give up his attachment to others, something you’re supposed to do if you’re a Jedi. He was, in fact, very attached to Ahsoka, whom he trained in the Jedi way. When scripting their final interaction, Filoni wanted to highlight that Anakin was still yearning for the sisterly bond he shared with her, so he had him give Ahsoka the two lightsabers he crafted, along with command of his 501st legion.

“The way I wrote that, and I didn’t know how people would feel about it, but a lot of when I write Star Wars, I’ve tried to relate it to everyday life and experiences you have growing up,” Filoni said. “Taking away all the big politics and things going on in the Clone War, and the Jedi, and the Sith, and the dark side, and light side, it’s just simply to me that Ahsoka’s a person that had a big falling out with her friends before she left school for summer. And her best friend, her older brother is like, ‘Well I get why you’re angry at the group, but I’m still part of the group. It’s not difficult for me.’ And she’s like, ‘That’s fine, I’m just doing my own thing.’ And so she goes off all summer. She’s got [a] different job, and she runs with a different crowd, and she learns a lot of different things across the tracks that she maybe wasn’t aware of where she was living.”

CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 14: Dave Filoni during the Star Wars Celebration at McCormick Place Convention Center on April 14, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images)

So when Ahsoka agreed to help Bo-Katan defeat Maul on Mandalore as a representative of the Jedi, she was showing off her maturity. “She’s actually trying to signal to him: things are different, like I respect you, but things just aren’t going to be the same. Where Anakin is just driven that things are going to be the same. [He thinks] with any luck, this will all be over, and everything will be back.” Not so much.

But we can at least partly understand why he felt that way, because when they were together, Anakin and Ahsoka were a great match, with lots of hilarious back and forth between them. Filoni wanted to make sure he included some of that before they parted for the last time.

“I had it written differently at the end, the last thing she says to him,” Filoni said. “She used to tell him not to change. I felt that was just too leading. It didn’t feel real to me because it’s like implying that she knows he might change, which, I don’t think that’s what that is about. But since I gave them this little tit for tat instead, where he says, ‘With any luck, this will all be over soon.’ Then she, being his apprentice and being snippy with the comebacks as always, says, ‘Yeah, Obi-Wan says there’s no such thing as luck.’ That’s who they both are. They give each other a hard time, and they try to one up each other. He likes it, but he’s like, ‘It’s a good thing I taught you otherwise.’”

"Then as he’s walking away, she realizes, ‘I can’t leave today not giving him something.’ And I think in their relationship, she usually is the one that gives a little more room and he’s the one that’s a little bit—he’s the cockier older brother. But he was trying so hard to lean in when she’s back, he’s excited to see her. It’s obvious she’s a bit, ‘I’m a little more grown up.’ So that’s why she says good luck because it’s giving him a point. It’s saying, ‘No, I hear you too.’ It’s a more subtle way of doing it."

Of course, no discussion of the final episodes would be complete without a breakdown of Maul and Ahsoka’s epic confrontation. “He’s a person obsessed with power and the only way that he feels secure is to amass more power,” Filoni said of Maul. “He’ll make whatever alliance he needs to [in order] to benefit himself. Remember, fundamentally the dark side is always about the self and doing things to satisfy oneself, to control, to manipulate, to have greater power. Victory is seen only through strength. They conquer their fear by oppressing others.”

"And so Maul plays both sides of the coin because he learned well from Sidious, which is, ‘I’m going to tell you certain things that are true, but at the end of the day, I’m going to get what I want because you’re going to be afraid of what I tell you is the truth.’ And that’s what he’s hoping, that she’ll align with him for the goal of taking out Sidious. I believe that he would work with her to do that, but she can’t trust him at all for what the outcome of that would be—as she well knows."

Maul learned how to be a Sith from the most powerful and ruthless Dark Lord around, and so asking Ahsoka to join him in getting revenge on his enemies is very much in character. “That’s Palpatine, right, when he’s willing to trade out Vader for Luke. It really simply breaks down the dark side of the Force,” Filoni said.

By the sound of it, Filoni has put a lot of thought into just what the allure of the Dark Side is, and what distinguishes a Sith from a Jedi. “For me, it’s in you and your actions when you’re afraid, and when you do things to service yourself above other people, and when you have a lack of compassion. It’s not something that takes hold of you necessarily and grows inside you, it’s a way of belief and action that you adopt. And then because you do that, it gets harder and harder. Think about when you make a mistake and how hard it is for people to tell the truth or to apologize and you spiral out of control. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to do something terrible today.’ But sometimes you do and then it spirals out of control and it’s hard to get out of the situation. So you know, once you start down the dark path, forever will dominate your destiny.”

As far as what Rex felt when he had to choose Ahsoka over his brothers, the clones with chips still in their brains, Filoni said it goes back to something we learned during the Bad Batch run. Rex was suspicious that something was up all along, and he would have stumbled onto the truth sooner rather than later:

"I was working off of a really old idea that sometimes when you hear what the truth is, when you’re told the lie, it just doesn’t stick with you. And so Rex hearing what Fives had to say and then seeing that he had logged a report on Fives’ behalf saying, ‘I think there’s something going on here that we don’t know, and we don’t really understand yet.’ You know that at least Rex’s gears were working in the direction of, ‘There’s something wrong with us.’ So when something happens, he has the mental capacity maybe to fight it a little bit more than everybody else, even though he still succumbs to it in the end."

Finally, Filoni talked about getting the tone right for the final stretch of The Clone Wars, adamant that it remain more about Ahsoka than Anakin. “It has something tangential to do with him, but it’s not about him. It really has to be about Ahsoka and Rex and their point of view. Anakin’s story is told. That was George. That’s what he did in Revenge of the Sith. So I don’t have to worry about that, but I can tell the story that needs to be told related to her. And so I had to be careful when it got to the ending that, you know, it’s not this distraught thing about her and is she thinking about Anakin and what happened to him.”

I think it all broke the right way,” Filoni concluded. “It was a thrill to work with everybody again and see everybody that had been there since the beginning.”

I don’t know what the future of Star Wars animation holds, but I’m happy Dave Filoni is involved. The Clone Wars went out as one of the all-time greatest Star Wars stories of all time, and I already miss it.

Next. WiC Watches: Season 7 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. dark

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