Interview: Simon Kinberg, Star Wars Rebels Executive Producer – Part 3

In the final installment of StarWars.com’s interview with Simon Kinberg on Star Wars Rebels and its premiere episode, “Spark of Rebellion,” which he wrote, the show’s executive producer discusses Kanan’s new-form lightsaber, the state of the Force in the show, and what it’s like to see real-life versions of animated characters you helped create. (In case you missed them, be sure to read parts one and two of this interview.)

StarWars.com: A lightsaber that disassembles is maybe the coolest thing ever.

Simon Kinberg: [Laughs] Yeah.

StarWars.com: Where did that idea come from?

Simon Kinberg: If I remember right — you know it’s so hard to know which idea came from who, because it really has been a group effort — I know that the notion of a lightsaber that disassembles was a lightsaber that one could wear in disguise. That in a world post-Order 66, where being a Jedi is having a death sentence hanging over you, how do you carry a lightsaber in a relatively concealed manner? That was part of it. The other part of it was more character-based and what it says about Kanan: that he struggles with his identity as a Jedi. Partly because of what happened in the past around Order 66, and then partly because he never got a chance to fully see through his education as a Jedi. So, from a character perspective, it seemed like, what’s a way that we can express that he is not a sort of complete Jedi? And breaking down his lightsaber seemed like a neat way to do that.

StarWars.com: That’s really interesting. Like you say, if you look at the timeline, he would have been a Padawan during Order 66. So, it’s a strange dynamic, that he didn’t finish his training and now he’s taking on an apprentice.

Simon Kinberg: Well, it’s something we really explore a lot on the show. The legacy of that moment in his life, the fact that he didn’t finish his education, and what it means to be a Master who himself still has a lot to learn. And in a way, Ezra becomes an opportunity for him to teach, but also an opportunity for him to complete his learning. Ezra forces and challenges things for Kanan that he would maybe have not had to explore, if not for this new Padawan coming in to his life. So, it’s a huge part of the show, and it’s a big part of Kanan’s identity.

Kanan assembles his lightsaber in Star Wars Rebels

StarWars.com: What is your approach to the Force? It seems more in line with the original movies, where it’s a little more subtle and there aren’t massive displays of power.

Simon Kinberg: I think that the way we use the Force [Laughs], let’s say, is reminiscent of the original trilogy. I think it’s a moment in time where there’s been a great disturbance, and Force wielders are either being hunted or, to some extent, are hunting. It’s not a peaceful time. So, there is an impact on the world on the distribution of the Force. And then we certainly wanted, for Ezra especially, since the show is being told through his eyes, to show a very organic evolution into discovering one’s Force abilities, and then developing them.

StarWars.com: The shootouts are on a smaller scale. A lot of times it’s Kanan hiding behind something, blasting at two stormtroopers. In a way, that smaller scale makes it feel maybe more dangerous or more personal. Was that a storytelling choice that you and the team made?

Simon Kinberg: Well, I do think that there is an impulse to try and make the action as intimate as possible in order to make the jeopardy feel very real and immediate to Ezra, more than any other character. That’s especially true in the first episodes, because you’re entering this world with this guy who isn’t used to this scope and scale of action. So you want to slowly open the door with him. Part of what works so well in any of our favorite action movies is when the action feels a little stripped down and a little grittier, because it just feels more immediate and you’re inside it more. And it allows you, as a filmmaker, to see the battle from inside it. Rather than having to pull back to see the full scale of armies colliding, you’re inside, you’re feeling every shot. The shots count. With the action, I would say, that’s really the purview of [executive producer] Dave Filoni and the other artists. I kind of write, “They battle in the hallway,” and they render it. But yeah, like everything on the show, the general directive is to feel grounded and real wherever possible.

StarWars.com: The last Star Wars we had, which was the prequels and The Clone Wars, were much larger in scale. And Rebels really does make the action much more grounded.

Simon Kinberg: Well, that’s the story we’re telling. The story of Revenge of the Sith was a much bigger story. Ours is in the title. It’s the spark, it’s the origin, of the Rebel Alliance. The movement is grass-roots. It doesn’t have the same amount of resources. It really is just a few Minutemen starting what will eventually become the American Revolution. But you’re with this equivalent of farmers who are building an army; you’re not on the other side of having built the army. And that’s a big difference between the last prequel and the show, is that the stories we’re telling are just different. We’re not in full-scale war in Rebels, we’re not even in a full-scale rebellion. We’re at the very beginnings of just four or five people trying to spark more, help some people, and make a tiny dent in the Empire.

StarWars.com: One thing I noticed is that the show embraces all of Star Wars. The stated goal has been to channel the spirit of A New Hope, but there are obvious references to things that happened in The Clone Wars and the prequels.

Simon Kinberg: I think you’re right. From the beginning, the thing that we knew first was that it was going to take place between the prequels and the original trilogy. Once you make that decision, you’re on a timeline that has to reference both. It has to be informed by the prequels and it has to feed into the original trilogy. So, while it maybe leans more toward the original trilogy in tone and feel and look, which makes sense as it’s closer to the original films on the timeline and it’s really about the beginning of the Rebellion, Dave Filoni and a lot of the writing staff are folks who worked on Clone Wars and worked really closely with George [Lucas] for the last 10 years. So, the prequels were a really big part of their vocabulary, and so it is something that we absolutely connect with and reference on the show, and we’re always conscious of how stories we’re telling or characters we’re introducing link backwards and forwards. Because so much of our audience will be a younger audience, for some of them it’s the first time they’ve experienced Star Wars, for many of them, their most resonant experience was with the prequels. So, we wouldn’t want to ignore any of that.

Ezra opens a Jedi holocron

StarWars.com: I really liked that “Spark of Rebellion” had a lot of quiet moments to it. There’s one scene where Ezra is aboard the Ghost. They leave him alone and they’re kind of testing him, and Kanan says to Hera, “Now, we’ll see.” There’s just a nice, quiet beat there. How do you approach getting moments like that into the show?

Simon Kinberg: Well, thanks for noticing. One of the things that Dave Filoni was very conscious of was having scenes where there’s no music. I think a big tendency with animated shows, or anything for kids, is to fill it wall to wall with music. Driving, pounding music, even in quiet scenes, and [an inclination] to make things for the new generation a little bit manic in their energy. And that isn’t the essence of Star Wars. When I was a kid, I remember how real the movies felt because of their pauses and the quietness. I think it also creates a sense of mythos, as well. I think things need to breathe to feel really mythic. So, it’s something we’re all very aware of, and Dave, as he’s directing and editing and designing the shows, it’s a big thing for him. It’s something we talked about, actually. We were all meeting recently, and it’s something he repeats a lot, which is finding those quiet, mystical, mythic moments.

It also makes it cinematic. It’s an interesting thing. On good movies, they have the confidence to let the characters talk and think without having to indicate to the audience, with too much music or sound, the way the audience is meant to feel. The audience is allowed to sit with the characters, and so I actually think there’s a greater identification between the viewer and the character when there’s less getting in the way.

StarWars.com: How has it been working on the show since finishing “Spark of Rebellion?”

Simon Kinberg: We sort of never stopped working on the show. [Laughs] I mean, I was writing second drafts of the initial episodes as we were writing outlines for the next episodes, premises for the ones after that. It never stops in TV, which is what I’m learning. It’s just been one long process since the first moments we started talking about it, to building our bible, to [writing] first drafts. It just keeps building.

The thing that was really lovely this summer was showing “Spark of Rebellion” at [San Diego] Comic-Con. We really didn’t know [how people would like it]. Anything you work on, sometimes you think it’s good, sometimes you think it’s not as good. You always hope people are going to like it. With Star Wars, you know that there are a lot of [hardcore fans] who want things a certain way and you want to satisfy them, but you also want to create something new and original. So, going into Comic-Con, I was very nervous. As nervous as I’ve ever been showing work to an audience. I think the largely universal positive response that people had to it at Comic-Con, where you have, in some ways, the most critical and expert audience, really buoyed us. We feel really gratified by it, and inspired by it, and challenged by it. When you’ve been working on something for a year of your life, you want to get a shot in the arm, and that really gave it to us.

StarWars.com: What was it like watching it with an audience?

Simon Kinberg: It was the first time I’d seen it with an audience and it was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen. It was terrifying, and then exciting, and once people laughed where they were supposed to laugh and cheer where they were supposed to cheer, I sat back a little bit in my chair and exhaled. But it was a really exciting Comic-Con in general. I mean, I knew we were making a new chapter in Star Wars canon, which is, as I said, akin to the Bible. But you’re never really prepared for how interested people are going to be. So, being at Comic-Con, feeling that energy was awesome.

There’s a family that has been dressing up as the Ghost crew, and they are awesome. They couldn’t look more like the crew. It’s eerie how good they are, and they were sitting in the front row at the fan screening. We all we went up there to introduce the movie and thank people for coming, and you’re standing up there about to show something that was just a slight inkling in your mind however many few months before. Not only is it surreal that you’re showing it, but now you’re staring at people who look like live-action versions of these animated characters that we all created. That was a little surreal, to put it mildly, and super cool. I’m not sure I’ll ever have that experience ever again.

StarWars.com: What do you hope fans get out of “Spark of Rebellion?”

Simon Kinberg: I hope they get a sense of the tone, and voice, and vibe of the show. Feeling like it has the adventure, and the fun, and the humanity of many of our favorite films, but certainly the original Star Wars movies that we experienced as kids. And, you know, I still go back to something that’s separate from just Star Wars: I hope they fall in love with these characters. One of the most ambitious things about Rebels is that it’s not focused on established Star Wars characters. The five main characters are brand new, so we’re competing with some of the greatest characters ever created. Luke, Leia, Han, and Anakin, they’re great characters. We’re telling new stories about characters in their world. I really hope that what they take away from these first few episodes, beyond just loving Star Wars, is that they love these specific characters. And that kids want to be Ezra, and look up to Kanan, and fear and are amused by Zeb. All the things that we experienced when we watched Star Wars movies for those various characters, I want an audience to feel for these new ones.

StarWars.com: Well, I love Chopper. I might identify with him more than anyone else.

Simon Kinberg: [Laughs] You and my kids. My kids are certainly big Chopper fans.

StarWars.com: I know it’s early to ask this question, but if you hope that Star Wars Rebels leaves some kind of legacy on Star Wars, what would that be?

Simon Kinberg: Well, the greatest thing that you could hope for new Star Wars stories is that they stand alongside the Star Wars canon that exists, because it is so strong, and George Lucas did such an incredible job of creating arguably the greatest story of the last century, at the least. I just want that when you tell the story of Star Wars to your kids or your grandkids, our rebel crew is part of that story.

Star Wars Rebels - the crew of the Ghost

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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