On the Comlink: The Legacy of Lucasfilm Animation

With Star Wars: The Bad Batch coming in for a landing, four StarWars.com writers sit down to talk about the animated series and shorts that have come before it.

On the Comlink is a feature in which StarWars.com writers hop on a call (virtual or old fashioned) and discuss a specific Star Wars topic. In this installment to celebrate the new trailer for Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Dan Brooks, Kristin Baver, Amy Ratcliffe, and Lucas Seastrom talk about the legacy of Lucasfilm animation, from George Lucas’s first short to The Star Wars Holiday Special segment that introduced Boba Fett, the 2-D Clone Wars microseries and the epic seven season run of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and beyond.

Dan Brooks: We’re here to talk about the legacy of Star Wars animation. I wanted to start at the beginning because I think that when we talk about Star Wars animation and understanding animation’s role in Star Wars and Lucasfilm, it’s important to understand where it begins. And I think it really begins with George Lucas. So I’m going to call on our own Lucas — Lucas Seastrom — who’s kind of our resident historian. Lucas, can you talk about what you know of George Lucas’s interest in animation, and how that might have led to Lucasfilm and Star Wars getting into animated series and animated storytelling?

Lucas Seastrom: Sure, well, hello everyone. Thank you very much for including me, it’s nice to see all of you and to talk about Star Wars a little bit and animation. At different times throughout his career, George has spoken to that interest and it manifests itself in different ways and…I should say George Lucas, of course, because he’s not a personal acquaintance of mine. The first movie that we know of that George Lucas made was an animated film. It was a one-minute short called “Look at Life.” That was his first student project at the University of Southern California in 1965 using clip art from Look and Life magazines. He was already beginning to explore dynamic camera movements and editing techniques and even socio-political themes. It goes all the way back to USC. Continuing from that, of course, there was a visual effects animation and rotoscope department at Industrial Light & Magic on Star Wars: A New Hope. That was set up by Adam Beckett. And then Larry Cuba was doing computer animation for the Death Star plans. Both Beckett and Cuba were California Institute of the Arts alumni, which if you’re interested in Disney animation, Cal Arts is important for that as well.

Boba Fett in The Star Wars Holiday Special.

As far as traditional hand-drawn cel animation is concerned, the first major example is from The Star Wars Holiday Special. There was this plan for a short sequence within the Special, which aired in November of 1978. The understanding that I have is that George Lucas had seen a television special called A Cosmic Christmas that had aired in 1977 and was made by a studio called Nelvana in Toronto, Canada. It was decided that Nelvana Studios would produce this 10-minute animated short, The Story of the Faithful Wookiee, as it’s now referred to, which also saw the debut of Boba Fett.

Dan Brooks: That’s perfect because I wanted to get into The Holiday Special. I think we can all agree that that animated sequence is the highlight of The Holiday Special from a qualitative point of view.

[Everyone agrees.]

Kristin Baver: Although there are other highlights with Bea Arthur’s Cantina Song and Jefferson Starship or, at least I think they were Jefferson Starship at that point?

Dan Brooks: Oh yeah. Jefferson Starship at that point.

Kristin Baver: Yeah. The entire Wookiee cooking sequence, you know, there’s a lot of high points for me, but the animation is definitely a standout moment.

A scene from Ewoks

Dan Brooks: Yeah. The Holiday Special is really…the animated sequence within that was kind of the first real Star Wars animation. So Lucasfilm is now in animation, to a degree, but then as far as I know, Droids and Ewoks were what came next. I have to be honest, this is like my moment of Luke’s, “I have no memory of my mother.” I have no memory of Droids and Ewoks when I was a kid. Did anybody grow up watching Droids and Ewoks, or aware of them?

[Lucas raises his hand.]

Amy Ratcliffe: I haven’t seen them.

Kristin Baver: Do we know what years they aired? Lucas?

Lucas Seastrom: Droids and Ewoks would be the next Star Wars animation. Lucasfilm also co-produced Twice Upon a Time in 1983, which was our first animated feature. And the Computer Division’s graphics group made The Adventures of André and Wally B. in 1984 using their new image computer called the “Pixar.”

Droids and Ewoks were similar to The Holiday Special in that we didn’t have an animation team within Lucasfilm making it. We were collaborating with an outside group. It was a part of the strategy for a post-Return of the Jedi world for Star Wars. It was the era of Saturday morning animation on television. Droids and Ewoks first premiered together in 1985 and only Ewoks got picked up for a second season in ’86. There was a licensing program that was involved with it, but one of the coolest things about it is that Nelvana Studios produced it. That was the same group — or at least some of the same group – from seven years earlier in Toronto that had made the sequence in The Holiday Special. The visual styles were quite different, but there was that consistency there.

Dan Brooks: We’re moving forward in the timeline and before we kind of get into The Clone Wars and the real birth of Lucasfilm Animation, there was a significant release with Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars cartoon, which I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about because I love it. It’s some of my favorite Star Wars storytelling.

And it will have just arrived on Disney+ when this article comes out. I think people will discover it, which is important because it set up a lot of things that maybe we saw later [in other Star Wars stories]. But it’s also just visually beautiful and really creative.

Amy Ratcliffe: I discovered it long after it came out and I managed to find the DVDs when they were still a little more widely available. It’s stylistically beautiful. It’s very bold. It almost leans into that cell style. And the thing I like most about it is the sparing use of dialogue, which is very much a Tartakovsky thing. It’s very bombastic and over-the-top as far as like Mace Windu just basically has superpowers. And it was so cool to see him that way. But I was really taken in by the power of the visual and that very minimal dialogue was needed to sell that story.

Dan Brooks: What I really love about it is that it feels to me like it’s someone else’s interpretation of Star Wars, but it still feels very much true to the spirit of it. But the energy is very uniquely Tartakovsky.

Kristin Baver: I will admit I have not seen it in full. I’m excited to see it in full when it comes to Disney+ , but one of the things that strikes me about it from the snippets I have seen and from what I know of it, is it that even though the animation style is vastly different from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars that Dave Filoni brought to life starting in 2008…I love that it does have some through lines. It introduced us to Asajj Ventress and then we really got to know her in the contemporary incarnation of The Clone Wars. But it’s your first hint at a new character like that. And it really did start to expand upon what this period between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith really was like. And I feel like that’s so important because from the time it’s kind of mentioned almost offhandedly in A New Hope to the point where the prequels were done, I still feel like the films — they don’t gloss over the Clone Wars as much as there’s just not enough time to give you a sense of what that conflict was really like.

Dan Brooks: They’re sort of focused on the character drama. The war part of it is happening in the background, really.

Kristin Baver: Yeah, yeah. It’s more like an aside, especially, I mean, in Attack of the Clones, the war has just broken out at the very, very end. But even in Revenge of the Sith, it’s taking place over just a couple of days, and they’re really just the downfall of Anakin Skywalker days. You’re so laser-focused on what’s happening in that corner of this vast galaxy that you are missing a lot of the components of what drove it to this point. So I’m so glad that animation kind of picked up that ball and ran with it and gave us both of those series to explore from two different points of view.

Lucas Seastrom: In the context of when the micro-series, as it was known then, first came out – those were the days when we still had to wait three years for a new Star Wars feature and the micro-series episodes were only a minute long or so during the first season. And I’d just be waiting, sitting through everything else on Cartoon Network – not that it was bad; there was a lot of good stuff – but waiting and waiting for Friday night and then you get 90 seconds. It was brilliant in the sense that it just brought you to the edge of your seat and you wanted more and you were so excited for the next week. It was wonderfully excruciating because it was so limited in its presentation.

A scene from "Ambush"

Dan Brooks: Yeah. I just love them. And I love that we’re letting a new audience find them.

But that leads to 2008, really, or the formation of Lucasfilm Animation, where we’re really doing it in-house and launching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is really the sea change, I think, in terms of Lucasfilm’s approach to animation and animated storytelling.

Amy, I wanted to start with you because from what I remember, Star Wars: The Clone Wars meant a lot to you and means a lot to you.

Amy Ratcliffe: Absolutely, I referred to it as my Star Wars because even though I had seen Star Wars before the Clone Wars, this is what made me really care and really kind of enter the fandom and do that deep dive where you just revisit everything and see it in a new way. I think I just stumbled upon it on Cartoon Network…it was the right place, right time looking at that little cable TV guide on the bottom of your screen. And it was pretty early on and immediately getting to see, to Kristin’s point, actually, some of this war that was referred to and you kind of see in the background in Revenge of the Sith, but we know it went on for years. And getting to see the Jedi’s role and then ultimately understanding the really, in my opinion, terrible choice they made to join the war, but that they didn’t really have much of a choice. Seeing Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship, which again was teased in the prequels, but just really had time to luxuriate — all their bonds and their jabs at each other.

And Ahsoka. To come into this and see a young female character right there alongside Anakin and Obi-Wan, who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind — I kind of related to that and watching her grow, I felt like in [some] ways I grew up with her, but in my fandom, as she grew up in the show and matured.

Sinking into that time period and those relationships, that’s what really got me, and then the animation is just beautiful. Getting to visit so many new worlds on a weekly episodic basis. It’s the Star Wars I revisit the most, still.

[Amy’s cat, Ahsoka, walks into frame.]

A scene from "Bounty Hunters."

Dan Brooks: Yeah, I think there are so many ways that Star Wars: The Clone Wars really impacted Star Wars and Lucasfilm. What really impressed me about Clone Wars is how it felt almost like it reverse-engineered Star Wars. Like, I always saw Star Wars as this genre mash up. It was monster movies, Samurai movies, Westerns, thrown into one. And then Clone Wars would pick those bits out and tell complete stories. You know, “The Bounty Hunters” episode was like Seven Samurai in Star Wars. That impressed me so much.

It’s important to say that George Lucas was really involved in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and he mentored Dave Filoni throughout it. So you’re getting the [largest number of] Star Wars stories from George Lucas that you have in all of Star Wars, right? And I think he was using it as a way to see like, “Well, what else can I do with Star Wars?” It’s kind of amazing to sit back and see how different it is episode to episode.

What do you all think in terms of the impact it had on Star Wars or the chances it took?

The Clone Wars - Anakin and Ahsoka

Lucas Seastrom: Well, the biggest impact that has already been introduced is one character: Ahsoka. She’s gone on and appeared in other shows and is going to have her own show. Really, that’s what drives good television: characters. And so from Ahsoka down, the show either would expand on existing characters — give you more Anakin, give you more Obi-Wan, give you more Yoda and Padmé and Windu and all of them — but also give you time with lots of new characters that have taken on lives of their own. The fact that Hondo Ohnaka can end up in a theme park attraction is another kind of example of this great legacy. So I’d go back to the characters and I also like that consistency, thinking that The Holiday Special introduced us to Boba Fett and even Genndy introduced us to General Grievous. That’s one of the biggest legacies of The Clone Wars, is the lives of these characters throughout the rest of Star Wars.

Kristin Baver: One of the other legacies of that series for me is that it gave the clones identity and individuality in a way that made me, as a fan and viewer, care about them in a far different way than I had previous to watching this series. And I think that’s a really important and powerful thing, because when you see the clones in the movies, at least for me, I couldn’t tell the difference between them. They were clones, you know, they were all kind of blending in the background. I felt the same way about them pretty much as I felt about the B1 battle droids, even though they’re organic. And then you get to the animated series and all of a sudden different clones are getting story arcs. You’re seeing them blossom as these individual characters where they’re trying to differentiate themselves with the way they do their hair, or the tattoos that they get, or the way that they paint and style their armor. And it kind of opens something that, I guess, I hadn’t realized that I had almost a bias against the clone army in the films. And the animated series kind of forced me to reconcile with that and see that these are individual people and they have identities. They have very different personalities from one another. Just because they’re clones doesn’t mean that they’re all just one person. And I think that’s a really important thing just in terms of themes and messaging for kids and adults to see through the animated series.

Amy Ratcliffe: I’d like to add, I agree with the characters, especially obviously, Ahsoka, which — that’s my cat’s name and she’s like, “Are you talking? I heard you say Ahsoka.”

Kristin Baver: Was that Ahsoka who showed up?

Amy Ratcliffe: Yes.

Kristin Baver: Yeah!

Dan Brooks: That’s probably why.

Amy Ratcliffe: She’s like, “I’ve been summoned.”

A scene from "Overlords."

But to your point, Dan, about the different genres they were able to do, I just felt like Clone Wars… having that episodic format, and especially in the earlier years when George was — my close, personal friend, George — was like, “Here I am funding this; I will tell stories I want to tell.” It got to be experimental, so we had the episode with the brain worms that was like straight-up horror. And especially in the later seasons, they started going on three-to-four episode arcs. I watch some animation and the animation, especially in the world of Marvel or DC, is often episodic and that doesn’t continue. Like there’s this episode about Mr. Freeze and the next episode is about something entirely different. So I liked having those arcs and the excitement of, “Tune in next week to see what happens.” Just taking the time to explore Mortis and kind of go off on these tangents that maybe wouldn’t show up in the film. But when you have 22 episodes a season, you can take risks. You can try new things. You can explore corners of the galaxy, weird as they may be, that you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to.

Kristin Baver: When you said brain worms that reminded me that I love when Star Wars gets weird. You have those pockets of it in the films where you enter the cantina and you enter Jabba’s Palace and it’s just this bizarre, wonderful conglomeration of all of these aliens meeting together. But you also saw that a lot in the animated series. The brain worms was a good one. The Nightsisters’ zombie army is terrifying, but also pretty weird. But the one that I love the most is the Sy Snootles/Ziro the Hutt love story, which gave us the line, “from the bottom of my fluid sack.” It’s just…

Amy Ratcliffe: So good, so good.

[Everyone laughs.]

Kristin Baver: It’s so good!

Dan Brooks: I can picture the writer smiling as they type that one into the computer.

Amy, to go back to your point, I think it’s really impressive because it did two things. It broadened our understanding of the galaxy on a large scale. Things like what are all the different kinds of planets and how they could all react to war, and all these different cultures. But at the same time, it did what the movies do. It did focus on the personal relationships, as well, and really deepened a lot of those. And the fact that it was able to do both of those things… Like, what is life like on Coruscant? Now we know. But also, what did Obi-Wan know about Anakin and Padmé? We have more of an understanding of that, too. So I just think it’s an incredible accomplishment…

Obi-Wan and Satine

Kristin Baver: And Obi-Wan and Satine!

Dan Brooks: And Obi-Wan and Satine.

Amy Ratcliffe: Yes!

Dan Brooks: Also, we do have to take a moment to just recognize Dave Filoni and his massive influence. And I think a lot of what Star Wars is now and where it’s going stems from his work on The Clone Wars. So much of The Clone Wars is in The Mandalorian. Obviously, there’s The Bad Batch, which we’ll get to. It starts with Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Favorite episodes? Lucas, why don’t you go first.

A scene from "Lightsaber Lost."

Lucas Seastrom: Lightsaber Lost,” which Kristin knows about…

Kristin Baver: I thought you were going to say that!

Lucas Seastrom:Because I nagged her for two years to write an article about it. I mean, I love just about every episode in the whole series, but I especially love a lot of the one-act stories, the self-contained episodes. And “Lightsaber Lost” is great because you get to see Ahsoka without Anakin. It’s one of the earliest times you get that opportunity to see how she is interacting with other people. And then there’s another great opportunity for a brand new character in Tera Sinube. I just love the dynamic between those two characters. And it’s a good little fable about learning humility.

Dan Brooks: Yeah, for sure. And it shows that she’s growing up, right? She’s going to make mistakes, which I think is important.

Kristin Baver: I feel like I know what all three of you are going to say for this, and I’m curious if I’m right.

Amy Ratcliffe: Picking a favorite is hard, even when there are arcs where you can technically be like, “All four of those are the same story and they’re my favorite.”

Dan Brooks: I’ll allow an arc.

The Nightsisters and Mother Talzin in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Amy Ratcliffe: You’ll allow an arc? OK. Very good. Just because I was revisiting it recently — which usually determines what is my favorite — the Nightsisters arc in the middle of Season 3. Just the concept of getting to know the Nightsisters…and especially Mother Talzin and kind of seeing basically space witches, which is really cool because we see the Force and it’s something different.

The design is just very Gothic horror-like, which I appreciate, and the costumes and their skills, but seeing Mother Talzin come in because she’s not immediately introduced as a villain, but you’re like, “I don’t think this is a place that’s entirely on the up-and-up doing good things for the galaxy,”

Kristin Baver: Something seems a little bit off about her, maybe.

Amy Ratcliffe: A little bit! And that’s not even including the arc that Ventress starts to go on where we learn about her history. She was a character I really enjoyed at that point, [but] it was like a turning point where she became one of my favorite characters of The Clone Wars because she just has to figure some things out.

Dan Brooks: Kristin?

Kristin Baver: Can we choose from Season 7 or are we going to talk about the revival separately?

Dan Brooks: Anything.

Rex and Ahsoka in "Shattered"

Kristin Baver: Ok. Hmm. It’s hard because I love trash-panda-garbage-spider-legs Maul a lot and that whole episode, but I think after Season 7, I have to say  the Siege of Mandalore arc now. It’s so powerful on its own in terms of storytelling, but also  it benefited from the evolution of what you can do with technology in terms of animation. The animation style is just a little bit smoother than when The Clone Wars first started out in 2008. But also just the way that arc wrecks me every time emotionally and changed how I felt about watching Revenge of the Sith.

Both of those things are something that you do get out of a lot of different Clone Wars arcs. But for that one in particular, every time Rex cries, I know I’m going to cry. And every time Ahsoka feels Anakin slipping toward the dark side, I find myself wondering, “Could she have saved him if she had actually gotten a chance to get her message to him instead of just leaving things with Obi-Wan?” So just the way that it’s captured so beautifully in animation, but also alters storytelling that I thought I knew really well before that. How about you, Dan?

Dan Brooks: Well. I’m going to pick two, ok, because if I’m allowed…

Kristin Baver: Wait, wait, wait! We’re allowed to pick two?

Dan Brooks: Oh, you know what? Since I’m moderating, I’m going to do a late rule change and give myself two picks. So…

Kristin Baver: The judges will allow it apparently. Because you’re the judges.

Dan Brooks: Well, first, I’ll just say the Siege of Mandalore arc was going to be one of my picks. I think you said it really well. It’s just incredible. It’s some of the best Star Wars in any form. It’s so good. It’s really the culmination of everything from Ahsoka’s journey and everything else that was going on.

R2-D2 scanning Abafar

My real favorite, which is well documented — I think one of the first editorials I ever wrote on StarWars.com was about a “A Sunny Day in the Void.”

Kristin Baver: I knew it!

Dan Brooks: I just love it. You mentioned earlier, you like when Star Wars gets weird and to me, this is peak Star Wars weirdness. It’s a story about a tiny green alien leading a team of droids on a secret mission. They end up on this planet called Abafar, which is a void world, and they spend the whole episode lost in the desert. And Gascon, who is the leader of the mission, the little alien, he loses his mind and he cackles like Daffy Duck. I just think it’s hilarious and strange and it’s, you know, for what was considered a kid’s show, I think it’s so bold and daring in that way. And I just love it. And also, might I add, I’m proud to say George Lucas said it was his favorite episode.

Amy Ratcliffe: You’re in good company.

Kristin Baver: Dan, you used the phrase “for a kid’s show,” and I was a little bit late to The Clone Wars because when it was first rolling out, I was already an adult. I thought, “Oh, OK. That’s for the next generation of Star Wars fans. It’s animation. I don’t need to watch that. That’s not necessarily geared towards me.” And there are so many times when, first of all, that’s 100 percent wrong because Star Wars is kid-friendly, but obviously for all ages. But it also really surprised me when I started to get into it that there were some really dark episodes and some really heart wrenching moments that I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a show that is ostensibly “a kid’s show.”

Dan Brooks: I think it also ages up, you know? My son Jack just watched The Clone Wars movie. He’s seen it a couple of times and it’s honestly the one Star Wars movie that I’m really comfortable putting on for him, more than the live-action stuff, because he’s five and it’s got just the right amount of action and adventure. It’s really not scary in the ways that the intense live-action stuff can be.

But I think if he started watching it now, on the release schedule that the show was on right when it aired, by the time he was eight or nine, he’d be able to handle those more intense episodes.

Kristin Baver: That’s a really good point.

Dan Brooks: Yeah, I think that’s why it hit that generation of kids so strongly because they did grow up with it and it grew up with them.

[Lucas emphatically nods.]

Kristin Baver: Lucas is emphatically nodding. I feel like we can’t transcribe that, but I love it.

Dan Brooks: Well, now that you said it, yeah.

Kristin Baver: We’ll transcribe it now because I said it. “And then Lucas nodded.”

Star Wars Rebels - the Ghost crew

Dan Brooks: So then the next big production from Lucasfilm in animation was Star Wars Rebels, of course, which followed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which also had a great impact on fandom and Star Wars storytelling. I guess a blanket question: When you look back on Star Wars Rebels, what do you think were its biggest successes in terms of Star Wars storytelling and adding to the saga at large?

Kristin Baver: Star Wars Rebels was actually my entry point into Star Wars animation. I had just started writing for Star Wars dot com in 2016. Of course, new episodes were coming out, and so I realized that I needed to become fluent in what the latest thing was very quickly. And I think I remember texting you, Dan, because I was tearing up in the first episode when that little Wookiee comes out and he’s in the binders. And I was like, “What’s happening? This is hitting me in a different way than I expected.” Because I just thought, “Oh, cool, it’s a cartoon. It’ll be fun. It’s got pretty animation.” And then I really felt that emotional weight of what all the citizens were up against in that time period. And then, of course, I went back and watched all The Clone Wars.

Dan Brooks: What do you think its biggest successes were?

Hera

Kristin Baver: Two words: Hera Syndulla. It brought us Hera. And she’s amazing. But I think my real answer is…In the same way that The Clone Wars gave you a better sense of what the actual turmoil of the world looked like from the front lines, Star Wars Rebels gave me a better understanding, as a fan, of what the Rebels were up against as they were building the Alliance.

And what Star Wars Rebels really did season to season to season was make you care about the Ghost crew and this little family that was trying their best to just make their corner of the galaxy better. And then they get hooked up with the Phoenix Squadron next and they become a part of this bigger Rebel cell. And then it just keeps growing and growing until they finally meet up with the larger movement and really become an integral part of it. And so just watching that progression…

Dan Brooks: Yeah.

Kristin Baver: I think that, for me, is the most important part of that series. It gives you a better understanding of the scope of what that looks like and how you build the Rebel Alliance really just from a bunch of different individuals who care, who meet up with other individuals who care who have a ship, who meet up with other ships full of individuals who care, and keep growing and growing until you finally have a movement that can take on the Empire.

Dan Brooks: I love how they showed that. I remember in “Spark of Rebellion,” the big climax was really just these small firefights, right? And you get so used to the big showdown being like, “We’ve got to send a fleet to destroy the thing!” And this was much more personal and intimate.

Kristin Baver: And also that mic drop moment where Kanan’s like, “I’ve gotta rebuild my lightsaber, I guess.”

Dan Brooks: It did get to [a grander scale] by the end, but it really took its time and you got to see, “This is how rebellions grow and are made.”

Kristin Baver: How they’re built on hope.

Dan Brooks: That they’re built on hope. Thank you, Jyn Erso.

Kristin Baver: You’re welcome.

Dan Brooks: Amy, what did you think of Star Wars Rebels?

Star Wars: Rebels

Amy Ratcliffe: You know, I admit I came to Star Wars Rebels, and I’ve said this before, with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because it wasn’t Clone Wars and I wasn’t ready for a new animated series. But of course, quickly — it certainly helped that a lot of the folks who worked on Clone Wars were working on Rebels — and they very quickly drew me in. I think one of the things that I adored most about the series — and one of its successes — is how it did focus on that little family and the concept of a found family.

It’s a concept, a trope that I really enjoy in fiction because the people who you choose to spend your time with, it’s your choice. You’re not just born with them and you’re not just putting up with them because you’re related. You’re making an active choice to go out on adventures. And for Ezra, especially, who was an orphan and got taken in by this crew and wasn’t really sure about it at first … I loved seeing, like, space mom and space dad, Hera and Kanan, wrangling their kids. You can see Zeb and Ezra kind of teasing each other in a brotherly way and Sabine giving Ezra a hard time.

You felt like a very motherly, nurturing feeling from Hera to Sabine and to the whole crew. And that only strengthened over the seasons. They really explored that and so by the end — not even by the end, any time anything happened to any of them, you’re like, “No, what’s it going to do to the family? Don’t break up my family!”

Chopper

Kristin Baver: Amy, I’m curious what family role do you assign to Chopper?

Amy Ratcliffe: He’s the cat.

Kristin Baver: Oh see, I was thinking he was like the cranky uncle. He’s like the Uncle Fester of the Ghost crew to me. But, yeah, he’s a cat. That checks out.

Amy Ratcliffe: Which I say with love. Cats are my favorite but…

Dan Brooks: Looking back, one thing I appreciate about the family dynamic is that — and I don’t think I realized it at the time — it really differentiates it from Clone Wars, which really didn’t have that. It wasn’t about that. So here you got a completely different feel in terms of the way the characters related with each other and how they kind of grew to understand each other through the course of the series. Lucas, what’s your take on Star Wars Rebels?

Lucas Seastrom: My first feeling when I think about Rebels is the exact same thing about going small, going intimate, staying with the group, and the fact that it’s an entirely original ensemble. I mean, other familiar characters come in and out of Rebels, but that Ghost crew is all brand new. Historically, the show is really significant in the sense that it was the first real thing we got — with the exception of publishing — after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm. The show aired over a year before The Force Awakens came out.

Dan Brooks: Mom and dad left us with this new babysitter.

Bendu

Lucas Seastrom: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it turned out it wasn’t a baby sitter, it was our friends at Lucasfilm Animation. And the key difference, though, which is something I might add, is that they were working without “The Maker” [George Lucas] there, without his explicit guidance. And one of the other things that evolved over time with Rebels is that it started to ask really important questions about what it means to be a Jedi, the light side and the dark side, and the dynamic of the Force. Characters like Bendu were really fascinating. The world between worlds is really bold. And you see Dave Filoni and the creative team on Rebels experimenting with the concepts of the Force and what a Jedi or Force wielder’s relationship to it can be. And that only became more important as the feature films and other Star Wars storytelling in the new era started to come in.

Dan Brooks: Yeah, it really went bold with “A World Between Worlds” and adding some major things to the lore, while it still felt to within the rules that had been set up since A New Hope.

Kristin Baver: And in our timeline, it was really important when it reintroduced Ahsoka and then snatched her way again, and then brought her back in the end. Because that was the only new Ahsoka content that we’d had since we saw her walk away from the Jedi Order at that point, at the end of Season 5 of The Clone Wars. So to know where that character who was so important to The Clone Wars kind of ended up and to add to that story. Now we have Season 7 of The Clone Wars and her story in The Mandalorian and the novel. But I think at the time — especially because I came into it backwards, since I came into Rebels first — I remember I watched the whole first season and I was like, “Ahsoka is important for some reason that the internet says, but I don’t get it fully.”

And then I went back and watched all The Clone Wars so I could really get that context . It was almost like my Ahsoka experience is like if you watch the original trilogy and then go back and see Anakin Skywalker’s fall. I experienced Ahsoka as she was later and then we went back to her 14-year-old days.

Dan Brooks: It’s like your own personal machete order.

Ahsoka in Forces of Destiny

Kristin Baver: It is! And [speaking of animation] we saw more of Ahsoka in Forces of Destiny. I think I remember writing about this on the site at the time — but I loved the way the animation style for that felt like a Saturday morning cartoon to me from my childhood. It just kind of teleported me back to that era but with all-new stories. And because they were shorts, it didn’t add these great big, sweeping pieces to the lore in the same way that Clone Wars and Rebels did, but it had these weird little corners of the universe that you could explore and occasionally would give you an answer, like, “Where did Leia get that Boushh costume from?”

Dan Brooks: Right.

Kristin Baver: It added to [the lore] but in really subtle and smaller ways than the big animation projects that we’re talking about.

Amy Ratcliffe: I would like to add two thoughts, two sentences about Forces of Destiny, which is that it does add to the little character moments. There’s an episode where Jyn herself helps a girl find her lost Tooka Cat and get it back from stormtroopers. And at the end she tells the little girl her real name. And it’s just like Jyn and all that she had going on, who was on the run, probably in trouble for something, she’s helping the girl. Those little moments are small but so impactful.

Dan Brooks: Yeah.

Amy Ratcliffe: Also cats.

Kristin Baver: And we got more Ketsu action in Forces of Destiny [as she’s] joining the Rebel Alliance and changing up the paint on her armor. So, yeah, I love those little character-driven moments and I just love that series.

Dan Brooks: I mean, I love how kid friendly it was. And I think that’s important to make things that are going to be kid-friendly and be available to kids in the ways that they absorb media today. And that felt very much like it was speaking to kids in a way that they’ll understand today.

Star Wars Resistance crew

So next came Star Wars Resistance. What I really enjoyed about it was that it was focused on the flying aspect of Star Wars, which felt new to me. And I think a common thread you see in all of these different series is that they’re all coming at it with a slightly different take. They might still have a Jedi in it or pilots and bounty hunters or whatever, but the focus is different enough that they’re all really unique stories. And Resistance had this new angle, which was really fun and literally made the show fast, which I liked. But it was also so bright and colorful. And, again, I think it was something that was attractive to kids, which I think is important. Lucas, you were here along with us during the making of Star Wars Resistance. What did you think about Star Wars Resistance?

Lucas Seastrom: Well, I got really excited as soon as Dave Filoni said it was a show based on The Right Stuff.

Dan Brooks: Ah, there you go.

Lucas Seastrom: Coming off of what you were saying, and that element of speed in general being essential to Lucasfilm…I don’t know if you can call speed a theme, but it’s an element of our stories that goes all the way back.

Dan Brooks: Well, I think it goes back to George Lucas loving car racing, you know.

Lucas Seastrom: Yeah.

Kristin Baver: And motorcycle racing.

Lucas Seastrom: Yeah there were motorcycles in George Lucas’ first feature THX 1138 and even a Vespa in American Graffiti. But also, for me, it was really the style of the show. The design was such a departure and a new direction, both with a more traditional style that’s kind of a mesh of computer graphics and two-dimensional techniques. But it was really, really exciting to see them play around in a new form of animation for Star Wars.

Amy Ratcliffe: Star Wars Resistance, I came to that one a little bit later just because I wasn’t sure…I don’t know if you can sense a theme. I came to that one and would be like, “But it’s not Star Wars Rebels!” I should just be more trusting up front at this point. I’m excited about The Bad Batch, so at least there’s that.

Kaz and Neeku at Aunt Z's in Star Wars Resistance.

But I really like that the focus of the story took place in this kind of every day slice of life spot in the galaxy. It’s not quite anything we’d seen. It was just centered on Castilon and this platform and everyone’s relationships from Aunt Z running her bar and bossing the pirates and also the pilots around, to Captain Doza trying to walk this line of keeping his platform and those he loves safe while trying to brush off the First Order or at least keep them at arm’s length until he can’t. And Orka and Flix –just seeing how they just were living their lives. It’s a time when it’s, of course, post-Galactic Civil War, we’re getting into the Resistance and First Order era. It’s before The Force Awakens or I guess during The Force Awakens and in between that and Last Jedi.

Getting more of that era outside of the films is something I still crave more of, so it was nice to explore that and explore it in a way that felt just like it was on a micro scale. And Kaz — I really enjoyed watching that character because at first he’s just really pretty hapless. To be fair, he was just thrown into it. Poe Dameron is like, “Hey, kid, do you want to be a spy?” And he’s like, “I’ll be a spy! I don’t even know what that means!” And just watching him fumble his way around and learn about what the First Order’s doing on the platform, what’s happening with the pirates, how he interacts with other people. He really grew in that series, but it was always entertaining to watch how he was going to screw something up.

Dan Brooks: I think he’s a great surrogate for kids in this, because it’s like, just the way you put it, if Poe Dameron says to you, “Hey, kid, do you want to be a spy?” What kid doesn’t want to play Star Wars spy?

Amy Ratcliffe: Of course. Yes.

Dan Brooks: But then Kaz is so bumbling, you know, and that’s another thing. I’m reminded of how slapstick-y the show was, which goes back to Jar Jar. It’s a part of Star Wars and they kind of plucked it out and brought it back here…

Kristin Baver: And it makes it so kid-friendly because he’s falling down, you know? He’s shouting when he should be whispering and then he’s whispering, but it’s still too loud and they’re going to get found out. And he’s falling into crates of space fruits.

Dan Brooks: It’s like the danger is not a Sith Lord, it’s “I can’t fall over this time.”

It’s a different kind of tension that’s right for the audience. I also thought the show was very kind of sitcom-y, which I liked, in a way that the other shows weren’t. Since you had the whole world on the platform, you had your regular stores that popped up in almost every episode. You had the characters at the bar, you know, and then you had like the core crew of Team Fireball. And it was its own self-contained world in that way,. It felt different.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars Resistance.

Kristin Baver: Yeah, and it was also the first series to really not have any Jedi as the central characters, but also, I think more importantly, you couldn’t rely on Jedi skill and Force sensitivity to solve any of the problems they encountered. Every once in a while, there’s a little bit of the Force that comes into play. You had the kids running from the First Order and they had seen Kylo Ren and they had seen Kylo Ren destroy their entire village. And certainly, you know, the Force is in all living things between you, me, the rock, the tree. So, you know, in that way, the Force is at play.

But I thought it was just really brilliant that you’re essentially asking the question, “If we can’t just have somebody ignite their lightsaber and do a Force push and solve everything at the end of this episode, how do the regular citizens deal with some of these problems that are coming up?” And I know I’ve written about this for the site as well, but one of the other things I really loved, especially in the second season, was the way that it made the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance a little bit more personal, because you could see it from the dueling perspectives of Kaz, who saw his whole homeworld get destroyed and didn’t know if his family was there at the time, and then Tam, who was so sympathetic to the First Order because she just craved that order. I can’t think of a better word for it.

Dan Brooks: Yeah. And it was surprising because it’s not like in the first episode you know that that’s where it’s going to go. So even though it was definitely a kid-oriented show, I think it was still written well, in that it surprised you if you were a regular viewer. The juxtaposition of their two stories was done really well and made it unique.

Kristin Baver: And I also thought it was cool how from Season 1 to Season 2, you got some vastly different storytelling by virtue of the Colossus being revealed as a ship and not just a platform.

Amy Ratcliffe: Which was so cool!

Kristin Baver: It was so cool! But then they have the ability suddenly to jet off and go visit these other worlds and have these other planet-hopping adventures and explore things in a different way.

Amy Ratcliffe: And it becomes about survival and acquiring resources because they weren’t…

Kristin Baver: Right, because it’s not a pleasure cruise.

Amy Ratcliffe: Yeah, exactly.

The Colossus rises in Star Wars Resistance.

Kristin Baver: They’re running from the First Order and they’re trying to find a new place to hide…

Amy Ratcliffe: And the ship’s really old.

Kristin Baver: The ship’s really old.

Dan Brooks: All right. Before we move on to Star Wars: The Bad Batch, I did want to ask: If you wanted to get someone into the world of Star Wars animation — say they know the movies, maybe they’re casual fans — what would you recommend that they check out?

Kristin Baver: They’ve seen all the movies, this hypothetical person.

Dan Brooks: Yeah, the person’s seen all the movies. “I’m interested in animation. Where do I go, Kristin Baver?”

Kristin Baver: How old are they? How old is this hypothetical person?

[Everyone laughs.]

Dan Brooks: This is really getting very complex.

Kristin Baver: Very specific.

Dan Brooks: All right, well let’s see, the person’s 35, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Kristin Baver: Is this an actual friend of yours that we need to help?

Dan Brooks: It probably is a friend of mine that I’m indirectly thinking of.

Kristin Baver: Sure. Oh, that’s tough…Sorry, I have so many questions! With a series or with—

Dan Brooks: I had to start with the reporter. [Laughs]

Amy Ratcliffe: [Laughing] What were you thinking?

Kristin Baver: What were you thinking? Are you saying like a series or a specific episode?

Dan Brooks: Either. Either.

A scene from "Darkness on Umbara."

Kristin Baver: Okay, okay. Alright. Hmmm, I think I would start them with the Umbara arc in The Clone Wars. It’s a nice standalone piece that works really well within the series, but if you come to it completely cold and you know the films but you don’t know anything about The Clone Wars series yet, I think it gives you a really good sense of some of what you’re in for if you decide to continue on it and go back. It doesn’t have any Ahsoka, but it does a great job of distilling some of the strife that the clones are going through and also the fact that, yes, the Sith are out there and they’re terrible, but there are problematic Jedi and other people who the Republic are dealing with at this time. It’s such great storytelling, and was one of the arcs that when I watched it, I thought, “Oh, this is dark. This is really dark for kids.” But it pleasantly surprised me. So if you’re an adult who’s looking to get into it, I think it’s a great standalone piece to experience.

Lucas Seastrom: If the person was in it for the Star Wars of it, per se, if they’re from a real fan’s point of view, I’d give them the first season of The Clone Wars and say, “Keep watching.” Because it has all those George Lucas elements that are going to keep you with it, I think. If they’re looking to go on more of a serialized journey with a group of characters and have an emotional experience, I’d give them the first season of Rebels so that they can follow the Ghost crew, because I think that can pull you in a more traditional way, like any television show you might stumble on and watch. For The Clone Wars, though, it’s more about the Star Wars of it.

Amy Ratcliffe: I’m the person who you probably don’t want to ask because I like to get very specific. I like to find out what kind of Star Wars they like best, whether it’s to Lucas’s point, is it the actual wars of it? Is it Force stuff? What eras do you like best? How do you feel about the prequels? What do you think about Anakin…like, a lot of questions to get to where I can customize their experience.

Kristin Baver: I love that you have a quiz. “Take this ten question quiz and it’ll tell you…” We should do this on Star Wars dot com, actually. Answer these 10 questions and we’ll tell you…

Dan Brooks: What animated series to watch.

Amy Ratcliffe: I think it is important to kind of hear what they’re into and also hear their concerns. Maybe they haven’t watched it because it’s seven seasons of Clone Wars and they don’t know where to start.

So if it is a friend or someone I care about watching Clone Wars, I’ll be like, “Let me make you a list of episodes and you just watch it.” And that’s my long answer to say that I don’t have a go to. It just really depends on what the person’s into and what they’re looking for.

Dan Brooks: Fair enough. Fair enough.

Kristin Baver: It was a great answer.

Dan Brooks: Yeah. My answer is probably similar, but…

Amy Ratcliffe: It’s very extra.

Inquisitor from Rebels

Dan Brooks: Yeah, I mean, I think if you’re an original trilogy fan, Rebels is great and it introduces some things that you might not have thought about, like Inquisitors. And it’s got Vader. I do think knowing the relationship with Ahsoka definitely enriches your experience with Rebels. But I think you can go in without that and you can still enjoy it.

I’d have to suggest Clone Wars and I would have to say watch it from the beginning. The impact is gonna be that much greater if you start at the beginning. And I would encourage everybody to watch it if you’re a Star Wars fan and you’ve never seen Clone Wars.

So I know we’ve been talking for a while. There’s a lot more in animation. LEGO Star Wars, obviously, has been huge. It’s not made by Lucasfilm Animation, but I think that’s been a huge gateway to kids and is worth acknowledging. And LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is definitely going to be a new holiday tradition in my house. So I’m excited about that.

The Bad Batch

But Bad Batch is the next big release. I love the Bad Batch characters. And the setup of the story is really interesting. But one thing I like is that if you don’t like Star Wars, this show might be an in for you.

I think of my grandfather. He was an Italian immigrant, kind of like a tough guy with a heart of gold. He hated cartoons. He would just say they’re stupid. And, you know, he knew Star Wars a little bit. But one thing we bonded over was shows like The A-Team, and we loved action movies. We watched all of that together. And I feel like I could take this and put it on for him and we could both watch it and enjoy it.

And I’m excited to experience these characters, who I just think are all so different and interesting. It’s going to be, again, like a whole new take on Star Wars. What do you all think? What are you looking forward to about Bad Batch?

Lucas Seastrom: From a Star Wars storytelling perspective, it’s now the early dark times, the immediate post-Revenge of the Sith world. Rebels gives us a little bit on the other half of that era, but the opportunity reminds me of the old Legends novels — the galaxy is a mess — and having more of a perspective on how the Empire starts to assume control across the galaxy. I’m really curious how they’re going to explore that.

Kristin Baver: Sorry, I was just picturing “The galaxy’s a mess!” as the opening crawl.

[Everyone laughs.]

Kristin Baver: It works! Great introduction. Cut print. You wrote it, Lucas.

Dan Brooks: So poetic.

Amy Ratcliffe: Let’s be real.

[Everyone laughs.]

Dan Brooks: [In an announcer voice…] And there’s only one team that can clean it up.

Lucas Seastrom: That’s right. Yeah.

On the Wing of Keeradaks: the bad Batch

Amy Ratcliffe: [Singing a made up theme song…] The Bad Batch!

I feel similarly to Lucas. I mean, I really enjoyed meeting those characters in Season 7 of The Clone Wars and kind of seeing this very specialized group that has turned what could be perceived as weaknesses or mutations into their strengths, into a unique team. When nobody else can get the job done — bring in the Bad Batch. And they’re going to use their very specific talents to work around the problem.

But it is very much like seeing the beginnings. When do they start bringing in stormtroopers versus using the clones after Order 66? So I am kind of just curious to see that era… I want to see how that line starts to blur. And hopefully we get to see those early days of the Empire and what their forces look like. And I know they’re going to have some cool missions. I’m just like a kid, like you’re all so articulate and I just want to see them do cool stuff.

Dan Brooks: Do cool stuff. That’s enough for me.

Wrecker and Anakin

Kristin Baver: [Dancing] Wrecker’s gonna blow things up and it’s gonna be great. I think it’s also really important that, you know, The Bad Batch as the next piece of Lucasfilm animation to come out is also a really elegant throwback to the start of Lucasfilm animation, because it was George Lucas who, I think, created The Bad Batch characters, even though he wasn’t still working on it when we got those characters in Season 7. And even though he’s not an integral part of working on the actual show, it was his mind that helped bring these characters to life and so I feel like it’s a really elegant way to show how his — George Lucas in particular — how his legacy endures. Of course, he created Star Wars so everything that is Star Wars he has touched in some way and inspired. But I think that one is a real specific touch point because he was still involved in Clone Wars at the time that The Bad Batch arc was initially created. It didn’t come to fruition until last year [with some updates], but it still had a lot of those initial ideas in it. It definitely just feels like it has George Lucas’s fingerprints all over it to me.

And so I’m really excited because I think the show will feel that same way that you can just tell that it has “The Maker” in its DNA, but is still telling fresh and new stories.

Dan Brooks: Yeah. These characters, to me, are very representative of what Clone Wars and that era of storytelling in Lucasfilm was. It takes something you know, or you think you know, and tweaks it just a little bit to make you ask different questions. Like, “What is life going to be like for clones when the war is over?” But not just that. “What is life going to be like for these clones, who are not like any of the other clones? What is that experience going to be like? How do they navigate that? And I find that really interesting. I think the action will be there and there will be lots of blowing stuff up, which is part of it, and it’s going to be fun. But I think there’s a lot of room for really good character exploration.

Kristin Baver: To me, it’s exciting in the same way that The Mandalorian was when that first came out, because, you know, sometimes I think we forget just how many years in-universe are between each of the different trilogies on film. But it’s usually 20 to 30 years. We’ve got storytelling that takes place in these relatively small pockets with Clone Wars sandwiched between two films or Rebels very distinctly leading up to the original trilogy. You know, very specific, we know what’s coming in the next five years.

And so to take an era that’s on the tail end of one of those, you know what’s coming in  20 or 30 years, but you have no idea what’s happening at this point. I think it’s really exciting, fertile ground for the storytelling.

Dan Brooks: Yeah, for sure.

[Lucas emphatically nods.]

Kristin Baver: Lucas emphatically nods.

[Everyone laugh.]

Dan Brooks: I’m glad we have this on video. Yeah. So, you know, I think that about does it. There’s also Star Wars Visions, which we don’t know a ton about, but sounds really interesting and I think is, again, going to be like a whole new kind of Star Wars animation and animated storytelling.

Just to wrap up, as a Star Wars fan and as someone who has always been a fan of animation, it’s been amazing to watch how the role of animated storytelling in Star Wars has grown and grown and grown. And now it has such an influence on all areas of Star Wars storytelling.

What do you think animation has meant to Lucasfilm over the years and what are your thoughts about where it’s headed in the future?

A scene from "Old Friends Not Forgotten."

Lucas Seastrom: What’s fascinating about Lucasfilm Animation is that it’s kind of a late comer, you know, compared to ILM or Skywalker Sound or these other established areas of the company. You know, the division is still less than 20 years old. So they kind of came in quietly and ended up becoming one of the most significant creative centers that have helped bridge multiple divides or gaps, post- Revenge of the Sith and into a Disney era. And now it’s an opportunity to continue expanding, to kind of take that principle of The Clone Wars, of genre- hopping that has been discussed already, of moving between styles and going much deeper with that. That’s what I’d love to see and so I think it’ll only get bigger because the group of people who are making it have been doing it for so long that they have such a refined expertise and capability to turn out quality work so consistently. From a company perspective, that’s what gets me excited.

Kristin Baver: Yeah, and I think not knowing what’s coming is exciting because to me there’s [in a Palpatine voice] unlimited power! But, really, unlimited potential in what you can do in animation. You just have unlimited potential to explore just anything you can imagine in animation. You can draw it, you can do it, you can see it, you can go there.

Dan Brooks: Well said.

Amy Ratcliffe: I would just add that, you know, I certainly hope we’re past this point, but because they do still come across people who dismiss cartoons as being frivolous or silly, I think…

Kristin Baver: You know Dan’s grandfather, too?

[Everyone laughs.]

Hondo Ohnaka

Amy Ratcliffe: Yes, so many of Dan’s grandfathers, honestly. It can just be like an extra thing to convince somebody to watch a cartoon and animated series, as frustrating as that is. But they proved with Clone Wars and with Rebels especially, that they’ve done some of the best Star Wars storytelling [in animation]. It’s right up there with the films and they’ve done it repeatedly and they’ve had an impact with characters like Ahsoka, Hondo — both of those that Lucas mentioned earlier. They continued outside of their animated form into theme parks and into live action.

I think now that we have such a reputation and a history that they’ve built up of quality content and experimenting and just exploring characters and places in ways they don’t or can’t in the films, that the future…They’re going to keep experimenting.

Personally, the thing I want is more exploration of eras that are unknown — like we’re getting with The Bad Batch — where they have time to spread out and they don’t have A New Hope right up here.

Kristin Baver: It has to be so freeing from the storyteller perspective when you have 20 or 30 years to play with before you know the events that are coming versus, “OK, we’re five years or one year or six months or in the case of Rogue One like 20 minutes before A New Hope starts. Go!”

[Everyone laughs.]

Dan Brooks: And they took advantage of that 20 minutes believe me.

Kristin Baver: They did! They showed us a lot in that 20 minutes.

Dan Brooks: I just think it’s done so much, especially since Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to enrich every other aspect of Star Wars storytelling. So I just hope that it keeps going as long as we have Star Wars. And I think it’s a legacy that the company can really be proud of. You know, every series gives you something new. And that’s not easy to do.

Bo-Katan

Kristin Baver: I can’t believe we had this whole conversation and we didn’t talk about Bo-Katan once.

Dan Brooks: Oh, my God. Well, that’s something you should be ashamed of.

Kristin Baver: You know, I am. I am ashamed. I’ll turn in my badge and gun now.

Dan Brooks: Yeah. Your helmet and your blaster. And your Jetpack.

This discussion has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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