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When Kathleen Kennedy first took the reins of Lucasfilm in 2012, one of her first orders of business was to prepare Star Wars scholar Dave Filoni for live-action storytelling. Filoni has long been the steward of Lucasfilm animation, as Star Wars mastermind George Lucas not only hired him, but also mentored him during their run together on the animated series The Clone Wars (2008). Kennedy’s live-action plan has certainly paid off, considering that Filoni is now an executive producer on a number of Disney+ live-action Star Wars series including The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, as well as the upcoming Ahsoka and Skeleton Crew. He’s also directed at least a half-dozen episodes across all the shows combined.
Before Kennedy paired Filoni with The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau, she had him shadow Star Wars filmmakers on set including J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, the latter of whom Filoni singles out as especially helpful.
“Rian was the one who shoved me up front, sticking lenses in my hand and really getting me immersed in it,” Filoni tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And so I still talk with him to this day. He’s obviously a very talented filmmaker, and I was just very fortunate to be in such an environment where I could sit and listen and learn.”
When The Mandalorian series premiere shocked the Star Wars fandom by introducing another Yoda-like creature who’s now known as Grogu, one of the very first questions raised had to do with his whereabouts during the sequel trilogy. Well, Filoni reaffirms that the galaxy is vast enough for Grogu to exist during that timeline without necessarily interacting with the Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren-led (Adam Driver) episodic stories.
“In my experience, there’s definitely a way to weave everything together and make it exciting. It’s possible it would never even have to cross over with what we saw [in the sequel trilogy] if the story has us somewhere else,” Filoni says.
Below, in a recent conversation that took place prior to The Mandalorian’s season three premiere, Filoni also offers an update on Ahsoka’s post-production process.
Well, you and Jon Favreau have been carrying Star Wars live action for several years now while the film division figures things out, and I have to imagine that a bit of pressure comes with the territory. So did the critical acclaim for Andor relieve some of that weight at all?
I don’t know. It’s exciting, and Tony [Gilroy] did such a brilliant job with Andor. They’re just fantastic stories, and it’s great that it broadens the type of story that people can expect from Star Wars. So, pressure, no pressure, there’s always going to be pressure because we’re dealing with something that so many people care about in Star Wars, and it’s a real privilege just to get to be a part of it. So you always want to do your best, and if anything, more than pressure, it’s just inspiring to see another team out there doing such great work. When the movies were happening and I was making Rebels, I would see all the creativity happening around me from so many different people, and what we all have in common is that we love Star Wars.
You have a world-class actor in Pedro Pascal playing the Mandalorian, and his star rises every single year. So has it been getting tougher and tougher to keep the helmet on him?
Yeah, I would say so, except it works so well. Part of his power is that despite the helmet, he comes right through it. There’s a real character and personality that he imbues it with, and the success that he’s having doesn’t surprise Jon and I at all. He’s just an incredibly talented person and a great person to collaborate with.
So when you decided to transition to live-action filmmaking, you shadowed Rian Johnson on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, right?
Yeah, Kathleen Kennedy and I talked from the very beginning of her coming into Lucasfilm about whether there would be opportunities for me to experiment with live action or try it. And she really worked at coming up with a plan to educate me and get me involved. I visited J.J. [Abrams] on The Force Awakens, I visited Gareth Edwards [on Rogue One] and I visited Rian on [The Last Jedi]. But Rian was the one who shoved me up front, sticking lenses in my hand and really getting me immersed in it. And so I still talk with him to this day. He’s obviously a very talented filmmaker, and I was just very fortunate to be in such an environment where I could sit and listen and learn.
Well, Ahsoka’s (Rosario Dawson) live-action introduction on The Mandalorian’s “Chapter 13: The Jedi” proves that you’re a quick study, but now that you’ve helmed at least a half-dozen episodes across all the Star Wars shows, how far do you think you’ve come as a live-action director?
I hope very far. From my first experience directing on [The Mandalorian] season one, there’s a magnitude difference between what I’m doing now. From the first episode of Mando to “The Jedi” with Rosario Dawson, there was a tremendous difference, and I credit that to Jon [Favreau], who’s a great mentor and friend. Kathy also showed me the ropes and taught me a lot, but very much my foundation for what I’ve been doing in animation was set down by George Lucas, who is obviously a brilliant director-creator. And everything he taught me was relevant and relative to what I’m doing today. Even the technologies we are using are things he would talk about, and so I just like to tell people that I was very well prepared. My mind was well prepared by him to face the challenges that you face day to day on a set, telling a story. It’s different than animation, but there is some crossover. But I think it’s going well; I hope it’s going well. You never know. But I like it, and I guess that’s all I can know at this point.
Speaking of Ahoska, how’s post going on her series?
I’m really enjoying it. It’s something that I never thought I would be doing, as much as I’ve done all these different things over the years with Star Wars. Writing and directing and collaborating on this type of thing with so many people is just the top of the mountain for me at this point. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I have an incredibly talented team all around me supporting it. So I’m cautiously optimistic. (Laughs.) But the fans will let me know. They always do.
Have you figured out where Grogu is during the sequel trilogy?
That’s a great question, and we talk about many different things. That’s a question for a bunch of characters by the way, not just Grogu. Where are they during these events? If anything, having made The Clone Wars and weaving a tale so intricately between two movies that were much closer together, I’ve learned that there’s expansive room in this galaxy for us to tell stories and have characters doing things.
As a kid, when Yoda said, “When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be,” to Luke, I took that very literally. Well, now we know that’s anything but true. There are many different people that could wield the force, and maybe Luke is the last Jedi as far as what Yoda would consider a Jedi. So we’ll just have to wait and see how the story evolves and what makes sense. But in my experience, there’s definitely a way to weave everything together and make it exciting. It’s possible it would never even have to cross over with what we saw [in the sequel trilogy] if the story has us somewhere else.
Lastly, how would you describe The Mandalorian season three?
High adventure. Jon is such a creative storyteller. After seeing Iron Man, I thought, “Wow, he’d be great for Star Wars,” and I’ve never been disappointed in our collaboration. He’s a great person to work with, and he weaves a great tale.
The Mandalorian season three is now airing on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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