The new animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars picks up where Episode II: Attack of the Clones left off: Civil war has broken out in the Galactic Republic, which has mounted an army of cloned storm troopers to counter the Separatists and their legions of droids. The story focuses on the young but powerful Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, who along with his fellow lightsaber–slingers are battling the Separatists led by General Grievous and Count Dooku. The movie focuses on Anakin's relationship with a new trainee, named Ahsoka [view images of Ahsoka and another new character here]. A weekly cartoon series will take up the story again beginning in September on the Cartoon Network. ScientificAmerican.com caught up with David Filoni, the director of the new movie and series, to learn more.
What makes the Clone Wars a compelling setting for new Star Wars stories? Did George Lucas always have an animated film in mind?
During the Clone Wars there are many stories taking place. We have already seen the saga of Anakin and Luke Skywalker in the live-action films, but in The Clone Wars movie and TV series we move beyond that one story and can focus on different areas. An example would be that we spend time focusing just on the Clones and their point of view from the trenches. I think George always wanted to do an animated movie; he has always had an interest in animation, dating back to his early student work and his original development of Pixar as a computer animation division. Animation and Lucasfilm have always been together in some way.
What does the movie tell us about Anakin Skywalker that we might not have gleaned from the movies? What new things do we learn about the Star Wars universe?
We see more of Anakin as a good person and a hero, not as dark and tormented. Our Anakin is a cross between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. He is cocky like Han, but a bit naive like Luke. And we see him interact with many more characters—like his Padawan [Ahsoka]—and we see more of what really makes Anakin a great Jedi and leader. And we'll learn all kinds of new information about the "galaxy far, far away". We'll go to new planets, meet new Jedi, encounter fierce enemies—it's all pretty vast, and too early to give away yet.
How much freedom did you have in creating the look of the film and in coming up with the plot? How much of it was set out beforehand by Lucas or by others?
I was given a pretty wide latitude by George to make The Clone Wars look like what I wanted. He just told me to make it great and something no one has seen before. I used a bunch of different Star Wars design styles to come up with a unique look, from the previous microseries to original concept paintings for A New Hope. George gave Henry Gilroy (the season-one writer) and me a broad idea of different groups or areas of The Clone Wars—the large-scale battles, the small-scale personal stories on the front lines, the senatorial intrigue, and the more roguish Outer Rim stories. The early plots were then hashed out by Henry and me. We would take those ideas back to George and he'd get us feedback and move things around, teach us if the idea worked within the Star Wars universe or not. Eventually the story ideas were driven more and more by George because he became so excited about the project. He started coming to us with a bunch of stories he wanted to tell, and we worked off his outlines after that.
How does the style compare with the 2003 animated TV series, also called Star Wars: The Clone Wars? Do the plots overlap at all? How did you try to distinguish or blend the two?
The styles are actually a lot different, although I kept some slight elements of design on some of the characters. Anakin's outfit was inspired by the 2003 series, and I took some of the angles and the graphic look and tried to work it into the more dimensional characters we have. I know a lot of fans liked those shorts so it was an attempt to give a nod to that series within this Clone Wars, but when it comes to the plot and stories there is no direct correlation between the two. The 2003 series was very exaggerated, not just in design but in its storytelling and action. We chose to stay more in the Star Wars universe for our Jedi powers so that The Clone Wars film and TV series will hook up with the live-action movies George made before. We couldn't have a scenario where one Jedi could destroy hundreds of battle droids by himself; it was too superhuman for the drama and vulnerability that we wanted to get across. But it's always exciting to see the work that Star Wars inspires in different artists from comic books, novels, video games, to our own work on this series.
Special effects are obviously an important component of the Star Wars films. How does the film push the state of the art in animation?
I think we just chose to look at things in a nonphotorealistic way, just to simplify some things and let traditional painting represented through texture carry a lot of the frame, even on the character models. I tried to relate our show to my experience with traditional 2-D animation—how the simple shapes and actions in drawing can create life so effectively, even when there is nothing photorealistic about it. Having artists paint every inch of the sets and characters maintains a human touch, which audiences seem to think is sometimes lacking in CG [computer graphics]. So even when our frames are still, I think that the painted texture on everything maintains a bit of the random life that we want to see. Imperfection is just more appealing.
How will the film tie into the new animated TV series?
The film is a stand-alone story, but the events in it set the stage for what is coming. The relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka will be a crucial story arc to the overall war, at least in how we see the Clone Wars develop from the Jedi's point of view. But the series goes beyond just that one story and looks at the war from many fronts.
Can we expect more animated Star Wars movies?
If you would like to see them I'd love to make them, but we'll have to see.