Dave Filoni Talks Writing AHSOKA and Guiding the Future of Star Wars Storytelling

Due to the ongoing writers and actors union strikes, last year’s release of Star Wars: Ahsoka on Disney+ was not accompanied by the usual round of cast and creator interviews and publicity for a live-action Star Wars series. With the consideration period for that television season’s Emmy Awards underway, though, a new round of publicity for Ahsoka is helping to make up for those missed opportunities. In particular, they have provided the first significant round of interview for series creator Dave Filoni since his promotion to Chief Creative Officer at Lucasfilm at the end of the year.

In an appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast with Josh Horowitz released on June 13, 2024, Filoni reaffirmed and elaborated upon some of the key principles and themes that guide his storytelling and his stewardship of the Star Wars franchise:

George used to say Star Wars is him telling very old stories in a very new way. Now that it’s become this massive franchise, you can get lost in all those details and all that information and all the lore. But at the heart of it, for all of us, it’s our struggle against being a good person or a bad person, making better choices than not, giving into our fears, giving into our frustrations, our anger. That’s why these stories are so relatable and you can find so many moments. You can relate to the “I love you. I know.” moment because it’s brilliant, but because who hasn’t felt something for a person, then you just can’t find the words until it’s too late? You’re in this fantastic setting of Star Wars, but you’re finding these moments, you’re experiencing these moments.

Rosario Dawson and Hayden Christensen also promoted Ahsoka in the joint interview. Christensen specifically emphasized Filoni’s mentorship under George Lucas:

Dave was a student of George Lucas, and all of his understanding comes from time spent with George. And of course from being a fan before that, too. You really get a sense of that. For me, that was what was so comforting, was that I really felt that he was wanting to honor what George had created. Obviously move it forward and make it his own, but really wanting to keep the themes in line with what George was trying to communicate.

Horowitz asked Filoni about choosing when and how to repeat iconic dialogue or musical cues in a new Star Wars tale:

It’s tricky because I think just saying and experiencing those things won’t make what you’re working on Star Wars. It’s kind of like a quick and easy formula. But I do know when I write “may the Force be with you,” that the actor that gets to say it will remind the other actors that they got to say it and it becomes a thing. But you have to save it. Especially now, we have so much going on theatrically and live action, streaming, animated series, you don’t want it to become this thing that’s expected. It has to have value in the story. So you say these things the same way you would say something like that in life if it was real. It’s not a catchphrase, and you approach it like that. I’m always trying to get to what these characters are really experiencing, what their life is like, more than saying, okay, so what makes this feel Star Wars? When I worked on [The] Clone Wars with George, I found the stories that we did that were the less like what he had done in the movies, the more it started to feel like Star Wars. Because it was new and we were able to own it, and we weren’t reminding people of a movie that was significantly greater than what we were experiencing in the animated show. It’s like when I was a kid in A New Hope, watching that, I didn’t know there were snow walkers, I didn’t know there was a Cloud City, I didn’t know there was a swamp planet, I didn’t know Luke’s next teacher would be a frog. There were so many things that George just created that we take for granted. And the prequels are like that, too. We take for granted how easily he makes his creation come to life. This is the Jedi Council, this is the Jedi Temple, this is Coruscant, go down the list, Naboo, forms of government, different types of aliens. It just all comes to him with such ease. Having been around that creation, I have a great respect for it, and George, and I want nothing more than for his legacy to be intact and to expand in ways that I think he would be proud.

With Marvel’s Deadpool & Wolverine movie on the horizon, Horowitz also posed to Filoni the potential fan interest in R-rated or “edgier” Star Wars:

I think it’s interesting. The bottom line is whatever we do, it has to be really well done. When you look at something that is taken as different, like Andor, it’s so well done and Tony and his team do such a phenomenal job, that I think that there’s an audience for that. I also, though, want to still be hitting the imagination of the kids out there, so that they can grow up and appreciate those things. … I think that it encompasses all types of styles. The creative of the particular story, driving it, is kind of the most important thing. They should do something that’s within their comfort zone. Otherwise we’re to imagine that everyone’s going to come and pretend that they’re George Lucas. And I’ll tell you right away, they’re not. I learned from George, but I’m certainly not the same as George when it comes to making movies. I mean, George is a one-of a kind generational talent. I like wolves and put them in my Star Wars. We’re just different. And that’s okay, because there are principles, like I said, about choices and being a good person and being more selfless and getting over your fears, and those are timeless no matter what style you’re talking about. You’re dealing with Cassian Andor’s struggles about doing the right thing and being a better person. You’re dealing with Sabine’s struggles about really committing to something and being involved and what does it mean to be a Jedi. It’s similar but it’s through a different lens. I think it’s a strong thing these days that we’re in a time when people have options and can like things in a different way. Maybe if you never saw Star Wars before and you say, well, I watched this one show and I liked it, it’s a door that opens to get you to watch other things. It becomes this collaborative community. You’ll never find a greater fan community than Star Wars when it comes to Celebrations because they’re all there loving the same thing. They like different aspects of it now and they might debate each other, but at the end of the day they all like the same thing and that’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling because people feel seen and they feel included. That’s really what we’re shooting for here, is this this community of “may the Force be with you.” What a crazy thing that this one guy invented it, George. We might expand it, but I think we’ve always got to remember the root of it so we don’t lose our way in the galaxy.

Naturally, Horowitz also asked about the current status of Filoni’s upcoming Star Wars movie. In reply, Filoni unsurprisingly declined to offer specifics, but returned to his perspective on Star Wars storytelling:

For me telling a story, I always have to know where is this going, what’s the outcome of this is going to be? Fans that have followed my work know this about [The] Clone Wars. When I started [The] Clone Wars I had a good idea of how it was going to end. It changed a bit as we went on, but it’s still fairly relative to the things that happened. I, at the time, didn’t know Darth Maul was going to be in it, that was a George curve ball, but George, he’s allowed to do that. I knew how Rebels was going to end. Because I’ve been writing Season Two of Ahsoka, things have clicked and I have a much better idea about where things are going to go. I will say I have an opening I really like quite a bit, I’m very excited about it, for that picture. And I’m excited about the potential of just doing it. But right now my focus is very clearly on Season Two.

Filoni also remarked briefly on his perspective about his Chief Creative Officer role:

Working with Jon on his movie, that’s exciting, and all the other things that we’re developing. It’s different for me now than it was before because now I’m involved in everything … For me it’s a collaboration. It has to be. I’m not going to come in and – I don’t tell people what to do. I try to guide them. At best you’re Obi-Wan, and everyone coming in is going to make their trench run, and you’re just trying to get them to let go and trust their instincts, and trust the process, and do what they’re doing. You want everybody to be their best creative self when they’re making that run and that’s part of what my guidance is all about.

Filoni echoed many of these ideas in an appearance on 3rd and Fairfax, a podcast produced by the WGA West union. Topics raised by host Brian Gary included bringing the character of Ahsoka Tano from animation into live action, the importance of mentorship and apprenticeship, and learning principles of Star Wars storytelling from George Lucas. Filoni elaborated further on his perspective of his role as Chief Creative Officer:

I don’t sit there, honestly, and think that my point of view is greater or better than anybody else’s. I have what I learned and like about Star Wars. My job, as I see it, at Lucasfilm, when people come to work with us, is now to listen and to help advise and give thoughts to other creatives so they can steer clear of some things that maybe I had actually slammed right into before. A lot of times if I say I don’t think that’s a great idea, what the person might not realize is because I thought that same thing and I asked George about it, and he said No. …

We tell more stories now than we ever have, especially in live action. It’s something that we’ve never experienced before. I think that what excites me is actually the different points of view. I tend to look at it a little bit like Arthurian tales, to be honest. How depending on what version you’re reading in translation, they can be wildly different. But Arthur’s usually Arthur and does the things that he’s supposed to do. Those things remain true. That’s very much folk tale and fairy tale type of ideology. If we tell a story in animation, or if it’s in a comic, and then we bring it to the screen in a different way, we might make changes to it, out of the medium, out of the bias of the person making it. But it should still maintain the heart and the important moments of what people liked about that story. When we bring a character like Thrawn from the pages of a book to the screen, we have to make sure that that character is going to be true to who the character is. Not just working off the popularity of the fan interest, because we go, oh they like that. But what do they like about it? Can you do that thing, is that part of what we can bring to it? Otherwise create new stuff in a new character. I think there’s ample room, there’s unlimited room, for new in Star Wars. I don’t think that we have really begun to discover what that exactly is, as new generations of kids that grow up with [The] Clone Wars, that grow up with the sequels, come to us and say this is what I like about Star Wars. …

Canonicity? The short of it for me is when people like the story it seems to be canon; when they don’t, it doesn’t seem very much to become canon. That’s true when we were dealing with the old Expanded Universe, you’d have fans fighting for some stories, not other stories. The only canonical thing back then was if George Lucas did it. It was very cut and dried. Now it’s a bit more nebulous and everything’s canon. I just look at it differently. Do you like the story? Well, then it’s canon for you. That’s good. I think that’s fair. But we consider it all. People like to use the word policing a lot. I don’t like to use that for this, because it’s a creative thing. I think of it like a creative flow. There’s a Jedi Council. It’s like the way I look at directing. When I’m directing, I’m guiding the creative flow of everybody on the team, everybody on the set, to try to achieve the best possible outcome for this story. …

I think we get to better ideas that way than if it was like a Yes / No province, just saying yes to that, no to that. That’s not interesting. I’ve learned over time, even if it’s something I don’t like as an idea, I want to hear why someone thinks that’s a good idea. And sometimes it becomes a great idea, you never know.

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B.J. Priester has been a Star Wars fan since he played with the original Kenner action figures as a young boy. His fandom passion returned after watching Attack of the Clones in 2002 and reading the entire New Jedi Order series in 2003. He voraciously caught up on the novels and comics in the Expanded Universe in addition to writing fanfiction, frequently co-authoring with Tricia. B.J. has served as editor of FANgirl Blog from its inception, as well as contributing reviews and posts on a range of topics. He edited Tricia’s novel Wynde, and is collaborating with her on several future projects set in that original universe. Currently a tenured law professor in Florida, B.J. has been a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge, and a law journal editor-in-chief. He is also a proud geek dad whose son who is a big fan of Star Wars and The Clone Wars.