Dave Filoni was an exceedingly happy man a few years back. In less than ten years he had risen to an episode director of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which was getting more than its share of kudos.
“Those are my friends! I love that show,” the supervising director of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” admits. “That was hard to leave. I once said jokingly that the only way I would leave was if George Lucas called and offered me a job. Then literally, a week or so later, that happened. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was them playing a prank on me. I had just set my sights on just meeting George. I never imagined him giving me the job. I really loved the job.
“You know they knew I really loved ‘Star Wars.’ I mean ‘Avatar’ was their thing, and I really have respect for it. I knew they were going to be fine. It was hard for me to go, but they were nothing but positive. I think half of Nickelodeon was just curious what the heck this was going to be. I think the other half were glad they knew somebody who was going to be there.”
So, with the blessings of “Avatar” creators Michael Dean DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, Filoni leapt to San Francisco’s the Presidio and Lucasfilm. As the first season has proven, he has nothing to regret. Ratings have been through the roof for Cartoon Network, and after a bit of a clunky start, the show is turning into one of the finest examples of space opera currently on the air.
It’s also become one of the former all-animation network’s certifiable hits. Not that the creative process was easy.
“It was safe to say we were developing what this show was going to be,” Filoni remembers about starting up the series. “We had these models of how I wanted these characters to look, like the graphic realization of their faces. We had to learn how to use those models so they wouldn’t end up wooden puppets.
“That’s the big change in season two. We learned a lot doing all those episodes in season one. We took notes on what worked and didn’t work. What was funny was by the time we released the first movie, we were well into the series. We were getting animation that was far more successful than what was on the big screen. As I heard a lot of the criticisms from the movie reviewers, I knew exactly what they were talking about. If they only knew what we were doing, but you have to start someplace.”
Fortunately for Filoni, he has a sterling animated prototype to draw from, even if its subject matter is 180 degrees different from “Clone Wars.”
“Look at shows like ‘The Simpsons,’” he cites. “When you look at their first season and compare it to later, the animation was much looser and wild than what it became. That was because they were still developing their own tone and style. We’re going through that growth period on this show.”
One thing Filoni does have going for him is apparently a pretty easy access to the Big Man himself, George Lucas.
“I’ve had to sit down with George and discuss all the ramifications,” he says. “In fact, I made this giant chart to help myself out to see how it all worked because it was a very intricate thing. The bounty hunters have their own stake in this thing. We can’t forget about the Pirates. I particularly like the character of Hondo. We have all these characters in season one that I would like to get more screen time. We also have many, many new characters that I’ve yet to introduce. They will also help the war spread out.”
As anyone who’s seen the first two episodes this season may have noticed, there are some distinct changes going on inside the series. This goes far deeper than the elevation of Cad Bane to primary henchman.
“When we started, we started off in a much more cartoon vein, especially in the early episodes,” Filoni explains. “At that time, Henry Gilroy [series story editor] and I weren’t totally sure what the show was going to be. Now, with the first two episodes of season two, the tone of the series is a lot different. It’s reflected in Ahsoka and Anakin’s characters as well as in their actions.”
Actually, one of the bigger shifts in focus happens with this weekend’s episode, “Architects of Evil.” In the past, usually the biggest Sith scene on screen is Count Dooku. Not anymore. With this episode, Darth Sidious starts coming out of the shadows to front and center.
“The children’s names are just one aspect of what Darth Sidious actually trying to do in the war,” said Filoni. “We didn’t try to do much with Darth Sidious in season one. He was very much in the shadows. That was completely intentional. This season we will have a look into his world, his view of the war.”
While Filoni refused to comment further on Sidious, he was more than willing to talk in more detail about Bane. For starters, it’s long been known the character is loosely based on Lee Van Cleef’s character, Angel Eyes, who was a key counterpart to Clint Eastwood in the 'Man With No Name' movies.
“I love the abilities of the bounty hunters, especially with their gadgetry,” Filoni begins. “Whether it’s ropes that whip out or some ability to fly, it’s like some technological counterpart to what the Jedi can do. Since I was a kid, I thought it was fun to play with that. Now I can do it for real.
“George and I often talk in film analogies. It’s a quick way to understand each other. George was very direct on that one though. George just came in one day and we were toying around with the concept of Bane. He very specifically cited Lee Van Cleef. That instantly put an image in my head, especially his silhouette. You know, the flatter hat, leaner build, the long coat. It gave a good target.
“Cad Bane is far, far, far, far less moral than Lee Van Cleef,” Filoni adds. “When you see him in ‘A Few Dollars More,’ he has a very emotional attachment to his sister. You see that in his watch and in the music box song. Watch that and you realize this is not Cad Bane.
“Cad Bane has an appearance that resembles Lee Van Cleef, but Bane is really ruthless. He only works for the highest bidder. He has no interest in Sidious’ plans. He’s very much on his own and just doing what he wants. He’s more like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, but without the kindness. He is as resourceful as Van Cleef and Eastwood, though.”
Bane gives Filoni another advantage, too.
“Cad Bane was just a great opportunity to get away from Battle Droids,” he admits. “It’s very hard to make them a threat. Cad Bane gives me a great villain who fights by his own rules. I can also establish him as a very good threat. Frankly, I can do a lot of things with Bane that I would have wanted Boba Fett to do when I was a kid, but that, obviously, can’t happen.
“[Also] Grievous is a great character. I really like him, but there’s a lot of baggage that comes with him. The same comes with the other Sith, also. I just can’t have Grievous fight Anakin for one line.”
NEXT COLUMN: We continue our talk with Dave Filoni about the future of the series, including some hints of episodes to come.