With the notice of Star Wars Rebels, the new show now airing on Disney XD, getting an early season 2 pickup, came the confirmation of the news that Greg Weisman, one of three executive producers on the first season of the series alongside Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg, would not be returning for the second season.
Luckily, for fans who have just found Weisman on Rebels, or have followed his work through Gargoyles, Young Justice, and beyond, it doesn’t mean he’s leaving the Star Wars universe, or even the characters. Starting in April 2015, he’ll be writing the first arc to Star Wars: Kanan, a new ongoing series that will look into the past of the “Cowboy Jedi” and ostensible team leader of the Rebels with art by Pepe Larraz and covers by Mark Brooks. The character’s mysterious past as a Jedi-in-training will be revealed, starting with Order 66 and going about a year after the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Weisman revealed to Newsarama in a phone interview.
We talked about what to expect from Kanan, how Rebels changed the way he looks at the character and Jedi in general, and even got his insight on comics and TV as similar but different storytelling mediums.
Newsarama: Well, Greg, first of all, what’s interesting to you about looking at the past of a character like in Star Wars: Kanan?
Greg Weisman: When I came aboard Star Wars Rebels, Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni had already created all the lead characters. I like to think I contributed, but the characters existed. One of the first things I did when I sat down with them was say, “let’s talk about who these guys were. How did we get them here?”
We did that for all of them, all six. We came up with really great stuff, all three of us and the Lucasfilm Story Group, came up with really great stuff for all their backstories. So for me, this is great! That was great material, and on an ongoing series like Rebels, you rarely have the chance to look back and tell those stories. As Dave is fond of saying, “Star Wars doesn’t do flashbacks.” Well, they do entire movies that are flashbacks (laughs), but they tend not to stylistically flashback in the middle of a piece.
Nrama: Right, that’s why you get one-off lines about fighting in the Clone Wars, then have to wait 20-30 years to find out what that really meant.
Weisman: Right! So we had all this great material that informed who these characters were, and it’s really important to come up with that stuff. Then it also becomes almost a bummer, because you’re like, “yeah, but now I want to tell all those stories, too!” So it’s really wonderful, it’s a gift that Lucasfilm and Marvel are letting me do this Kanan story. Because, wow, what great stories we have to tell about Kanan, and this is only one of them, really! It’s a great one, an important one, it shows how Kanan survived Order 66. It doesn’t bring him all the way up-to-date with the beginning of Spark of Rebellion, it’s not even attempting to do that. I covers about a year, give or take a few months, of Kanan’s life, from when he was – from just before and just after Order 66.
Nrama: Interesting, so this is really late Clone Wars and Rise of the Empire era, huh?
Weisman: Yeah, this is Return of the Sith. It’s the era that Clone Wars was going to get to, but didn’t quite, unfortunately. But this is stuff that’s momentous.
It also interests me a lot because usually in the Star Wars Universe you have ensemble piece, or you have big, historical events shown on a grand scale. What we’re doing here is taking one of those big, historical events, but showing it from the point of view of one individual. I’m not saying Kanan is the only character in this series – obviously he’s not – but the point of view is purely his. It’s really about his response and his ability to survive these grand events, not about how did the whole galaxy survive it or how did this ragtag group survive.
It’s just him, and that personal, singular viewpoint is again doing something kind of unique in the canon. And it’s challenging! I like challenging, so to me that’s fun.
Nrama: This particular timeframe in the Star Wars saga is kind of a “series of down notes;” there’s not a lot of hope there. How do you find the hope for a character in a story about survival in this time period?
Weisman: I don’t want to pretend it’s not a dark time; it is. On the other hand, my favorite Star Wars movies are Episodes IV and V. To me, that’s the tone where Star Wars works the best. That’s what we went for in Rebels. So while this will be slightly darker than the series because of when it’s set, it’s not going to be unrelievedly dark. There’s humor in it – I like to think it’s coming out of the character, not suddenly doing slapstick in a comic book or anything like that! But there is humor in it, some of it is dark, some of it is lighter. But it’s about telling a story with this character. Some of it will be on the dark side; there’s tragedy here. It’s Order 66, it’s unavoidable.
But we’ll look at it from Kanan’s point of view from every side, as he tries to figure out how to get through this. Not just how does he physically survive, but emotionally. Part of the way he does that is by beginning to build himself into the guy that we meet for the first time in The Machine in the Ghost, which is the short that I wrote that preceded Spark of Rebellion. And even in the novel, A New Dawn, which tells how Kanan and Hera first met. This story of course we precedes all that.
So it’s all part of the same continuum that the Lucasfilm Story Group has been building for Kanan, and for all these characters, and part of the original work that Simon, Dave and I did when we first sat down and started breaking the show.
Nrama: So this was born of that original background work, but after writing and working on a year’s worth of scripts, I’m sure there were things that you learned about Kanan and changed the way you looked at him – any ideas of some of those things?
Weisman: Well, as you know, I’m not a big fan of spoilers, so mostly the answer to that is no! (laughs) But what I will say is… I think one thing I found interesting in developing the season is that Kanan turns out to be much more spiritual. As we proceeded forward, Kanan’s view of his time as a Jedi… when we started I think we thought he was more divorced from it, and it would be tougher to get him back to it. I think that was all true, and that didn’t change per se, but once he committed to Ezra, and Ezra’s training, things came back to him quickly.
Kanan has doubts about Ezra, but Kanan has even more doubts about himself, and his abilities to be a mentor and Master – when he himself never achieved that rank! By the way, that’s been sort of spoiled, which I guess was kind of inevitable because people just kind of did the math, but our original intent was that we wouldn’t reveal to the audience that Kanan had never become a Jedi Knight or Master until way into the first season, and we wouldn’t reveal it to Ezra until after the audience found out.
Now, it’s been – I don’t know if it was leaked, or people did the math, I guess it was in some of the guides that have been published. But the notion that Kanan had never become a Jedi Knight was going to be a big reveal – people would assume he was one, and we’d reveal that “he never quite made it” before Order 66. Of course, the title of this story is Kanan: The Last Padawan – so that kind of gives it away, too (laughs).
But it’s a significant thing; in the present of Rebels, he’s insecure, because he feels like he’s a fake. He’s doing his absolute best to train Ezra, but he feels a little bit like he’s an imposter, like he’s not good enough to mentor Ezra, because he never had the opportunity to finish his own training. The notion of training someone else is scary to him.
So in all that, we try to extrapolate backwards and show young Kanan, and show what kind of guy he was. And show the babysteps to him becoming the “Cowboy Jedi” that we meet at the beginning of Rebels.
Nrama: It’s interesting to hear you talk about his confidence issues, or the lack of becoming a Jedi Knight, because in Spark of Rebellion, the most chill-inducing, throw my hands in the air line was when Kanan looks at Ezra and says, “Kid, I’m about to let everyone in on the secret,” and puts his lightsaber together and ignites. It’s such a uniquely Jedi moment to me.
Weisman: It really is! And it’s a fantastic moment, but the thing you have to do is put it in-context. Where has that lightsaber been? It hasn’t been on his belt. We see, it’s been in a freaking drawer! He wasn’t even carrying the thing!
You know, I lurked a bit online, I can’t help myself, it’s a sickness. I see the comments though, and they’ve all been – well, not all, but a huge percentage like 99% have been positive. And one of the things I saw said was, “when you know Kanan’s a Jedi, seeing him take out a blaster and just shooting guys is kinda freaky!” And I get that. Of course, for us, when we wrote that we were thinking, “well they won’t know he’s a Jedi until partway through this!” (laughs) But the shock value of seeing a Jedi firing a gun like he’s Han Solo should be disturbing. It really should be.
For a new viewer – and we always had in mind both new viewers and hardcore fans simultaneously – you won’t know the significance of it. But if you’re a fan, that visual of Kanan shooting, using a blaster, being the cowboy, is supposed to be shocking and even disturbing. Then, when he pulls out the lightsaber, that because this moment of tremendous significance, as he returns to this tradition that he left behind.
And he has the holocron in the drawer as well. You definitely get the feeling when he takes that out again at the end and listen’s to Obi-Wan’s message again at the end of Spark of Rebellion, you get the sense that he hasn’t listened to that in years. He’s held onto the lightsaber, held onto the holocron, but they’ve been stuffed in the drawer and he hasn’t taken them out in a long time. You see in Spark of Rebellion that it’s Hera who is pushing him into doing something with Ezra. He’s reluctant!
I think it’ll be interesting to see – I think Ezra interprets that reluctance as a failure on his part. It takes a long time for Ezra, and maybe even for the audience, to see that Kanan’s reluctance about training Ezra has nothing to do with Ezra, it has everything to do with Kanan.
But we definitely always had new viewers in mind. There are going to be kids out there, who are watching Rebels, where this is the first Star Wars they’ve ever seen. That’s a stunning thought to us, to guys like you and me, but it’s factually true! There are going to be people for whom this is literally the first Star Wars that they’ve ever seen! For a whole generation of kids.
Nrama: Yeah, no pressure on you guys though.
Weisman: (laughs) Yeah, I know! And if that wasn’t enough pressure, at the same time, you also know that there are legions of great fans who take this tremendously seriously, are religious about it. Fans that dress up as Stormtroopers, and more power to them, we want them to enjoy this as well! So that’s the tremendous challenge that we faced in making this show, is that this has to work on both ends of the spectrum.
The good news is, I think it does. The response to Spark of Rebellion has indicated that. That it has largely succeeded. And that’s thrilling. The fact that the ratings were good doesn’t hurt either! (laughs) It’s great to be creatively praised, but the fact that it did well commercially is nice too!
Nrama: Jumping back into Kanan: The Last Padawan, you talked about Kanan’s insecurity and his spirituality – is there a third thing that you’d say is the core of Kanan’s character?
Weisman: You get a hint of it in A New Dawn: Curiosity. Kanan is a guy who questions, and even questions authority. He’s curious about things, and wants to know why things are the way they are. That’s an aspect of his character, particularly as a youth, particularly in the era that I’ll be dealing with, that’s a crucial element of who he is. Ultimately, it will be about adaptability, but I don’t think that Kanan – or I should say Caleb – started out as adaptable, so much as he had it forced on him. But he adapted! And we’ll see that in the story, definitely.
Nrama: What is it about the Jedi concept, this spiritual knight that is so enduring to you?
Weisman: Well, I think it’s different things to different people – to both the characters and the fans as well. To me, it’s about taking both Eastern and Western traditions, and melding them into something that has some real meaning, and uhh… is badass! (laughs) It’s great when he takes out that lightsaber, but if he took out the lightsaber and just stabbed a guy and that was it, well, you know, big deal!
No, a Jedi at his or her peak is an impressively badass fighter! It combines the appeal of TV’s old Kung-Fu series, where the guy doesn’t want to fight, doesn’t want to fight, but ultimately: he’s gonna fight. And when he does? Watch out, because he’s way better at it than you are.
A lot of that goes to the same appeal as a Jedi has. You’re talking about the old west and bringing those Eastern elements into that – that’s what Star Wars is, it’s part of what it is. So bringing that element forward, putting it in a science fiction or space opera context, I think is just endlessly appealing.
Nrama: And what is it about comics that keeps you coming back? You’ve gone back and forth out of the comic book world, so what brings you back, and will you stick around and do some more stories for us?
Weisman: Well, I should say that I’ve never not wanted to stick around – I haven’t always been offered work! (laughs). It’s like the people still mad at me for Young Justice not continuing – that wasn’t my call! I wanted to do more! (laughs). So, I always want to do more comics. I love the medium, I love working with an artist. I love the freedom that comics gives you, in much the same way that the novels I’ve written have given me that freedom. But I also love collaborating with an artist that can bring that stuff to life, so you don’t have to rely 100% on my prose to do it!
It’s a fantastic medium. It does allow you, I think, to go deeper into certain things than you can on television. Mostly because, on TV, you have 22 minutes. You need to tell your story in 22 minutes, and boom, you’re done. You can have it be part of a larger arc, certainly, and that’s most of the work that I’ve been best known for has been done that way – episodic shows that have these great arcs to them. But it doesn’t leave you a lot of time to go off on tangents, or explore other aspects of characters – as with Rebels and all the backstories of these characters.
So I love comics, you have an issue of a comic of standard length, about 20-22 pages, that’s about the equivalent of one act of a TV episode. So you need three issues to tell an equivalent story to one episode of TV. But you give me five issues, and I really have the room to take this story and really sink my teeth into it in a way that even on television I can’t, because I have three acts, not five. I have the elbowroom in a five issue comic series to tell a larger, more nuanced version of the story than I would’ve had in a single episode of a television show.
Nrama: Very interesting, I’ve never heard it spelled out that way. This doesn’t mean you’re leaving TV as a medium though, right?
Weisman: Oh yeah, absolutely. I am not leaving television at all. Besides the fact that it’s how I make a living (laughs) and I have one kid in college and another applying.
One thing is clear – as much as I love comics, television is and always has been my first love. I grew up, there was a television set in my room, and serialized television, which back when I was a kid meant soap operas, like All My Children, which I watched, for years! Nowadays it’s common place.
For me the greatest television series of all time is Hill Street Blues. There are a lot of others I love, but Hill Street Blues is my all-time favorite for a couple reasons: 1 it was so great, but 2, it was such a seminal show. You don’t get Breaking Bad or Mad Men without Hill Street Blues having existed first. So as a teenager watching that show, it was a huge revelation for me. It brought in what I loved about comics, the ability to tell an ongoing story about characters where they changed and grew and developed over time. That’s what I strived to do on Gargoyles, on Spectacular Spider-Man, on Young Justice, on W.I.T.C.H., on any show where I was “the guy” leading the race so-to-speak. That’s the kind of show I’ve strived to be, something where you get real, organic growth and change over the course of multiple episodes. It’s something I have tremendous affinity for, and the thing I think good comics and good television have in common. It’s why both mediums appeal to me. Even as a novelist, I’m writing a book series! Rain of the Ghosts and Spirits of Ash are the first two books in what is, in theory, a nine book series. That’s what I want to do. I’m not the guy who writes a story about a character then says “I’m done with those characters now let me move on!”
Sometimes commercially, I have no choice.
But I did Gargoyles comics in 2009, fifteen years after it went off the air. Given the chance? I’d do more Gargoyles comics. I’d go back to Young Justice in a heartbeat, and I’m thrilled to still be involved with Star Wars Rebels, doing this Kanan series. But I’m not giving up television, because that’s where my heart is.
Nrama: So fans, start your letter-writing campaigns for more Gargoyles comics right now!
Weisman: (laughs) It wouldn’t hurt!
Nrama: Well, I like to end on a tease – is there a particular moment or relationship that you’re excited about showing off in Star Wars: Kanan?
Weisman: Well, you can’t have a last padawan without a master, so I’m very excited about showing Kanan’s relationship with his master, Depa Billaba. It’s really cool, and really fun.