A long time ago in a galaxy where Disney didn’t have its own streaming service, the future of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” seemed bleak. The fan-favorite animated series, which centers on the conflict that helped shape much of the franchise’s mythology, was effectively canceled when Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney in 2013. Though a sixth season eventually made its way to Netflix, the series was axed before several of its key story arcs were resolved, throwing future tales of spunky Jedi Ahsoka Tano, clone troopers Rex and Cody, and the series’ myriad of other characters into doubt (though Ahsoka and Rex would appear at a later point in their lives in the series “Star Wars: Rebels.”)
It took six years, but longtime fans will finally get their long-awaited sendoff when the seventh and final season of “The Clone Wars” kicks off on Disney+ on Friday, February 21. IndieWire recently spoke to supervising director Dave Filoni about the series’ evolution, his role in the expanding “Star Wars” television universe, and crafting a story about the philosophical (and frequently literal) battle between good and evil while keeping things accessible for audiences of all ages.
The most immediate difference longtime viewers will notice going from Season 6 to Season 7 is the show’s graphical upgrades. Filoni and his team had ample time to hone their talents and make use of new technologies while creating “Star Wars Rebels” and the results are apparent. While technological advances haven’t simplified the development of “The Clone Wars,” new tools have made it possible for the series’ animators to expand the scope of its action scenes to live up to the galaxy-spanning conflict the show derives its name from, according to Filoni.
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“It wasn’t simple, it’s not like we just go down and turn the ‘Clone Wars’ machine on again,” Filoni told IndieWire in an interview. “Some things get easier, but you’re pushing the boundaries in other ways. You find ways to be more efficient and achieve things with the number of clones we could put on the battlefield, while some types of effects and rendered textures have also changed. Overall, it’s not easier, but there are more possibilities.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the ever-present challenge of crafting a meaningful story when most viewers already know how things end (spoiler: Things don’t turn out particularly well for the Jedi Order at the end of the Clone Wars). “The Clone Wars” takes place between Episodes II and III of the Skywalker Saga, and though it features plenty of original characters and story threads, the series still needs to fit into the continuity of the franchise’s films.
The final episodes of the “The Clone Wars” are less a continuation of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padmé Amidala’s stories — though they’re still key parts of the series — and more an opportunity to wrap up the arcs of fan-favorite characters such as Ahsoka Tano and Rex. For Filoni, “The Clone Wars” has always been less about what happens in the eponymous conflict, and more about why things played out how they did in other “Star Wars” media. For example, Darth Maul’s arc has already been wrapped up in “Star Wars Rebels,” but his return in “The Clone Wars” Season 7 gave Filoni and his team the opportunity to delve into the nature of evil and the Dark Side of the Force by contrasting the character with the machinations of Darth Sidious, the franchise’s chief big bad.
“I began making ‘The Clone Wars’ right after ‘Revenge of the Sith’ came out and you didn’t know at that time that Anakin had a Padawan, or that Maul was alive, or anything about the personal nature of the clones,” Filoni said. “What happens in the end for these characters? Maul is an instigator for many of the things that happen and we learn things about him that tells us more about the perception of evil and the workings of Darth Sidious.”
The series has featured plenty of recognizable characters over the years, while its various arcs fleshed out a dizzying array of obscure “Star Wars” characters and locations. “The Clone Wars” had several plot threads, including episodes that would’ve focused on Darth Maul, that were cut short due to Lucasfilm’s Disney acquisition. Some of these storylines were incorporated into Season 6, while others were released in the form of novels or comic books (such as the Asajj Ventress-focused novel “Dark Disciple”). Plot details about the unfinished arcs were eventually released online, but at the time, it seemed unlikely that they would ever see the light of day on the small screen.
“The Clone Wars” Season 7 will finally resolve some of these unfinished arcs, starting with “The Bad Batch,” the season’s first episode. “The Bad Batch” kicks off a multi-episode arc and focuses on an unconventional clone trooper squad of the same name as they team up with Rex, Cody, and Anakin on a dangerous mission to save one of their allies. It’s exciting, kid-friendly viewing, like a Saturday morning action cartoon with particularly high production values, and full of venerated characters, equipment, and locales.
In other words, it’s “Star Wars.” Though the franchise has continued to expand and evolve since franchise creator George Lucas sold his company to Disney, Filoni said he still endeavors to keep his “Star Wars” projects in-line with Lucas’ vision and noted that he still occasionally discusses series concepts and other ideas with Lucas to ensure that “The Clone Wars” and other projects are faithful to the franchise’s mainline films and ideologies.
“We still talk and if I’m stuck I will bug George for ideas, because he is the canon,” Filoni said. “He created it and I respect that. One of my jobs and purposes is to keep things as intact to what George laid down as possible. It is for kids — George would always say that over the years — but the beauty is that everyone can watch and enjoy it if you get the show right.”
As for Filoni, his career has continued to evolve alongside the “Star Wars” franchise. He began working on “The Clone Wars” 15 years ago (Season One premiered in 2008) and never expected the “Star Wars” gig to last more than two or three years. Since then, he’s created the aforementioned “Rebels,” and directed, wrote, and produced two episodes of “The Mandalorian,” the first live-action “Star Wars” series and a key factor in Disney+’s massively successful launch (Season 2 will premiere on Disney+ in October).
That said, Filoni’s ongoing success and the glowing reception to his “Star Wars” projects was never guaranteed. The “Star Wars” animated universe began with the 2008 “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” film (it shares its name with the TV series), a critically reviled release that was essentially several television episodes patched together for a theatrical release. Looking back, Filoni considered the film to be a learning experience but stressed that Lucas’ ongoing support helped Filoni and his team hone their skills and helped pave the way for the television series’ eventual critical success and enormous fanbase.
“We were learning and we put it out in a time when you got more of a shot with the audience than you do now,” Filoni said. “By the time the movie came out we were making individual series episodes that were much better. We knew we could make something worthwhile and we kept at it. George went to bat for us and was very patient.”
The 2008 film introduced viewers to Ahsoka Tano, who has gradually become one of the franchise’s standout characters. A huge roster of well-known “Star Wars” characters, from Yoda and General Grievous to Count Dooku and Darth Maul, have since popped up in the animated series, and Filoni has also incorporated more obscure characters from old Expanded Universe stories (he considers the 1991 “Heir to the Empire” novel to be a turning point for the franchise’s non-film releases), such as Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Bane, into select episodes.
Filoni is keeping quiet about any surprise appearances or other potential cameos for the final season of “The Clone Wars,” but if his track record is any indication (see: the Darksaber shocker in “The Mandalorian” Season One finale) the final 12 episodes of “The Clone Wars” are bound to offer longtime fans a few surprises or unexpected twists, in addition to wrapping up its many characters’ long-running arcs.
“If you grew up enjoying this part of the saga, Season 7 is the proper ending for it,” Filoni said. “It’s nice that we can deliver a proper ending for this, and even 15 years later, doing this series is still a tremendous amount of fun.”