Dave Filoni, Savior of Star Wars

Dave Filoni

If there’s one thing every Star Wars fan can agree on, it’s that they all love to disagree. Whether it’s arguing about the quality of the Prequels or the various movies, games, and TV shows released by Disney, casual viewers and more dedicated fans of Star Wars have a tendency to argue about anything and everything under the binary sunset.

The one exception being Dave Filoni’s contributions to the Star Wars universe.

The fandom may tear each other to pieces over hotly-contested issues like Jar Jar, Rose Tico, the Ewoks, or who shot first, but virtually every Star Wars fan shares a mutual love and respect for Filoni and his unforgettable creations.

For the past decade and a half, Filoni has not only been responsible for correcting many of the mistakes of the Prequel Trilogy, but also for shaping the ongoing direction of the Star Wars universe. His endless list of characters — like the daring Jedi padawan-turned-rogue-force-user Ahsoka Tano — have become some of the most beloved and complex heroes in Star Wars.

He’s overseen several live-action shows and animated series, helping develop some of the widely-watched Star Wars series in existence, including The Clone Wars, The Mandalorian, Rebels, and Tales of the Jedi. To some fans, he is perhaps the closest thing George Lucas’s sci-fi epic has to a saving grace — the one positive thing that has hung around since Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney.

And amazingly, his influence on Star Wars all began with an incredibly subpar animated kid’s movie.

Humble Beginnings

Born in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, Filoni’s childhood was marked by the same diverse upbringing as his eventual mentor/employer, George Lucas. His father — a classical music fan — almost certainly influenced his affinity for operatic scores (Filoni would later make suggestions to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s main theme in Rebels); meanwhile, his avid interest in World War 2 and his grandfather and uncle’s aviation background instilled a lasting impression that directly influenced his work on Star Wars Resistance.

Upon graduating from the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Filoni pursued a career in the animation industry, working in a limited capacity as an artist and assistant director for adult animated series like King of Hill and light-hearted children’s shows like Kim Possible. (One almost wonders if his early background catering to a mixed audience demographic influenced his decision to gear his Star Wars projects towards children and adults.)

In the mid-2000s, Filoni took on a job working in the animation department for the inaugural season of Nickelodeon's genre-bending (no pun intended) Avatar: The Last Airbender, eventually working as a director on the anime-influenced series.

Early Days in Star Wars

In 2005, Filoni — a lifelong dedicated fan of Star Wars — left Nickelodeon for the greener pastures of Lucasfilm, having been personally selected by George Lucas to help bolster the studio’s animation department. Humorously, Filoni thought the job offer was a cruel prank set up by his friends at Avatar.

Pleased with the quality of Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 2D animated Clone Wars series and wanting to explore the timeline between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith further, Lucas planned on constructing a longer TV show that tied into the Prequels. Working closely with Filoni, the two developed many of the concepts that laid the foundation of 2008's Star Wars: The Clone Wars series.

Impressed with the finished results of the first few episodes, Lucas decided to go one step further in introducing the series to the world. Instead of debuting the show in a conventional manner, he ordered the episodes re-edited into a feature-length film, which would be released theatrically and serve as an introduction of sorts for the TV series.

The film — 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars — was an unmitigated disaster. Released to theaters across the globe, the movie earned almost universally negative reviews, critics decrying it for its clunky animation, uneven story, and childish humor and plot elements.

If the film debut of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an experiment, it was an unequivocal failure, nearly dooming the series before its official release on Cartoon Network three months later in October, 2008.

Growing Success With The Clone Wars

Star Wars: Rebels, DUME
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

As with its cinematic counterpart, the original few seasons of The Clone Wars were less than enthusiastically received by fans and critics. While its aspirations to explore the Clone Wars and expand the borders of Lucas’s universe were evident, the series seemed to have trouble defining its tone, alternating between Disney Channel-esque comedy and more adult-oriented action and violence.

However much of a learning curve Filoni endured during those early years of The Clone Wars, it was clear that he was still finding his creative footing, like any aspiring filmmaker honing his craft through amateur short films.

By the time season 3 rolled around, The Clone Wars finally began to snowball into something that fans could appreciate and enjoy. Over the course of the first two seasons, the tone had solidified, becoming a more intelligent, more sophisticated sci-fi series that appealed to both children and adults without pandering or alienating either. The animation style was smoothed over, the action scenes growing larger and more epic in scope, culminating in multi-part episodes featuring some of the Clone Wars’ most hair-raising battles.

But perhaps even more than that, it was around this time that Filoni started to truly understand his cast of characters — the pre-existing heroes Star Wars fans knew and loved (like Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda) and the characters Filoni had introduced to the series (like Ahsoka, Captain Rex, and many more).

The series evolved into something better with each new season, a catalyst for Filoni to create and explore new worlds and characters, as well as providing more in-depth stories around wholly underutilized individuals in the Star Wars canon.

While Filoni debuted and explored new characters like Ahsoka, Rex, Cad Bane, and Mandalorian extremist Bo-Katan Kryze, he also used the series as an opportunity to better understand Anakin’s turn to the dark side, his disillusionment with the Jedi Order, and his inner emotional uncertainty.

Similar feats were also accomplished with established Star Wars characters like Obi-Wan and Padmé Amidala, as well as the Prequels’ supporting players like Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Plo-Koon, Tarkin, Aayla Secura, Kit Fisto, and a host of Clones (each of which came with their own individual personalities and characteristics).

In other words, Filoni was smoothing over the edges of the oft-panned Prequels, correcting certain weaknesses and inherent problems found within the 2000s trilogy. He also provided a greater lens to view certain aspects of Star Wars’ story, giving emotional undertones to some of its most defining moments. (His reexamination of Order 66 has been viewed as The Clone Wars’ crowning achievement.)

In this way, The Clone Wars acted almost as a retcon. But for as many issues as Filoni fixed, he also changed the direction of the Star Wars continuity, his Clone Wars characters (most especially Ahsoka) playing larger roles in future Star Wars’ narrative like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Later Star Wars Stories

Star Wars: Rebels, Rise of the Old Masters
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

After a preemptive and controversial early conclusion to The Clone Wars in 2014, Filoni drifted from project to project following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. His creative effort during this new age for Star Wars eventually brought him to Star Wars Rebels, a slightly more child-oriented series detailing the formation of the Galactic Rebel Alliance.

Set several years after the Clone Wars, the Empire has officially taken over the galaxy, installing a regime that rules through fear, subjugation, and paranoia. Working on the farming planet of Lothal, a ragtag group of freedom fighters (space pirates, mercenaries, juvenile delinquents, and former Jedi in hiding) stretch their influence to the far reaches of space, forming the earliest iteration of the Rebellion.

As with The Clone Wars, the first few seasons of Rebels saw a mixed reception from fans, especially those who were hoping for a series on par with the complexity of The Clone Wars. As with Filoni’s earlier show, though, Rebels only grew better over time, with Filoni taking an opportunity to introduce a new cast of characters for audiences to bond with, as well as providing a loose epilogue for pre-existing Clone Wars characters. (Filoni was also able to weave in characters from Star Wars’ Extended Universe, such as the fan-favorite Imperial officer, Grand Admiral Thrawn.)

With Rebels concluding in 2018, a hole was filled in Filoni’s work schedule that needed to be filled. Fortunately, a handful of exciting opportunities opened up, offering Filoni the chance to pursue a new Star Wars narrative while continuing to develop a few old ones.

In 2019, MCU veteran director Jon Favreau approached Filoni with an ambitious idea for a live-action series, following a lone Mandalorian bounty hunter drifting across the galaxy post-Return of the Jedi. The series — the first live-action series Star Wars had ever produced — debuted on Disney+’s launch day to stellar reviews, reigniting fans’ enthusiasm and interest in Star Wars after the mixed reception of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy.

Once again, Filoni (this time working with Favreau in lieu of Lucas) took the time to craft new stories and characters in The Mandalorian, even as he threw in connections to ongoing storylines that he’d begun with The Clone Wars.

New and Upcoming Projects

This new phase of Filoni’s career proved his most ambitious and prolific to date. Through The Mandalorian, Filoni helped bring in several new heroes and villains, such as the unbelievably adorable former Jedi padawan, Grogu. At the same time, he also reintroduced established Star Wars characters, like Ahsoka, Bo-Katan, Boba Fett — even Luke Skywalker.

As he continued supervising The Mandalorian, Filoni also developed several new series as well. In 2020, he provided a definitive conclusion to the resurrected Clone Wars series on Disney+, delivering some of the best episodes the show had ever seen.

In 2021, he began working on an animated continuation of The Clone Wars in The Bad Batch, following the titular group of clones as the era of the Republic transitioned into the age of the Empire. That same year, he also released the live-action Mandalorian spin-off, The Book of Boba Fett, focusing on the famous bounty hunter’s hostile takeover of Tatooine’s criminal underworld.

More recently, Filoni also released another animated Clone Wars spin-off, Tales of the Jedi, and will also be overseeing the creative direction of the live-action Ahsoka series, set for release on Disney+ in 2023.

Understanding Filoni’s Place in The Star Wars Mythos

In all, save for George Lucas, no man has made such an indelible mark on Star Wars quite like Dave Filoni. For millions of fans, he is as synonymous with George Lucas’s science fiction series as Hayao Mizayaki is to Studio Ghibli or Peter Jackson is to The Lord of the Rings films.

He may not have created Star Wars, but he is almost single-handedly responsible for carrying George Lucas’s imaginative vision for the Star Wars universe in new, untold territories. Whether you’re looking at his past influence on the series or pondering his upcoming contributions, no one has helped shape the current state of Star Wars as much as Dave Filoni.

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.