Outside of George Lucas, the biggest influence in Star Wars on the small screen is Dave Filoni.
Filoni was the supervising director behind the animated TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and currently, Star Wars Rebels. The Clone Wars, not to be confused with the Grenndy Tartakovsky 2003 title of the same name, spanned seven seasons from 2008-2015, and provided the much-needed exposition and character depth in the Star Wars Saga Lucas wasn’t ever able to achieve effectively.
While it took place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) set off on various adventures through the galaxy fighting off the Separatists led by Count Dooku (Corey Burton) and General Grievous (Matthew Wood). While there were the familiar characters of the Saga appearing throughout the show, one original main character was introduced in Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who is Anakin’s apprentice.
Given ROTS was released in 2005 and Filoni’s Clone Wars started airing three years afterward, to the casual Star Wars fan trying to view the films and series in the universe’s chronological order, it may be confusing as to why Anakin mentoring a padawan was never mentioned once during ROTS and even if it falls in line, it makes it even more perplexing as to why the Jedi Council still distrusts him to be a Jedi Master.
The advantage Clone Wars have over the films is it provides a prime example that Lucas’ vision of what he had for the Saga was better suited for TV than on film. Filoni didn’t re-imagine what Lucas already provided, he did a masterful job filling in the blanks while presenting Anakin as a likeable hero.
When you look at the films, particularly during AOTC and ROTS, you always see Anakin in some form of struggle or conflict with his emotions aside from the action scenes. I felt you never really had the chance to embrace Anakin’s humanity in the films aside from his interactions with Luke. Instead what you know of him is that he loved his mother, detests sand, had an infatuation with Padme that somehow translated to love, annoyed Obi-Wan with his rash actions. The closest thing to actually knowing Anakin at the core is the time we see him with Palpatine. Unfortunately, most of their scenes are when Anakin’s desperate.
Anakin became much more than a whiny, desperate and love-struck teenager in The Clone Wars. We see him become a leader and respected Jedi he was meant to be. His compassion and empathy towards Ahsoka throughout the series made him a much more endearing character.
The show excelled at expanding on existing characters, promoting diversity, and plot points touched on in the films, but never explored.
When it came to expanding characters, the show brought back, the once-deceased Darth Maul and gave him far more to do in the few episodes he was in than the little screen time he was offered in The Phantom Menace.
When it came to promoting diversity, you had a more robust female presence with Ahsoka, Padme (Catherine Taber) and Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman). Ventress went from being a primary antagonist to an antihero of sorts through the show’s progression. When you compare the impact the three characters had on the show as equal contributors compared to the films where you only had a single female token main character (Padme in the Saga and Princess Leia in the Original Trilogy), it’s kind of sad that it took this long for The Force Awakens to finally break the glass ceiling for women in the films now the presence of General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Maz Kanata (Lupia Nyong’o) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).
When it came to explaining plot points, the show explained the origins of Order 66, Yoda’s spirit journey to discover how to be a force ghost, and you got to know some of the personalities between a number of the clone troops. No longer were they just regular soldiers the Jedi conversed with, you get to know some of the different troops like Captain Rex, Cody, Fox, etc. While it’s easy to credit the show for having the time to explain things George Lucas never had time to, you can appreciate the consistency and pacing of the storytelling.
The Clone Wars provided me a special appreciation of the ambitious attempt Lucas made at world building. It seemed at times Lucas tried to reinvent the wheel when he wrote and directed the Saga, but who knew all it would take is a TV show to flesh it out?
This now extends to his new show, Star Wars Rebels with Disney’s focus on the original trilogy timeline and beyond. The new cast is comprised of original characters taking place between ROTS and A New Hope. While the show’s entered in its second season, we’re already seeing familiar faces from the original trilogy as well as Ahsoka and the beginnings of how ruthless the Galactic Empire can be. The fact the show didn’t hold back and brought in Darth Vader and actor James Earl Jones to reprise his role, demonstrates that they’re willing to make the most of every single resource they’re going to get. As we see a proto-Rebel Alliance, we see Vader almost single-handedly take out an entire fleet in his tie fighter. This is not necessary meant to be a pot shot, but unlike Supergirl using Superman as some glorified obscured plot device, Star Wars Rebels didn’t deny their fans of what Vader can do directly.
Rebels can also fulfill another purpose in a way Clone Wars never did before, provide a supplemental template for the Star Wars: Anthology films. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has embraced both film and TV, Disney may also be taking the similar route with the Star Wars universe. I won’t be surprised if at some point, Rebels will interact with any of the characters of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
When it comes to redefining Star Wars, Filoni was a pioneer because he showed how the franchise can be defined beyond the films on TV.