One of pop culture’s most accessible entry points for understanding our War on Terror is a cartoon from George Lucas.
But whether you like it or not, and whether you’re young or you’re old, The Clone Wars‘ eye-popping CGI animated series is seriously infested with power politics, resource wars and perpetual war. Just like reality.
So I picked The Clone Wars supervising director Dave Filoni’s deep brain (under his hat, at right) about Lucasfilm’s equal-opportunity life during wartime for Wired. The Force was strong with that one.
Clone Wars Spins Politics, Wartime Strife Into Stories for the Ages
In its rejuvenated third season, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is schooling kids on terrorized politics and reminding adults of the storytelling power of animation. The goal, according to supervising director Dave Filoni? Equal-opportunity sci-fi legend.
“Star Wars is a place where everyone can go, regardless of their particular perspectives or politics, and take something home from the stories,” Filoni told Wired.com by phone.
The Clone Wars‘ thematically complicated and visually impressive tales annihilate the tidy binarism of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy.
With the underwhelming Star Wars prequel trilogy, Genndy Tarkakovsky’s stunning 2003 Clone Wars miniseries and now Filoni’s sprawling CGI series all anchored to Darth Vader’s compromised moral axis, the Star Wars universe is steeped in volatile, and infinitely indefinite, shades of good and evil.
Whether the hot potato is terrorism, governance, procedure or the-personal-is-political gravitational pull that binds most of us, Filoni’s Clone Wars hasn’t been afraid to explore heady sociopolitical concerns. That the show has done so in the guise of a so-called kids’ cartoon has got to be a coup of some kind.
Wired.com picked Filoni’s brain on The Clone Wars, the forthcoming Star Wars live-action series, his previously awesome animation work on Avatar: The Last Airbender, the stigma of animation, and lots more in the wide-ranging interview below.
Wired.com: I’ve called The Clone Wars the most political cartoon in history before, but it still feels weird to say it.
Dave Filoni: I think it’s a great compliment. It’s a very difficult thing to take what’s seen as a predominantly children’s medium and tell thought-provoking stories, without switching on the lightsabers every other minute. It’s one of the challenges we face, but I think we’ve gotten better at it as we’ve gone on with the series.
Wired.com: Did that challenge originate with the Star Wars mythology? After all, its greatest galactic evil is hiding in plain sight as a politician.
Filoni: Right. Even in the early novels, Palpatine is described as corrupting the tree by rotting it from within. And the way he does that is by working in politics, where he can operate, double-deal and disguise the fact that he’s an evil, manipulative person.
I usually play upon the mythic ideas with which I was raised, where adults would say, “Oh, of course he’s evil. He’s a politician!” Back in the early days of Star Wars, a throwaway line, like, “The imperial Senate has been dismissed; the regional governors will now maintain the bureaucracy,” was in the backdrop.
When you get to the prequel era, you really see the espionage takeover of Palpatine. As George has explained it to me, it’s much more in the front of the wars rather than just in the backdrop, as Han, Luke and Leia dodge imperial stormtroopers.
Wired.com: Have you talked with George about how to finesse such volatile subject matter for younger audiences? Episodes like “Heroes on Both Sides” — which include domestic terrorists and demythologized enemies — contain pretty heady stuff for adults, much less impressionable kids.
Filoni: I really enjoyed that episode, mainly for the perspective it gave Ahsoka Tano, who had been raised as a Jedi and always seen the separatists as evil aggressors. Once she got into the outer rim, Padme showed to her that separatists had once been a part of the republic. That challenged Ahsoka’s perspective of the popular dogma, and gave her a chance to find out what individual people think, which is important.
I can remember when I was a kid hearing about the Soviet Union as an evil empire from far across the ocean. But there were kids across that ocean who didn’t know enough about their own politics, as I didn’t know enough about mine, even though we both liked ice hockey [laughs].
Wired.com: You make it easier by disrupting the absolutes of good and evil. The recent episodes with the lethal assassin Asajj Ventress (seen in the video clips above and below) unwind her more-innocent back story, revealing her as just another cog in Palpatine’s machine.
Filoni: And that’s Darth Vader. When the prequels began, he was just a boy in a pod racer.
You know how you can wake up in the morning and feel that it’s a great day, but then you can walk out your door and not really know what’s going to happen to you? That’s how I’ve always thought of Darth Vader.
You’re on the quick and easy path and, by the end of the day, you’re a completely different person. You can lose yourself, if you haven’t been raised with a strong sense of what you’re inflicting on yourself and the world around you.
I think that’s what George was getting at. Anakin wasn’t always this Dark Lord drowning puppies [laughs].
Wired.com: There’s a visual!
Filoni: Same goes for Savage Oppress (seen in the video at top), whose origins are explored in our three-episode arc concluding Friday [with “Witches of the Mist”]. He’s a much more layered character than I think fans first thought.
At first, they thought he was just another Darth Maul. But in the episode “Monster,” he was actually very protective of his friend.
He tried hard to do what’s right and save him. But, in the end, he committed a great evil by murdering him, because he’s so lost and manipulated.