For those who don’t know, Simon Kinberg has his hands in every Star Wars pie there is right now. He wrote the fantastic “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and has been working on “Star Wars” for more than a year now. He also wrote the premiere episode and a number of others for “Star Wars: Rebels.” I had the chance to talk to him about the show:
Bryan Young: I’ve seen the pilot, or the premier, which you wrote, and I’m wondering, it feels like you’ve done a really good job of tying together what most people loved about the prequels and what most people love about the classic trilogy. And I’m wondering if “Rebels” is a conscious effort to bridge both facets of the fandom in that way.
Simon Kinberg: Um, well it’s interesting. I mean I think that for me the inspiration when I’m thinking about “Star Wars” is always the original films because they were so seminal in my life. I was a kid when they came out and I saw them in the theaters. And they really are the reason that I wanted, not even knowing what it meant, wanted to get into movies when I was a kid. But I also have a five and a nine year sons and they grew up on the prequels, especially my nine year old. And they have in some ways the same affection and even nostalgia for the prequels that I have for the originals. So that’s a part of my life too and it’s an audience that I’m aware of because I live with them. So I think if there is sort of a cross pollination of the two trilogies I don’t know that it was strategic but as a writer it was natural because of my relationship to the originals and being around now the prequels.
B: Being a fan and stepping into the world of “Star Wars” that’s gotta be a little bit overwhelming at times.
B: Is that how you’d define it, as terrifying?
S: No I mean it’s daunting. It’s different than anything I’ve done before. I’ve worked in other universes that are daunting and sort of deep in scale and scope like “Sherlock Holmes” or the “X-Men” movies but “Star Wars” is a religion, it’s different than everything else. The only thing I can liken it to, which I’ve said to folks before is like, if you were a rabbi or a priest and somebody came to you and said you get to write a new book of the Bible, that’s kind of what it’s like. So it’s really exciting and yet I feel a different responsibility than anything I’ve worked on before, so it’s definitely daunting.
B: With “Rebels” and the biblical analogy, it seems like there are a lot of biblical names coming through, was that conscious or just that kind of happened?
S: Well I think it was conscious in the sense that a lot of the classic characters had biblical names, whether it was Ben or Luke, on down the line. There was, as you know I’m sure, the Joseph Campbell sort of rules and guide to mythic story telling was a huge part of George Lucas’ inspiration for the films and the Bible plays a big part in that sort of myth making tradition. So it’s always been a part of “Star Wars” and like you said, there’s a lot of fans who are the writers, the creators, the directors of “Rebels” so it’s not so much a strategic return to the originals or a respect for the prequels, it’s just natural, we’re all actually fans of these things and so we get excited about the same things that I think initially excited George about the universe.
B: I’ve heard some interviews where you talk about collaborating with Lawrence Kasdan and like anyone who’s ever studied screenwriting, his name is sort of etched in gold letters or something, I’m wondering if there’s any bit of advice or writing, when you’ve been working with him, that you’ve been able to apply specifically to your work on “Rebels” and what it’s like working with him.
S: I would say initially entering a room with Lawrence Kasdan, just like writing for “Star Wars,” is daunting. Because he’s not just a hero of mine but he’s sort of a mythic larger than life figure in my mind and in the world. But when you actually meet Larry and spend time with him he’s the nicest, sweetest, most collaborative, generous film maker I’ve been around. So he is actually very disarming very quickly. I spent a lot of time with him about a year and a half ago, and I think the things that I took away from that other than him being a human being, first and foremost, was that he approaches everything from a place of character and you see it in all of his work whether it’s “Raiders” or “Body Heat” or the “Star Wars” movies, it comes from character, it comes from human choices that push the story forward, rather than the story moving the characters forward. And you could take that from his work if you just watch his work but when you actually see him start to build movies from the ground up or tell stories from the ground up, his interest is in the characters. And the other thing that I think was exciting to me about him is he could very easily be someone who sort of relies on the lessons he learned and could have been teaching for decades now, but he’s not he’s actually an innovator, he’s somebody who’s fascinated by new forms of storytelling, new media, how to make stories feel different than they did even as we are trying to be loyal to the sort of texture and tone of the original movies, he’s the one as much as anyone if not more, pushing for innovation for something new.
B: I write the “Cinema Behind Star Wars” column for starwars.com so maybe this is just me applying that lens to everything because I do that to everything but it felt like there’s a lot of that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” feeling to the premier episode of “Rebels.” Like the relationships between Hera and Kanan kind of had that vibe where there’s so much more behind it, like the Nepal bar scene. I’m wondering if that was you sort of channeling those sorts of movies or if there are any other cinematic influences I should be looking out for. That Zeb short felt so much like the fight on the airplane with the big German in “Raiders.”
S: For sure it’s something that I’m aware of because after “Star Wars” I would say probably “Raiders” was the most influential thing I saw and loved when I was a kid and it’s on my sort of top five all time. And so there is some of that energy for sure, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you picked up on it. You know and even the setting, where the pilot starts the race is reminiscent of the sequences in “Raiders.” Some of the character comedy, the sort of banter, between the characters specifically Hera and Kanan but also the other characters, you know I think obviously you’ve seen the “Star Wars” movies a million times but for people who haven’t’ seen the original movies in a while I think in some ways people forget how much comedy was in those original films. So a lot of the banter between the characters comes from the voicings, obviously they are different characters and it’s a different context, but they come from the voicings of the original films. And that was something that was really important to us as we were building “Rebels” not just because it’s for a younger audience but because we wanted it to be as loyal to the feel of those original films and that’s true in the dialogue and it’s true in the direction. You know a lot of the art and imagery is inspired from or directly lifted from Ralph McQuarrie’s original art for “Star Wars.” So I wanted to do something similar with the characterizations and the dialogue, so there’s a lot of that banter with history, so that it’s not just bickering so that it’s not just superficial comedy, that it feels like it comes from a deeper richer place, not all of which has to be revealed to the audience right away. That’s one of the things that was so startling about seeing “Episode 4” was that it was “Episode IV” nothing had ever existed like that at least in my consciousness, the notion of picking up a story halfway into the some of the characters’ lives or even late into some of the characters’ lives meant that there was all of this history and back story baked in, some of which George revealed, some of which was never fully revealed.
B: When you’re working on, obviously you’re wearing a lot of hats in the “Star Wars” universe, not to mention all of the other universes you’re wearing hats in. How does your approach to working on “Rebels” differ from the standalones or creative consultation on “Episode 7,” what do you take to your approach to the animation that you don’t take to the other facets of your “Star Wars” job?
S: Well it’s interesting, because I’ve never worked in animation before, so there was a very steep learning curve for me and education in animated story telling, I’ve also never worked in tv. I’ve never really told a story in 20 something minutes, so those things I had to learn were different in “Rebels.”
I think the thing that may be the most unique about “Rebels” as opposed to the other movies is, everything that Lucasfilm is doing has this connection to the original trilogy I think because of the ages of people that are working on them, turns out they were kids when they came out so there is a different relationship to those than any other movie that’s ever been made. But “Rebels” because it takes place right up against “A New Hope” it was an opportunity to use a lot of the same designs and like I said ideally the same tone and texture from the original films. And that feels like to me an opportunity, in a way it’s kind of like getting a chance to write fan fiction at the highest possible level.
B: What is it you hope people are most, when “Rebels” premiers and people watch it, and people will because it’s really good, what is it you hope people are most excited about when they see it?
S: You know I think it’s, for me so much of “Rebels” is about my relationship with my kids. Because they are almost exactly at the ages that I was when I saw “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back” for the first time. And I saw both those movies with my Dad in a movie theater, and I hope that the experience of “Rebels” resembles the experience that I had with my Dad when I saw the first movies that there is something that grown-ups, parents, can connect to and there is this sort of explosion of a kid’s mind when they enter into this universe in a different way or for the first time. That’s the part of the show that is the most daunting to me is not what the original fans or the hardcore fans will make of it, because I think that it’s made with the same love that they have for “Star Wars” so I think they will like it, it’s more that for a whole generation of kids this will be their first entrance into the “Star Wars” universe. Maybe they have the bed sheets and the stickers and the action figures, but if their a certain age they may not have seen the movies or even “Clone Wars” and I want that new generation of fans to get as excited and enamored of “Star Wars” as I was.
I think the show is made with a real love for “Star Wars” and in a way weirdly I feel like whenever something is made with love, there’s something infectious about it even if the actual thing that the filmmakers love isn’t necessarily your taste, there is an authenticity to it. And I think that’s what I hope people will feel when they watch the show is that it was made by people who really love “Star Wars” and they love new characters and they love sort of every nuance of the world. I hope it’s something that parents can sit down to with their kids, and potentially everybody in between, teenagers, over-twenties, will watch in their dorm rooms or in their rooms. The challenge in making something is to also make it feel cool, that’s part of the balance and that’s something we’ve all tried really hard to maintain, which is something that “Star Wars” had which is a coolness to it, a sort of, a little bit of an edge to it, and there’s some of that in the show too.
B: It’s funny that you say that because as I watched the premier episodes the thing I was thinking most the whole time was that I couldn’t’ wait to be able to watch it with my twelve year old. He and I watched “Clone Wars” every week, that was half his childhood, every week was “Clone Wars” and then when it went away… this is what’s going to replace that and he’s really excited about that. It’s refreshing to hear that you guys are actually cognizant of that stuff. Sometimes there are a lot of cartoons that don’t necessarily care about being able to, or any franchise that cares about being able to cross the age gamut like that.
S: As a parent, not every title or property can do it, you know there’s some that are really young, and there’s some that are a little older and their sort of too edgy and scary for kids and part of the magic of “Star Wars” was always that your parents were as excited about them as you were. That was true when I was a kid, my Dad waited in line with me for four hours to see “Empire Strikes Back” and it wasn’t that he was babysitting it was that he actually wanted to see the movie. “Raiders” is kind of like that, there’s not a lot historically that’s like that. It is an opportunity.
B: I’m curious about, as weird as it may seem, Ezra’s slingshot. I’ve got a theory about it but I’m wondering why you guys decided to give him a slingshot.
S: Um, I’m curious of your theory.
I’ll answer before I get your theory so it doesn’t seem like I’m cheating. We were trying to come up with some kind of weapon for him that felt homemade and actually viable as something he could take down stormtroopers with but that wasn’t lethal, that didn’t feel like his life had gotten so dark that he was shooting at people, and obviously he couldn’t have a lightsaber yet. So we went around, and actually I think it was Dave Filoni that actually came up with the actual design for it, where on the one hand it felt quite young but then it felt like, in the classic mythic storytelling tradition, the most famous underdog fight in history, before “Rocky” was obviously David and Goliath, so the slingshot felt like it sort of did a lot for us. It felt young and effective and also felt like it was part of a larger mythos.
B: That was not my theory but that’s certainly more in depth and well thought out than my theory. Mine was, I know Pablo Hidalgo, who’s on the story team is a huge nerd for the old role playing games and in the original “Star Wars” role playing game there was a kid character template and his only weapon was a slingshot, so I was like oh that’s funny, they gave the kid a slingshot. Obviously your answer is much better than my theory, but if nothing else it’s interesting.
S: Certainly it’s something that Pablo had been aware of, he’s in all of our story sessions and he’s really involved.
B: My last question is for people who might be on the fence about coming into “Rebels” what would you say to invite them into check out the show and “Star Wars” as it goes forward, there’s a lot of animosity in some sectors about what’s happened since the purchase or what’s gone on with the expanded universe or whatever, but what would you say to people to invite them to say this?
S: I know I’ve been around all the people that are sort of this new generation of “Star Wars” and I can say to a person they are huge hardcore lifelong fans of “Star Wars” so I think the same love and religiosity that fans have for “Star Wars” that people making the new shows and movies and everything else share. So I think there is a very exciting combination of love and reverence for the universe of “Star Wars” and also a hunger to innovate and tell new stories with the voice and the vibe of the original films. So I always say, I’ve worked in a bunch of worlds where you have really religious fervor, and the only thing that you can ever promise is that you love the thing as much as they do. You can’t promise that you’re going to be as good a writer or director as George Lucas but you can only promise that you approach it with the same love and respect that they have for it. I can genuinely say every single person from story editor to all the writers, the directors, the animators, we have the same level of excitement that the fans have for “Star Wars” so there’s nothing cynical or strategic in the actual process of making these things, it is made with real love, it’s very handmade like the original films were. There’s a lot of people that are putting their own human touch on this world.
B: I think for many people that’s probably the best news they can hear. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me, and thank you for your work on “Star Wars.” As Tracy and probably Dave can attest I really like “Star Wars” and I’m glad you guys are working on them.
S: Thank you so much and I’m really psyched that you liked the premier, that means a lot. Thank you.
B: The premier was fantastic, I’m dying, that was so unfair to not be able to follow it up.
The full short, “Property of Ezra Bridger” debuts on Monday. “Star Wars: Rebels: Spark of Rebellion” is set to premiere Friday, October 3rd on Disney Channels around the world. Then, the show itself starts Monday, October 13 on Disney XD. The series will air in 34 languages across 163 countries in over 400 million households.
You’ll be able to hear bits from this interview on the Full of Sith podcast soon.