Event Recap: Star Wars Celebration 2023 – “The Clone Wars” 15 Year Anniversary Panel

For Star Wars fans, it’s been nearly 15 years since Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered. First, via the theatrically released film on August 15th, 2008, then by the series itself on October 3rd. Dave Filoni has been one of the busiest people at Star Wars Celebration Europe, participating in panels about The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, The Bad Batch, and upcoming shows like Ahsoka and Skeleton Crew. So when he sat on the Galaxy Stage with the team that helped make The Clone Wars possible, he understandably got a little choked up. Because without The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni would have never made the jump to live action. And for all we know, Star Wars might not be what it is today without that series keeping fans engaged with the franchise during an otherwise dormant period for the franchise.

Dave Filoni was working on Avatar the Last Airbender at Nickelodeon where it was no secret that he was a massive Star Wars fan, in the process of making his own Plo Koon cosplay when he received a call from Catherine Winder at Lucasfilm Animation asking for a meeting. He was convinced the call was a prank from the SpongeBob SquarePants team across the hall, and it didn’t help that there had already been an animated series about the Clone Wars. But Catherine convinced Dave that the offer was real and shortly after, he found himself interviewing with George Lucas and getting the job as showrunner and executive producer on what would be George’s last Star Wars project before selling Lucasfilm to Disney.

Athena Portillo is now the VP of Animation Production at Lucasfilm, a role she wouldn’t have without The Clone Wars. She was working on Strange Magic when she first met Dave Filoni, who first took notice of Athena because of her Star Wars license plate, inviting her to leave the world of jukebox fairies to join him in a galaxy far, far away. Athena was instrumental in getting the series off the ground, spending six months in Singapore to build the animation studio that would take the stories and art created at Lucasfilm and translate it into an animated series. “There is no Clone Wars without Athena,” Dave Filoni confirmed, adding that The Bad Batch would also not be as good without her.

Sound Supervisor and Editor Matthew Wood was working on Revenge of the Sith when George Lucas personally asked him to help with a few episodes of The Clone Wars. He ended up staying with the show through its entire run and even provided the voice for the Battle Droids (“Roger, Rodger”). Since the Battle Droids don’t have a moving mouths, Matthew would sometimes improvise jokes for them while editing the soundtrack for an episode. Dave Filoni would sometimes let them pass into the final episode, providing they genuinely made him laugh. While making the prequels was stressful for George Lucas, Matthew recalls feeling like the boss was happy during his time on this series.

Kilian Plunkett was brought onto the series as a concept artist thanks to his work with Season 1 head writer Henry Gilroy in the comics world, including Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Kilian expected to only be hired for about two months of work, but was retained throughout the series, plus Star Wars: Rebels. He described working for George Lucas as an “out-of-body experience.”

Voice actors Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Troopers), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker), and James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) were then brought on stage and shown a photo of them all with George Lucas at the premiere of the film that launched the series. Recalling their audition stories, Ashley laughed about how Dave Filoni told her that Ahsoka should have an Icelandic accent. She got a dialogue coached and studied after receiving that feedback, only to be told to just use her regular voice. James Arnold Taylor had already been voicing Obi-Wan Kenobi starting with the Clone Wars micro-series and various video games, unaware that it was all an audition leading up to this role. The project was under such secrecy that Matt Lanter was told that he was auditioning for a character named “Deek Starkiller.” Once he got the part, he not only learned that he was voicing Anakin Skywalker, but that he was also replacing another actor who had already recorded several episodes.

(Source: StarWars.com)

(Source: StarWars.com)

The group took a moment to reminisce about Ian Abercrombie, who voiced Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious on the series and passed away in 2012. He was known for wearing colorful socks to the group recording sessions, a remnant from his run as Justin Pitt on Seinfeld. The entire voice cast was in awe of the way he could switch from his genial demeanor to the sinister ways of Palpatine. Dave Filoni recalled working with George Lucas to find the right balance on how menacing Palpatine should be in this time between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but Ian struck the right chords in every session. This was Dave Filoni’s first time directing voice actors, but when it came to working with Ian Abercrombie, he often felt like he was being taught how to direct by the veteran actor.

As fans of the series already know, Disney pulled the plug on The Clone Wars during Season 6 in 2014, which is how Dave Filoni ended up free when Jon Favreau pitched his idea for The Mandalorian to Kathleen Kennedy, which became Dave Filoni’s gateway from animation to live action. But the series was revived for a 12-episode final season. Funnily enough, the voice cast never really left these characters, reprising their roles in a variety of projects for Disney’s theme parks, toys, shorts, and even LEGO projects. The Clone Wars may have ended, but they’re still very much a part of each other’s lives.

For Dave Filoni, having a season of The Mandalorian behind him before returning to wrap up The Clone Wars only aided his vision of how it should end. These are his favorite characters he’s ever worked with, and the final four episodes of The Clone Wars are what he’s most proud of so far in his career. He wanted to bring these characters right up to the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, which is exactly what he did. And he now finds himself mentoring the next generation of Lucasfilm Animation storytellers, Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau, who helm The Clone Wars spin-off series The Bad Batch (Dave Filoni serves as an executive producer on that show).

Dave Filoni loves the characters from The Clone Wars so much that even though he knew he had wrapped up their stories in Season 7, he found himself writing short stories about them on flights. A story about young Ahsoka and her mother gave birth to a new idea, the short anthology series Tales of the Jedi. And as he built it out, focusing on Ahsoka Tano and Count Dooku, he made sure to include as many characters from The Clone Wars as possible, which meant directing them all in a recording session together. “I’ll be honest, I really just wanted to hang out with these guys again,” he confessed. And with that, Dave Filoni announced that a second season of Tales of the Jedi is in the works.

All 7 seasons of The Clone Wars, plus The Bad Batch and Tales of the Jedi, are now streaming on Disney+. Stay tuned to Laughing Place for more coverage from Star Wars Celebration.

Star Wars Day 2023 coverage is presented by shopDisney
Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).