It's sometimes easy to forget just how pure the appeal of Star Wars was back in 1977. George Lucas may have always had Joseph Campbell’s notion of the hero’s journey in mind for his sci-fi fairytale, but if you were a kid when you first saw the film now known as A New Hope, you were likely just impressed by the laser swords and that amazing aerial dog fight above the Death Star.
As Star Wars became a trilogy, then two trilogies and then its current expanding roster of films and animated series, it has also become loftier, more focused on the intricacies of the Force and the competing ideologies of the Jedi and the Sith. That’s not a bad thing, but the recent animated series have drunk deep from that well. Clone Wars filled out the events of Anakin’s war years, while the core of Rebels was always exiled Jedi Knight Kanan and his protégé, Ezra.
Well, enough of all that. The latest Star Wars animated series, Star Wars Resistance, turns its attention to the men, women and aliens of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with Force powers. Created by Lucas lm’s animation guru Dave Filoni, it’s the story of young pilot Kazuda Xiono as he falls in with the Resistance, just as the First Order’s starting to make its presence felt in the galaxy.
“We’re trying to strike the balance between comedy and action, similar to the way that George Lucas did with the original movies,” says Justin Ridge, one of the three – along with Brandon Auman and Athena Portillo – executive producers running the new show (Filoni remains involved, though in a less hands-on capacity). “We’ve dealt a lot with the Jedi and the Sith in the past. With Resistance we have an opportunity to explore a different way of life in a different part of the galaxy. The characters are pilots and mechanics, working class people.”
The feature-length pilot episode (airing this Sunday, October 7, on the Disney Channel) introduces us to Kaz as he’s pursued by the First Order equivalent of the Red Baron. It’s only the timely intervention of Poe Dameron that saves his life – and sets him on a new path. Catching the eye of the nascent Resistance movement (at this point a tolerated, if slightly mistrusted, group within the New Republic), Kaz is despatched to the Colossus – an enormous fuel depot and hangout, as Kaz puts it, for “ex-Rebellion; ex-Empire; pirates – anybody who wants to go fast”. Briefed that First Order operatives are at work on the station, he goes undercover, working in a repair shop and taking part in deadly races, while keeping a watchful eye on the enemy.
Young guns go for it!
“With Kaz, we wanted a character who wasn’t like Ezra [from Rebels], and who wasn’t like Luke,” says Brandon Aumon. “He was raised in wealth. He could have gotten whatever he wanted because his father is a senator, he has a lot of influence. But what Kaz really wants is to be a pilot, to do good things. He wants to be a hero – and that means getting out from under the thumb of his father.”
Despite his skill in the air, Kaz is very far out of his comfort zone on the Colossus. “He’s sort of like a bird. When he’s in a ship, in the air, he’s incredible, but on the ground he’s a bit clumsy and awkward.” Athena Portillo agrees, describing Kaz as a fish out of water on board the dangerous outpost, a plucky kid who really doesn’t know just what he’s got himself into. “We tried to make him very relatable. It’s funny, given that he’s a star fighter pilot in another galaxy, but I totally relate to Kaz. We really wanted these characters to be very likeable.”
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Helping Kaz on his mission – even if they don’t exactly know what that mission is just yet – are his new friends. Neeku (voiced by Josh Brener) is a green-skinned, extremely literal alien who has a tendency to drop Kaz in it – in the pilot he accidentally inflates Kaz’s reputation, starting a rumour that he’s the greatest pilot in the galaxy – much to the irritation of other pilots on the station. Tam (Suzie McGrath) is a hard-nosed mechanic, working for veteran pilot – and ally of Poe Dameron – Jarek Yeager (Scott Lawrence). Rounding the group out is Bucket, Yeager’s beaten-up old droid pal.
Key to making these characters work was finding the right voice actors. Kaz, in particular, required someone with the requisite youthful energy. “We really wanted the actor to have the same sort of personality as his character, to be kind of a go getter – even if he has no idea what he’s letting himself in for,” says Ridge. 32-year-old Christopher Sean t the bill. “He literally is Kaz in real life. He’s such a big kid and just a perfect fit for this character.”
Into the unknown
But the element that most clearly marks Resistance out as something brand new is the time frame in which it takes place. Set roughly six months prior to the events of The Force Awakens, this is our first real chance to explore the post-Return of the Jedi galaxy in detail in the new continuity.
The showrunners say that, while the more-or-less clean slate nature of this backdrop proved occasionally challenging, it also afforded them a huge amount of freedom and the opportunity to innovate. “We wanted to open things up and create new characters,” says Portillo. “There are characters that we’ve seen from the movies, but this was a chance to do something new – and that’s really exciting.”
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Auman agrees. “The eras of the original trilogy, Rebels and Clone Wars, are so well thought out and there are already lots of [canonical] novels and comic books filling in the gaps.” Indeed, the Rebels team occasionally found their plans thwarted by the movies themselves. “Dave told me that one of the plot points he intended Rebels to touch on was stealing the Death Star plans, but obviously they couldn’t do that because Rogue One was coming up, so you’re in kind of a tighter alcove. Now we’re in this wide-open space that we can mess around in.”
The Colossus’s positioning on the Outer Rim, meanwhile, offers plenty of opportunity for adventure, far from the watchful eye of the New Republic. Their benevolent rule may help govern the core systems, but things are far more rough and ready in the depths of space.
“With the fall of the Empire things have changed a lot in the galaxy,” says Ridge. “I imagine it’s a little more like the Wild West in this time period. You have the New Republic, but it’s not as much of an overbearing presence throughout the galaxy [as the Empire was]. They’re not as controlling – which means that smaller groups like the First Order can start building up their forces and causing trouble.”
Of course, this is still the Star Wars universe, and running into the heroes and villains from the movies is all part of the appeal. As well as Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac himself ) and BB-8, the pilot gives us a quick glimpse of General Leia Organa (voiced by Rachel Butera) and it won’t be long before the gleaming armour of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) joins the fray. The latter, says Ridge, is a way into understanding the First Order.
“This is really our chance to get more insight into them. We’ll find out more about Phasma and her team, the people who operate under her, and what they’re trying to achieve.” That said, Resistance is primarily the story of Kaz and his friends. “It needs to be believable that the old characters would cross over into the lives of our characters.” Auman agrees. “There’s a danger that you can make the galaxy feel really small. If Kaz starts bumping into every single established character from the films, it would start to feel too tiny and convenient.”
The oncoming storm
Clone Wars and Rebels are loved by fandom, so much so that a seventh and final season of Clone Wars has been commissioned after its previous early cancellation in 2014 to wrap up loose ends. These series offer a chance to go deeper into the galaxy than the two hours or so of a movie ever can – and they’re often surprisingly dark, foregrounding the cost of the struggle for freedom.
Resistance, though, is a little bit different. It’s fresher and more accessible, consciously aimed at a younger audience. Visually, too it has a look that Portillo describes as more organic than its more stylised predecessors, citing the advances in Squash and Stretch [one of the key principles of animation] as a way “to get some really dynamic poses from the characters”. The look and feel of anime was a major influence. But older fans shouldn’t be worried – this is still Star Wars and it’s still for them.
“It’s going to be very fun,” says Aumon. “But the show definitely does have its moments of darkness, it does go back there. The pilot makes you think it could all be one show, but really as it progresses, it goes into other territories. It’s not just about racing.”
Ridge agrees. “So much has happened between the old movies and the new ones. The Battle of Jakku, the First Order was banished to the Unknown Regions and then there’s a time of peace. But now it’s gearing up again to this giant battle. History is repeating itself and it’s getting bigger and crazier out there...”
Star Wars Resistance begins October 7, 2018 on Disney Channel in the US, before rolling out across the world.