Animated corner of the Star Wars universe created by Dave Filoni is brought to live action with the Lucasfilm Disney+ series Ahsoka.
That was the point that was hammered home Ahsoka panel held Saturday at Star Wars Celebration, culminating in the reveal that Lars Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who voiced popular villain Grand Admiral Thrawn from Filoni’s 2014 series, Star Wars: Rebelswould reprise the role for the new series.
Ahsoka is the Star Wars series debuting in August and starring Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s protege who has turned his back on the ways of the Jedi. One of the show’s running lines is her search for Thrawn.
The reveal happened both while playing a Celebration-only Ahsoka trailer, which showed the Imperial Commander’s blue skin and red eyes, then Mikkelsen’s podium entrance. The trailer already had fans screaming at the top of their lungs; Mikkelsen’s walk on stage had the 4,500-strong crowd on their feet and blowing the roof off with their screams.
Thrawn was actually created by author Timothy Zahn for his Star Wars novels in the 1990s, but like many non-film works, the character and his stories became non-canon after Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. Filoni brought the character into the mainstream and back into canon by making him his big bad guy rebelswhich ran for four seasons on Disney Channel and Disney XD.
On the panel, Filoni described the character as a villain in the guise of Sherlock Holmes’ adversary Moriarty: “He doesn’t have the Force, but that doesn’t matter. He will outwit you and trap you.” And he said he and fellow Ahsoka exec producer Jon Favreau have been in touch with Zahn and planning follow-up meetings “because it’s his thing. And I feel really privileged that Lars will bring him to life in this way. We want to make sure we do it right.”
To do it right, the double blade is here. The new show features many elements that Filoni, George Lucas’ protégé and Star Wars guru, has woven into one major series over the years. Filoni created Tano, and in rebels co-created characters such as Sabine Wren, Hera Syndulla and droid Chopper. Those characters are all now making their live-action debuts in the high-profile series, with Ahsoka almost enjoying the kind of mainstream recognition that rivals most other Star Wars characters. (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who also appeared on stage for the panel, play the live-action versions of Wren and Syndulla, respectively.)
Taking those popular animated elements and putting them into live action and into the bigger Star Wars myth can be daunting due to fan pressure and can also bring big payouts.
“The audience has a relationship with the characters,” noted Favreau, who said there’s a balance between pleasing existing fans and inviting a new audience.
Favreau acknowledged that it was not so much a long-term plan to bring the Filoni worlds to life as a “long-term hope.”
“I knew some of Dave’s plans, as he dipped his toe into live action,” Favreau said. “There was a greater purpose in bringing the characters to life.”
But the dangers of fandom can be real. On a side note, Dawson mentioned how after Ahsoka’s first live-action appearance on an episode of The Mandalorianinformed fans that the character’s unique look, including a headdress, did not match the animated look.
“We heard it,” Dawson said of the complaints. She explained how the first look involved foam suits that were heavier and more challenging to work with. For the new series, technology had evolved where the show’s creators could use 3D printing to provide flexibility and lightness.
And Dawson told her that the character’s piercing appearance was not a hindrance but a help. “It feels like I have real visual memories to look back on,” said Dawson.
Filoni, who will direct a live-action feature that ties the threads of the TV shows he and Favreau have worked on together, thought about how he’d lose his train of thought talking to Dawson in Ahsoka gear. And how strange it was for him to see the characters in live-action form.
Filoni said: “It’s weird. I mean it’s great. I mean… I don’t know what to think. I saw these people in my head, I wrote them, drew them, and now they were just there.