Star Wars: Rebels's Simon Kinberg: There May Be Stuff From the Expanded Universe That Sneaks In

Simon Kinberg, probably best known to comic book fans for his roles in the X-Men and Fantastic [...]

Simon Kinberg, probably best known to comic book fans for his roles in the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises, is currently working with Lucasfilm on not just Star Wars Episode VII but also on Star Wars Rebels, the latest animated series set in the universe of the movies and the first new Star Wars story to be released since the announcement that most of the Expanded Universe of novels, comics and video games that have been developed for years now is no longer canon.

He knows, though, that it's impossible to keep everything from seeping back into the official narrative.

Kinberg joined and a small group of other reporters at Comic Con International: San Diego last month. Here's the conversation we had.

In the Star Wars universe, what can or can't you do with this series?

What can or can't we? Well, I think the core basis are the original films and Clone Wars. For us, that is the canon. You have in the crew of people who are making the show, really hardcore Star Wars aficionados and fans and so every now and then there may be stuff from the Expanded Universe that sneaks into the show, I would say, but the core tenets are the films and Clone Wars.

There are so many elements of this that you're bringing to life for the first time, even though they were developed for previous Star Wars projects or as concept art for the film. How's that feel, finally bringing those to life?

It's pretty awesome. Dave Filoni is the best I think at sort of excavating those treasures. So is Pablo Hidalgo, who's the Star Wars specialist/guru who knows everything about it. He worked for George [Lucas] for years and works now with the Lucasfilm group. 

It's neat. One of the very first things I did before Rebels when I started working with Lucasfilm on whatever the future of Star Wars was going to be, is there's an archive at Skywalker Ranch where George basically kept everything from the movies. It's a closed archive and it's got tons of art -- a lot of [Ralph McQuarrie's] art that hasn't been published -- it's got all the models. And we really walked through it looking at, "What are unexploited ideas that contain the sort of essence of what the original films were?" Because inspired in the same moment of inspiration of everything that led into those original films were these other ideas that there wasn't space for or they just didn't fit into the story of the originals. We were like, this is such a great thing to mine -- and on the show it's even better because of the time period which is right before the originals, obviously.

It's just easier in animation. It's not free to build a space ship but it's a lot cheaper to build it in our animation than it is in photoreal CG animation or obviously practical.

George Lucas used to be the arbiter of what you could and couldn't do with the Star Wars universe. Who's doing that now?

You know, I really feel like it's the Lucasfilm story group. There's a bunch of people in it and they're all fans and experts.  I think as sort of the letter of the law, Pablo, who I mentioned before, is very good at knowing when things cross the line. He was so close with George that I think he sort of channels his vision. And for us on the show, it's really Dave Filoni. You know, he worked with George very closely on Clone Wars for years and has a very clear sense of things that he knows would annoy George or things that he thinks would amuse George and it's something that we carry with us in many of the decisions we make.

Can you give an example of something you can't do?

There are things that violate the vehicles or kinds of troopers, things like that, but that's less interesting. Sort of generally there is a tonal thing that we try to adhere to and connect to the original movies and it's something I try to do as well. Sometimes the comedy feels like, if it's too broad, it wouldn't fit into George's world. Sometimes when there are things that feel too cynical or too dark, it feels like it. There's a sort of tonal spectrum that we try to keep the show on and it's not trying to keep it for kids, it's trying to keep it to those original films that I saw when I was a kid and I was not messed up by.

People are very excited about the new Trilogy. How much is it a goal for this show to tie into that direction?

I don't know that it's a goal for the show. The aim of the show is to connect to IV, V and VI and that's the sort of thing that we're conscious of and that's at the front of our brain. That's sort of the mission statement of the show. We're all aware of what's happening with VII and of course I work on the features side and I've had many drafts of VII and was involved in coming up with elements of it.

But the show is really sort of connected to the original films -- and really to A New Hope. It's the beginning of the Rebel Alliance and it's something that will come to fruition in the original films and thirty years after the original films, the characters in the world that we create from this are not as relevant.

Are we going to see cameos from characters from IV, V and VI?

Yes, absolutely you're going to see cameos from IV, V and VI. The focus of the show is on the characters on this new crew for a new generation of fans but for my generation of fans, the older generation of fans, the parents, there will be a lot for them to see both in terms of cameos of characters that are beloved, iconic characters with some voices you maybe haven't heard in a long time but lots of little Easter egg things. I don't know if you saw the pilot, but there's a scene that takes place on Kessel and it's things like that, it's little touches that my kids wouldn't recognize as an allusion. My kids would recognize C-3PO and R2-D2, but they may not recognize some of the places and little details that we pepper into the show.

Clone Wars was a big show. I'm sure that the people who tuned into that will also be tuning into this. What are you bringing those fans that is the same and how will the two differ?

Dave Filoni was a big part of Clone Wars and he's the lead director and executive producer on this show, too, so I think some of the sensibility is similar. I think a lot of the action will feel sort of similar to the action in Clone Wars. I think this is a more intimate show in a way; I think it's a more character-driven show. I think it is tonally more like the original films and I think Clone Wars was a little more like the prequels.

I think there's a warmth and a sort of aspirational quality to Rebels that the originals had and is distinct from Clone Wars. I think mostly it's that -- this show's a little more character-driven and a little less story-driven than Clone Wars.

What is the hardest group of fans to please, with all of the different big-brand franchises you're juggling? Is there one where you say, "If we can make the fans happy, we've got it?"

All of them, really. I read the Internet more than I should. Especially when I'm writing, it's kind of crippling.

I feel an immense responsibility with all of these titles and where it really comes from for me in the truest place is that I feel responsibility becuase I'm one of those fans. I grew up on these titles. Star Wars is the reason I wanted to be a filmmaker. When I saw The Empire Strikes Back I turned to my dad and I said, "I want to do that," having no idea what "that" was. "That." And now I get to do that.

And I grew up reading comics and I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes short stories so that's a group that isn't as vocal but if you dig on the Internet, you're going to find hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans.

I will say, with Star Wars it feels the most far-reaching. I closed my deal to work on Star Wars on the features side right around the time of Halloween a couple of years ago and I went out that night for Halloween with my kids and this was before there was any announcement that there was going to be new movies. I knew it, and a couple of people knew it but I couldn't even tell my agent. It was "Untitled Kathy Kennedy Project." But I was looking around at Halloween and seeing how many kids and their parents were dressed as Stormtroopers, Leia, Han, all of these characters that were created thirty years before these kids were born.

And I had this sort of out-of-body moment of "Holy s--t! I can't mess this up in any way. This is religion. This is the only thing I can compare it to, is if you're a rabbi or a priest and you get to write a new book of the Bible. That's Testament. So I feel an immense responsibility on this one.