Supervising director Brad Rau and head writer Jennifer Corbett discuss Lucasfilm’s newest animated ‘Star Wars’ series about a unique group of experimental clone soldiers, set in the aftermath of the Clone War, premiering today on Disney+.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch premieres on Disney+ today, the latest original animated series in Lucasfilm’s ever-growing Star Wars universe. Executive produced by Brad Rau (also the show’s supervising director), head writer Jennifer Corbett, Athena Portillo, and veteran Star Wars and Lucasfilm animation creative sage Dave Filoni, Star Wars: The Bad Batch follows the elite team of experimental clones of the Bad Batch, introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy immediately following the Clone War. Each member of the unique squad varies from their brothers in the Clone Army; they all possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extremely effective and formidable soldiers. The series serves as both a sequel to and spin-off from The Clone Wars, which finished its seven-season run last year. AWN recently had a chance to speak to Rau and Corbett about the new series.
Dan Sarto: Where did the idea come from for the new series?
Jennifer Corbett: Well, the Bad Batch originated during the original run of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That arc became the first arc that fans got to see in the final season of Clone Wars. But when those story reels were initially released back in 2015 at the Star Wars Celebration [fan event], there was a huge fan reaction. It was warmly received. So, that was always in the back of people's minds as a potential series. And when Clone Wars was coming to an end, it felt like the clone story hadn't been fully finished yet. What other stories could we tell, especially during the era of the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire?
DS: What does animation allow you to do within the Star Wars world that you couldn't necessarily do, or do as well, in live-action?
Brad Rau: An awesome question because we think about that a lot. A lot of it has to do with the classic suspension of disbelief, where we can go in and have humanoid characters next to characters that are creatures, or droids, and stylistically, it's easier to make them match than it is in live-action for a different kind of budget range. Having bigger set pieces and crazier action is certainly easier stylistically to pull off, and that has an impact that hits the audience in the right way. There's some real power in telling these kinds of action-adventure stories in animation, which is much, much harder to do in live-action.
DS: Does using animation allow you to soften how you deal with certain issues, such as war and violence? Is it a little easier to depict that type of action than it would be in live-action?
BR: That’s a pretty big question. I mean, stylistically, the way we see our characters lit, and then they get into an action sequence where things are blowing up, the way the light hits them, I don’t think we soften it. As an audience, you can go along for that ride. We go to great lengths to shoot these more with a live-action sensibility. We have stylistically set up the series a certain way, but then the way we shoot it, we try to bring a little bit more live-action feel so that it doesn't soften any of that. If we do it right, and we get into the character animation where you see these characters dealing with the weight of the things happening around them, we're more interested in that instead of softening it so that it’s somehow more palatable.
DS: Stylistically, from the character and environment designs, the kind of gritty textures, to the way characters and machines move and the action is shot, you're creating a visual tone that borrows from games, live-action, and fully animated shows that are more and more photorealistic every day. Where do you want to land with regards to the visual style of this show, where your audience is quite knowledgeable about these visually related mediums?
BR: Another awesome question. We talk a lot about visual style internally with art director Andre Kirk and all our supervisors. We're always looking at live-action, especially something like Star Wars, where we do see characters that come from animation, live-action, and all kinds of different media in the various shows. We're always looking at references. In terms of style, this show features a legacy style taken off Clone Wars. It's like a spiritual successor to Clone Wars. We wanted to honor that style, yet get a little more nuance, a little more detail, a little more fidelity in the way it’s designed, the way that the textures work, and the way that the lighting hits the characters. Our rigs are more sophisticated, so we can get more nuance in the characters; getting that single shot on a character that's brooding just the right way with just the right amount of animation is really hard to do. That's easier to do in live-action. So, going back to what you were asking earlier, we're not trying to soften anything where we aspire to the emotional pull that you would get from live-action. But we never want to necessarily be photoreal. We try to live in that world, but still be stylized.
DS: Anything Star Wars is high-profile. Lots of fans and expectations. What were the biggest challenges for you on this show?
JC: For me personally, it's the fact that we're dealing with legacy characters that were created by George Lucas and Dave Filoni. We were always trying to just stay true to George's vision for Star Wars. That's something that Dave talks to Brian and me about constantly… what George's vision was, the things we were doing right, and the things we were doing wrong. So we could correct course. I find that if we keep it true to what Star Wars is at its core, then we're succeeding. I hope the fans love it. Brad and I love it. So, for me, that's my challenge.
BR: My answer is going to sound a lot like Jen’s. I'm such a big Star Wars fan. I've been a fan my whole life. I've always wanted to get into the entertainment business because of Star Wars. It's kind of a cliche, but it's so true. It's been so much fun getting a chance to work with Dave Filoni on the different shows. And when he tapped Jen and I to work on this show, our collaboration means so much to me. How we try to see Dave's vision move forward does weigh on us. It's very challenging. But he's such a great mentor. He is really encouraging, and he always helps us out. So, it feels like we're on the right track.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.