For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this preview from Issue 34 of Backstory: an interview with Star Wars Resistance head writer/executive producer Brandon Auman. Resistance premieres this Sunday on Disney Channel.
Brandon Auman was always destined to write for Star Wars. After all, that’s how he became a scribe in the first place. Before you roll your eyes, this isn’t your standard “child goes to theater, has mind blown, becomes a filmmaker” tale—not quite, anyway. Auman’s life was indeed changed by George Lucas’ original three Star Wars films, and he was so taken with them—particularly the VHS copies his family bought in the mid ’80’s at the age of 11—he decided to write them out in script form on a legal pad. “I sat down and wrote out every scene and every line of dialogue,” he recalls he says of the Herculean effort. “That’s what got me into writing. There hadn’t been anything at that point that had the perfect mix of drama, action and comedy. It never bored me. It’s pretty much all I watched throughout the ’80s.” It came at a cost, though: He watched Return of the Jedi so many times the tape snapped in half. Looking back, Auman now recognizes what drew him to the films overall but specifically the scripts. “It was perfect storytelling—perfect structurally. As a kid, you don’t identify that, but it does speak to you in its own way. Then as I got older, I started realizing it’s because of how they employ the three-act structure and the way they insert the comedic moments into the action and into the drama. It blew my mind, and it continues to blow my mind.”
Auman has written for television animation his entire career, including two Disney/Marvel series—The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in 2010 and 2013’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.—before hitting his peak with his highly acclaimed and Emmy-nominated work on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where he rose from story editor to executive producer and head writer. His work caught the eye of Dave Filoni, head of Lucasfilm Animation. Filoni is more than an executive, he is also the creator of the previous two major Star Wars animated series—The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels—and perhaps the man who knows more about the Star Wars Universe than anyone other than Lucas himself. As Rebels was winding down its wildly popular four-season run, Filoni began imagining Lucasfilm’s next animated adventure. And he landed on Disney Channel’s Star Wars Resistance. Set before the events of 2015’s The Force Awakens, Resistance follows brash young pilot Kazuda Xiono, voiced by Christopher Sean, as he is recruited to spy for the Resistance by one of the movement’s leaders, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, reprising his role from the latest film trilogy). Poe stations Kaz on the Colossus, a refueling platform in the outer rim, to monitor activity from the First Order. While there, he must blend in by working as a mechanic for Yeager (Scott Lawrence), Poe’s former Resistance ally. But to make money, Kaz and his friends will have to fly for it, taking on a team of pilots known as the Aces, who are hired to protect the Colossus but in their downtime take to the skies for dangerous races with large winnings. Kaz will also encounter some famous faces in the series, including BB-8, General Leia Organa (Rachel Butera) and First Order soldier Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).
While Filoni created Resistance, he wasn’t able to run the show day to day like he did with Clone Wars and most of Rebels. So Auman was brought on as an executive producer and head writer. The two hit it off immediately. “Dave is actually a really funny guy,” Auman says. “He’s cracked me up many times, and I never expected that. I always thought he was more of this dark and dramatic guy, but he’s always cracking jokes. I think he also liked me because we like a lot of the same movies so I wasn’t always referencing Star Wars. We’re both huge Godzilla fans. We’re both huge Lord of the Rings fans. We would talk a lot about things that aren’t just necessarily Star Wars related.” When Auman joined the core team, which also includes supervising director/EP Justin Ridge and executive producer Athena Portillo, a lot of initial developmental work had been completed. “Dave knew what he was looking for and what he wanted. He knew the tone. He knew what he was looking for visually. There were already designs in place when I came on board, and they had a lot of it already fleshed out so I was sort of the last piece of the puzzle.”
Tone was a major focus for Auman as he and Filoni discussed story possibilities. Much more so than Clone Wars and Rebels, Resistance was to feel like a show for children. The previous two series were for kids as well, but they had darker tendencies that made them equally fitting for more mature audiences. Resistance will have its darker moments as it rolls out, but certainly in the early going it will be geared to younger sensibilities. “Dave repeated like a mantra for us—see it from the point of view of a kid,” Auman says. “You have to remember, the show is aimed at kids. When we all first watched a Star Wars movie, it was probably as a child. As you get older, you want the darker, grittier aspects of Star Wars. You want lightsaber battles and people getting limbs cut off, but this is not about that. If you think about the original trilogy, the only hero that died was Obi-Wan. Everyone else lived. It was fun, and Dave wanted to bring that fun spirit of Star Wars to this show.” That directive is apparent right from the outset of the one-hour premiere episode, which features multiple sight gags, clever one-liners from Kaz and a bevy of comedic bits from Neeku (Josh Brener), who befriends Kaz and who’s deadpan delivery gives the series its biggest laughs. “Our show definitely has grittier elements as it goes and there’s definitely drama and complex story machinations coming, but we did try and have fun with it. Early on, we just wanted to take you on this joy ride. But even when things get darker and heavier, there’s still a sense of fun. For me, some of the best parts of Star Wars are the comedic moments that come out of character, whether that’s Han and Leia or Obi-Wan and Anakin. I love some of that character comedy because you don’t expect it in those movies. People forget that.”
The crafting of each episode begins usually with a conversation between Auman and Ridge about the story arc, and then they conference with Filoni and Carrie Beck, Lucasfilm’s VP of animation and live action series development, to pitch their ideas. After that meeting, Auman revises the premises for the stories before the series’ other writers are flown up to the Bay Area to meet either at the Lucasfilm offices or Skywalker Ranch, where they have a three-day retreat to flesh out the episodes. “We usually try and get four or five stories done in that time period,” Auman says. “From there, I’ll assign the writers to various scripts or decide to write them myself, depending on what’s needed. Usually I take the ones that have major plot points that impact the entire season as a whole. It’s a very collaborative process, and it’s been tremendous fun.” On all of his shows, though, it takes a little time for things to gel. “The first few episodes, you’re trying to find the tone. Everything happens so fast, and you’re just thrown into it, like, Okay, the show’s been greenlit, so go! We’re just trying to find it tonally, find the characters and their voices and really understand their relationships with one another.” This is not uncommon for show writers. “I think every show I’ve ever worked on and every writer I’ve ever talked to says it takes a good three to six episodes to really get it. Season one is always the toughest because by the time you’re in season two, you’re just sailing along. You’re just trying to find the way. If you go back and look at Rebels, you see that as well. It’s definitely not easy. But gradually the show starts humming along, and everything starts getting better and feeling more natural. With this series, I felt like we started landing it quicker than usual.”
No one involved knows how long Resistance will run, but odds are there will be more than one season to tell Kaz’s story. After all, Rebels ran for four seasons—and could have run longer had Filoni not wanted to wrap up the story the way he wanted rather than milk the series for more episodes – and Clone Wars is such a phenomenon that Lucasfilm recently announced it will be producing a seventh season next year even though the show hasn’t aired since 2014. Auman and Filoni have discussed long-term arcs for the characters, but rather than looking ahead they have settled on a concrete plan for one season and will see what happens from there. “We always knew what we wanted the end of season one to look like,” Auman says. “After that, it’s hard to know.” Because, really, there’s no point worrying about the future when you’re living out your actual childhood fantasy. “We’ve gotten an opportunity to pretty much do whatever we want, and that to me is what makes this so much fun. We’re writing Star Wars. We’ve gotten an opportunity to carve out our little corner of the galaxy.”
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