Dec 2, 2008

Entertainment - Paul Dini - The Newest Jedi Talks

Steve Fritz

The next episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars should be one that will interest Jedi and Dark Knight fans alike. It marks the return of Paul Dini to George Lucas' universe.

Note the word, "return."

What many don't realize is this is not the first time Dini worked on a Star Wars project. Years before he worked on Batman: The Animated Series, before he worked with Bruce Timm, Dini was a staff writer, story editor and producer of the series Ewoks & Droids for Nelvana. So, his writing the upcoming episode "Cloak of Darkness" is something a coming home. Then again, when one hears what the episode is about, it's totally understandable.

While this is also the holiday season, and Mr. Dini is just about to release his latest adventures of one of his best spunky female characters ever, we felt it appropriate to talk about that book a bit, too. As any Jedi fan knows, the universe is full of amazing things, big and small. Some new Jingle Belle tales sure fit that order.

Here's what the King of Breakfast had to say:

Newsarama: How did you get involved in The Clone Wars?

Paul Dini:My old buddy Henry Gilroy had been working on the series as a writer and story editor. I think he had me on a short list of outside writers he wanted to use for the series. Once they had a number of scripts in the works, and knew where they were going with the overall series, he asked me if I wanted to write a couple. I said sure, it sounded like fun.

NRAMA: Were you a Star Wars fan/geek as well as everything else?

PD: Oh yeah. I had wandered into an advance SttarWars screening in Boston the week before it officially opened with no idea what it was about. I had seen the movie trailer three months before in front of the movie The Late Show and looked kinda hokey in a "maybe it will be fun to watch at the drive-in" way. Once the fanfare started and that huge Star Destroyer came blasting across the screen, I was hooked.

Seven years later, one of my first jobs in animation was writing on the Ewoks & Droids series at Skywalker Ranch. So yeah, the Star Wars universe has certainly been a big part of my life.

NRAMA: Did they/Henry Gilroy offer you this part of the arc or just said this is what you are working on?

PD: No, Henry offered the story with me specifically in mind. He said "You write good sassy girls. We have an Ahsoka episode and I'd love to see you take a crack at her."

NRAMA: Well, Henry's right. whether you like it or not Paul, you have a great reputation for creating and writing female characters. Do you think, considering the main cast this episode, that was one of the reasons you got this assignment?

PD: Definitely.

NRAMA: Ahsoka is now well known as a cast member in the series, but was she clearly outlined out to you when you got the job for "Cloak?" How was she defined and how wasn't she?

PD: I think she had already been pretty clearly defined, but parts of her personality were still coming together. I tried to play her as very quick-witted, a girl who moves fast, thinks on her feet and is not above blurring the truth if it will serve her needs, or more accurately, the needs of her mission. I think she picked up a lot of that from Anakin. She sees where he bends the rules, then takes it a step further.

NRAMA: After working on the script, did you get word from above (whether Gilroy, Filoni or, George Lucas) about any modifications?

PD: There were some small notes from Henry and the crew on my first draft, but they were pretty minor. I did the tweaks and later Henry or Dave added whatever needed to be added to the finished picture. There are always things being added even after they've signed off on the script; if Dave wants to extend an action sequence in storyboard, or if George sees a rough cut and decides to up the emotional stakes by quickly intercutting from one scene to another. I haven't been up to the Ranch during production, but it's my understanding that the process in making each episode is just as intense and as hands-on as making a feature.

NRAMA: How would you define Asohka and how did you add to her?

PD: Ahsoka is very anxious to prove herself an accomplished Jedi, and while she has great enthusiasm and courage, it sometimes clouds her sense of judgment. I wrote another script where, I don't want to spoil anything, but she basically has to be physically pulled from a battle she doesn't have a prayer of winning. She has a tendency to do that a lot. Only later does she take those moments to reevaluate the situation and say, "Okay, I've got to think these things through, stretch out with my feelings first, and reach for my lightsaber second."

NRAMA: Now, less defined are Asajj and Luminara. That said, how would you define Luminara?

PD: The flipside of Ahsoka. Dignified, wise, very powerful, but someone who relies on diplomacy first, and fighting as a last recourse. That's fine when she actually has to square off against an opponent in a tactical battle scenario, she's like a master Samurai and she'd win, no question. Against a stealth fighter who adheres to no rules, like a ninja, she'd have a problem.

NRAMA: What about Asajj?

PD: Just as calm and control flows through a Jedi, hatred and chaos rages through her. She has a burning desire to prove herself as Count Dooku's apprentice, and the only calm she exhibits is when she's in his presence. Even then, you get the idea it's hard for her to keep it in. She's a wild animal who loves to kill. She doesn't take orders well, and hates being patronized or treated like a servant by those she considers her inferiors. Barring Dooku, that's just about everybody.

NRAMA: Are you currently working on, or hoping to be working on more scripts for Cone Wars?

PD: I'd love to, and I was invited up to Skywalker recently to help brainstorm on season three. But I had already committed to another project, so I regretfully had to pass.

NRAMA: How does it now feel to say you've worked on this latest Star Wars incarnation?

PD: Now I feel I can finally say I worked on the real Star Wars. Yes, I worked at the Ranch for nearly four years on Ewoks & Droids, but it wasn't the same. Those shows fell under the control of the very restrictive network broadcast standards at the time, and they could never be anything than basic Saturday Morning cartoons. Some nice animation in some of them, but pretty much kid's stuff. Clone Wars is the real thing, with a stunning artistic vision and characters playing for life and death stakes.

NRAMA: Switching gears out of animation and into comics, what can you tell us about your new work on Ms. J. Belle at Top Cow?

PD: She's back. This year Stephanie Gladden and I jammed on a Christmas/Halloween crossover in the spirit of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and other crummy but fun holiday movies. Ours is titled Jingle Belle: Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein. At the end of the novel Frankenstein, the monster is left to wander alone in the arctic, and our story picks up two hundred plus years after that. If you like Elf, Mad Monster Party or The Munsters, I think you will have a pretty good time with this.

NRAMA: Will we ever see an animated special, series, what have you featuring her?

PD: Probably not anytime soon. There was a live movie in development, but that fell through and I took back the rights. People keep talking to me about animated holiday specials, but they insist on owning Jing lock, stock and barrel, so I keep saying no. In addition, they all want to do these really awful CG versions of the character. It would be one thing if they could create something stylish like the old Rankin/Bass specials, but they keep showing me these hideous, barely-moving Barbie doll things. Besides, in a perfect world I want to see Jing animated in a very funny, expressive 2D cartoon style, preferably by a small crew of local animators. Pretty much the way Chuck Jones did the Grinch forty years ago. Hey, I can dream.

"Cloak of Darkness," written by Paul M. Dini, debuts on Cartoon Network on Friday, December 5th. Jingle Belle: Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein is due in stores in December as part of the 'Dinitoons' line from Top Cow.

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