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For many "Star Wars" fans, the teaser trailer shown with the Feb. 11 episode of "The Clone Wars" was one of the greatest moments in their lives. The trailer was for an episode titled "The Citadel" and featured all the quick-cut battle scenes and dramatic theme music we are used to seeing in a preview of the series. But then suddenly we were also treated to the appearance of a character we've been waiting to see since the first season: a young Grand Moff Tarkin.
Part of what makes Grand Moff Tarkin a fan favorite is that the villainous Death Star commander was played in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" by Peter Cushing. The legendary English horror actor brought depth and charisma to a role that could have been just another supporting character.
As a huge fan of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" — and specifically Grand Moff Tarkin — I was immediately excited when Lucasfilm offered the chance to talk to series supervising director Dave Filoni about the process of adapting this character from the original trilogy to the animated world of the TV show. I was also invited to speak with voice actor Stephen Stanton about his portrayal of the infamous character.
To top it all off, I was sent an exclusive clip from this week's episode, "Counterattack." You can watch it now on Yahoo! TV.
"What you're seeing in the clip is a little bit of Tarkin gaining familiarity with Anakin Skywalker," Filoni explained. "It's them, especially Tarkin, feeling each other out as to what their motivations are and where their loyalties lie. In this particular scene we find out Tarkin realizes that Anakin is a particular favorite of the chancellor, and as soon as you bring an idea like that into play, you start to wonder how much things are being controlled from afar or not. Our heroes might be in more jeopardy than they realize."
'Clone Wars' Supervising Director Dave Filoni Talks Grand Moff Tarkin
Q: I know you're not going to remember, but over a year ago I asked you if Grand Moff Tarkin was ever going to get some love on "The Clone Wars." Well, now here we are. You knew back then, didn't you?
A: [Laughter] At that point, I probably knew that Tarkin was on the table. I couldn't reveal any secrets. I hope I did well. I try. It's sad because [when I'm at conventions] I can see [the fans'] disappointment and they're all into it: "It would be great to have Tarkin in there!" And I'm like, "Yeah, that would be great. That would be really awesome. Boy I hope we do that."
Q: So how far ahead of time do you really know that a character is going to show up on "The Clone Wars"?
A: Oh very far. To be honest, usually a year ahead of time we're working on production at some level on most of these stories. We might not have the design of Tarkin done at that time, but we definitely have talked to George and he's put it on the table and it's in the outline.
Q: What kind of process do you go through to introduce a classic character like Tarkin from the films to the animated world of "The Clone Wars"?
A: The first thing we do is get all the reference materials out. We have a lot of stills printed out. We're lucky being here [at Skywalker Ranch]. We go down to the archive and we get out whatever's left of the character. In the case of the original trilogy, you have a lot of props and costumes, [like] Tarkin's uniform, that we can go look at.
Q: It's uncanny how the animated version of Tarkin has the same body gestures and movements as the live-action character had in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope." Did you just sit and watch Peter Cushing movies over and over for hours and just study his mannerisms?
A: That's a real credit to the animators. I can tell them, "Please study this stuff" and "Please watch 'A New Hope.'" When Peter Cushing created that character, he created a bunch of little idiosyncrasies and things for [him] to hold on to. I thought they did their homework and really captured that spirit of the character. A lot of people forget that when we go to do interpretation, we're portraying these characters several years before they were introduced originally. When we went to do the model and Darren Marshall sculpted the face of Tarkin, he really had to capture that younger version of Peter Cushing. It's funny — I was watching clips of "A New Hope" recently and I thought, "Wow, you really think of Tarkin actually as older now, having seen the younger one." Kind of interesting. I thought [it] worked really well.
Q: When bringing an iconic character to "The Clone Wars" like Tarkin, what kind of responsibility do you feel to the fans of the "Star Wars" saga? Does it make you nervous or are you past that by now?
A: I don't think I'm nervous. I think I owe it to the responsibility. I'm in a lucky position in that I've been studying with George [Lucas] for years now on how to handle this type of thing. I have George there to oversee with me. When I have a question I can go to the guy that created these characters, which is a huge, huge benefit. Fans get many-layered and a lot of them have varying opinions on things, and there are a lot of theories about how things were, depending on what you subscribe to. I pretty much know that if I'm satisfying the number one fan — George — then we're going to get the most authentic creation of that character for the fans. I've always said [that]. I'm very, very careful about when we include a classic character into the show. I think we have to have a really good reason to do it. It has to be really well-motivated and make a lot of sense. Anytime we've had a classic character appear, especially from the original trilogy, it's been George who is saying, "Hey, I want to do this." When it comes from George, I think that that's good grounds.
Q: What was the most difficult part of bringing Tarkin to life for "The Clone Wars"?
A: Finding the right voice. I think that we really lucked out with Stephen [Stanton]. We had a lot of people attempt Tarkin. I think it's one of those things [where] a lot of people fancy themselves — "I can do a good Tarkin." Suddenly you have to deliver a lot of lines that aren't from the [original "Star Wars"] film. You're imitating versus actually becoming the character. You're imitating someone that has unlocked it all for you and you're just repeating it. When you're actually the character, you can say anything because you are the character. I thought Stephen really became Tarkin. If you look at Stephen, he has a little bit of Tarkin [in him] — if he sucked his cheeks in a little bit maybe more and we could get him in the suit there. [Laughter] ... We had a lot of people that tried out and did a British accent, and that was great. What Stephen brought was just really hitting the right accents and drawing out the right words. There were just certain things where I was like, "Wow, he's really getting the essence of this." That was all a part of it.
Voice Actor Stephen Stanton On Playing Grand Moff Tarkin
Q: Are you a "Star Wars" fan, and do you watch the TV show?
A: Oh, absolutely. The show is done so cinematically [that] sometimes I forget I'm watching a television series. You see that Lucasfilm logo and you're like, "Yeah, I could be watching this in the theater."
Q: How did you get the role of Tarkin for "The Clone Wars"?
A: When the audition came to me it was a sample of dialogue from the episode we now know as "The Citadel." The direction was: "We've got a young Tarkin here." It was pretty straightforward. I didn't get any additional direction ahead of time. ... I took it upon myself to pull out my copy of "Star Wars" and watch it. "What would this guy sound like as a young man before he gets to be this character right here?" That's the way I developed it. I tried to soften him, bring a little bit more humanity to the character so he's not as cold-hearted as the Tarkin we see in "Episode IV: A New Hope," where's he's destroying planets.
Q: So you went back and studied Peter Cushing's speech and vocal mannerisms?
A: Peter Cushing has a very distinct way of speaking. He has a cadence that is very distinctively identified with him. I had to go back and listen to where he goes up, where he goes down, when he rolls his R's, when he doesn't, and all the sorts of things that make people think they're listening to Peter Cushing. A younger version of not only Peter Cushing but a younger version of Tarkin, who is not Peter Cushing. He is a character that Peter Cushing is playing. It's kind of like you've got to do two things at once. If this actor were playing this character as a younger man, what do you think he might sound like? Peter Cushing is no longer with us and Tarkin is not one of the characters that showed up in a younger version in the last three films that were done.
Q: When taking on a role as iconic as that of Tarkin, do you feel a certain responsibility to give the "Star Wars" fans what they want?
A: Oh absolutely. I felt inordinate pressure for that reason and because I liked the Tarkin character so much too. When I was a kid I saw ["Star Wars"], and I was already familiar with Cushing from the Hammer films, watching creature features on TV, and so on. Here I am watching this film and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, Peter Cushing is in this thing too? This film is going to be just awesome!" I was so thrilled to see him on a screen because as a kid, especially living here in the United States, I wasn't going to the movies and seeing Peter Cushing in anything recent. I would see him on TV in old movies.
Q: Did Dave Filoni give you any pointers about how to handle the role?
A: Before we recorded, Dave talked to myself and Matt [Lanter], who plays Anakin, a little bit about the relationship of these two characters and what we were trying to do or establish beginning with this episode. Everyone knows Tarkin and Vader. Vader is the guy that is on Tarkin's leash, like Princess Leia says. The Emperor and Tarkin are the only two people that Vader really listens to. I think it seems like we're going to [find out] who these two guys are and how they get to know one another so well. I had tremendous fun playing that character. If anyone would have ever told me, "Hey, you're going to get to play one of the characters from the original ["Star Wars"] movie and it's going to be the Tarkin character portrayed by Peter Cushing," I would have never believed that. How much more fun can you get?
Thanks to Dave Filoni, Stephen Stanton, and Tracy Cannobbio at Lucasfilm for the opportunity to chat with these two guys about the appearance of Tarkin on "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."