Galaxy of Adventures, the kids-focused line of Star Wars animated shorts, has been trucking along turning moments from the movies into delightful pieces of animation. But for Titmouse, the studio behind the shorts, they represent a chance to inject some brightness into the most iconic moments in the Star Wars saga.
Another short in the series was released today, (you can see it below), and to celebrate, io9 chatted with animation director Barry Kelly to learn more about the process of how the Galaxy of Adventures series gets made, from deciding where in the saga to pull from, how and when to tweak familiar moments, and the need for humor in the galaxy far, far away. Check out our complete interview below, as well as some galleries of never-before-seen concept art and storyboards from the series!
io9: The reaction to Galaxy of Adventures so far has been really great. Given the immensity of expectation Star Wars usual brings, what’s it been like knowing this has been taken to so quickly by fans?
Barry J. Kelly: It’s great to hear that! Honestly, I’m just trying to make what I think is good and what I would want out of hand-drawn Star Wars cartoon.
Through my work on Galaxy of Adventures, I’m trying to capture the feeling of important Star Wars moments I had as a kid. I was born in 1984 after the originals were in the theaters, so my first time seeing the movies were on the VHS tapes my brother and sister recorded from TV. I inherited my older brother Bryan’s fandom, along with his action figures. Then Power of the Force figures came out and I found myself playing X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, then reading the novels and comic books, and it went on from there. Every other medium kept Star Wars alive for me beyond the original trilogy. LucasArts games were an important part of my childhood, which showed me how you can translate stories to other mediums.
Galaxy of Adventures is an idealized version of the characters and memorable scenes. It’s playing with the world while honoring them for the inspiration that they are. I just knew what these shorts needed to be and knew we had the right crew at Titmouse to make them.
io9: When it comes to choosing the movie scenes you select for their own shorts, what’s that process like? Is it something that comes from Lucasfilm, or are you given the choice of where in the saga to pull from? What makes an ideal scene for adaptation into Galaxy of Adventures?
Kelly: Lucasfilm provides direction on the characters they want to focus on and each short highlights an aspect of what makes that character who they are. In the process of making the adaptations, I had to abandon my knowledge of Star Wars, step back, and look at the context of these scenes. As a team, we were asking ourselves: “Why does Luke wish beyond his humble beginnings? Why does the universe fear Vader? What makes Chewie a great co-pilot? Or, what makes Leia a great leader?” To get those points across clearly, we pull from the scenes that best display a particular quality of a character.
Then we’d cram on storyboards with Lucasfilm, developing the themes and refining until we had a really strong animatic. For instance, one short needed to be about Luke trying to use the Force. The Wampa scene is that, in a nutshell. It’s a powerful scene, but due to the limitations of the film shoot, we rarely get to see Luke and the Wampa in the same shot. It’s all isolated shots. In animation, we don’t have the same limitations; we can have them in the same shot! We have Luke, who is well experienced with combat at this point in the films, facing off against a giant snowbeast. It’s a perfect setup, offering a lot of freedom to have fun.
io9: Likewise, what’s the process like when approaching a short, between leaning toward a more direct adaptation of a specific moment from the films, or adding to a scene with your own particular interpretations—like, for example, expanding the action of Luke and Vader’s Empire Strikes Back duel?
Kelly: The basic premise of that short is that Luke will resist the temptation of the dark side. But there is a lot of context in that scene. Luke is willing to face his own fear to save his friends, and Vader’s motivations are unearthed as we near the classic reveal at the end of that fight. We chose to preserve the most important plot and character “reveals” for the films, so we focused on the thematic idea of resisting the dark side. How do we show that simply?
In this case, it’s surviving someone as relentless and powerful as Vader. This is literally my favorite scene in all of Star Wars—how do I not ruin it for myself as a fan? Luke was quite the acrobat in the OG trilogy, he leaps around [and] flips over Vader, and we can use that. The prequels cranked Jedi combat up with a lot of energy and speed, so I felt that justifies room to explore the scope of action because the films did that. We could show the contrast between how Luke and Vader fight. Vader with fast, direct, strong blows against Luke’s evasive, quick-footedness.
I’m lucky that some of my best friends are some of the best action guys in the animation industry. They helped me make this fight as epic as it felt to me watching it as kid.
io9: We haven’t seen much prequel content for Galaxy of Adventures so far. Are there plans to do more in that area of the saga, or is the focus leaning more on the original films? Could the shorts expand out to content from the sequel movies, or shows like Rebels, Clone Wars, and Resistance?
Kelly: The Emperor short summarized his plan to build the Empire across the prequels into the OG trilogy. The first Han Solo short has a snippet from Solo and the Stormtroopers episode spanned locations we had seen in Rogue One, Rebels, and Clone Wars. We certainly enjoy tackling the prequels, so stay tuned!
io9: The prequels, as more modern films, have a very different approach to action in comparison to the first three movies. Do you find that your approach to adapting scenes from Episodes I-III is any different to how you guys approach the original trilogy?
Kelly: The prequels really showed us how powerful the Jedi were in their prime. Including Force pushing and pulling, but [also] leaping, running at superspeed, and the extremely fast lightsaber fighting. The seeds were planted back in Empire with Luke’s acrobatic training with Yoda, and you can see what they were going for at the time. For our approach, we just try to make the action as effective as we can with strengths of the 2D medium.
Once we established how this animated Star Wars universe works, every scene was governed by a similar logic. You saw Obi-Wan fight in the prequels and then in A New Hope. In our medium, we could probably add certain flourishes of young Obi-Wan into the older and vice versa. From a character design standpoint, designer Jojo Park drew the characters like I’d never seen them. She wasn’t precious with the material and that helps add an objective point of view to something this revered. The designs have a certain flexibility where we can connect a through line visually across the generational changes of these characters.
io9: We got to see Luke learning the ways of the Force in last week’s short. Can you break down some of the challenges you faced in this short? What were the standout moments you wanted to highlight in animation for this scene?
Kelly: I love that scene in the Falcon where we get these shots of the crew killing time as they approach the Alderaan. To me, little moments like those from the original film shine and feel relatable. The contrast between the characters is what really made those scenes work so well.
Luke’s training came pretty straightforward—we built up some of the suspense, and put Luke through some more pain. They have a long ways to travel, so Luke could have been trying to swipe that thing for hours. But one of the challenges was these moments of Force “focus.” We wanted to show Luke visually shutting out the world and feeling the Force around him. We kept it simple and hopefully the style effectively communicates what Luke is feeling.
io9: There’s been some discussion around the shorts about the level of humor they bring to the Star Wars galaxy. Can you speak a little on injecting a lighter tone into the scenes you end up adapting? Was it important for the team to specifically highlight the funnier side of the films?
Kelly: Star Wars is funny. Han’s funny, Chewie’s funny, Leia’s funny. For younger fans, levity is important, but I don’t like thinking this is only “for kids.” It’s for everyone. In the Leia short, the context of that scene is actually really funny. The very wise old man tells these guys to stay put until he gets back, and they don’t. They go looking for the princess with barely a plan. Playing it casual until the plan falls completely apart, they shoot up a bunch of imperial officers and now reinforcements are on the way. Of course, Leia is unimpressed—they just dragged her into their fiasco that could get them all killed.
It’s that kind of contrast that makes these scenes lovable, and that kind of contrast really inspires the fun side of these shorts. One minute Han is the hero saving the day, the next he’s trying to talk his way out of a bad bet. I like the idea of a hopeful, bright-eyed Luke on his first day off his home planet trying to rescue a princess who has way more combat experience. The Star Wars movies are funny, dramatic, scary—they’re everything. They’re first and foremost fun, but fun with real stakes. They are about growing up, learning, and facing fear.
io9: Going forward, do you think there’ll be room to expand beyond the shorts into something that’s a bit longer formatted in the future?
Kelly: I hope! That’s a decision above my pay grade. Ha!
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