The Force is strong with 'Clone Wars' writer
45 Minutes on IM: Christian Taylor has had the "Star Wars" universe in his hands for the past three years. He tells CNET what it's like to meet regularly with George Lucas and offers his thoughts on Jar-Jar Binks.
Every job has its advantages and its disadvantages, but Christian Taylor's may have one of the best perks around: regular creative meetings with.
You may not know who Taylor is, but if you've got kids who watch TV, they almost certainly know his work. He's the head writer on the "Clone Wars," the animated series that picks up the "Star Wars" universe where the movies leave off.
After previous stints writing for shows as diverse as "Lost" and "Six Feet Under," Taylor began writing three years ago for "Clone Wars," which finishes up its third season on April 1. A confessed "Star Wars" obsessive, Taylor nonetheless brings a bit of sobriety to a writing role that tasks him with the responsibility of caretaking a cast of characters and a roster of storylines that millions of people take very seriously.
"Clone Wars" began airing on the Cartoon Network in 2008 and follows the continued adventures of some of the most loved characters from the original and prequel "Star Wars" films and is set in the time frame in between "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." But if you're old enough to have seen any of the original three films in theaters when they first came out, you might not even know about the show. Unless you have children, that is.
For many kids, "Clone Wars" was their introduction to the giant Lucas-created ecosystem--so don't tell them that there's nothing like the original films.
Taylor says he doesn't get into the game so many want to play with "Star Wars"--which film is the best? Are the prequels awful, or are the first three films too slow? For him, it's just a privilege to be involved. Yesterday, Taylor sat down for a 45 Minutes on IM interview and talked to CNET about things as diverse as writing about the Force, what it's like to meet with Lucas, what his 10-year-old self would say to him about his job, and, yes, about his opinions on Jar-Jar Binks.
Q: Thank you very much for doing this. It's great to have you here.
Christian Taylor: Thank you.
To start, I have to ask: I was told that you were in a notes meeting with Lucas earlier today. Now, I know you can't tell me any of the substance, but can you talk about what it's like to be in meetings with Lucas?
Taylor: Well, I've been doing this for three years now, and it never gets old. It's both surreal and completely ordinary at the same time. He's great fun and more mischievous than people give him credit for. He's also incredibly smart, so it's never boring. I loved "Star Wars" as a kid, like all my peers. I was talking to my sister over the Christmas holidays and she said 'imagine if you could talk to your 10-year-old self and tell him what you'd be doing when you grew up!' Sometimes I pinch myself, but it's a fantastic job."
What would your 10-year-old self say to you? How impressed would he be?
He'd say, 'Bitch, grab you a piece of the Death Star and frame it!' Apparently a load of that stuff ended up in a dumpster [after the filming of the original "Star Wars."] No, seriously, he'd be impressed and excited and would say. "Don't screw it up!" That's kind of what I say to myself every day.
What was your experience of seeing the original "Star Wars" the first time?
Taylor: It's vague as I was pretty young. I saw it in the cinema, I know that much. I think it took my parents awhile. I remember the line and the ship going overhead. "Empire" was more profound for me. I went to the premier because my sister's friend worked for Warner Bros. and I have a signed program by Dave Prowse [who played Darth Vader] and Mark Hamill. I built the snowscape from "Empire" in my living room with polystyrene. I was obsessed.
How did you end up working on "Clone Wars?"
Taylor: I had a meeting and then got a call from my agents saying they want you. They had met with a lot of people and as a writer from "Six Feet Under" and "Lost" I didn't think I was an obvious choice. But they wanted to move away from animation writers and focus on a drama writer from TV. It was luck I guess.
As a writer for "Lost" and "Six Feet Under," do you see any similarities in the themes between those shows and "Clone Wars"?
Taylor: That's a tough one. I think "Six Feet" was a great space to explore characters and "Lost" was the show of riddles and how to get out of them combined with great characters. Mix those together and maybe you have "Star Wars." "Star Wars" is an incredible "universe" to play in because the characters are key but the situations need to be unique and fun. The first episodes I wrote were epic and dealt with the Force. You don't get to do that everyday as a writer. What's amazing about writing this show is you can write it and they can build it. Literally. Most shows I've worked on are an endless game of compromise. On most TV budgets and schedules, you could never achieve what we do dramatically and physically on "Clone Wars."
What prepared you to write for this universe that so many people hold so dear?
Taylor: I think one of the reasons I've succeeded is that I know "Star Wars" well but am not a fan as such. I really have no understanding or comprehension of the entire universe that is the books, comics, video games, etc. I know the movies and love the characters. That would be a lot to live up to and would confuse my brain. I write from character and always try to be sincere and true and emotional when writing them. I have no idea what droid is called what...there are far better people to audit that. Writing in such a beloved universe is like standing on a cliff's edge. If you look down and see all the fans you'd lose your nerve and get serious writers block.
What's your sense of whether old-school "Star Wars" fans accept "Clone Wars" as a legitimate part of the story? Old school being, you know, folks who were old enough to see the original films when they first came out.
Taylor: It's funny, I tell people--writers, directors, executives--that I have meetings with what I am doing and they are so jealous. I think a lot of people my age are watching it with their kids and getting to relive the world through two perspectives: Their own and their kids'. Many more people are watching it than I thought. Guilty pleasure or not, it's somewhat a place to come home to. The fans love the show if for no other reason than it's "Star Wars" and they know George Lucas has been in every single story meeting. As we get better at telling stories so does the drama. If they have a problem with the direction of the show they should call George. LOL.
Some have said that "Clone Wars" is more fulfilling than the prequel trilogy. Might this series become a coveted classic in 10 to 20 years?
Taylor: I think all of "Star Wars" will be that. We have to remember that a whole new generation has grown up understanding star wars through "Clone Wars" and have never seen the movies. The whole "Star Wars" which movies do you like game is a losing battle since each generation loves their movies. Don't forget the kids who saw the prequels find the first movies slow and boring without enough light saber fights.
Tell me something about the show that would surprise even the biggest fans?
Taylor: Dumbledore is gay! Sorry let me think. I might get thrown in jail. Lucas jail.
I think people don't realize how involved George Lucas really is. Also how amazing ["Clone Wars supervising director] Dave Filoni is. I call him the James Cameron of animation. What the artists are doing on the show has been never done before. Period. The show is really ground breaking and an honor to write for. Rarely in my career have I handed over a script and later thought 'They really made that cool.' Dave and his team really do that.
At some point, it is out of the question to expect animated adaptations of the third trilogy that were never filmed?
Taylor: I've heard George say, and so have others, that there was never a third trilogy. I hope there will be another animated movie to showcase how the show is kicking ass technically and story-wise. I can't say more than that.
Tell me the truth: where do you come down on the Jar-Jar Binks spectrum? Love him, hate him? Somewhere in between?
Taylor: That's a tricky one. Whether you like it or not he is part of the "Star Wars" universe and has to be written for. Some kids love him and he is an access point for really young children. George is a smart man, and Jar-Jar is who young children could identify with. We will see him again but he is not a major part of the show. Personally I have never had to write him. But he has a good heart. And that is important for kids to celebrate. [Screw] the cynics.
Last question, and it's my standard one for this series. I love doing these IM interviews because I get a perfect transcript, and because my interview subjects can be a little more thoughtful, and a little more articulate than they might otherwise be. But also because IM makes multi-tasking easy. So, what else were you doing while we were doing the interview?
Taylor: I bought this new back massager and foot reflexology machine, so I basically had a spa session while making lists of all the [stuff] I have to do! No, you kept me busy and wore me out.
Well, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.