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He was already a director and story artist on Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, but when he was invited to meet with George Lucas in San Francisco, even the level-headed Dave Filoni couldn’t have imagined the hyperspace jump he was about to take. Vanity Fair take a look at his journey in the Star Wars galaxy so far, from The Clone Wars to The Mandalorian.

When he finally got to the Skywalker Ranch, Lucas sat opposite him, flipping through Filoni’s portfolio of drawings. He seemed to be going through them fast.

“Then he shuts the portfolio and goes, ‘A Jedi Knight, in a situation where they’re bartering with somebody else, basically puts his lightsaber on the table and says, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do things,’ ” Filoni said. “He just starts describing how Jedi would be in negotiating situations, how it relates to the Force, and how they fit into The Clone Wars scenario.” It took the younger man a moment to understand. They were setting terms. The job was his.

For the next eight years, he worked side by side with Lucas, telling the battlefield stories of Anakin Skywalker before his transformation into Darth Vader, when he was fighting alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi and nurturing his own Padawan learner, the alien Ahsoka Tano, a young girl with distinctive white and blue “head tails” instead of hair, who was just as defiant and clever as her master. The metaphor couldn’t be more apt. Filoni was persuasive—he could push—and the trust he earned allowed him to translate Lucas’s vision in ways that strengthened them both.

“One day, George said, ‘Do you know why I enjoy working with you?’ And I said, ‘No, I have no idea,’ ” Filoni recalled. “He said, ‘Well, you listen to me.’ ” Filoni lets that sink in. “A lot of people think you need to come and impress someone. They think, I’m going to show you or do better. They don’t always think you impress somebody by listening.”