It’s Ashley Eckstein‘s universe — we just live in it.
The actress occupies a unique and special place within the sphere of genre entertainment, both on screen and off: First, as a voice performer, she’s brought the Jedi padawan Ahsoka Tano to life in the Star Wars Universe, first for the animated series “The Clone Wars” and again in Ahsoka’s later years as a leader of the emerging rebellion in “Star Wars Rebels,” originating one of the most important characters in canon who hasn’t appeared in live-action features. And, of course, she’s the founder of the popular fashion and merchandise brand Her Universe to better service the needs of female genre enthusiasts.
By the end of “Star Wars Rebels” second season, Ahsano’s role in the nascent Rebel movement was revealed, leading to a major confrontation with her former Jedi master Anakin Skywalker, now wearing the imposing black armor of Darth Vader. Her final fate was enigmatic to be sure, but series executive producer Dave Filoni has publicly stated, though likely not immediately, there is more of Ahsoka’s story to be told.
Eckstein spoke with CBR about the enduring popularity and increasing significance of her role — whose growing public recognition rivals Harley Quinn’s as an animated character now crucial to canon — and how it led her to build an empire of her own in service of female fans like herself.
CBR: What has it meant to you to see this character, who didn’t spring out of the George Lucas film canon, become so popular? She’s probably the most popular “Star Wars”-related character that isn’t in one of the six movies that Lucas made.
Ashley Eckstein: Being a part of the “Star Wars” universe is such an honor. When I was cast as Ahsoka, I truly felt like I’d won the lottery. The universe is so beloved and so respected that I just want to do right by it. I wanted to be a positive reflection of the opportunity that had been gifted to me, truly.
What most people don’t realize is how involved George Lucas was on “Clone Wars.” “Clone Wars” was a passion of his. While I didn’t work with him day to day, he was very involved. Often times I’d get notes about how he wanted lines said, so it was like he was there, like he was in the room and I was getting direction from him. He considered “Clone Wars” as part of his canon. So to be a part of what was really his last project for “Star Wars,” is truly an honor.
I’ve heard that he had a special chess set made for him, and Ahsoka is one of the characters on that. The fact that he would want that character as part of his personal set really means a lot, that she would be a part of his “Star Wars” legacy. I was so proud of the character and so attached to the character. She’s like an extension of me; she’s like a family member of mine. So I care so deeply about her that I’m worried for her. I literally have, like, true emotion for this animated character.
I think she’s alive, I hope she is. I hope we get more of her, because I think it’s very rare nowadays that you get to know a character over so many years. We’ve gotten to know Ahsoka now since 2008. You don’t get that with many characters nowadays. Many kids had grown up with her. I think there’s a lot of people that just have this attachment to her because they’ve gotten to know her so long.
One of the things that’s really fun now is, with the advent of Disney’s involvement and the Lucasfilm Story Group, there is so much synergy between all the various “Star Wars” incarnations, from the main films to the animated series to comic books and the novels. How will you feel if you get a call one day and somebody says, “Ahsoka’s going to be a live-action character in one of the movies?”
Oh, my gosh! You’d hear my scream from across the nation! Pick my jaw off the floor. That’d be so exciting. I hope for the sake of that character we get to see her in live-action. I think she’s truly transcended the animation world. I think everyone cares about this character, and if they weren’t aware of her, they’re starting to find out about her. I think she’s becoming more mainstream, which is exciting, because I think she’s a very positive and empowering character for the fans.
Regardless of how her story continues, whether it’s live-action, whether it’s books, whether it’s animation, whether it’s television, I really don’t care. I just hope that her story continues, because I think there’s more stories to be told, and I just hope to have the opportunity to do that.
You’ve found a great place in the off-screen genre world as well with Her Universe. Tell me, what’s front and center on your professional plate outside of voicing Ahsoka?
It’s funny, because Ahsoka, speaking of her being a trailblazer, she inspired me to start Her Universe. Being the voice of Ahsoka opened up my eyes. I mean, I’ve always been a “Star Wars” fan, but I was naive to the fact that female fans were being ignored. I think it’s because the female fans had kind of accepted it. We’ve kind of accepted that we had to go to the men’s and boys’ section to stop. We kind of accepted that it just wasn’t — society just sort deemed this genre to be men and boys. It was just kind of how it was.
It wasn’t until I had such a platform of being the voice of Ahsoka, this strong female character, that I wanted to show my fandom, loud and proud. When I came up and presented for merchandise, I did my research, because I knew I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that there were so many other women out there that loved “Star Wars” just like I did. That’s what I found, that close to half of sci-fi fantasy fans were women. I thought, “We now have the first female Jedi that’s a lead in the ‘Star Wars’ universe; we need to cater to female fans.”
I felt, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea how to start up a licensed apparel line, to start a fashion line.” I had no clue. I believe that we needed to build a community for female fans to feel celebrated and accepted. Not just female fans — I was very careful to say from day one that this world isn’t just for women, it’s not just for men, it’s for everyone. I wanted to create a safe environment where both genders can celebrate “Star Wars” together. “Star Wars” is a story for the entire family. It’s universal.
So, yeah, I have to say it was Ahsoka that caused me to start Her Universe. Obviously, starting with “Star Wars,” it makes it easier to get in front of the right people, so I’m very grateful for Lucasfilm for giving me the chance, because I don’t think I would have been able to grow my business without them. We’ve been able to expand to Marvel and “Star Trek” and “Dr. Who,” Studio Ghibli. We have new collections coming out in the fall — lots of good stuff for the fangirl in your life for the holidays.
I have to ask: what’s your favorite Her Universe item of late? What’s the thing that you’ve become most obsessed with, among newer stuff that’s coming out?
Okay, I’m going to cheat by saying two answers. We did the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” fashion collection that came out for Hot Topic. There is a Rey cardigan in there that is, I’m obsessed with. The Rey cardigan, and Finn jacket, because those are everyday pieces. Especially the Rey cardigan. It doesn’t have any logos or images on it. It’s just inspired by her costume. It’s an everyday piece, but when you put it on, you feel like Rey. It’s very empowering, but very fashion-forward at the same time.
We’re about to release a new Women of Marvel collection — not “Star Wars,” but in the same Disney family! It’s celebrating these strong characters: Agent Carter, Spider Gwen, Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, and it has some really cool fashion pieces for them. We’re launching that at New York Comic Con. I love the pieces that are inspired by the character, but that you can wear every day.
“Star Wars: Rebels” Season Two is available today on home video.
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