Fangirl Am-Busch: Ashley Eckstein on Star Wars, Her Universe and Ahsoka Tano’s Past and Future
[Editor’s note: please help me welcome our newest columnist, Jenna Busch! A writer and TV host of much acclaim, she’ll be spotlighting up-and-coming female creators and personalities in the nerd universe mid-month. I’m really pleased we could bring her aboard, and I hope you are too – LYT]
Hey guys! I’m Jenna Busch, and this is my new monthly column Fangirl Am-Busch. Each month I’ll be profiling an amazing female creator or talking about an issue in the fangirl universe. I’m a life-long geek, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Legion of Leia, co-host of Most Craved, former co-host of Cocktails With Stan Lee, comic book author and contributing author to “Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind” and the next 4 books in the Psych Geeks series. Come geek out with me!
Ashley Eckstein was the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars throughout its run and is now reprising the role in Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD. She’s been a champion for fangirls around the world, starting the clothing company Her Universe when she couldn’t find geek clothes made for women that weren’t pink. The company has gone on to incredible success, so much so that they now have licenses for Star Wars, Marvel, The Walking Dead and more, as well as a new publishing arm, Her Universe Press. I got a chance to chat with Ashley about Ahsoka’s future (and the past we didn’t see), Her Universe, her thoughts on the new Star Wars film and more.
JB: I spoke to you about this a thousand years ago on the red carpet for the premiere of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but how did you end up getting the role of Ahsoka Tano?
AE: You know, I ended up getting the role of Ahsoka just by getting the call from my agent. I was acting full time in LA and just trying to break into voice over. I was mostly doing film and television and my agent was just starting to send me out on voice overs. They asked me to audition for Padmé. I tried, because they were looking for a voice match for Natalie Portman, and I tried to do my best Natalie Portman. I wasn’t sounding like her at all. So I called my agent and I said, look, thank you for sending me to this audition, but I just really don’t sound like her. I don’t know if I’m right for this. I almost didn’t go. My agents said to go anyway, because you never know what will happen. I was glad I did because sure enough, the first line out of my mouth, which was a Padmé line, they said, “No, you don’t sound anything like Padmé, but we have this new character that’s very top secret. It’s a fourteen-year-old girl that we think you might be right for. That’s when I read for Ahsoka. It was so top secret that they weren’t even advertising for the part. That goodness I listened to my agent and ended up going!
JB: When the movie came out, which was the first couple episodes of the series, it was really light in tone. Did you have any idea back then how dark and how deep the show would go?
AE: No. I didn’t know. Clone Wars – I didn’t know how far it would go and what direction it would go, but I did know they were committing to the series because this was very much a show that George Lucas was behind and George Lucas was funding. We actually recorded the whole first season before it ever premiered to the public. We already had the first season in the can and we were actually well into Season 2 already. So I knew the direction it was going in and I knew how far the characters had come and how far the characters had come by the time the public saw it. I knew we were onto something really, really good. As it kept on going, I knew [director]Dave Filoni and the writers hit their stride and the show just took off from there. And now Star Wars Rebels is doing the same thing. I just came back from San Francisco and I saw some snippets from the end of Season 2 and it was honestly so beautiful. It was mind-blowing. Definitely not what you would expect on Disney XD. It’s truly something amazing.
JB: Tell me a little bit about voicing an older Ahsoka in Star Wars Rebels.
AE: It’s definitely different to do the voice of an older Ahsoka. You’d think it would be easier because we’re about the same age. I’m just about a year older than her. At first I was saying to Dave Filoni, oh, what do I do with her voice, because obviously I need to lower it. I was being really, really critical of myself. He said, “How old are you?” We realized that I’m pretty much the same age as Ahsoka. “Do you think you sound that much different from when you were fourteen? Just sound like yourself now, at your own age.” Of course, then we talked about Ahsoka and about some of the things she had been through and what would affect her portrayal and her attitude, which is very different from Clone Wars. But it did take a while to get into the character. But it’s so funny. It’s like life imitates art. I came into the Star Wars franchise in Clone Wars where Ahsoka was this young fourteen-year-old girl and I was very much a young actress, big Star Wars fan, but definitely more of a casual Star Wars fan and voice over newbie. I was definitely the Padawan in this group of veterans! [laughs]This group full of Jedi Knights. I was very young and snippy and learning my way and trust me, I’m still just as excited. But we’ve been working on it since 2006, so almost ten years later, I feel like I’ve grown up with the character. I’ve grown up with Ahsoka. I’ve become more of a veteran or a mentor to, for example, the Rebels cast. They’re coming in and they’re new to the universe. It is like life imitating art. I feel like, just like Ahsoka has grown up in this universe, I’ve grown up in this universe as well.
JB: You and I have talked about the fact that you know a bit about what happened to Ahsoka between Clone Wars and Rebels. I know you can’t say much, but what can you tell us about her past?
AE: There are a couple lines in Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels that allude to Ahsoka’s backstory. In order to reference those lines, it was important for Dave Filoni to let us know what those lines were referencing! [laughs]So the backstory is fascinating. As a fan, immediately, I want that story to be told. But that’s not the story we’re telling right now. The story we’re telling right now is the story of Rebels and the group on the Ghost. We’re telling Ezra’s story and Kanan’s. We’re telling Hera and Sabine and Zeb and Chopper. And those stories are awesome as well. And Ahsoka, wherever she can further that story, of the Rebels, and that time period, that’s the purpose she’s there to serve. And obviously there’s this mysterious character of Darth Vader to figure out. [laughs]So we’re getting some amazing stories right now through the Rebels, but this isn’t the story to go back and tell what happened after the Clone Wars, but hopefully one day we’ll get that. Right now it’s a different show and a different story. But in order to give my performance this season, I was able to get snippets of the backstory and it’s amazing. It’s its own movie, its own series and it’s a story I hope we’re able to tell.
JB: Do you know Ahsoka’s ultimate fate? When Clone Wars ended, fans lost their minds, including me! It was so exciting to see her again! Do you know where she ends up?
AE: You know, I actually don’t, and that’s the honest truth. I don’t know her future and it’s driving me nuts! [laughs]I actually don’t even know really how Season 2 ends. Dave Filoni is keeping that under lock and key. He’s really the keeper of the kingdom there. I don’t know her ultimate fate. I feel like I’m just as much of a fan as everyone else and I’m on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what happens to her. Hopefully one day I’ll get to find that out or explore that. I do know what happened to her at the end of Clone Wars and that’s pretty amazing. I only know a snippet of it. There was a period of over fifteen years between Clone Wars and Rebels. I only know snippets, but not her entire story. Hopefully we’ll get to find out a lot more about Ahsoka.
JB: I know you had to see some things about Star Wars: The Force Awakens because of some of the products you have for Her Universe. I know how hard it is to not see things about the film since I spend all day on the Internet. How hard was it to not find things out before the film?
AE: You know, I actually don’t know much about Force Awakens. In terms of the story, I know just as much as the fans know. About a year ago now, as licensees, we got to go to a creative summit on The Force Awakens, but all we got was literally a bunch of beautiful images, but nothing more. We got no explanations about what the images meant. We got names of characters at that point, which I think was about a month or two before fans found out. But we literally got no explanation about who those characters were, what they were – we just got beautiful images and names, and we were encouraged to design around those images, not knowing anything about them. Truly, we never got storylines. It was really just out best guess about how to design with those images. I’ve gotten my plot information from the trailers and what’s been released online. I don’t feel like anything has been spoiled. I saw more from the trailers than I ever saw behind-the-scenes. But I did just find out – I got back from San Francisco where we had a summit for Rogue One and I can’t say anything about that movie yet, but I can say that I did find out a little bit about the movie. I am so excited about it! It’s going to be so good! It’s such an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. I’m so excited about what’s ahead!
JB: How did Her Universe get started? Obviously I wear all the clothes!
AE: [laughs]Her Universe got started because of a simple search for a Star Wars T-shirt made for me. When Clone Wars came out in August of 2008, I was starting to go to a lot of Star Wars events. I wanted merchandise made for me to wear. I honestly thought it existed. Through going to a bunch of retail stores and scouring the Internet, I quickly realized that it didn’t exist. And I came up short and I ended up in the boys’ section and the men’s section, buying Star Wars t-shirts made for men and boys. I knew that I wasn’t the only female fan. I went to Comic-Con. I went to Disney Star Wars weekends and I saw female fans everywhere. I did my research and found out that 45% of all sci-fi and fantasy fans are women. Today it’s 50/50. These are hard facts. I also found out that 85% of all consumer purchases are made by women. I joke and say, “I’m not a mathematician” and I’m not, but those number weren’t adding up. I went to Lucasfilm and I said, “I’m one of your actresses and I’m promoting Star Wars on a regular basis and you have no female merchandise. I’d like to help you make it and promote it, because we want it and we want to buy it and I’m not alone.” They actually told me no. They told me no twice because I wasn’t going about it the right way. They told me that they give out licenses and they worked with reputable companies. So I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to start my own company, which I did. I started Her Universe. I also needed to partner with a reputable company to be able to go back to Lucasfilm and apply for a license. And so I did that at the end of 2009. I went back to Lucasfilm and said, “Okay I’m a company. I’ve partnered with a company called the Araca Group and we’d like to apply for a license.” They were incredibly supportive at that time and they actually – I have to give Lucasfilm credit because, at the time, nobody cared about the female fans in this genre. They truly were an afterthought. And Lucasfilm, they truly did recognize their female fans and they did want to cater to us. So they were very excited about the prospect and they did everything they could to set us up for success.