Ashley Eckstein talks “Clone Wars,” Ahsoka’s journey to fan acceptance

Ahsoka Tano of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

The rough journey Ahsoka Tano has taken as a Padawan learner may pale in comparison to the road she’s traveled to fan acceptance.

“I know that a lot of people did not like her in the movie and then in Season 1,” says Ashley Eckstein, who has given voice to the Star Wars: The Clone Wars character since her first appearance in the 2008 feature film, and in now five seasons on Cartoon Network. “She was very snippy, she was very sassy, kind of a know-it-all. But I think now she’s comfortable in her own skin. She’s learned so much from Anakin, Obi-Wan, Plo Koon, even though she’s still a Padawan by title, it’s like she’s one of the gang. She’s earned their respect.”

Ahsoka makes her first appearance of Season 5 in Saturday’s episode, airing at 9:30am. Eckstein talked with me about what Ahsoka is up to this season, what it’s like being part of the Star Wars family, and about the secondary career (designing clothes aimed at female sci-fi fans) that she’s made for herself:

Channel Guide Magazine: So what does Ahsoka have going on this season on The Clone Wars?

Ashley Eckstein: Ahsoka has a lot going on in Season 5. You’re going to see her interacting with Lux Bonteri again. That relationship between Ahsoka and Lux has definitely been a much-talked about relationship with the fans. The fans don’t quite know what’s going on with Ahsoka and Lux, and there’s definitely some interesting feelings there that Ahsoka doesn’t know what to do with. I think the interesting thing about Ahsoka is we’ve seen her be so tough on the battlefield and in the Clone Wars that we forget that she’s only 16. While she is mature and wise beyond her years with her fighting skills, but when it comes to her emotions, sometime she still acts her age and we realize how immature she is. I guess immature is the wrong word, it’s just that she’s still 16. So in these episodes you get to see her have some emotions that are true to her own age. I guess that’s all I can say.

CGM: Ahsoka isn’t in every episode, sort of popping up for big stretches here and there. Is that how the series was always planned?

AE: Dave Filoni was very upfront in the beginning that the great thing about The Clone Wars is that we were going to get to explore so many characters — characters like Ahsoka that weren’t even in the movies, or characters that didn’t necessarily have a huge part in the movies and we would get to expand upon them. So we always knew that we weren’t in every single episode. But to me it’s more about the story development and the character development. Ahsoka may not be in every episode but the episodes she’s in we really get to see a lot of character development with her, and that’s what you’re going to see in Season 5. Particularly at the end of the season, she has I would say the most character development we’ve ever seen with her. It’s almost the culmination of five seasons coming to a head and we get to see how far she’s come and how much she’s learned. She’s definitely faced with some tough decisions. It’s a great season for Ahsoka, she grows up a lot.

Ashley Eckstein voices Ahsoka Tano on Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"CGM: Do you feel ownership over Ahsoka after five seasons?

AE: I don’t give suggestions about the character in terms of storylines. I don’t feel that I should, because that’s certainly not my strength. Dave Filoni and his writing staff, their ideas — and George Lucas, I mean, he’s very much involved in our show and in the stories and the writing — I couldn’t come up with anything better. However, where I do get an input is when I’m in the studio and I’m reading the lines. Dave is honestly the best director I’ve ever worked with, and is just great with actors. He gives us flexibility, especially now that we know our characters so well. So many of the episodes are written by different writers, and so they don’t necessarily get every single word right for how our character would say it. So we do have flexibility in saying, “OK, Ahsoka wouldn’t say it this way. But I’ll take this line and change this word and say it this way.” It’s not so much about the overall story but it is in the tone and how she delivers the line that I do have a say.

CGM: What’s the question fans ask you the most about the show? 

AE: What happens to Ahsoka? They all ask that question, and I honestly don’t have the answer. I don’t know. They just wonder where she is, since she’s not in Episode III. Our show takes place in between Episode II and Episode III, so, you know, what happens to her? … I’m a fan in that sense, anxiously awaiting to see her future storylines. The questions also depend on the age. Kids are constantly asking me where did Ahsoka get her light saber? How did she make her light saber? The teenagers ask me a lot about Lux Bonteri and that relationship there. The adults, a question I’ve been getting a lot lately is does Ahsoka know about Anakin and Padme? So there’s a variety of questions that I get, and some I can answer, some I can’t, and some I just don’t have the answer to.

CGM: What have you enjoyed most about how the character has changed over the years?

AE: I’ve definitely grown attached to Ahsoka. She’s grown so much, and I think she’s grown into — and of course I’m a little biased — but I think she’s grown into the character that the fans always wanted her to be. I am definitely honest and I know that a lot of people did not like her in the movie and then in Season 1. She was very snippy, she was very sassy. She was kind of a know-it-all, but yet she was often finding herself getting into trouble. But I think now she’s comfortable in her own skin. She’s learned so much from Anakin, Obi-Wan, Plo Koon, even though she’s still a Padawan by title, it’s like she’s one of the gang. She’s earned their respect and she’s earned her stripes as they would say. She really is just good through and through. She tries to be the best Jedi that she can be and make the best decisions. Yes, she becomes more and more like Anakin as she’s trained under him, but in my opinion she’s still far from the Dark Side, and I do think she’s a great role model for kids.

CGM: Talk about just being part of the Star Wars community now, and what that’s been like.

AE: Being part of the Star Wars universe is definitely and honor and a privilege. It’s an opportunity that I realize not everyone gets, and so because of that, I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I kind of hit the jackpot in terms of characters and especially in the sci-fi world, so I want to do right by it. I want to do right by Lucasfilm and let them know they made the right decision and Dave Filoni for giving me this opportunity, and also to the fans. This is a beloved franchise that I’ve also been a fan of ever since, jeez, I don’t even remember the first time I watched Star Wars. It was definitely when I was under the age of 4. I don’t want fans to ever think I take it for granted, because I don’t. I want to make the most of it. I want to bring fans as much information and experiences from this world as I can. I just did my video diary from Celebration VI. I took them behind the scenes with me, because I felt like they mean so much to me, and they’ve been so kind, I feel like I’ve gained an army of friends throughout this whole process and I want to bring them with me as much as possible because it really is a community and I feel a responsibility to do my part in that community.

CGM: How do you feel about Clone Wars coming to an end, whenever that day arrives?

AE: Oh, I don’t even want to think about that! Being a part of the Star Wars universe has truly changed my life. Even past the show I will have these friends for the rest of my life. It definitely is sad to think that I won’t be able to work with them on a regular basis — and I don’t know when that is, so I hope we are still working for quite a while. But I also had the amazing opportunity to start Her Universe, my clothing line for girls, and it truly is because of Star Wars and my role of Ahsoka on The Clone Wars. I’m an actress, I’m not a fashion designer. I didn’t go to school for it, I don’t have the expertise and nobody would have given me a shot at designing apparel and merchandise for fans. Lucasfilm did. I had to start my own company, I didn’t get to cut any corners in terms of the licensing world. However, once I did that, they gave me the opportunity and I know I wouldn’t have gotten that if it hadn’t been for The Clone Wars. I’ll be forever grateful. I hope to continue to be making Star Wars merchandise for female fans for many years to come. Even if I’m not voicing Ahsoka, I hope to be in the Star Wars world even past that.

CGM: Other than the cuts and designs, what are some differences in clothes you make for female sci-fi fans?

AE: Half of all sci-fi fans are women. That’s a fact. Close to half of all Star Wars fans are women. We’re debunking that stereotype that Star Wars and sci-fi is just for the men. For me, it’s universal. It’s a story of hope, it’s a story that should be beloved by both genders. It transcends genders. However, we sometimes love these beloved properties for different reasons. Just because we like the same properties doesn’t mean we like the same designs. Sometimes we do, and I will just put it on a female-cut shirt, but sometimes we don’t. There are several designs that I don’t believe would have ever worked on a men’s shirt, but are very popular for Her Universe. I think we just listened to female fans. That’s the biggest thing that people didn’t do in the past, and that’s why maybe some merchandise didn’t work is they didn’t listen to the female fans for what they wanted. One thing with us women is we like to talk, and if you ask us what we want we’ll tell you. I think that’s the biggest thing is that I just really had an open dialogue with the female fans and asked them what they wanted. When you go to the Her Universe Facebook page or the Her Universe Twitter feed on my blog, that really is me running it and writing it. It’s no one else. I really get direct feedback from the fans and what they’re looking for. It’s been an interesting process, it’s been a learning experience, but it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of fun.

 Photo: © 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd.

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