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Ashley Eckstein Dishes On The Clone Wars And Life As Ahsoka Tano - Exclusive Interview

2020 is a big year for Anakin Skywalker's old apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. Not only did the series that introduced the young Togruta, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, wrap up its run in the spring with an Ahsoka-focused finale that rivals the best of Star Wars on the big screen, but rumors suggest that she'll also make an appearance in the second season of the Disney+ smash hit The Mandalorian.

So, why not hear from the woman who started it all? Ashley Eckstein has been playing Ahsoka since the character's debut in The Clone Wars feature film, and it's no stretch to say that playing the former padawan has changed her life. Just like Ahsoka has become a fan favorite, Eckstein is now a beloved member of the Star Wars community, and has had the opportunity to do everything from write children's books to start her own fashion line.

But things didn't necessarily start so well. In our interview, conducted right before The Clone Wars' series finale, Eckstein discussed her rocky audition process, Ahsoka's lukewarm welcome, why Ahsoka is her real-life role model, and much, much more.

How Ashley Eckstein landed the part of Ahsoka, and why Ahsoka is so important to her

When you first got the part of Ahsoka, how much did you know about the character and her overall arc?

Well, the funny thing is, is when I first got the part of the Ahsoka, I didn't know anything about her. In fact, when I was cast as the character, all I was told was that I was playing a new character. That's all I knew. I found out that she was new character and that she was a 14-year-old girl.

It wasn't until I went to my very first recording session that I actually found out who I was playing, and literally my mind exploded, because I'm a lifelong Star Wars fan and I didn't realize Anakin Skywalker had a padawan. And needless to say, I couldn't believe that I was going to be playing her. It was definitely a surreal moment. But I knew very little about her.

It's something still, to this day, that I do not take lightly. I truly feel like I won the lottery. Very few people get to originate a character in the Star Wars universe, and very few people get to kind of be a part of that process. They allowed me to be a part of the process. They allowed me to help create Ahsoka Tano. I got to bring my own wit and humor and personality and heart and soul to this character. It'll forever be one of the proudest moments of my career and of my life, that I got to be a part of originating Ahsoka Tano.

What parts of Ahsoka do you relate to the most?

It's funny, because I got the part of Ahsoka because [executive producer] Dave Filoni liked my own personality. My audition wasn't very good. Originally, they wanted Ahsoka to have an Icelandic accent and I just couldn't do it. I was terrible at it, and I was getting very frustrated with myself in between takes. I was frustrated that I couldn't give them the performance that they wanted. I felt this opportunity slipping through my fingers. And I'm a bit of a perfectionist.

It turned out that I got the part because Dave Filoni wanted me to just be myself and bring my own self to the part. So in the beginning, you could say that I brought a lot of my own personality and my own wisdom to Ahsoka. But, over the course of the years, I feel like the tables have turned and Ahsoka has brought so much of her wisdom to me and in my own life.

I've literally changed my life because Ahsoka Tano. I ask myself every day, "What would Ahsoka do?," because I feel like Ahsoka would always do the right thing. She would always help people. She would always choose the light and she would always choose hope. So if I ask myself what would Ahsoka do, I feel like whatever choice she would make is the right choice. And I think about Ahsoka literally daily and she guides my everyday decisions.

You've worked with Dave Filoni on both Rebels and The Clone Wars. What's the biggest lesson you've learned from him, either as an actress or as a person?

Well, it's funny. Going back to when I was cast as Ahsoka, I very quickly realized the magnitude of this character and how amazing she was, and I just didn't know why I was cast, because again, my audition was pretty terrible. And I asked him one day. I said, "Why me? Why did you choose me for Ahsoka?" And he said, "Well, Ashley, you're genuine, and Ahsoka is genuine."

That really stuck with me, because we all have our moments and I always try to be genuine with everything I do, but nobody's perfect. Especially since I want so badly to be a real-life Ahsoka Tano, it's something that I keep with me always. No one had ever said that to me. No one had ever put it in those words, and I'll never forget that. I'll always let that guide me and I'll always, every day, strive to be genuine.

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you've learned from Ahsoka?

At the beginning of all of the Clone Wars episodes, there's what we call a "Jedi fortune cookie." It's the black screen with the blue text. The fortune cookie at the beginning of the last episode of season five, when Ahsoka walks away from the Jedi Order, says, "Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem." I would say that is truly what I've taken away from Ahsoka.

To me, Star Wars means hope. But now, to me, Ahsoka means hope. Truly, if you follow her story, even in the darkest of times, when you think all hope is gone — I mean Ahsoka walked away from everything that she knew by walking away from the Jedi Order. And then, in Siege of Mandalore, I mean, literally, it looks like no hope is left. It's like it's gone. All the light is gone, you would think. And Ahsoka chooses to still see light. She chooses to still have hope. I think we can all learn that from Ahsoka. Even in times like now, which there's so much sadness and so much loss with everything that's going on, there's always hope. I will always remember that, thanks to Ahsoka.

Obviously, you've heard the rumors that Ahsoka is going to be appearing in The Mandalorian. How do you feel about the possibility of another actor taking on a role that you are so closely associated with?

Well, this is something that I've always been outspoken about, because it's never been just me bringing Ahsoka to life. It's always been a group of people. I call it Team Tano, and it's everything from Dave Filoni and the directing to the animators, to the writers, to the music, to the lighting, to me bringing the voice. It's been a whole team and the team keeps growing, and I've always known that it would continue to grow. I've always looked at it as a good thing, because that means that we get more Ahsoka stories.

I'm not going to lie. Of course, it's my dream to always be involved with Ahsoka. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. It's always my dream to continue to be a part of Ahsoka in all iterations. But regardless of what happens, I will always support any Ahsoka story because that means we get more Ahsoka.

And any new actress that would step into Ahsoka's shoes, I would say I just hope she realizes what Ahsoka means to people, because Ahsoka has changed lives. She's saved lives. She's not just another character to people. She's not just another part for an actress. Ahsoka is a legend. I mean, she's truly become an icon in the Star Wars universe and she means so much to so many people all over the world. So, I would just ask that anyone that joins Team Tano recognizes how important she is to so many people, and they do their best to continue to carry on her legacy.

Ashley Eckstein talks about The Clone Wars' unexpected return -- and its incredible finale

The Clone Wars was famously cut short during its initial run — production on season six was well underway when it was canceled. Are there any lost Ahsoka stories that you never got to tell that you would've liked to?

I can't speak for the rest of the cast, but when Ahsoka walked away at the end of season five, what fans didn't realize is that we weren't going to see Ahsoka for a while. She'd actually walked away from the series for a little bit.

It wasn't until the episodes that we just got in season seven — they were a little different, how we originally did them, there were some different characters — but the Trace and Rafa arc, with the Martez sisters, that was a kind of revamped iteration of the episodes that I did for Ahsoka back in season six. That was it. Those were the only episodes I had actually recorded before the series was canceled. So for me, I did actually get to finish everything that I had started.

Now, I will say we were meant to do several more episodes that never even got off the ground, but thanks to the final season, fortunately we get to finish The Clone Wars for Ahsoka, and that I'm forever grateful for.

What was it like when you learned that the series was coming back?

Oh my gosh. Well, I found out in three stages, actually. I first found out from a text message from Dee Bradley Baker. I knew he was with Dave Filoni at the time, and so I thought they were playing a prank on me. I actually didn't believe it. Dee texted me and he said, "Hey, Ashley, don't tell anyone, but Clone Wars is coming back 12 episodes." And I was just like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. If this is a test, I'm not going to fall for it. I know you're with Dave." And he's like, "No, no, no, for real." And so, my interest was piqued, but I'm like, "There's no way. This isn't even funny."

Then I got a call from my agent and my agent told me it was coming back. And still, even at that moment, I didn't fully believe it, because I didn't want to believe it until it came from Dave Filoni's mouth.

So, after I got the call from my agent, I called Dave Filoni and I was like, "Hey, Skyguy, do you have something you need to tell me?" I said it just like that. It's totally something Ahsoka would say. And he goes, "Why?" And I said, "No, seriously, you have something that you need to tell me."

Finally he realized what I was getting at, and he was like, "Oh no." He's like, "I wanted you to hear it from me. I didn't want you to hear it from somebody else." So he was kind of bummed that I had found out through my agent, but I was elated. I just couldn't believe it. I'm a very hopeful person. I'm a very positive person. But Clone Wars coming back was the dream that I honestly thought would never happen. And the fact that it came true, truly the impossible is possible.

The finale isn't the end of Ahsoka's story, because we've seen her in Rebels, but it is sort of the end of this chapter of her story. Are you happy with the way things ended up?

Oh yeah. The Siege of Mandalore arc, the finale to The Clone Wars, all four episodes are equally as epic. It's mind-blowing, this arc. It's truly, in my opinion, some of the best of Star Wars, and each episode is equally as incredible. It's truly meant to be watched as a movie. I recommend everyone watch the episodes as they come out, but then the second that the last one drops, I recommend watching all of them in order because it's really a two-hour movie, is what it is. Everyone in the cast and crew brought their A-game. Everyone brought their best.

I say you don't always get second chances in life, but we got a second chance. We got a chance to bring closure to The Clone Wars and everyone took it so seriously. It's epic, I mean, if not bigger than epic. I wish there was a word bigger than epic, because that's what it is.

Is there anything about this last batch of Clone Wars episodes that you're particularly proud of, but you maybe haven't gotten to talk about yet, or that you think deserve more attention?

One of them, I think, is the lesson that I personally took away from this season. When I recorded these episodes, the line that I already shared, where Ahsoka says to Rafa, she says, "In my life, when you find people who need your help, you help them no matter what. I guess it's just who I am," I took that on as my own personal motto for 2020. I wanted to dedicate this whole season to that mantra, helping people no matter what.

Obviously, I had no idea that we were going to be going through a worldwide pandemic at the time, but I think we can all learn from Ahsoka. I think she delivers the most perfect message at the perfect time, because the only way we're going to get through this and get back to our new normal is to help people no matter what. And I'm so proud of Ahsoka, that she would be there for us during this time, to deliver that message, so one thing I'm particularly proud of is really just the messages behind the season.

The other thing is, I really want to thank the fans, because this season truly is not possible without the fans. Every single day, from the moment The Clone Wars was canceled until it was announced that it was coming back, I would go on Twitter or on one of the social platforms and I would see a tweet from a fan saying, "Please bring back The Clone Wars, #CloneWars or #SaveTheCloneWars." And even when we gave up on the show, because I honestly thought it would never come back, the fans never gave up. They kept fighting for it.

I think that's a good reminder for anything in our life, is that if something is that important it's worth fighting for. The fans never lost hope. They never gave up the fight. And years later, they were able to flip that hashtag to say #CloneWarsSaved. And I think that's another lesson we can all take away. It might not happen overnight, but if you keep fighting for it and you never lose hope and you never give up, anything is possible.

How Star Wars fandom has changed since Ashley Eckstein first got involved

You've mentioned that you're a lifelong Star Wars fan. Other than Ahsoka, do you have a favorite character?

Oh yes, yes. I would say my favorite character in all of Star Wars is R2-D2. I've always loved R2. I call him my hero, because if you think about it, R2 is always there to save the day. Star Wars wouldn't be what it is without R2-D2.

Is there a Star Wars actor that you wish you either could have worked with, or you might've worked with but you wish you could have worked with more?

Oh, yes. I would definitely say Carrie Fisher. I got to meet Carrie Fisher. We got to be on a panel together at Dragon Con, and it was the only time I got to meet her. Oh my gosh, that moment was everything I could have dreamed of and more.

I didn't feel that I belonged on the panel. It was a panel that was called "The Stars of Star Wars." It was Carrie, it was Peter Mayhew and Temuera Morrison. I walked backstage, I remember, before the panel, and I looked at them and I introduced myself. I said, "Well, I have to be honest, I don't think I should be here. You guys are in the movies, I'm just in the animated show."

And she looked at me and she said, "Don't be silly." She said, "You are a part of our family and you absolutely belong on that stage." And then she proceeded to give me a hug and then give me one of her famous glitter bombs. She just covered my head in glitter. She was so welcoming.

I've heard so many wonderful stories about her, and I can only imagine if I would have had more time with her what that would have been like, because the time that I did have with her was so magical and she really was such a special person.

Star Wars fans can be kind of resistant to change and new ideas, but everyone really loves Ahsoka. Why do you think it is that she's become such a fan favorite?

I think Ahsoka has become such a fan favorite because we've spent so much time with her. Ahsoka was first introduced to the Star Wars universe in 2008 and many people forget that she actually wasn't met with the warmest of welcomes. She was given a lot of hate at first. They thought she was too snippy and too bratty.

I just asked fans from the beginning for patience. I asked them to go on the journey with her, because I was always a season ahead of what the fans were seeing. So, even with the movie, I was already into season two in my recording process, so I knew that she was heading in the direction that the fans wanted her to go. And I said, "Look, no character is perfect at the beginning. If they were perfect, then they wouldn't be a very exciting character."

Thank goodness they stuck with her, and thank goodness we have so much time to tell her story. Between seven seasons of Clone Wars, a couple seasons of Star Wars Rebels, we've had a book, we've had Forces of Destiny, now we have Rise of Skywalker, we've had so many moments of her story over the course of 12 years that I think it's allowed people to become invested in her story.

Star Wars is in a very different place than it was when you started The Clone Wars. At that point, we didn't know if there was going to be more Star Wars. Since then, we've gotten five movies, two more animated series, and a live-action show. For you, because you're so involved with fans, how have you seen sort of the Star Wars fandom change over the past six or seven years?

Yeah. My favorite thing about Star Wars is the fans. The fans of Star Wars have changed my life, truly. I have so many lifelong friends now that I met because they were Star Wars fans. And I met them, whether it be at Star Wars Celebration or one of the events.

The Star Wars community is truly a beautiful thing, and I think to understand it, you have to understand what it means to be a Star Wars fan, because being a Star Wars fan is not just a trend. It's not something that you're into for one moment because a movie's out, and then you've moved on. To be a Star Wars fan, it's literally a part of your soul. It's a part of who you are. It's a part of your identity.

So here's what I'll say. Of course, the past couple years, there's been so much talk about the toxic side of fandom. I've experienced it. I was viciously cyberbullied over something that wasn't even true. It was a complete made-up lie that was not true, and I was attacked.

However, in my opinion, that is still the minority of fandom. The majority of fans are wonderful. The majority of fans are just making this world a better place. I mean, if you look at the 501st Legion or the Rebel Legion or the Droid Builders or the Mando Mercs, there's so many wonderful fan organizations where they make their own screen-accurate costumes and volunteer their time to go help people.

I've been the benefactor of some of that help, me and my family. I mean, I had a nephew in the hospital and it was his birthday. The 501st showed up and made his birthday special while he was in the hospital. That's who Star Wars fans are. They're just people that just give, and selflessly give. Dave Filoni taught me that the sign of a true Jedi is someone who is selfless. So many Star Wars fans are selfless. They just care about the community. It's something I'm grateful for because they have truly changed my life, and I'm forever a different person because I became the voice of Ahsoka Tano. Star Wars fans make my life that more special, and I'm forever grateful to our Star Wars community.

Where you can find Ashley Eckstein and Ahsoka next

You play Ahsoka, but you also have a number of other things going on, including your fashion line, Her Universe. What's the biggest lesson you'd say you've learned from working on Her Universe?

From day one, Her Universe has always been two parts. It's a merchandise line, but more importantly, and first and foremost, it's a community. I started Her Universe as a way to end the bullying, because female fans were being bullied and being bullied terribly for just liking Star Wars, and I wanted to break the stigma, because Star Wars is not just for men and boys. It's not just for women and girls. Star Wars is for everyone. This whole sci-fi and fantasy, our fandom culture, is for everyone. And I wanted to break the stereotype and make this universe more accepting for female fans. So I figured if I created merchandise made for women, they would feel more comfortable to step into the spotlight and say "Hi, I'm a girl and I like Star Wars."

So the community of Her Universe has always guided all of my decisions. And I think the biggest lesson I've learned over the years is how important it is to just listen to people. One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel invisible. I think everyone just wants to be visible. Everyone just wants to be seen and be heard and be listened to. And it's amazing how many things we can change and how many conflicts we can resolve if we just listen to people. I think that's the biggest thing that Her Universe has taught me.

Have you seen a marked change in the amount of bullying or gatekeeping in the fan community as Her Universe has gotten bigger?

Oh yes. Yes. I would say, within our community, we've completely broken the stigma. Now we actually started a sub-brand called Our Universe. We released clothing for men and boys. And so, I feel like we've achieved that. We've broken the stigma.

I think now I kind of like to break stereotypes. And what I discovered, thanks to our community, is how important mental health is. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. I went on a nationwide book tour and fans would come up to me, and almost in secret they would share their personal battles with their mental health. Whether it be their struggles with anxiety or depression or various mental illnesses or mental health struggles, they would share with me. I was just blown away by the number of stories that I received.

And I asked myself, I honestly asked myself, I said, "What would Ahsoka do?" And my answer was that Ahsoka would stand up for our community and she would be a voice. She would help people. As we hear Ahsoka in season seven with the Martez sisters, Rafa asks Ahsoka, she says "Why are you helping us?" And Ahsoka says, "In my life, when you find people who need your help, you help them no matter what." And I looked at all the struggles that everyone was having with mental health and mental illness and I said, "Wow, Ahsoka would help people."

So, that's what I would say what kind of my next mission is. I want to be a voice and I want to be an advocate for mental health. Especially with what we're dealing with right now, with this worldwide pandemic, I think we're all seeing our mental health is more important now than ever. And I have to say thanks to our community, it's kind of opened up my eyes and given me a voice to speak up about it.

You've also published a children's book about Ahsoka, I Am a Padawan. What were your goals when you sat down to write it?

I grew up reading the Little Golden books. I actually learned to read on the Little Golden books. So I know how important they are to kids and families, and I know how many lessons I learned as a kid from these Little Golden books. I mean, lifelong lessons. So I took this very, very seriously.

A padawan is a student. So as a part of the "I Am" series — these books are I Am a Princess, I Am a Pirate and I Am a Padawan — it's really just a story about teaching kids what it means to be a student and the type of lessons that you learn as a student. Even though Ahsoka is in a galaxy far, far away, the lessons she learns are very relatable to kids today, and even to adults, as we need to be reminded of many of these lessons.

So I binge-watched The Clone Wars and I picked out my favorite moments and my favorite lessons that Ahsoka learned, and I put those in the book. They're lessons of bravery and failure and friendship and knowledge and hope. And then, even at the end, they allowed me to take a very serious and heavy scene, like Ahsoka walking away from the Jedi Order, and they allowed me to put that in this children's book. Because when you boil it down, at the end of the day Ahsoka is just choosing her own path. And at the end of the day, a student, if you think about it, when they graduate high school or college, they choose their own path. The padawan one becomes the Jedi Knight.

That really is a part of the process. So I had a great time writing it, and I hope kids learn these lessons from the book. And I also hope that adults are reminded of these lessons.

You've said that you don't know, and you don't make the decisions, about what's going to happen to Ahsoka next. On a personal level, though, as a fan, are there places you'd like to see the character go, or stories you would like to see the character appear in?

Oh goodness. Yeah. I mean, what I would love personally, as a fan of Ahsoka, is we see in The Clone Wars happened with the Siege of Mandalore and Order 66, and then we see Ahsoka in Rebels, but there are years there. There are years that are unaccounted for. And to me, I would love to get to bring Ahsoka to life sometime in between The Clone Wars and Rebels. So after she truly walks away from The Clone Wars, but before she appears on Rebels, I would love to see what happens.

With The Clone Wars ending, where can fans see you next?

Well, I will say, just kind of following up on mental health, I've been working on different projects. I've been working very closely with Disney and Lucasfilm on a project having to do with mindfulness and Jedi training. So I'm very, very excited about it. Obviously it was slightly delayed because of the quarantine, but it's something that I've been working on for a couple of years and I'm very, very proud of it. So stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I started my own personal Instagram page, which is different. Her Universe used to be all of my social channels, but now I have a personal one that's just Ashley Eckstein. So as soon as I can share more about this project, I will share more and you can hear about it first just on my personal Instagram page.