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How Voice Actor Vanessa Marshall Really Feels About Her Star Wars Character Hera - Exclusive Interview

You may not know her face, but if you're an animated "Star Wars" fan, you most likely recognize Vanessa Marshall's voice. Since 2014, she has helped bring Hera Syndulla, a Twi'lek revolutionary involved in the early rebellion against the Galactic Empire, to life — starting with "Star Wars: Rebels" for four seasons.

A skilled pilot, Hera has built her own resistance movement aboard her starship, the Ghost — popping up all over the "Star Wars" universe. She's name-dropped in the live-action film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" — and the Ghost makes a cameo in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," presumably with Hera at the helm. She has also made appearances in the comics, novels, and video games. Hera's most recent appearance is in the latest "Star Wars" animated series, "The Bad Batch," which is currently streaming on Disney+. Taking place before "Rebels," "The Bad Batch" is both a sequel to and spinoff from the long-running "Clone Wars" series.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Marshall — who is the daughter of "Knots Landing" star Joan Van Ark and has lent her voice to dozens of other high-profile animated roles beyond the "Star Wars" franchise — spoke about what Hera means to her, whether she'd like to see the character to make the jump to live action, and how working on "Star Wars" feels like more of a family than any other role she's ever played.

Vanessa Marshall believes Star Wars' Hera needs to 'lighten up'

You've played Hera for some time now. What does she represent to you? And what makes her fun to play?

Oh my goodness. Well, I feel like she's my heart and soul. I really adore her. In my own journey of self-empowerment as a woman, I have taken all kinds of martial arts classes and I'm maintaining a 50-pound weight loss for 20 years. Not that that should be anyone's goal. But my point is that martial arts changed my body, and I have a sense of understanding for how one might need to protect themselves or their friends and family. I'm wired that way, naturally.

My father is a pilot. I have nothing but respect for aviation and the spiritual elements that my father has been talking about for years. So that means a lot to me personally. I am organized around representation, equality, and I do lots of volunteer work for women's organizations. Step Up Women's Network, women inspiring women to inspire girls. These things mean a lot to me.

So when a character like Hera comes around, who is a pilot and able to protect herself and her friends ... I'm also Italian. I like to feed people. And I did so while we were on set, I was the caterer. I mean, I love people. I love making people feel important. And when they say there's no reason to play small, when you play full out you give other people permission to do the same. I think I try to do that in my own life with younger women. And I felt like Hera did that with Sabine.

And so when I got the first audition and there was talk of light swords and the cause, to me, I projected my love of "Star Wars" onto that scene. And lucky for me, it actually was a "Star Wars" narrative. Everything came together and I'm so deeply, deeply grateful. So I care about her. Maybe she's the best parts of me. I wish I could be more like her all the time, because she is so focused. I can be very childlike and, "Oh, look, shiny beads." I entertain myself quite easily, whereas Hera's very serious. I'm a bit of a jokester, and she's pretty hardcore, but she is the best parts of me and that just is an honor to portray.

If there was one thing you could change about Hera, what would it be?

Well, in "Rebels," when she loses Kanan, I think she realizes just how much the price of ... she was so focused, as I said. And I admire her focus, but I think Hera wishes at the end of "Rebels" that she had taken more time to be present with Kanan and is heartbroken because of that.

But she had to focus because lives would have been lost. It was really non-negotiable. But I think one thing, maybe, she could do is lighten up a little bit. She was so serious [in "Rebels"] and people would always ask me, "Well, is there a romance between the two of them?" And I would say, "Absolutely not, their lives are hanging in the balance. They don't have time for silly romance." I mean, my goodness, we have to go save people's lives. So I think she was organized that way, but it might've cost her precious intimacy with someone that she cared very much about. So she might need to lighten up. So maybe we're good for each other — I can make her laugh and she can help me stay focused.

Given that characters like Bo-Katan Kryze and the actor who voiced her, Katee Sackhoff, have hopped from the animated to the live-action realm with their characters, are you hoping for the same with Hera?

Well, of course, I would love to play Hera. But what I really love is that I have the deepest respect for Lucasfilm and for any and all of their decisions within "Rebels," within any of the content. I trust them implicitly. And if I were asked, the answer is a resounding "yes." If it needs to be someone else — I think a lot of people assume that they'll probably want more of an on-camera celebrity or something like that. If that's the case, I trust that that's what's meant to be. I am grateful that I was able to lend my voice to the character, and I would be honored to play her in any capacity, of course. But what I love about Lucasfilm is that every choice they make is the right choice, always. So whatever it is, I support it.

Vanessa Marshall feels an 'incredible responsibility' to help elevate the Star Wars franchise

Now, not only are you a powerhouse in the realm of "Star Wars," but you've also voiced iconic characters in the Marvel and DC universes. Creatively, what is the biggest thing that separates the "Star Wars" franchise installments you've taken part in from your voice work on other projects?

Well, "Rebels" was created at a very special time when Disney had first bought the franchise, and it was kind of the first foray and we all felt an incredible responsibility to be absolutely true to the "Star Wars" fans. And it was a very special opportunity and luckily they happened to hire the biggest Star Wars nerds. I mean, Freddie Prinze Jr. and of course, Sam Witwer who was in "The Clone Wars," but there was a lot of love for the franchise at that time. And I think that we were able to lift it up because of that. And luckily it worked and it has continued — I mean, 24 Emmy nominations for "The Mandalorian," say no more. Disney+ is just cleaning up right now. So it's really going well, all of it is going well.

In addition to Hera, what have been some of your favorite characters to lend your voice to — and why?

I enjoyed playing Gamora [in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" animated series], and there was a family on that set as well ... but to return to your previous question in terms of the difference, I feel like that journey that I described, where we were trying to really execute something and please the fans and really just celebrate the space opera, if you will, that there is a family bond there that is an indelible bond and, no doubt, we will be friends for a good long while, and we do all still text each other. I haven't necessarily experienced that with many other franchises.

I am also a Marvel fan. I loved playing Black Widow in "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" and getting to play Gamora, as I said, and She-Hulk and all these different characters. But I feel like those characters are sort of more archetypes, even getting to play Wonder Woman or Black Canary.

No one really owns those characters, and not that I own Hera by any means, but as I said previously, I was a part of creating that character and making that strong female character true to "Star Wars." That experience wasn't necessary with Black Widow because everyone knows Natasha Romanoff, and there have been different versions of her — and everyone knows Scarlett Johannson. So, in a weird way, I was just trying to elevate that archetype.

So, it's a very different experience, not only within the creation of the character, but also in terms of the level of intimacy with my castmates in those other franchises. Just nothing has compared to the experience of being with people who love "Star Wars" as much as I do. It was like coming home.

"Star Wars: The Bad Batch" is currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes premiering every Friday.