Star Wars interview: Ashley Eckstein

Up close and personal with the Clone Wars’ Ahsoka Tano

The graveyards of popular culture are littered with failed audience identification figures, Ashley Eckstein’s Jedi padawan Ahsoka Tano is an exception. Evolving over the three seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, from the one-note sassy teen of the terrible movie, to as key a part of the Star Wars canon as Anakin and Obi-Wan, we caught up with voice actor and all round lovely human being Ashley Eckstein to recall the character’s humble beginnings.

How did you wind up playing Ahsoka?

“It was chosen for me really; I auditioned for the show and knew that it was for the new Star Wars cartoon, but nothing else. I had originally auditioned for Padme and I think three words came out of my mouth before they stopped me and said my voice is too young for Padme, but there’s this new character, and why don’t you audition for that? And that’s what they told me. It was just generic Star Wars lines and had nothing to do with Ahsoka. I didn’t even think that my audition went that great, because they were playing around with different accents but I ended up getting a call back. That lasted about 15 minutes and that was it, I found out that I’d booked this new role and I didn’t know what it was. I showed up on the first day of work and they were like ‘Okay, you’re playing Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s new padawan’, Literally, it was just like ‘Oh, okay…’ and on top of that it was a new character, so what we wanted her to be like, what we wanted her to sound like… over the first six months we had to go back and do a lot of retakes, because Ahsoka at first, she was very serious, the polar opposite of where she started out from in the movie. So it’s been a work in progress, but I finally feel like we’ve got her where we want her, and she’s moving in a good direction. I think the fans will be pleased where she’s going, and I’m just honoured that they picked me and allowed me to give my input.”

SciFiNow issue 58 is out now!

Was it daunting to be working on a new character for such an iconic saga?

“Yes, the thing that made it a little easier at the end of the day was what Dave [Filoni, show] said to me, that one of the main reasons that I was chosen for the part was because they wanted me to bring a lot of myself, my natural personality to the character. Dave would run lines by me and say, ‘Okay Ashley, how would you say this line?’ So that made it a little easier, but it was definitely nerve-wracking knowing that some of the sessions would go back up here to George Lucas at the ranch, and either he liked them or he didn’t, and realising that after a couple of tries, if they didn’t like you then they could recast you. I knew what an amazing opportunity this was, but I had to get it right, and if I didn’t get it right, then they’d go on to the next girl. It was very scary because you realise that we had nothing to base this off of. We were literally making this up on the fly. Dave, [co-producer] Henry Gilroy and [executive producer] Katherine Winder had an idea of what they wanted her to look like, and she just kind of evolved from there. Thankfully they took my input and they stuck with me, and I think now that we’re happy with where she’s going, but it was about a six month process to get her where we wanted her to be.”

How much input did you have on the character?

“Again, I think it was the fact that Dave allowed me to bring some of myself to the character. Generally, I’m more on the positive side; I try to look at things as if the cup is half full… and my parents always taught me that you’re not going to be perfect at everything, and you take your failures and learn from them and make it better and pull yourself back up and do it again, and practice makes perfect. I related to Ahsoka in that way, that she was trying so hard because she recognised what an honour it was to be Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, and she didn’t want to let him down, and she was just trying so hard, and of course she made mistakes, did some stupid things, but she picked herself up and learned from it. She definitely grows leaps and bounds in Season Two. In the beginning of Season Two, the first few episodes, she still makes a few mistakes here and there, but by the end she’s one tough little cookie. Anakin gives her a little more freedom too. In one episode he drops her off and says, ‘Good luck Snips, see you later, you’re on your own’.”

Do you see her as a role model for young girls?

“Oh absolutely, and she didn’t get there by taking any short cuts either. She’s very smart, she worked hard in the Jedi temple in her studies, and she’s a teeny tiny little thing of an alien, but she uses her body to the best of her ability in that she may be small but she’s very catlike and agile. I think what she teaches girls is that if you put your mind to something then you can achieve it. Use your strengths, study hard, stay physically fit and who knows? The sky’s the limit really. The thing that I like with Ahsoka, she’s definitely been inspirational to girls; I would have liked Ahsoka growing up. I was never the girl that wanted to be the princess; I was the tomboy, I was the only girl in the baseball team. I wasn’t the best hitter, but I was the fastest runner. So again it’s using your strengths. I knew I could run fast but I knew I couldn’t overpower the boys, I knew I couldn’t hit the home run, but hey, I’ll beat you round the bases, and sure enough I always did. That’s kind of how I view Ahsoka, but the nice thing about her and what’s happened, after Season One, is that she’s not just a character for girls, just as many boys like her as girls. And I don’t think many kids see her gender; I think they see her as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan. It’s not a he or a she; it’s Ahsoka Tano. I’m actually really pleased, I don’t think we really anticipated that. We thought that she’d be a character for girls and the boys wouldn’t care about her, but that’s not the case.”

Star Wars The Clone Wars – The Complete Season Three is out October 17 on DVD and Blu-ray from  Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, priced £27.99 and £36.49. SciFiNow’s collector’s edition Star Wars issue is available now from all good newsagents and online from the Imagineshop