It’s hard to think of a Star Wars character with an arc as meaningful as Ahsoka Tano. Padawan, Jedi, solitary warrior, Rebel. From The Clone Wars to Rebels, we’ve followed her triumphs and heartaches. We were at her side when the Jedi Order excommunicated her under false pretenses; when she learned of the tragic new identity of her master Anakin Skywalker; and when the World Between Worlds altered her fate. We’ve watched her grow from naive but headstrong child to a women hardened by grief and war.
As Ahsoka grew, so did the fandom around her. Though initially met with backlash, Ahsoka’s prosperity, hope, and anguish changed the tide. She’s now one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, with whole movements—like Ahsoka Lives Day, held at every Star Wars Celebration—sprouting around her, there to rally and catch the fans who need her most.
At the center of it all is Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano, but more than that, the heart and spirit of the character. Eckstein first came to the role in 2006, and has spent the last 14 years championing Ahsoka. It’s been a dreamlike ride for the actress, who is back again for the final season of The Clone Wars, the show that first welcomed Ahsoka into our hearts. As the series wraps up its final four episodes, Nerdist had the chance to chat with Eckstein about the legacy of Ahsoka Tano, how the character inspired her own philanthropic work and her new Little Golden Book I Am Padawan, and more.
What it meant to return to The Clone Wars
For Eckstein, returning to Ahsoka was a dream come true. The Clone Wars was canceled after season six with no hopes of completing its intended story arcs, including the Siege of Mandalore, an event often referenced in canon but never explored onscreen. “When the show was first canceled, we didn’t think it would ever come back,” Eckstein explained. “I’m a very hopeful and positive person, and even I didn’t think it would come back.”
But by the grace of Disney+, the series was resurrected for a seventh and final season, which began its run in February and will wrap up with the four-episode Siege of Mandalore arc starting this Friday. It’s a batch of episodes that Eckstein said made her “cry like a baby.”
“These episodes are absolutely mind-blowing,” she teased. “They’re just epic on every level. From the writing to the animation to the lighting to the music to the acting to everything. Everyone involved… we all feel like these episodes were a gift.”
If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Eckstein also added that she thinks the episodes are “some of the best Star Wars that’s ever been created.” Which is a big deal for an actress who is such a fan of the saga, and such a fan of the character she gets to play. “I realize how lucky I am to be able to be the voice of Ahsoka,” she said. “It’s something I don’t take lightly; I take it very seriously. So to be here finally wrapping up the series… it’s absolutely incredible.”
“I Am A Padawan”
Eckstein recently had the chance to spread the love for Ahsoka in another way: through a children’s book. She authored the Little Golden Book I Am A Padawan, which follows Ahsoka Tano as she learns the ways of the Force from teachers Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The opportunity was a major one for the actress.
“I think it was the fastest I’ve ever said ‘yes’ to anything in my life,” Eckstein said with a laugh. “I grew up on Little Golden Books, it was my childhood, so it was bucket-list level.”
To prepare, she went back and binged every episode of The Clone Wars, and picked all of her favorite moments and lessons from the series. As part of the Little Golden Books I Am series, it’s a way to impart wisdom to children, in this case teaching them how to be a great student.
“Even though these adventures happen in a galaxy far, far away, they’re very relatable,” Eckstein said. “These are lessons of bravery and hope and friendship and failure and knowledge and never giving up, and I hope they’ll be great lessons for kids to learn and adults to be reminded of.”
Her mental health advocacy
One of the unique gifts Ahsoka gave Eckstein was the desire to help others. That’s the nature of the character, and something the actress who brought her to life gets back from her. One cause Eckstein is particularly passionate about is mental health advocacy, something that came into her life after a brush with cyber bullying around the release of her first book, It’s Your Universe.
“I had been bullied as a kid, but I had never been cyber bullied and it was a pretty awful period of time,” she explained. “And it was over something that wasn’t even true. But once something takes off, you can’t control it. I’d never experienced anything like it.”
The book tour for It’s Your Universe brought Eckstein to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where ground had just been broken on the first-ever behavioral health pavilion on a children’s hospital campus in the nation.
“I showed up to this hospital thinking I’m going to help the patients, but I was so broken after dealing with the cyber bullying,” she said. “And instead the hospital helped me, and really opened up my eyes to the fact that we need to be talking about this.”
The encounter was monumental to Eckstein, who learned many shocking statistics about the role mental health plays in childhood, and the terrifying actuality of youth suicide—the second-leading cause of death in ages 12 to 18. The lack of conversation about such a serious topic inspired Eckstein to get involved. “I support mental health for all ages, but if we can attack it young with kids and teens think of how many adults we can save.”
It was a line from the latest season of The Clone Wars that also inspired Eckstein to speak up. When Rafa asks Ahsoka why she’s helping her, Ahsoka responds: “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.” Eckstein made that her motto for 2020, and partnered with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital for their campaign “ On Our Sleeves” which encourages children to talk about their emotions and mental health.
“I feel like Ahsoka would also stand up and be an advocate for this,” Eckstein said. “And I so badly want to be a real-life Ahsoka Tano. So that’s why it’s something I’m very passion about.”
What it was like to film Ahsoka’s The Rise of Skywalker cameo
Ahsoka’s impact was strengthened in another major way last December, when her voice made an appearance in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. After she’s seemingly defeated by Emperor Palpatine, a downtrodden Rey summons the help of the Jedi who came before her to rekindle her strength in the Force and defeat the evil mastermind for good. One of the voices that calls out to Rey is Ahsoka Tano, voiced by Eckstein, who tells her: “Let [the Force] guide you as it guided us.”
It was an emotional moment for Eckstein. “Just to know that Ahsoka was included and to realize how far she had truly come… to be included in that moment as part of the Skywalker Saga of films. It was truly surreal and something that will go down as one of the biggest moments of my career.”
Eckstein first learned she might be in the film at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago last year, the same weekend the first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker debuted. She was initially told she’d have to record the lines at the event. (“Like, are you kidding me, am I going to be recording lines for Episode IX in a broom closet?”) Instead, she recorded temp lines a few weeks later, but was told there was a big chance it would never make it’s way to screen and that’d she know for sure in October. Sure enough, when October came, she was summoned to Bad Robot, where she spent 20 minutes recording with director J.J. Abrams and sound editor Matthew Wood, who also voiced General Grievous in the Star Wars films, and who Eckstein says was “instrumental” in getting those Jedi voices in the movie.
“It was truly a dream come true,” Eckstein said of the opportunity.
Advice for future Ahsokas
Given the expansive nature of Star Wars canon—from films to series to comics to video games and beyond—it’s inevitable that someone else will play Ahsoka Tano in the future. Indeed, rumors are circulating that Rosario Dawson will portray the character in the next season of Disney+’s live-action series The Mandalorian, executive produced by The Clone Wars and Rebels head honcho Dave Filoni. Eckstein said she’s well aware that the character was always going to grow beyond her.
“The Ahsoka we’ve come to know and love is the culmination of hard work by a lot of different people,” she explained. “So I’ve always known Ahsoka’s bigger than me and the team will continue to grow.”
Her advice for any actress who might take on the role comes from Filoni himself. Eckstein said she once asked him why he gave her the part, especially after her audition went poorly. “It was how I acted between takes,” she said. “He told me, ‘You’re genuine and Ahsoka is genuine, so I want you to just to be yourself.'”
It’s that sense of genuine intention that she hopes future Ahsoka’s will embody. “Ahsoka means so much to so many people,” Eckstein explained. “She’s not just another character. She’s not just another role. Ahsoka literally has impacted countless lives. She’s changed lives and she’s saved lives. And I hope that whoever joins Team Tano sees and realizes how much she means to people and will continue to carry on Ahsoka’s legacy.”
How Ahsoka can inspire us in dark times
That legacy is especially important now. The COVID-19 pandemic has all of us indoors, fretting about the future, and trying to make sense of a senseless world. Eckstein said the release of new Clone Wars episodes feels almost fateful, given the circumstances.
“I think the universe works in mysterious ways and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these new episodes are being released during the time that we need them the most,” she explained. “Especially these last four episodes… they’re all about hope. And when it looks like hope is gone, and there is no hope left, Ahsoka always proves that there is still hope.”
She points to one particular line from the fifth season finale of The Clone Wars. The episode opens with a “fortune cookie” sentiment like every episode: “Never give up hope no matter how dark things seem.”
“Whenever I need hope, I usually turn to Star Wars,” Eckstein said. “Now that Ahsoka is such a huge part of my life, Ahsoka means hope to me.”
She means hope to us, too.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm