TALES OF THE EMPIRE’s Diana Lee Inosanto and Meredith Salenger on Their Characters’ Choices

Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi put the emphasis on choice and how moments big and small shape someone’s path. That series of animated shorts showed us why Count Dooku decided to pursue the dark side and how Ahsoka Tano chose to return to the fight and battle the Empire. Star Wars: Tales of the Empire also tells a story of choices, in this case those of Morgan Elsbeth and Barriss Offee. The shorts reveal how their characters’ paths intersected with the Galactic Empire’s. We talked to Diana Lee Inosanto and Meredith Salenger about the return of their characters and the decisions they make.

Spoiler Alert

Tales of the Empire – Morgan Elsbeth’s Past

Morgan Elsbeth standing in front of a burning forest in Star Wars: Tales of the Empire

“My anger gives me strength.”

From her first appearance in The Mandalorian, it seemed like Morgan Elsbeth was carrying a chip the size of the galaxy on her shoulder. A Nightsister without a clan, we saw her help Grand Admiral Thrawn bring the Great Mothers from Peridea to the known galaxy in Ahsoka. But Tales of the Empire shows Morgan’s past and the massacre she witnessed on Dathomir, including her mother’s death.

Inosanto, who also plays Morgan in live-action, says, “When I first read it, I loved so much that they were going to go into her origins because it wasn’t really clear if she had really truly witnessed what happened on Dathomir, although I assumed that she was likely there. But when I found out they were going to do this, just starting out the gates, and then how she would meet Thrawn and how they would form their alliance… I love that we get to see a little bit more Dathomir and Nightsister culture.”

She explains she particularly enjoyed seeing a little of Morgan’s relationship with her mother. “It just tore at me because you think about this—what a moment of chaos and that would shape Morgan for years to come,” Inosanto explains. “And to me, it makes sense that she would hold the armor of anger, I call it, and carry that forward. And that’s what gave her the strength to one day visualize with the help of the Great Mothers that her vision was really to try to restore Dathomir and particularly the Nightsister culture.”

What Morgan might be carrying with her is something Inosanto has considered over her years playing the character. Tales of the Empire brought it more sharply into focus. She wrote a journal about Morgan and what she saw to get in touch with Morgan’s pain and fear, which becomes almost like a weight. “You have to make it come through the character,” Inosanto says. “Then, at the end of the day, once you’re done, you let it go. And I even have, part of my process is I also have a soundtrack for Morgan. Because of the emotional content, whether I was on the set or even before walking in the recording room, I will listen to particular music that sets a tone and it has a certain mood, and that way it helps me trigger whatever it is that music triggers in my brain to stay in contact with that emotional content for Morgan.”

Morgan faces the New Republic envoy on Corvus in Tales of the Empire

We see much of Morgan’s combat prowess in live-action, leveraging Inosanto’s martial arts talents. She says, “My martial arts training is really my heritage, it’s my culture. And I never thought that what dad gave me—my father’s Dan Inosanto and he’s a pretty well-known martial artist out there in the world, and my godfather’s the late Bruce Lee. My father has, like Dave Filoni with George Lucas, he’s always tried to carry the torch of my godfather’s teachings. I’m so lucky that I had this and that I can’t believe that I am now within my favorite universe, and I had the ability to share my heritage with the world through a character like Morgan.”

That all translated to animation. “I was so touched by [director] Steward Lee —my understanding is he oversaw the fight sequences in Tales of the Empire, and he had martial arts training. The team studied my martial arts on YouTube, my battle sequences on Mandalorian and Ahsoka, and they beautifully brought it together. And I see the homage to my godfather and my dad, so it’s quite surreal. They did it so beautifully and without mo-cap.”

Tales of the Empire – Barriss Offee Becomes an Inquisitor

Barriss Offee stands before a line of stormtroopers as she becomes an Inquisitor in the trailer for Star Wars: Tales of the Empire

“It seems fear is not your ally, but your master.”

The last time we saw Barriss Offee in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the former Jedi was in jail for bombing the Jedi Temple. She tried to frame Ahsoka, but the Republic eventually figured out Barriss was the real culprit. Tales of the Empire sees her take the opportunity to leave prison by joining the Empire’s Inquisitorius—a group working for Darth Vader to hunt Jedi who survived Order 66. Salenger thinks Barriss saw the opportunity to get out of her prison cell and took it. She says, “I think her time stewing in jail after she was incarcerated—she had time to stew on her actions and formulate what she really believes.”

Salenger felt thrilled to come back to the role of Barriss. The Jedi Padawan’s last appearance on screen was in 2013. She was more of a rule-follower than Ahsoka, which made sense with Barriss’ Master, Luminara Unduli, being far more level-headed than Anakin Skywalker. But Barriss fought against the hypocrisy of the Jedi; she didn’t agree with the Jedi being soldiers. Yet, she used violence to show her discontent. “I think her inner turmoil and anger and upset and frustration led her to do something that she typically wouldn’t have chosen to do,” Salenger says of Barriss’ actions towards the Jedi. “And at the beginning of Tales of the Empire, she’s presented with a choice, which is come join the Inquisitors. You either stay in jail for the rest of your life or you get killed, or you do what you have to do to survive. And I don’t think it was a choice that she wanted to make.”

“Ultimately, I mean in anyone in Star Wars, your choices that you make define your destiny. And you always have a choice. She has a choice. She could’ve stayed in prison and died, but there’s also a thing where you think you can get out of something. You can do something bad and perhaps affect change later,” Salenger continues.

Barriss Offee using the force in Tales of the Empire as part of the Inquisitor trials

It doesn’t take long for Barriss to fully understand the path of an Inquisitor and that it comes with a cost. While Lyn, the Fourth Sister (seen in Obi-Wan Kenobi), seems to revel in the Inquisitor’s missions, Barriss can’t understand. Salenger says, “Barriss is presented with the same thing that Lyn was initially presented with. It’s so conflicting for her because she does have this moral center. She had it from the beginning. She was raised by the Jedi. She was given to them as a child to be trained and to have a thoughtfulness and a nobility to her, and a set of morals and an intense desire to do what’s right. That intense desire is… It’s just so conflicting for her to do things you don’t really want to do.”

Barriss comes to a fork in the road and decides to go on the run. She makes another choice, a choice to refocus towards the light. Salenger notes, “What I like most about Barris is that she actually feels. She’s so deep. She doesn’t want anyone to be hurting. She wants to change people’s perspective. She’s trying to change people’s perspective from the very beginning. When the Grand Inquisitor first makes her have to fight her fellow Jedi who’s been captured and she’s like, ‘We don’t have to do this.’ She’s always trying to get out of the thing that is not good. She’s always trying to do the right thing and then ultimately, it comes down to saving yourself.”

Star Wars: Tales of the Empire is streaming now on Disney+.

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