On Saturday, October 6, 2012, Star Wars fans young and old united across the United States to celebrate the first annual ‘Star Wars Reads Day’.
As we already mentioned in the event’s introductory article, the day was created by Lucasfilm, but involved the corroboration of all its publishing partners – from Dark Horse to Random House to Scholastic to Del Rey – and featured over 1,000 events at bookstores nationwide.
One independent bookstore in Decatur, Georgia, a next-door suburb of Atlanta, not only had members of the 501st and Rebel Legions stop by, but Star Wars: The Clone Wars voiceover artist and Her Universe clothing designer Ashley Eckstein also participated, signing autographs and hosting the kids’ trivia contest.
Ashley was kind enough to sit down with me at the Little Shop of Stories bookstore after the event, and we discussed the future of her character, “Ahsoka Tano”, the power of speaking out and making a difference, why practice and persistence pay off, and…a 6-foot-tall Yoda?!
Why is ‘Star Wars Reads Day’ important?
‘Star Wars Reads Day’ is important because the story of Star Wars is being told in so many different ways, not just on television. To me, it’s a story of hope, a story of good overcoming evil, and so to encourage that through reading, it’s just the perfect mash-up. It was really awesome to see so many kids today and to hear from so many of them that they love reading Star Wars books.
How does it feel to portray one of the first, independent, self-driven females in the Star Wars universe?
It’s truly an honor to be the voice of Ahsoka [Tano] and such a strong, powerful female character. It’s something that I secretly always wanted to play – such a hero, especially for young girls. I did a lot of on-camera work and I was always the bully or always the mean girl. And, you know, it was fun and the bully never won in the end, which is what I liked. I don’t mind playing the bad guy, if there’s a positive lesson or moral at the end of it; however, everyone wants to be the hero, everyone wants to be the Jedi, so to be the first female Jedi that they’ve really focused on, it’s such an honor. I can’t even put it into words. I pinch myself.
How are you and Ahsoka alike? Different?
I would say we’re both very driven and determined and I want to be the best at something. I want to do what’s right, I want to learn from my mistakes, and if I fail, I’ll pick myself up and keep going and I think Ahsoka is very much the same way. She wants to be the best Jedi that she can be and obviously, she’s made several mistakes. But she’s learned from them and I think we’ve seen how far she’s come over the course of four seasons, now, as we go onto our fifth.
Where we differ is clearly in our prowess on the battlefield. I can barely do a cartwheel and Ahsoka’s decapitated four people in one fell swoop, so I want to be as tough as Ahsoka; unfortunately, I’m not quite. I get a paper cut and I’m crying, so it’s something I’m working on.
Minus Ahsoka, who is your favorite character in the Star Wars canon?
Hands down, R2-D2. Artoo is my hero, because he really is kinda always there to save the day, if you kinda think about it. I think he’s just adorable and I’ve always loved Artoo. I was one of those weird kids, and yes, I loved Princess Leia and occasionally, I would play her, but for the most part, I wanted to be R2-D2. I wanted to be a droid!
What can we expect from Season 5 [of The Clone Wars], especially from Ahsoka?
It’s exciting. Season 5, you’re gonna see Ahsoka go through many different challenges and emotions. She’s come a long way. I mean, I think, Season 1 she was “Snippy Ahsoka”; Season 2, she got to train under a lot of other Jedi and she got to go out on her own a little bit…Season 3 and 4 she really started to become just one of the gang, you know? Less of the Padawan, but she was set out on her own a lot, where she was in charge and she had to put to use what Anakin taught her.
Now, in Season 5, she really is just one of the gang. Even though technically, by title, she’s a Padawan, I think she’s really kinda earned her stripes at this point; she’s earned their respect. And we get to see her in a little bit more of a mentor role in Season 5. She’s becoming more of the teacher and less the student. However, she’s wise and mature beyond her years, but when she’s interacting with some of her peers, for example, Lux [Bonteri], she has these real-age emotions. We realize that socially, she really is only 16, and she is kind of struggling with, you know, “What are these feelings?” “What are these emotions?” We get to see her be a 16-year-old girl and I think that’s unique and how she deals with that. I also think she grows closer with Anakin Skywalker, which is a really nice dynamic to see. [Also,] you may be left with more questions than answers at the end of Season 5.
Have you always been a Star Wars fan or was it landing Clone Wars that turned you into one?
I’ve definitely always been a Star Wars fan. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched Star Wars, because I was little – I must have been, like, 2 or 3 – but I remember playing Star Wars in my house with my brother and always enjoying it. I was definitely more of a casual fan, but after working with Dave Filoni [director of the series] for 7 years, you become more of a hardcore fan.
Why did you create the Her Universe line?
I started Her Universe at first, selfishly, because I wanted more Star Wars shirts to wear! I honestly thought they existed, but I quickly realized that they did not. There were a couple things here and there, but I went to StarWars.com, I remember, way back when, and went to the women’s section, and there wasn’t a single item made for women! In fact, they put men’s t-shirts in the women’s section!…So, I went to Lucasfilm and I said, “Please help let me design your women’s t-shirts,” because I had done my research and I found out, at that point, that half of all sci-fi fans and close to half of all Star Wars fans are women, and they said, “Well, you need to start your own company first and then come back to us,” and so that’s what I did. I have a great business partner that helps me make it happen – a company called the Araca Group – and together we went back to Lucasfilm and I have to give Lucasfilm all the credit because, you know, I’m an actress. They didn’t have to give me a shot. I didn’t have any experience in fashion design, and they did, they gave me a chance, and then now – Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13…so yeah, it came from a selfish place and then I realized I was not the only one.
Will Her Universe be expanding into any other “geekdoms” soon?
We are always looking for new licenses and franchises and really, we listen to the fans, and we react to the fans, so when the fans tell me what they want and what they’re looking at, I go and inquire about it. The problem comes in on the business side of things. Sometimes it’s not so easy to make it happen, so there’s a couple I’m looking at, but we’ll see if it happens, because you know, business-wise, you just don’t get those opportunities. But Doctor Who, I mean, oh my gosh! The fact I even get to play in that playground is unbelievable, but I just encourage the fans to tell me what they want.
Was it a goal to be a role model for girls and young women? How does it feel? Is there pressure?
I wouldn’t say it was ever a goal, like something I sought out, but my parents did instill kind of right from wrong in us and always trying to do the right thing, and so, I’ve always strived to do the right thing and to make the right decisions, and then to be a role model for kids, I think it’s something, again, I don’t think anyone necessarily seeks it out, but once I realized, “Ok, I have this character that is such a positive role model,” it’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. And I also view working for Lucasfilm – that’s an honor and that’s a privilege that not very many people get, and so, I’m gonna do right by it. I’m gonna do right by Lucasfilm that they made the right decisions in casting me and I’m gonna do right by the fans, because even though I’m just he voice of Ahsoka, I’m associated with her, and kids associate me with Ahsoka by being the voice, so I could not put my head on the pillow at night knowing if I led a kid astray. I’m going to do my best to be a positive example and positive role model for those kids, because it comes with the job and I view it as my responsibility.
I heard rumors you were a huge Alice in Wonderland fan. Is it true you have a whole room in your house dedicated to it?
Yes, yes, it’s still in stages of being put up right now. Since we moved, I’m having to put it up in different ways, but yes, I have enough for an entire room; actually, it’s spilling over. For my wedding, instead of getting fine china, I got Alice in Wonderland china…I was just speaking with Dave Filoni and his wife the other day, because they made steampunk costumes, and I want to do an Alice in Wonderland steampunk costume, so that’s my next project .
Besides Alice in Wonderland and Star Wars, what do you “geek out” about?
Everyone already knows I’m a Disney nut. I mean, it goes beyond Alice in Wonderland–anything Disney. My dad worked for Disney and so many of my childhood memories happened at Disney. I could just go to the [theme] park everyday just to walk around and I would be a happy person, but I am a big foodie. I love baking. My sweet tooth is abnormally large. It’s just not right how much I like sweets. I love baking, I love cooking. I don’t get to do it very often, but that’s kind of my relaxing thing is being able to go through a cookbook and pick out a good recipe, so if you go to my Pinterest, there’s not much about other things – it’s all recipes and most of them are sweets. Someone even said to me the other day, “Your Pinterest isn’t very Her Universe,” and I said, “I know, but it’s very Ashley!”
Was anything learned from the Florida Local 10 News backlash? Why was it such a big deal?
I definitely think something was learned. We all spoke up about it and I think that’s why we’re making a difference with female fans and it’s not just Her Universe – it’s (CNN’s) Geek Out, it’s Team Unicorn it’s Bonnie Burton, it’s The Mary Sue, it’s Geeks Are Sexy – it’s all these girls that are speaking up and collectively saying, “No, we’re not gonna be over looked anymore.” Well, that’s what happened with Local 10 in Florida. Star Wars fans united and said, “No, you’re not going to bully us, not on our territory.” You know, we can’t control what goes on outside of our community, but we can control what happens inside of our community. I read that, and I said, “Gosh, darnit! That’s not gonna happen on our watch!” We have created such a positive environment for Star Wars fans and [Star Wars] Celebration [VI, in Orlando] was just that: It was a celebration of Star Wars and all of the fans and for that to come out of it? That shouldn’t have happened and so, you know, united, we spoke up, we did something about it, we got the photos down, and I think their eventual apology was a win. I mean, they’re gonna cover the 501st and Rebel Legions now in a positive way and showcase all the positive things that are going on. To me, that’s a huge win, so I think it just shows we gotta speak up about it.
Zombies or vampires?
Oh, definitely zombies. Vampires, I can’t get into the craze. I am secretly terrified of vampires. I know this is sacrilege, but I couldn’t even get into Twilight, because they were vampires. I never got into it, so, definitely zombies.
Pirates or Ninjas?
My friend wants me to ask you this: Is Yoda really as small as he looks on TV?
Well, it depends which Yoda you’re talking about. If you’re talking about the voice of Yoda, “my” Yoda, the amazing, the legendary Tom Kane, he’s, like, over 6 feet, so if you’re talking about Yoda the actual character, then yes, he is very small.
Thank you so much for your time. I have one final question: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into voiceover acting?
Any advice I would give is definitely “practice, practice, practice.” Voiceovers, especially, you have to be able to do many different voices, and not just one line – you have to be able to carry a full conversation. So, when you hear people and hear different voices, try to mimic that, and then carry on a full conversation in that voice. And the biggest thing with voiceover is, it actually is very tough, very competitive and you just have to stick with it. Again, persistence. I auditioned for 4 years, probably close to 400 voiceover auditions, before I got The Clone Wars. Most of those, I was rejected. I mean, I got some radio commercials here and there, but I didn’t get a big job…I think, sometimes, kids are so quick to give up and you know, practice makes perfect, and I would view every audition as practice. If I didn’t get it, I wanted to learn something from it and get better. I just say, keep at it, practice, practice, practice, and eventually, it will pay off, but learn from job to job or from audition to audition, because nothing should be a wasted experience. You should always learn something.
With that advice, not the only one who is wise, Yoda is.
(You can follow Ashley on Twitter @HerUniverse and yours truly @goodgirlgongeek!)