In honor of May the Fourth, I wanted to share with you some highlights from my conversations at the recent Star Wars Celebration with the leading ladies of “Star Wars Rebels”: Vanessa Marshall, Tiya Sicar and, returning to the galaxy far, far away from “The Clone Wars” for Season Two, Ashley Eckstein. As empowered characters fighting for right in the long tradition of Leia Organa, the voice actresses share their thoughts on being part of the storied franchise and leading the charge of the current wave of increasingly rich female characters in genre entertainment.
VANESSA MARSHALL (Hera Syndulla)
You’re the super-fan in the cast. When did “Star Wars” first take hold of you?
Vanessa Marshall: Yes, I actually was at the New Hope screening. I was in Boulder, Colorado, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My aunt took all of us. I have three cousins. We were in a station wagon, and I had no idea. And from the moment the music blared, and the words went crawling up the screen, my heart was captured. And he’s had it ever since. And it’s meant various things to me, throughout my life. And it’s just enriched and enriched. And every time I think I have a favorite movie, I watch them all again, and then I choose a different one! So I just love that it’s ever expanding.
How did you stay cool when this job came your way?
Marshall: I did not. I did not stay cool at all. I lost my mind. I guess it’s akin to winning the lottery as far as I’m concerned, because it’s kind of my religion, if you will. And I just couldn’t believe it. I literally couldn’t believe it. I was hyperventilating, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive it. But I was deeply grateful and honored.
Tell me your fondest nerd position possession in relation to “Star Wars.”
Marshall: It’s my original Chewbacca action figure, that’s off card. Don’t judge!
TIYA SICAR (Sabine Wren)
Tell me what it meant to you that “Star Wars” fandom – which is open and welcoming but very discriminating – has embraced “Star Wars Rebels.”
Tiya Sicar: I mean, I didn’t really quite know what to expect. I don’t know how anyone would to like enter the “Star Wars” universe. And that was initially daunting because there are high expectations, as there should be. And you want to make sure that you meet those expectations or hopefully, exceed those expectations. And so it’s scary. But from the moment that our names were even associated with “Star Wars Rebels,” there was such an outpouring of support and encouragement and people welcoming us into the “Star Wars” family. It was such a pleasant surprise. And so any of my sort of apprehension dissipated because people were so excited.
We’re at a time when it’s great for female characters in genre entertainment. What does it mean to you to be part of that wave, to be an equal?
Sicar: I feel very honored to play Sabine. She’s young. She’s a teenager, and yet, she’s wise beyond her years. She’s strong and smart. She’s so intelligent and sort of savvy. And I love that she’s a warrior. She’s not messing around, and she’s going toe to toe with storm troopers and the bad guys with the best of them. And yet, she’s got this lovely dichotomy where she’s also this creative artist, and she cares about the aesthetics of things. Even her explosions [laughs].
ASHLEY ECKSTEIN (Ahsoka Tano)
What has it meant to you to see a character that doesn’t originally come from the six films be so embraced by the fans and have everybody show such support and love for her – and by proxy, you?
Ashley Eckstein: It’s unreal. I have to pinch myself. First of all, I realized when I booked the role of Ahsoka, to be able to originate a character in the “Star Wars” universe – honestly, I know I won the lottery! Much less, to have a character that a generation of kids literally grew up with. From 2008 until now, I mean, that’s a long time to be developed and in the “Star Wars” universe. So I’m so grateful to be able to play a character that has lasted so long and that’s beloved by so many.
It’s such a great time for female characters in genre entertainment. What has it meant to you to be at the cutting edge of this embrace of breed new female central characters?
Eckstein: Ahsoka has always meant so much to me as a strong female character. Dave Filoni and his crew, they’ve written such amazing stories for Ahsoka. She’s been a good example since the beginning, since 2008, and it’s kind of been under the radar about this need for strong female characters. And now when it’s really kind of a hot topic, we have several seasons and stories of Ahsoka, and kids can go back and watch her evolution and watch her stories and really look up to her. I think she is – yes, I’m biased – but I’m so proud of how Dave Filoni and the crew have written her because she really is, I think, a master class in how to write a strong female character.