Ashley Eckstein has set a path for equality in nerd culture. Well known for being the definitive voice of everyone’s favorite padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Since voicing the character seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (both film and show) and Star Wars Rebels, Eckstein has thrived in other ventures. She started the geek culture focused clothing brand, Her Universe. What initially launched as a platform for women of all fandoms has now branched into “Our Universe”. Apparel, accessories, and more importantly an environment for all.
On top of this, Eckstein does work with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in efforts to expand the conversation on mental and behavioral health. A strong advocate against cyberbullying, Eckstein stands as a bright role model not just for the Star Wars fandom, but for all fandoms everywhere. You can catch her in the new and final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Disney Plus. She has also written a children’s book on Ahsoka Tano slated to be released this April! We were lucky enough to have her for an exclusive interview. We discuss her advocacy for mental health, the final season of The Clone Wars, and what she hopes for Ahsoka Tano’s future in the Star Wars canon.
DF: The work that you’ve done at children’s hospitals, specifically the ‘On Our Sleeves’ campaign is incredible. Could you explain to our audience what that is?
Ashley: I’ve always been an advocate for anti-bullying. I actually started the company Her Universe because so many fangirls who are you know, fans, were being bullied because they liked Star Wars and other Sci-fi properties. I started my company, which was an apparel/merchandise company, for female fans solely to break the stigma surrounding that the Sci-fi fantasy world was just for men and boys. I wanted to change the script and change the stereotype that I knew was not the case. It’s not just for men and boys. It’s not just for women and girls. It’s for everyone. It’s for the entire family. Anti-bullying has always been very important for me but overtime anti-bullying has fallen under a much broader umbrella, which is mental health and behavioral health. I went through something a couple years ago where, you know I was bullied as a kid but that was before cyberbullying, that was bullying in the classroom where yes the kids made fun of me but when I went home, I was able to escape it. I had never been cyberbullied to the extent that some kids are today until a couple years ago where I was viciously cyberbullied about something that wasn’t even true. It was awful. There were hundreds of thousands of comments about something, like I said, something that wasn’t even true and I became a victim of this. It was very eye-opening. I had all the support in the world behind me and I was also an adult when it happened but it still messed with me. It messes with your psyche, brain, and you begin to feel bad about yourself. You begin to question yourself. When people are literally sending you messages saying “You’re a piece of trash and you should die”, that messes with you.
At the time I was about to do a book signing at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and they had actually just opened the first-ever behavioral health pavilion on a children’s hospital campus in the United States. It’s a really big deal. It’s an entire hospital dedicated just to behavioral and mental health. I was there to help the patients, to sign autographs and to help put a smile on their faces, but what I didn’t realize until I showed up to the hospital for myself, in the middle of being cyberbullied is that they helped me. They helped me tremendously and they taught me about mental health, behavioral health, and I wanted to be a sponge. I left that meeting and said, “I want to be a voice for you, I want to join your movement, and I want to break this stigma”. So thankfully I’ve been a partner of the hospitals now for over two years and I’m an advocate for mental health for all ages. But the reason I’ve teamed up with the hospital is that 50% of life-long mental illnesses present themselves at the age of 14. If we can help find it early, detect it early, then it can help so many people. Adults of the future and just by talking about it we can help people of all ages. I do something on our social platforms called Mental Health Monday where we talk about mental health every single Monday. I’m not an expert, I’m learning as I go but I figure I can be a voice and the more we talk about it – the more we can break the stigma surrounding mental health.
The ‘On Our Sleeves’ campaign is specifically targeted at children and teens because a lot of kids don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves. They internalize everything or they don’t know how to verbalize what they’re feeling. ‘On Our Sleeves’ encourages not just kids, but everyone to wear their emotions on their sleeves. To talk about how their feeling or to even just draw. Sometimes it’s easier to just draw what you’re feeling rather than talk about it. That’s a lesson for all of us, not just kids and teens. It really is important when it comes to mental and behavioral health to wear your emotions on your sleeve and talk about how you’re feeling.
DF: It’s really fantastic how you’ve recognized yourself as a role model and as a high-profile female in nerd culture. You’ve mentioned your connection to children and being able to relate to them a lot in the campaign. The next step will be your children’s book that is being released in April focusing on your Star Wars character, Ahsoka Tano. You’ve actually written this book. What drove you to create it?
Ashley: I grew up on little golden books. Literally, we had a big bookcase that was predominantly little golden books and every night we would one and our parents would read it to us before bedtime, or I would read it. I learned to read from little golden books. So when Lucasfilm and Penguin Random House came to me and asked if I would be interested in writing a little golden book about Ahsoka, it was really a dream come true. It was probably the fastest I’ve ever said “yes” in my entire life, and much less to be able to write a book about Ahsoka. It’s part of the “I Am” series for Star Wars. They have “I Am A Princess”, “I Am A Sith”, “I Am A Pilot”, there’s a whole series of them and they are a wonderful, wonderful series for kids. This is a new one for the series called “I Am A Padawan” and it was important for me to take the lessons that Ahsoka learns during her time as a padawan and put them in this book. For those who don’t know, a padawan is simply a Jedi in training, a student. During Ahsoka’s time as a padawan in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, she learns all of these lessons about patience, fear, bravery, hope, and knowledge. All of these wonderful lessons that kids are learning today, and they are good reminders for adults. I was able to use things from episodes of The Clone Wars as a way to teach kids lessons and it’s something I’m really proud of. It comes out on April 7th, you can pre-order it now and I’m really excited. There’s also a lesson in there about helping others and it’s a theme we’re gonna be seeing in these new episodes of The Clone Wars, but I also think it’s very relevant to what’s going on right now in our world today. It’s really important to help others, we’re going to get through this by helping each other, so it’s something that’s very timely and I’m also very proud of.
DF: As you mentioned briefly, The Clone Wars is back with the seventh and final season. When did you learn that the show was being revived?
Ashley: It was just as much of a shock to me when I found out The Clone Wars was coming back as it was to the fans. I did not see it coming, it was truly a surprise. I got the news, I heard it from Dee Bradley Baker who is the voice of Captain Rex but also all of the clones. He texted me and I thought it was a joke. Honestly, I thought it was a joke and I didn’t believe it until I got a call from my agent. I also called Dave Filoni and he told me as well. It was the best gift, the best surprise, and fast forward to where we are and the new episodes are premiering on Disney+ and the first Ahsoka episode drops this week!
DF: Between Clone Wars ending and it being revived, you did some work on Rebels where your character was featured heavily in the later seasons. Did your time voicing an older Ahsoka influence how you approached Season 7 of The Clone Wars?
Ashley: It’s something we actually talked about a lot. Before every new season of The Clone Wars, we would always discuss Ahsoka’s sound. Because the older she got, so did her voice. It was always a talking point with us. So when The Clone Wars ended and I had to jump to Rebels, Ahsoka she was significantly older. I mean, she was in her thirties and I was in my thirties at the time so it was an easy place for my voice to go, but it also took me a while. It took me a while to find that sound for older Ahsoka. I had to lower my voice. I had to be a lot more serious in tone, be more like Obi-Wan Kenobi and less like the snippy young padawan. So when we had gone back to The Clone Wars after I had mastered Rebels Ahsoka’s sound, I had to forget everything that I had learned for Rebels and go back to the end of Season 5 Ahsoka. So I would say that Ahsoka’s sound in the new season of The Clone Wars is a mix. It’s somewhere in between where she leaves in Season 5 of The Clone Wars and where we hear her voice in Rebels because Ahsoka is no longer the snippy padawan in this new season. She’s walked away from the Jedi Order. She’s seen some harder times, so she would be more serious. My voice is a blend of the end of Season 5 of The Clone Wars and where we see her in Rebels.
DF: Having written Ahsoka for the book we mentioned earlier, did you have much influence over the direction the character went in this season or was that still very separated? Were you only concerned with the vocal performance?
Ashley: I’m asked this question a lot and I’m very quick to point out that between Dave Filoni and his writers, we have some of the best writers in the Star Wars galaxy, I’ve never written any of the episodes or the storylines. Trust me, you wouldn’t want me to write them. The writers, Dave Filoni and his staff, are just incredible. I’m grateful as an actress to have these incredible scripts that they write. However from day 1 all the way back in 2006, from when I started voicing Ahsoka Tano, one thing that I’ve been grateful for has been the collaboration. One thing that I’ve been saying is that teamwork makes the dream work. I’ve been very grateful for helping originate this character. I’ve been able to bring my own voice and my own personality. So they often say to me, “How would you say this?” meaning me, as myself. Dave would tell me, “However you would say it is how Ahsoka would say it”. So I do have leeway as to how I would say it and why I would say it in that way. I’m just very grateful to Dave Filoni and the team for letting me help bring Ahsoka Tano to life.
DF: Ahsoka has a large presence in two of the arcs in the final season of The Clone Wars. What can you tell our audience of where Ahsoka and the show itself will be going?
Ashley: Without spoiling too much, I will say that these next eight episodes pick up exactly where we left off. Ahsoka walked away. She’s definitely feeling very lost. She walked away from everything she knew and she’s by herself. So we see Ahsoka make new friends… two new characters, Trace & Rafa. These are two strangers who see Ahsoka and they’ll develop a great friendship with her. Those episodes are just wonderful and we get to see her really evolve on her own. After that, we’re going to get 4 episodes to wrap up Ahoksa’s storyline in The Clone Wars. One thing the fans, including myself, never got was a proper ending for Ahsoka in the show. We know that she’s alive thanks to Rebels, but we never really got that ending for her in The Clone Wars. I can say that with those last 4 episodes, we do get that ending for Ahsoka and they’re beautiful episodes. I recorded with Sam Witwer, who is the voice of Darth Maul, but also Dee Bradley Baker, who is the voice of Captain Rex, and also Matt Lanter who is the voice of Anakin Skywalker. Also, James Arnold Taylor who is the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi. So the gang’s all together but as we already know with Order 66 that’s pretty short-lived.
DF: Without spoiling, you made a tiny cameo in The Rise of Skywalker via your voice. How did that come about and what sort of future do you see for Ahsoka, potentially in the live-action universe, if any?
Ashley: I will tell you, and this is the honest truth, beyond Ahsoka in The Clone Wars I know nothing. I’m not being coy. I’m not lying to you. I don’t know anything beyond what I’ve already recorded for The Clone Wars, so your guess is as good as mine. I will tell you, what was truly one of the best moments in her entire career, my two lines in The Rise of Skywalker. To be included in the Skywalker Saga, is like I said, one of the best moments in my career. I’m so thankful to Matthew Wood who is a friend of mine. He does the sound design and that was a vision of his. So I’m so thankful to Matthew Wood and, of course, I was directed by JJ Abrams. It was a huge shock when I found out he was going to be there. It was a small session, only 3 people were in the room including JJ Abrams and Matthew Wood. Abrams couldn’t have been kinder. He was so kind, so wonderful to work with. He thanked me for being in the film which I couldn’t believe. I couldn’t remember what I said but it was like, “No thank you for allowing me to be in the film”. It was just awesome. I was in the recording session for about 15 to 20 minutes and he was just a wonderful director, so kind and gracious. I’m just forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the canon of the Skywalker Saga.
DF: Do you have any hopes or ideas for a potential live-action Ahsoka? Obviously, you’re not saying any of this is happening but do you have any personal feelings towards that?
Ashley: Again, I don’t know anything, but I just hope we get to continue to tell Ahsoka’s story. There are so many more stories to tell in my opinion, Ahsoka’s stories are far from over. It’s my hope that we get to continue to tell her story in all mediums, whether or not they’re in animation, live-action, or books. I just hope we get more and I hope I get to still be involved. That would be my dream, that I get to continue to be involved for as long as they continue her storyline.
DF: I’m sure there are many fans who feel the same way. Before we end it there, do you have any upcoming projects?
Ashley: What we just talked about was perfect. I have a really cool children’s hospital program that has to do with Star Wars. It’s something I’m very proud of. For Ahsoka I will say this – Ahsoka has a line that I’ve taken on as my motto for 2020, giving with what’s going on in the world today we can all take it as our motto. It was said a little differently in the trailer but when I recorded it was, “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.” That line just really struck a chord with me. I’m gonna use my platform, from The Clone Wars for good. I keep seeing opportunities to help people because I so badly want to be a real-life Ahsoka Tano. I have been working very closely with the children’s hospital, Disney, Lucasfilm, and I’ll be able to share more soon. I like to say that Ahsoka lives in all of us and we can all take this thing from her and carry it into our everyday lives. I think we’ll get through this trying time simply by helping each other and helping people.