The ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc on the traditional pop culture convention circuit but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, fans have been able to enjoy a variety of virtual events and live streams over the past year. GalaxyCon is just one of the many conventions that have made the most of a less-than-ideal situation and its organisers treated fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to a special live stream on April 17, which saw actors Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano) and Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker) reunite for a fun Q&A session to talk about their time working on the show.
I recommend watching the entire Q&A session, especially if you want to hear Matt’s replies or enjoy the friendly banter between the host and his two lovely guests. But if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to rely on the video’s auto-generated subtitles, here are some of the fun facts and behind-the-scenes details Ashley shared during their almost hour-long chat.
“Our Cast Became Our Family”
Ashley spoke about the friendships she and Matt had formed with the rest of the show’s cast, that the cast had become like a family. A relative rarity in the voice acting business, where you don’t always get to meet or get to know your fellow cast members because you’d often have to record your lines on your own.
“We were very fortunate that Dave Filoni stressed that it was important to have that cast record from the beginning,” Ashley explained, “Matt and I really have that brother-sister relationship, and I kind of set that tone that first session, when I told [Matt] what was what.”
“The back story on that is that I had actually been recording the voice of Ahsoka for a couple of months before Matt came onboard, so I was very familiar with the character at this point and it was already well established that Ahsoka and Anakin were very much like brother and sister. So I was just trying to help set the tone. We have a good laugh at it now. Matt just became like one of my brothers, and Dee Bradley Baker (voice of Rex and all the other clones) and James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi)… he’s very much like Obi-Wan. And Cat Taber (voice of Padmé Amidala) is like another sister.”
“I love the relationship of the cast and I also love the fans.”
“Star Wars Fans Changed My Life, and Changed It For the Better”
Let’s face it; Star Wars fans often get a bad rap for being entitled, impossible to please, and, on occasion, abusive towards cast members, creatives, or fellow fans. But Ashley had plenty of kind words to say about the fan community.
“I get very, very defensive when it comes to Star Wars fans because Star Wars fans have changed my life, and changed it for the better. I’ve just been truly blessed by getting to know some of the kindest people from around the world…. The family that I’ve gained through Star Wars, both fans and cast and crew.”
“I Thought That That Could Be the Last Time We Ever Record Together”
One of the best decisions Dave Filoni and his team made for the second season of Star Wars Rebels was to bring Matt Lanter back to voice Anakin (and Darth Vader) in some of the season’s most memorable – and heart-wrenching – scenes. Ashley explained that these “intense scenes”, especially the pivotal moment where Ahsoka confronts Vader, were easy to perform thanks to the bond the two actors shared and that their brief reunion gave her and her fellow Clone Wars veteran a sense of closure.
“You know, Clone Wars was cancelled at the end of season five and none of us were expecting it. So we didn’t get that chance to say goodbye, we didn’t get that last record, where we could sign each other’s scripts and all cry and all give each other hugs. I always yearn for that time in the studio again together. When we found out that Matt was coming back in for a couple of scenes in Rebels, it was such a gift. Because at that point, we didn’t realise that Clone Wars was gonna come back. That was, like, never going to happen.”
Just hearing this reminds me of that wonderful day when we all learnt that The Clone Wars was coming back for one final season. Hard to believe that that announcement was made was nearly three years ago and that the final season is already long behind us.
“When Matt came in for Rebels, honestly, I thought that that could be the last time we ever record together. So, just like Ahsoka was saying goodbye to Vader in a way, even though it was a fight, it was literally the realisation that their relationship was over. It was kind of me saying goodbye to Ahsoka and Anakin. Matt and I, we didn’t know if we’d ever be in the studio again together. It was real emotion. I was crying, my heart was beating outside of my chest.”
Since then, the two actors have worked together on a couple of other projects. First on a handful of animated shorts for the microseries Star Wars: Forces of Destiny and then on that highly-anticipated final season of The Clone Wars. Will we ever see the two of them work together on a future Star Wars project? Only time will tell.
“Sad, But Kind of Poetic at the Same Time”
Ashley went on to talk about how life almost imitates art, how she had experienced many of the same hardships and setbacks Ahsoka had faced, both in her professional life and personal life. She mentioned one specific example: her final recording session for The Clone Wars.
“It was really sad, but kind of poetic at the same time. My very last Clone Wars record ever, I was by myself in the studio. Nobody was there; Dave and everyone had to be there via Skype. And it was truly my last session, and I walked out alone. Just like Ahsoka walked away, alone, at the end of The Clone Wars.”
Well, how’s that for a tear-jerking anecdote?
“Wow, Now I’m a Part of Star Wars“
Being cast in a Star Wars film or series can be a career highlight for many actors and Ashley’s initial reaction to being offered the role of Ahsoka Tano was one of sheer surprise. “I didn’t think I was going to get the part. I thought my call-back was terrible, I thought there was no way I’d booked the part. And I didn’t find out for at least six weeks, maybe almost two months. For me, I instantly felt like I’d won the lottery because being a Star Wars fan, it’s like ‘Wow, now I’m a part of Star Wars.’ But then, I had no clue who I was playing.”
This seemed to be standard procedure for most of the main cast working on the show. As Matt explained, he didn’t know that he was auditioning for the role of Anakin Skywalker; he was led to believe he was auditioning for a mystery character named “Deak Starkiller”. Some fans may recognise this name from some very early drafts of what became A New Hope but, as Matt mentioned, there was virtually no information available on this character when he did his research back in 2006.
But even when the actors found out who they were playing, they were sworn to secrecy for many months. “I started working in February 2006 and all I knew going into my first session was that I was playing a new character named Ahsoka Tano. I actually recently found my first offer letter and I posted it to Instagram… but I didn’t find out who she was, what she was about, what was going to be her storyline, until my first session. The movie didn’t come out till August 2008 and I don’t really think they started sharing anything about the show or the characters until a couple of months leading up to it. We couldn’t tell a single soul for at least a year.”
And she’s right; Lucasfilm didn’t reveal Padawan Ahsoka Tano to the general public until January 29, 2008, only seven months before the feature film was released.
“And Then Ahsoka Literally Died”
Ashley has recorded lines for dozens of episodes of The Clone Wars but some of her favourite episodes she worked on were the Mortis arc episodes from the show’s third season. “There was something special about that arc and, as actors, there was so much to do. There was dark side, there was older Ahsoka, dark side Ahsoka. And then Ahsoka literally died, which a lot of people I feel glazed over. Ahsoka actually died and the Daughter brought Ahsoka back to life.”
Ahsoka’s association with the Daughter and the owl-like Morai continues to be a topic of intense speculation amongst fans of the character and the TV shows. It’ll be interesting to see if Dave Filoni plans to expand on this in future stories, possibly even in the upcoming live-action series. But back to the topic at hand…
“There’s so much in those episodes, they’re so beautiful,” Ashley continued. “I remember the recording of those episodes like it was yesterday. But I do love the season five finale episode (“The Wrong Jedi”). I feel like that episode, in so many ways, was just life-changing, like it being the last episode of Clone Wars without us even realising it. That moment for Star Wars fans is iconic. That moment means a lot to Star Wars fans. It’s just emotional.”
“My Lightsabers Are Always Near”
When asked if she owned any lightsabers, Ashley replied that she did but didn’t have them with her. “They’re usually right by my side,” she explained before telling the audience that she sometimes uses them to play-duel with her nephew.
In addition to her Ahsoka sabers, Ashley revealed that she is also the proud owner of a Darth Vader lightsaber, which she had recently bought at Galaxy’s Edge, Disney World. Matt commented that he had never been to Galaxy’s Edge, much to Ashley’s horror, but he vowed to remedy that in the near future. Bonus factoid: Matt’s three-year-old daughter MacKenlee has an adorable nickname for Ashley: Aunt Askee.
“A Lot of People Don’t Realise That the Bulk of My Acting Experience is in Live Action”
Most Star Wars fans know Ashley primarily for her voice-acting roles but, as Ashley points out, the bulk of her acting experience prior to 2006 was in live action . “Ahsoka was my first voice-over role.”
Ashley explained that she had moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and had worked on a number of films and TV series in the early 2000s, most notably That’s So Raven. And while she enjoys live action, she doesn’t see it as superior to voice acting in any shape or form. “One thing I like to point out – because I see this online so much and I feel like I need to stand up for all voice actors – is at its core, it’s acting. And I think it’s a great piece of advice because a lot of people want to know how to get into voice acting. Well, I say, take acting classes, because voice acting is acting. And to kind of marginalise voice actors and say ‘Well, they’re just a voice actor that can’t do live action, it’s just unfair.'”
Part of me wonders if these comments were somehow linked to the recasting of Ahsoka Tano for live action and the many heated discussions among fans on social media, some of which took place on Ashley’s own social media channels. While there may be valid reasons why Ashley was not able to reprise her role for live action, it must have been hurtful to hear people describing her as “just a voice actor”, especially when you consider how challenging it can be to craft a character from within the confines of a sound booth or recording studio.
“You Just Can’t Give Up”
Adding to the acting advice she gave earlier, Ashley also highlighted the importance of resilience and hope if you’re pursuing a career in acting. “Once you start doing, whether you’re doing it on your own or taking classes or auditioning, you just can’t give up. And I know that sound cliché and I know everyone says it, but it really is the truth.”
Ashley then drew on her own experiences to emphasise her point. “I auditioned for four years for voice-over before I booked Ahsoka. As I mentioned, I moved to L.A. for on-camera acting and I was fortunate to start that right away. I’d been acting since I was 12, so I was able to jump right in on camera. But voice-over was hard. I had hundreds of auditions, I equate it to about 400 auditions, and I booked maybe a commercial or two. I did book a lead character twice but then I was recast, which unfortunately happens a lot in voice-over.”
At this point, Matt interjected to mention that he had been recast for The Clone Wars, a fact that many fans probably weren’t aware of. Ashley’s earlier comments about recording Ahsoka’s lines for months before Matt joined the team make more sense now. And if anyone knows who was originally meant to play Anakin in The Clone Wars, please let me know!
Coming back to Ashley, it’s clear that she had a tough time booking a voice-acting job and that it had begun to take its toll on her. “I was pretty devastated and, in many ways, pretty beaten down. I could have easily given up. But had I given up, I never would have become the voice of Ahsoka. I dislike the term ‘overnight success’, because there’s really no overnight success. Behind every ‘overnight success’ is someone who’s worked their butt off to get there, and it’s just the first time that you’re hearing about them. Honestly, if you’re going to get into this business, you just have to keep going.”
Sage advice for anyone in any industry, to be honest. And if you’d like to learn more about Ashley’s gruelling but highly entertaining auditioning process for The Clone Wars, check out this article from 2016, in which Ashley talks about having to fake an Icelandic accent for the role!
Looking for even more Ahsoka Tano fan art, cosplay photos, opinion pieces, memes, and merchandise tips? Then come find me over on Twitter, @AllThingsAhsoka!