Clone Wars star has a new hope for the future of Ahsoka
Ashley Eckstein broke the number one rule of being a Star Wars actor: never take screenshots of the top-secret scripts. But she had a unique experience she couldn't ignore.
After 13 years of voicing Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, she returned to the recording booth in 2019 to log her performance for the final season of the beloved animated series. "Often times, I don't even remember certain things or even my lines because we record them so long ago," Eckstein explains to EW. "But I read a line and it just resonated with me, literally to my core."
The piece of dialogue came in Ahsoka's Coruscant arc with mechanic Trace and her street-wise sister Rafa. After she left the Jedi Order behind, Ahsoka joins the pair on a dangerous mission to a certain spice planet (Han Solo knows the one), which lands them in hot water. Rafa turns to Ahsoka and questions why a complete stranger would go to such great lengths to help them. "In my life when you find people who need your help, you help them no matter what," Ahsoka responds. "I guess it's just who I am." Eckstein adopted this as her mantra heading into 2020, so she did the unspeakable and took a screenshot of just that line in the script to keep with her always.
"Obviously, I had no idea what was going to be happening during this time when Clone Wars was being released," she now says of the coronavirus pandemic. "I realized that line is something we can all take on. The only way we're going to get through this time is helping each other, no matter what."
Eckstein had to say goodbye to Ahsoka many times over the years. When she first recorded the character back in 2006, she didn't know she'd still be talking about Clone Wars 14 years later in 2020. When season 5 was thought to be the last of the show, she said goodbye for the second time. Then, when season 6 gave the series a surprise follow-up in 2014, she changed her expectations again. Even now, as she prepares for yet another potential farewell in season 7, Eckstein is all about hope, which she says is the defining thread of the character.
"To me, Star Wars means hope," she says. "The very last episode of season 5, the fortune cookie said 'Never give up hope no matter how dark things seem.' That quote really resonated with me and all of the fans." As season 7's story approaches the Siege of Mandalore, one of the last battles of the Clone Wars era where Ahsoka faces Darth Maul in combat, Eckstein says the message is clear: "When all hope feels like it's gone, this arc shows us that there's always hope. I think that these episodes are needed now more than ever."
The final four chapters of Clone Wars, beginning with this week's "Old Friends Not Forgotten," will take Ahsoka to Mandalore, home of the famed Mandalorian bounty hunters. There, she will help lead a Republic army to apprehend Maul, who appeared via hologram earlier in the season. Eckstein, as a massive Star Wars fan, ranks the coming conflict "right up there as some of the best Star Wars content created." The word she keeps returning to when trying to describe the battle is "epic." "These episodes deserve to be watched on as big of a screen as possible," she says, even though they are on the Disney+ streaming platform.
But the mission deals a larger emotional blow for these figures.
Ahsoka will reunite with General Rex and the clone troopers, who have since painted their helmets orange and white in tribute to their former Jedi general. "In that scene, she's very touched but she does a good job of hiding her emotions," Eckstein explains. "I think her heart wants to just appreciate it for what it is, but her mind is saying, 'Wait a minute. I'm not a commander anymore. Why are they doing this for me?' She's actually very conflicted in that scene."
Then there's the reunion with Anakin. Though Ahsoka left the Jedi Order behind after she was wrongfully accused of a heinous crime, she still "wants to make the right decision," Eckstein notes. Anakin, a remaining member of the Jedi for now, will inevitably veer, as fans know fully well, towards the dark. When they come together again, Eckstein says their love for each other won't change. "You can hear it in their voices, you can see it in their eyes. You really don't see Ahsoka coming to any realization about Anakin until Star Wars Rebels. You're gonna see a beautiful bond between them in. But, keep in mind, there's a lot that Ahsoka doesn't know."
As Eckstein watched the first episode of the Siege, she found herself, unexpectedly, in tears. "I realized this was the end and it's very sad," she explains. Yet, it's that hope the actress keeps mentioning that keeps Ahsoka alive, not just in the hearts and minds of the Star Wars fandom, but in the franchise at large. Though Clone Wars concludes her character's arc in this timeline of the universe, we know she's still alive in the chronology of Star Wars Rebels, which takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Reports also emerged that Rosario Dawson and not Eckstein will play the character in live-action in season 2 of The Mandalorian, set years after Return of the Jedi. Then, in 2019's The Rise of Skywalker, Ahsoka's voice can be heard calling out to Rey (Daisy Ridley) through the Force. Eckstein was just as in the dark about that call-out in the film as the rest of us.
"I was directed by J.J. Abrams and he told me enough to get the performance that he needed for that scene," she says. "I wasn't aware of all of the implications and questions surrounding that scene until I saw the movie with everyone else." So many of the other voices in that Rise of Skywalker scene belonged to Jedi who died over the course of the franchise. Many assumed this meant Ahsoka, too, met her end at some point. Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni then took to social media to tease Ahsoka is still alive and well... somewhere. "I had all those same questions," Eckstein says. "I do wonder about Ahsoka's journey. In my hopes and dreams, [Clone Wars] is just Ahsoka's ending for Clone Wars. She gets such a beautiful, incredible ending, one that I feel this character truly deserved. In my opinion, there's so many more Ahsoka stories to tell and it's my hope that we continue to get those stories no matter the medium, whether it be animation or film or television or books or videogames."
Hope stays alive for Eckstein's Star Wars story, as well. After all, her colleague, Matt Lanter, who voices Anakin in Clone Wars, appeared in live-action through a cameo role in The Mandalorian season 1.
When asked if she already spoke to Filoni, who executive produces The Mandalorian, about this, Eckstein said, "It's definitely a dream of mine to appear in live-action in Star Wars. My career started in live-action. My first voice over job was Ahsoka Tano. Just like a Ahsoka, I was truly a padawan when it came to voiceover and I learned on the job. But my heart has always been in all forms of the entertainment industry. You never know. Hopefully one day my dream will come true."
Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…