“The Force works in mysterious ways,” actress, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed Star Wars fan Ashley Eckstein says of the opportunities life has presented her. A pivotal casting at the age of 25 as the voice of Ahsoka Tano in the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” put Ashley — and her character — on an upward trajectory that continues more than 15 years later. The fan-favorite character has amassed a devoted following that extends as passionately to the actress herself, thanks in large part to Ashley’s deep support of and connection to the fan community and real-life embodiment of all that fans love about the character.
Later this month, Ashley will join her Clone Wars co-stars as well as a slew of other celebrities, including Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Chris Evans and Tenoch Huerta, in Chicago at C2E2: Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, a pop culture convention at McCormick Place that brings together stars, exhibitors, comic artists, authors and fans in a celebration of fandoms like Marvel, Star Wars and DC. Ahead of her appearance, I talked to Ashley about the evolution of her iconic character, her successful fashion brand, Her Universe, and her mission to increase mental health awareness and support.
Bringing Ahsoka Tano to Life
Now one of the most beloved and inspirational characters in the Star Wars universe, Ahsoka Tano was introduced and voiced by Ashley for the first time in the 2008 film “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Fans of the character often see Ashley as a real-life Ahsoka — and there’s a big reason why.
“A lot of people don’t know that I was cast as Ahsoka to be myself,” Ashley says. “Ahsoka Tano was a brand new character in the Star Wars universe. They didn’t really know what they wanted her to be and what they wanted her to sound like. When I showed up for my first day of work, Dave Filoni [Lucasfilm executive producer and Clone Wars director], said ‘We cast you because we want you to just be yourself, so bring your own voice, bring your own personality, bring your own humor and sarcasm and wit, and just basically bring your own heart and soul to the character.’ That’s what I did.”
Ashley went on to voice Ahsoka Tano in “Star Wars: Rebels,” “Star Wars: Forces of Destiny,” “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker,” “Tales of the Jedi” and more. She says though she brought her own personality to Ahsoka, she found herself deeply inspired by the character and her storylines.
“I started asking myself, ‘What would Ahsoka do?’ Because I feel like Ahsoka would always do the right thing. She would always make decisions that are full of light and hope. I just so badly wanted to be a real life version of Ahsoka Tano.”
A line spoken by Ahsoka in the final season of “The Clone Wars” has become a sort of guiding light for Ashley, and it shows in everything she does.
“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.”
Founding Her Universe
Ashley founded fashion company and lifestyle brand Her Universe in 2010 with the mission to create stylish, fashion-forward merchandise for female fantasy and sci-fi fans. A lifelong Star Wars and Disney fan herself, Ashley says the idea for Her Universe arose out of her own desire to wear her Star Wars love on her sleeve — literally.
“I’ve been a lifelong Star Wars fan, and I wanted Star Wars clothes made for me so I could show off my fandom,” she says. “When I went shopping, I quickly found out that merchandise for female fans didn’t exist.”
After doing some research, she found that at the time, 45% of all sci-fi and fantasy fans were women and girls, and 85% of all consumer purchases were being made by women and girls. She also came across troubling accounts of women and girls being bullied for being Star Wars fans.
“As fans, we know that being a Star Wars fan, or a Marvel fan, or a Disney fan, that’s a lifestyle,” she says. “That’s a way of life that’s a part of you. It’s not something you’re into one day and out of the next. It’s how you would identify yourself. To not be allowed to be who you are, and then furthermore, to be bullied for it, is very hurtful. I asked myself, ‘What would Ahsoka do?’ My answer was that Ahsoka would stand up for female fans.”
Busting Stereotypes and Building a Community
Starting a company was unknown territory for Ashley. “I knew nothing about starting a business. I knew nothing about licensing. I knew nothing about fashion,” she says. “But, my desire to help female fans was so much stronger than my fear of starting a business.”
She says more important than the merchandise itself was her mission to build a supportive, inclusive safe space for fans — “a community with a mission to break the stereotype that sci-fi, fantasy, and all these properties that we love were just for men and boys. To me, Star Wars is a story of hope — it’s a story of good overcoming evil, and you can’t put a gender on that. I started with the mission to create a community and a safe space for all fans to step forward and celebrate these stories that we love together.”
Countless fandoms are now represented in Her Universe collections, but it’s safe to say no character has inspired more pieces than Ahsoka Tano, her signature orange, blue and white colors and patterns from her skin, head tails and facial markings gracing everything from sweatshirts and dresses to jewelry and handbags.
Connecting With and Uniting Fans at Conventions like C2E2
Ashley and many of her fellow co-stars regularly appear at fan conventions across the country like Disney’s D23 Expo and Destination D23, Star Wars Celebration and San Diego Comic-Con. Ahead of her upcoming appearance at C2E2 in Chicago, I asked Ashley to describe what these conventions are like.
“When you walk through the doors of any convention, you instantly feel like you’re at home. You instantly feel accepted, you instantly feel joy,” she says. “It’s a place where, no matter what your fandom is, everyone’s because they love these properties so much, and they love these stories so much, and they genuinely get to be themselves and wear their cosplay and show their fandom on their sleeves, and be celebrated for it, applauded for it.”
A Reunion for the Stars of The Clone Wars at C2E2
Conventions also often bring fans the added bonus of seeing their favorite stars get together and interact with each other during panels and group photo opportunities. At C2E2, Ashley will be joined by several of her Clone Wars co-stars — Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and Sam Witwer (Darth Maul) — for a panel celebrating the 15th anniversary of ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars.’
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“It’s crazy to think that it’s almost 15 years since ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ first premiered in movie theaters, and then on our television screens back in 2008,” Ashley says. “It’s really just going to be one big celebration all weekend long, and I just can’t wait. It’s been several years since I’ve been back to C2E2, and it’s one of my favorite conventions.”
The final season of “The Clone Wars” aired in 2020 but Ahsoka’s time onscreen is far from over. Ashley most recently reprised the role in “Tales of the Jedi” last fall. Ahsoka also made her first appearances as a live-action character, played by Rosario Dawson, in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett” with more to come in the forthcoming “Ahsoka” series, airing on Disney+ in 2023.
Another Passion Project — Mental Health Awareness
A long-time advocate for mental health awareness, openness and transparency, Ashley regularly uses her platform to speak candidly about her own struggles. On Instagram, she posts weekly #MentalHealthMonday messages and videos sharing her own challenges and offering encouragement and support to the community. She also highlights and thanks her own support network, like her husband David Eckstein, a former Major League Baseball Player and 2006 World Series MVP.
“I think the biggest misconception is that only certain people have mental health challenges or issues or effects that some people think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t affect me,’” she says. “I realized that I wanted to be a voice and an advocate for mental health, because I was one of those people that said, ‘Oh, I’m good. I don’t have any mental health challenges.’”
Ashley says the stress of work and life led her to neglect her own mental health. “It wasn’t until my neglect of my mental health started to affect my physical health that I realized I had to work on both to improve my overall health. Fast forward to now post-covid, there’s no one that is untouched or unaffected. Going through and living through a global pandemic has affected everyone’s physical health and mental health.”
“I’m not an expert. I’m learning. I’m trying to learn as much as I possibly can, but I can be a voice and we can all be a voice,” she says.
Star War: Mindful Matters
Eager to take her advocacy a step further and combine mental wellness with her own work and passion for Star Wars, Ashley created “Star Wars: Mindful Matters” for the Star Wars Kids YouTube channel. Each episode in the series of five short videos teaches a lesson in mindfulness inspired by the ways of the Jedi. Ashley leads the lessons, tying them to a Star Wars story or character, and demonstrating techniques that can help with staying calm, facing fears, controlling emotions and connecting with surroundings.
“I worked with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and their On Our Sleeves Movement for Children’s Mental Health to make sure that these were clinically based,” Ashley says. “They’re on the kids channel to make sure that parents, teachers, and child life specialists know that they’re appropriate and safe for children, but they’re not just for kids. They’re for everyone.”
Ashley also shares Star wars-inspired mindfulness exercises in her new book, “Star Wars Everyday: A Year of Activities, Recipes & Crafts from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.” Organized by month, the book is packed with themed family-friendly activities and commentary from Ashley and makes a great gift for a Star Wars fan.
Ashley occasionally leads Mindful Matters sessions in person. My children and I had the opportunity to participate during a Disney Vacation Club Member Cruise to Alaska and we often reference the techniques Ashley taught us when any of us need to take a breath and calm down in a stressful moment.
C2E2 and Beyond
Ashley will be appearing at C2E2 at McCormick Place March 31 – April 2 and will be available for photo ops individually as well as alongside her Clone Wars co-stars. Buy tickets for C2E2 and see the full list of featured guests and book photo ops.
Next month, Ashley will join the biggest stars and fans from around the globe at Star Wars Celebration in London. Of Star Wars Celebration, Ashley says, “It’s really electric because it’s tens of thousands of super passionate Star Wars fans. I feel so blessed that I get to call this work, and it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like I’m just going to hang out with a bunch of my friends and family members and celebrate these stories and these characters that we love so much.”
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Brooke Geiger McDonald is the national content director for Make It Better Media Group. Her work has appeared in The Points Guy, Parents, TravelPulse, Attractions Magazine, Disney Food Blog, and more. Her favorite nonprofits to support include Give Kids the World Village and Shedd Aquarium. Follow her on Instagram @brookegmcdonald and Twitter @BrookeGMcDonald.