THE WASHINGTON POST – Before she became one of the most recognisable voices in the Star Wars universe, actress Ashley Eckstein was just a kid in Orlando with an orange shag carpet and a dream.
It was as a toddler that Eckstein, like many ’80s babies, discovered the original Star Wars trilogy through the power of VHS tapes.
She recalled her mother not being too fond of the orange carpet, but to Eckstein, it was another world.
Tatooine to be exact. The dry planet with two suns that was the childhood home of Darth Vader.
Eckstein, while pretending to be lovable droid R2-D2, would imagine that the carpet was the sands of the desert world that gave us the galaxy’s greatest evil. She had no clue at the time that her vocal cords would one day help create someone who is becoming just as iconic to true fans.
Ahsoka Tano is that icon.
Over the animated course of one film and seven seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Eckstein has been the voice, heart and soul of Ahsoka Tano, the onetime apprentice to future Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker. Ahsoka fought alongside the all-time Jedi great when he was at his most heroic, during the Clone Wars, which take place between Episodes II and III of the Star Wars prequel saga – before his heartbreaking fall to the Dark Side.
The character has grown up and out of the shadow of her former Jedi Master. She is now the moral centre of the story as The Clone Wars, which – after travelling from the initial movie version in theatres to a show on Cartoon Network, then Netflix and now Disney Plus – finally comes to an end.
Six years passed between the series’ sixth season on Netflix in 2014 and the final one that began in February. But now that the final episode has begun streaming on Disney Plus, Eckstein is elated to see the tale come to a satisfying close.
“It’s definitely been an emotional journey for sure,” Eckstein told The Washington Post. “I’m so grateful that we were given the opportunity (for a final season) because not only does Ahsoka Tano deserve a proper ending in The Clone Wars, but the fans deserve it. The fans started the [social media] hashtag #savetheclonewars and even when we gave up on it, the fans never gave up.”
The trailer for the final season of The Clone Wars ends with doors closing on Ahsoka as she wields two lightsabers in a defensive stance. In a universe that gives so much attention to the Skywalkers, the trailer felt like a graduation of sorts into the ranks of the Star Wars elite.
That’s a long way from her arrival 12 years ago, which generated a fan response that was indifferent at times, as some thought the young Jedi was too childish or downright annoying. “Even when she had her haters in the beginning, I asked them for their patience,” Eckstein said. “I asked them to just go on this journey with her and enjoy (it). Because I was always at least a season ahead of what the fans were seeing and so I knew how far she had come just over the course of a single season. It’s been incredible to see the evolution (of their response).”
When George Lucas and Dave Filoni created the character for the initial 2008 film The Clone Wars and hired Eckstein to voice her, she felt as though she was given the piece to a puzzle that had long been hidden. It wasn’t until the film’s debut that it was revealed that Anakin Skywalker had an apprentice. She was just as shocked as fans were.
Previously, Eckstein had been seen on the Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven and Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh. What intrigued her the most about The Clone Wars was the chance to be a female Jedi with a leading role – and this was years before Daisy Ridley wielded a lightsaber in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015.
“That was a really big deal. And I wanted to do right by it,” Eckstein said.
“I wanted to live up to the opportunity that was given to me and the expectations that were put on me.”
Another major character The Clone Wars can take credit for is Darth Maul, the extremely popular former Sith apprentice who seemingly died at the end of 1999′s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The Clone Wars revealed that Maul not only beat death, but was rebuilt into an even deadlier galactic adversary. He and Ahsoka had a highly anticipated lightsaber duel in this season’s 10th episode, titled The Phantom Apprentice.
“Ahsoka and Darth Maul have a lot of similarities,” Eckstein said. They both became outsiders: Maul was replaced as a Sith after his “death”, and Ahsoka walked away from the Jedi after being wrongly accused of a crime. “The meet-up between the two of them isn’t necessarily what you would think. Their fight is truly, in my opinion, one of the most epic fights in all of Star Wars.“
Eckstein will hand off the role to another actress, as it has been reported that Rosario Dawson will play a live-action version in the second season of The Mandalorian on Disney Plus. It’s a moment Eckstein said she’s ready for whenever it happens.
“Ahsoka is bigger than just me. I’ve always known that there’s going to be more team members added to the bench,” Eckstein said. “That means that we’re going to get more Ahsoka stories. And I will always celebrate more Ahsoka stories.”