Ashley Eckstein is an actress, an author, the entrepreneur mind behind the Her Universe fashion line of geek couture – but in our hearts she will always be most beloved as the voice of Ahsoka Tano from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels television series.
While on a signing tour promoting her first book It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen, a motivational autobiography of a fangirl working hard to make her dreams come true, Ashley sat down with us one-on-one to discuss the book, her audition for the role of Ahsoka, and the upcoming Her Universe Fashion Show at Comic-Con 2018. You can read the highlights below:
Did you always intend It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen to be the mixture of motivational and autobiographical styles it became or did it start out as one style or the other?
The book is actually exactly what I hoped for it to be, because originally they wanted me just to write an autobiography or a memoir and I didn’t really think I’d accomplished enough in life or lived enough of a life to write a memoir. But I do feel grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way and none of that would be possible without Disney or Star Wars and Disney inspired me to dream and inspired me to make my dreams come true so I thought that I would love to pay it forward and say, “Here’s what I did, here’s how I did it, and here’s why I believed I could.” Thankfully Disney said yes – I actually asked Disney if I could write this book, and thankfully they said yes.
That was actually going to be my follow-up question. Did you have a concern that Disney was going to say no and did you have a plan B if they did?
Well, when I was meeting with Disney it was just after I finished the Ahsoka book tour. I did not write the book, it was written by E.K. Johnston – so incredibly talented, but I had the chance to go on a book tour with her and do the audiobook. They were like, “Hey there might be something more here with this fangirl market.” So we were more brainstorming fiction stories, we were not talking about nonfiction.
I did not go into the meeting with any expectations, but if they had said no to an advice book, that wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing anyways. So I was truly surprised when the direction turned to me writing my story, so I was thrilled.
Speaking of writing with E. K. Johnston, you co-wrote with her the short story “By Whatever Sun” from the Star Wars book From a Certain Point of View about a character created for the Ahsoka book. Can you tell me about how you both came up with that story and the writing process for it?
It’s a funny story actually, I was on the Ahsoka book tour. I was approached and they asked if I would write a chapter for this book. if it’s for Star Wars I pretty much say yes to everything. If they asked me to do anything official I’m like, “Yes, of course.” I thought about it afterwards and then I had an immediate panic that set in. I don’t write fiction, especially Star Wars. That’s a whole other level.
Then I was on tour with E. K. Johnston and I had already picked the chapter and everything. Luckily, I think I was one of the first people they approached. I was able to get the final chapter, the ceremony (from Star Wars: A New Hope) because it was my dream that there would be a girl in that audience, because I watched the film and thought, “These look like all guys and I think there’s a girl in this audience!”
So that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to rewrite that scene from the perspective of a girl in the audience. Of course I thought it should be Kaeden or Miara (from Ahsoka) so I went to E.K. and said, “Guess what? I kind of committed to this project and said I would write a chapter and here’s what I picked and here’s what I think should be in it, but there’s one problem: I can’t write it!” So I asked if she would write it and we got permission to kind of tag-team it. She wrote the whole chapter, I can’t take credit for it. The only thing I can take credit for is the scene itself and it being from a female perspective.
We also loved listening to you read the Ahsoka audiobook. It was like getting a new episode of The Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels.
Except for my Darth Maul or Bale Organa voice which I apologize for. [laughs] I think Sam Witwer (the voice of animated Darth Maul) has job security. I don’t think I’ll be taking that over anytime soon.
Getting back to your current book, are there any stories from your childhood or your life that you wanted to include in the book, but couldn’t get in for whatever reason?
That’s a great question. I’m sure there are many. Thankfully, Disney let me write the book as the story that I wanted to tell. Very little was edited if anything, which was a dream come true. I think I was spoiled that I didn’t have too many changes. So I think all the points were in there. Of course I have thought about a follow-up book that I could do afterwards that are new points. But I think I got it all in this time.
I think truly what I love to say is that this is really who I am. Stacy Kravetz who is an author that is also on the book and really helped me with the structure – you know, I’ve never written a book before, and to be honest I never thought I would write a book. I realize that my stumbling block was my structure, like how to do the chapter outline. But then I quickly realized that if I wanted the book in my voice I had to write it myself. Panic set in again. [laughs]
I just kind of locked myself in my apartment for five days straight and wrote. But it really is me, Disney had very little influence on this book. It’s not like they said, “We want you to pick these characters and tell these stories.” These are all the lessons the Disney taught me. It really is my voice and I picked all the characters and I say it in the beginning of the book, I want to set the record straight: Disney didn’t ask me to write this.
We live in a social media age where it’s hashtag-ad, hashtag-sponsor – this book isn’t a sponsored ad. Disney really did teach me that I can dream it and do it and I really wanted to pay it forward to a new generation of dreamers.
The art in the book is very cool. Did you have a hand in choosing the characters, designs, and style that ended up on the page?
Yes! Very much so. They told me I had the opportunity to pick an illustrator. There was only one option for me and it was Ashley Taylor. I work with Ashley Taylor quite a bit, she’s an up-and-coming but starting to become well-known Disney artist. Very successful. She sells a lot of her art at the WonderGround Gallery and she does all the Disney doodles on the Disney Parks blog. She designs a lot for Her Universe.
I told them that Ashley Taylor was my only option, we are great friends. I believe in giving people opportunity and I wanted an entire book to showcase her art. But also she had a very similar story – she defied the odds. She had a college professor that told her that she didn’t have any talent and that she would never make it as an artist. She proved him wrong. In a book talking about making dreams come true, it makes perfect sense to have an artist who literally made her dreams come true.
One of my favorite stories in It’s Your Universe is about your audition to play Ahsoka in front of Dave Filoni and the rest of the The Clone Wars producers. Most notably they made you use an Icelandic accent in the audition. Are accents even something you enjoy doing or was that completely out of your comfort zone?
I’ve done a lot of on-camera acting in the past. I did a lot of sketch comedy, so I’m a pretty good mimic. So if I hear something I can study it, I can mimic it. Accents though, are not my strong point – especially European accents. I can do a British accent but that’s about it. I did go to a dialect coach. I did master Icelandic, but the problem is pure Icelandic sounds Irish. Dave Filoni’s view of Icelandic sounded more like Björk and I was doing Irish essentially, so that was the disconnect.
I essentially was cast in the role for being myself in between takes. I kind of spoke back to the directors, which I don’t advise. But when he stopped me and said, “I want you to sound a little more Icelandic,” I raised my hand and said, “I’m sorry, but I am doing Icelandic. I don’t know what you want.” It was that kind of snippy-ness was what he was hoping for for Ahsoka. Literally when I got called and told that I got the part they said that they just want you to use your own voice. I was like, “Are you serious?!” And then they told me I was cast for that personality in between takes.
Last year we got to attend the Her Universe Fashion Show at the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time. It was great and I’m wondering what you have on tap for this year’s event?
We are knee-deep in planning right now. There are a lot of exciting things. What’s new is once again I’m going to have a very unexpected dress. We’re using materials that you wouldn’t normally necessarily think to make a couture dress out of. Stay tuned for that!
Two years ago I wore the incredible Nathan Sawaya, world-renowned Lego sculptor, and Andrew MacLain, the winner of our first year’s fashion show, collaboration of the first ever Lego couture made out of 10,000 Lego bricks and it weighed over 25 pounds. I’m hoping that this year’s will be just as unexpected as the Lego dress.
We also have a junior designers component of the show this year. One of our partners for the show is Cartoon Network and they are kind of taking over a part of the show. We already have picked those winners, but they will be at the show and showcasing their designs and it’s really exciting.
Of course we will also have 24 designers this year and their designs are amazing and at the end of the night three winners will be chosen. We have some really great new sponsors. Lounge Fly is coming on as a sponsor along with Hot Topic. Singer Sewing Machines are going to have a third winner chosen by them for excellent construction and technique in sewing. We have a really great group of brands and designers which is really great.
Her Universe is also rumored to be unveiling a new Clone Wars inspired line of clothing. Can you tell us any more about that?
Yes, I’ve been teasing it. It’s probably the worst kept secret because I’ve been talking about it at each book signing! But obviously I’m so proud because that era has changed my life the past 10 years. In August it’s the 10th anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuting in theaters, so I wanted to do something to honor Clone Wars so our new Comic-Con line will be Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Not only for women, but also for men! We have some beautiful pieces inspired by Ahsoka, Padme, Ventress but we also have Capt. Rex, Anakin, Darth Maul – some reeeeally cool T-shirts. So you’re going to really want to check out this line if you’re a Clone Wars fan!