Actress and entrepreneur Ashley Eckstein has become a household name among fans of all ages and interests. From voicing the now iconic character Ahsoka Tano to founding the fangirl-centric merchandise brand Her Universe, Ashley is living proof of Walt Disney’s famous quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” She’s been featured across national outlets such as Forbes, ABC News, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and more.
She recently took the time to do a phone interview with me for The Main Street Mouse to talk about everything from Star Wars to her new book, It’s Your Universe.
TMSM: Can you kind of walk us through the process of how getting the role of Ahsoka in Star Wars: The Clone Wars went? I’m sure there was a lot of secrecy.
Ashley: Oh, yes. Becoming the voice of Ahsoka was definitely a top-secret project, unlike anything I had ever done…They said that I would be auditioning for a new Star Wars cartoon, the next day. That wasn’t top secret. They were open about that, but they didn’t give any information. They didn’t give what the story was about or anything. They just gave me the character. They said that I would be auditioning for Padme.
I was super excited to be auditioning for Star Wars because I was a big fan. But then, bummed at the same time, because I sound nothing like Padme. So, I was like “Oh, no! I’m so close, yet so far!” I almost didn’t go to the audition, because I was trying really hard to be a voice match for Natalie Portman, and I just couldn’t get it. I knew I sounded nothing like her.
My agent at the time, he said “You know what? You have to go anyway because you never know what could happen.” I’m so grateful that he gave me that advice because sure enough, I went in, I said the first line as Padme, and they stopped me. They said that I sounded nothing like Padme, but that they were auditioning for this new character, this super-top-secret character….They didn’t even advertise that they were auditioning for her, because it was so top secret. It was a brand-new character, and she was a 14-year-old girl. So, that ended up being Ahsoka.
TMSM: That’s awesome! Ahsoka is such a ground-breaking character. We find out that she’s Anakin’s padawan and that she is a 14-year-old girl, which is so exciting to see represented on film, and then on television. What’s your favorite thing about her personality?
Ashley: You know, one thing I’m most proud of with Ahsoka is she is just good, through and through…She always strives to do
TMSM: Do you have a favorite moment from Clone Wars as a show, or a favorite episode that really stands out to you?
Ashley: I do. There are two in particular. Of course, I would say my all-time favorite moment is the end of season five, where Ahsoka famously walks away from the Jedi Order. I think that represents the culmination of five seasons, and her kind of finally growing up, and graduating from being a Padawan to, really, her own hero and her own character. Out on her own, I guess I should say. That moment just represents so much to me, and I think that episode and that series of episodes was so beautifully done, and so beautifully written and shot. So, that’s probably my favorite.
But I also do love the Mortis Trilogy.
TMSM: I have read your book. I got it at the Disney Springs book tour stop and had it finished by the next morning.
Ashley: Thank you!
TMSM: It was such a good read. We don’t want to spoil too many details, because some of our readers at The Main Street Mouse maybe haven’t read your book yet. But in the book, you go through the story of how Her Universe came into existence. Could you kind of give a quick overview of how that went down, and what really sparked your interest in doing that?
Ashley: Her Universe came about after, really, just a simple search for a Star Wars t-shirt made for me. I wanted Star Wars clothes made for women, and I honestly thought more existed. When I came up empty-handed and realized that they really didn’t make us anything, I ended up in the men’s and the boy’s section, and I was told to be happy with a men’s size small.
At that point, I realized that there was a problem. I started doing my research. I looked around and saw that there were women at Comic-Con and at Disney that loved Star Wars just like I did. I did my research and found out that 45% of all Star Wars and sci-fi fantasy fans at the time were women and girls, and that 85% of all consumer purchases were being made by women.
I thought “These numbers aren’t adding up. If you make us something, we will buy it!” And more importantly, in my research, I found out that women and girls were being bullied, and being bullied terribly, for just being who we are, and liking what we love.
Being a fangirl, you know, is similar to being a Disney fan. It’s not a trend. It’s a part of who you are…I wanted to create a community, a safe place where girls could step into the spotlight and be themselves, and be celebrated and applauded for being a fangirl, not put down for it. That’s where I got the idea to start Her Universe. I wanted to create two parts; the merchandise line, and more importantly, a community for female sci-fi and fantasy fans.
I honestly did go back to Ahsoka. I thought to myself, I said: “What would Ahsoka do?” I realized Ahsoka would start Her Universe. She would start this merchandise line for female fans because she would stand up for a really giant group of people that are being underserved.
We had a stereotype to debunk. That was that this world was just for the men and the boys. It wasn’t. This world is for everyone…But in order to debunk that stereotype, we have to do it together. I said from day one, I said “United we stand, divided we fall. I can’t do this alone.” When we as a community get recognition, to me it’s important to say “We did this together. I didn’t do this by myself.”
TMSM: Hopping back to Ahsoka a little bit. A couple of years later, Rebels comes out. Ahsoka gets to come back. How excited were you to get to return to her character?
Ashley: Oh, my gosh. I was so excited! You know, when Clone Wars ended, it ended on a cliffhanger. I had just hoped that one day, we would get to tell more of her story. So, when Rebels started, and Dave Filoni let me know that Ahsoka would be coming back on Rebels, it really was a dream come true. I just felt that we needed to tell more of her story, to do this character justice.
Boy oh boy, the storyline that he gave Ahsoka and Rebels has just been incredible.
TMSM: How does she change as a character, between Clone Wars and Rebels?
Ashley: Ahsoka changes quite a bit, between Clone Wars and Rebels. We still don’t know everything that happened to her.Really, the only glimpse that we’ve gotten is from The Ahsoka Book, written by E. K. Johnston…But what we do know is when Ahsoka comes back, on Rebels, Ahsoka is now more of like the mentor…Whereas before, in Clone Wars, Ahsoka was more like Ezra. She was the student, she was a Padawan, she had a lot to learn. She was very outspoken. In Rebels, she comes back, and she’s very much the strong, quiet leader.
TMSM: Sure. Similar with Clone Wars, do you have a favorite moment or episode from Rebels?
Ashley: I think hands down, for me, it’s the fight with Vader. That moment where it’s just Ahsoka and Vader squaring off just gives me chills every time. I remember fondly, being in the recording studio, and getting to record that with Matt Lanter [the voice of Anakin Skywalker in Clone Wars]. It was a pretty special day in the recording studio because we hadn’t recorded together since Clone Wars ended.
TMSM: Also talking about design, The Dress Shop. What has that been like?
Ashley: Designing for the Dress Shop has literally been a dream come true. It’s one of my favorite projects that we work on, because not often to do you get the chance to just kind of dream up whatever you want to design, and then get the chance to put it on paper, and make it a reality…Having that kind of Wow! piece, that beautiful dress that you can wear into the parks…You can wear it to a fancy occasion, or just wear it to work.
TMSM: You recently wrote a book, It’s Your Universe. Could you talk a little bit about your Disney obsession, like you do in the book? How it shaped you as a person, and why you decided to tell your story?
Ashley: I was raised Disney. I say that I was practically raised on Main Street USA.
I grew up in Orlando, Florida. My dad was a cast member of Walt Disney World, so I went to Disney World all of the time….Disney really shaped the person I am today.
My mom was an elementary school teacher, so she really used Walt Disney World as a classroom for us. She would take us, sometimes, take us out of school for the day, and turn the parks into a lesson.
When I had the opportunity to write this book, Disney first asked me if I would write my story, like if I would write my autobiography or my memoir…I said, “The book I would write is an advice book on how to make your dreams come true.” Because I wouldn’t be doing this interview with you today, I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing today, without the world of Disney.
Disney inspired me to dream it and to do it. I said “The book I would write is I would tell my story, but more as a guide on here’s what I did, here is why I did it. Here is why I believed that I could do it. And here is how you can do it, too.” It’s a roadmap. It breaks the process of making your dreams come true down into steps.
It starts with a dream, then a wish, then you believe, then you do, then you transform, and finally, you just have to trust in the process. By the end of the book, you should be well on your way to making your dreams come true!
TMSM: I think one of my favorite takeaways from your book is you definitely put a big emphasis on the hard work and the dedication, and the ups and downs, and sometimes there are failures.
Ashley: Thanks. I think what was important to me is that I wanted to be realistic. I wanted to talk about the things that aren’t always glamorous to talk about, which is like you were saying, hard work. Oftentimes on social media, you just see the highlight reel. You see all of the positives. You see the exciting moments. You don’t always see the late nights, where you’re working late or on the weekend when all of your friends are going out, and I’m at home working all weekend…It’s a lot of hard work.
TMSM: Absolutely. What’s the main takeaway from your book that you want readers to have?
Ashley: I hope the main takeaway is that they believe that their dreams can come true. I’m an eternal optimist. I talk about, in the book, that Rapunzel is my soul sister. I’m kind of eternally optimistic and even naïve, and I say that in a good way, at times. I think that the dreams that you wish can and do come true. I believe everyone is born with a talent and a skill that is unique to them, that makes them great. We just are on a journey to find what makes us great, and what our talent is. It’s different for every person. I hope that through this book, everyone can go on their own journey…I would say that’s my hope. My dream, with this book, is that other people that read this book believe that their dreams can come true.
TMSM: You’ve gotten to do so many amazing things in your career, with the book and designing and Ahsoka. What’s next? What do you have next on your horizon?
Ashley: I think and I hope that this book is just the start. I’m asking people to be a Dream Warrior with me. To me, a Dream Warrior is somebody who fiercely goes out there and makes their dreams come true…We need to teach that. So, I think with kids, getting this message in their hands, and teaching them how to dream it and do it, I’m asking people to do that with me, and be a Dream Warrior with me.
That’s definitely the next step. I feel like I’ve only just started on this path of making dreams come true. Then, for me, I think – it’s not a new step, because Her Universe was founded with anti-bullying, and standing up for those who are being bullied. But I definitely want to do more with anti-bullying and bringing awareness to the importance of mental health.
I just think it’s been such a problem in our community. I’ve been the victim of bullying, and I want to be more of an advocate for it. So, definitely look for more there. That’s my hope, that I can do more in the future.
*Portions of this interview were edited for length. All photos courtesy of Her Universe
You can see more from Ashley and Her Universe by visiting the below websites and be sure to follow Her Universe on social media.
It’s Your Universe — http://books.disney.com/book/its-your-universe/
Her Universe — http://www.heruniverse.com/
Facebook — @HerUniverse
Instagram – heruniverse