Ashley Eckstein isn’t just the incredible voice of The Clone Wars’ Ahsoka Tano, but she’s a tremendous name in the Star Wars fandom and the geeky cosmos as the creator of Her Universe. Eckstein’s work as an actress and an activist for fandoms has been nothing short of exceptional. Her Universe was founded in 2010, and since then, it’s been a go-to spot for women wanting more from their fashion. Subsequently, Eckstein’s warmth as a person has allowed the space to give fangirls a place where they’re welcomed and celebrated.
In an interview with Marvelous Geeks’ Gissane Sophia, Eckstein sits down to discuss the ninth annual fashion show at San Diego Comic-Con, her childhood and experiences with bullying,and her profound adoration for Ahsoka Tano. From one fangirl to another, it made for a conversation that’s a breath of fresh air in the industry.
Marvelous Geeks: I grew up at a time when I was a kid that Star Wars was for boys. I got mocked a lot, and there wasn’t a lot of merch for girls, especially little girls. It was a man’s world—a boy’s world, and we were kind of in the back. How was your upbringing with Star Wars and creating such a safe space for fandom, and women in fandom especially?
Ashely Eckstein: I’m sorry that happened to you and that you weren’t always in a world that was accepting of your fandom because I grew up the same way. I remember my mom got a call from the teacher once, and they said they were worried about me because I wasn’t playing with the other girls on the playground. And my mom asked me about it; she said, “Well, [Ashley], why aren’t you playing with the other girls on the playground? I said they’re not playing what I want to play. [Laughs] I was raised on sci-fi and fantasy—Star Wars, The Hobbit, The Never-Ending Story, and I was the girl who wanted to be the Karate Kid. So if there had been a character like Ahsoka Tano, where I could play Ahsoka and be Ahsoka and have a lightsaber in my hand, and play that—that’s who I was. That’s who I wanted to be. So I’m just so grateful that girls are now growing up in a time where there are so many female characters that they can pretend to be—these stories are more inclusive of women and girls.
But going back to your question, you’re exactly right. We grew up in a time when the stereotype was that sci-fi and fantasy were just for men and boys. And it’s easy to forget that now because we have characters like Rey and Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel. [Smiles wholeheartedly] Wonder Woman has her own movies now, and it’s easy to forget that a time not so long ago that these characters leading their own movies was not even possible.
Her Universe was founded in 2010, and back then, that’s not so long ago [13 years ago]. It was unheard of to have a company for female fans solely dedicated to merchandise for sci-fi and fantasy properties for fans. I was told multiple times that female fans would not buy merchandise made for them because these stories were just for men and boys. And it’s incredible to see how far it’s come in a relatively short amount of time. It makes me so proud because girls today are growing up in a different time than you and I.
Marvelous Geeks: It is really phenomenal how far we’ve come and what a place you’ve paved for women. I’ve also read your book [It’s Your Universe], and I know about your journey, and I’m sure many other fangirls do, so there’s such beauty in this safe space. And you’re going on the ninth anniversary of the fashion shows, is that correct? How does that feel?
Ashley Eckstein: Yes, yes! It’s incredibly exciting and humbling. And I have to give credit to Ahsoka Tano because I knew nothing about starting a company. I knew nothing about fashion design, licensing, trademarks, and all the things that come with starting a brand and a company. But I was bullied as a young girl for being different, and as I grew older, everything I did had a foundation of wanting to be anti-bullying—to create a safe space.
As I became the voice of Ahsoka, I was so inspired by her because I realized she was groundbreaking. She was the first female Jedi that was a lead character in the Star Wars universe. So for the first time, girls would see a lightsaber in a girl’s hand weekly. [Smiles] And that was huge! That meant that girls like me could be Ahsoka on the playground and, hopefully, not be made fun of for it. So I realized she was groundbreaking from the very beginning, and when I first got the idea to create Her Universe, I was incredibly overwhelmed at the thought of starting a company. How was I even going to do that? But I read story after story of women and girls that were being bullied and terribly for just being a Star Wars fan. I wanted to end the bullying. I wanted to break the stereotype. I wanted girls to step into the spotlight and say, “Hi, I’m a girl, and I like Star Wars,” and be celebrated.
So I asked myself, what would Ahsoka do? And my answer was that Ahsoka would stand up for fangirls. Ahsoka gave me the strength—the confidence to step into the spotlight myself and say I’m going to do this. We’re going to change the narrative. These stories that we love are for everyone. [Emphatically] You can’t put a gender on Star Wars. It’s a story of hope—a story of good overcoming evil. I wanted to be a real-life version of Ahsoka Tano and do what she would do.
It’s incredible to see how what Her Universe has become and that Geek Couture is now a thing. I remember I literally made up the word “Geek Couture.” [Laughs] Because I saw it happening and didn’t know how to describe it, fans were creating these one-of-a-kind fashion looks, not cosplay, but fashion looks inspired by their favorite characters and stories. It’s couture inspired by our favorite geeky properties. And now it’s a thing! It’s incredibly humbling and very exciting!
Marvelous Geeks: I’m trying so hard not to cry because this really is such a different place from my childhood, and it’s incredible. It’s wild that was ever a thing, but how far we’ve come is truly so beautiful, so thank you for that! Is there anything you can tease from the fashion show?
Ashley Eckstein: Absolutely! We’re celebrating 100 years of Disney. So for the first time, our show will be shining the spotlight on one studio, which in the past it’s been celebrating everything at San Diego Comic-Con. But with this unique anniversary [for Disney], we were thrilled for this opportunity, and this is a dream come true because I’m a massive fan! There’s no shortage of inspiration under the umbrella. So not only do we have Walt Disney himself and the parks, but animation, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and National Geographic. And 100 years of this!
The [designers] cover the entire gambit from the beginning until the newest proprieties for Disney. My couture look that I’ll be wearing this year is once again a one-of-a-kind piece merging technology that has not been used this way in fashion before. So I’m very excited to combine couture fashion with technology which is very true to the Walt Disney Company. The company uses technology in unique ways for their storytelling, so I’m very excited to do that with fashion, so stay tuned.
Also, my co-host, Michael James Scott, has a couple of looks this year that are really fun. [This] show will be the biggest and best yet because not only is it a love letter to Disney, but it’s a love letter to the fans. It’s free. Anyone can come—It’s for all ages. [Excitedly] But it’s also full of free swag and prizes. We’re going to be giving prizes throughout the entire show. And trust me; you’re not going to want to miss it. Get there early; get your wristband. It’s going to be such a fun night.
Marvelous Geeks: That sounds really fun and exciting! I’m sure it’s going to be great. Is there some kind of geeky property that you’ve wanted to do for Her Universe that you’ve not covered yet but would love to do?
Ashley Eckstein: Ooh! Well, there are always properties we haven’t done that we’re constantly adding. I’m so grateful Her Universe is now part of the Hot Topic universe. It’s opened so many doors for us—so many properties that have been dreams come true. By the day, we’re releasing new merchandise. But one dream that I still have that we’re working on that we continue to do slowly is I want to bring Her Universe international. We have so many fans that can’t get their hands on the merchandise. So I want to expand on that. That would be my dream.
I got to go to Star Wars Celebration [in London], and so many fans were begging. And I can assure you that it’s something we’re working on to get those licenses and create those contacts to do so. It’s always on our radar.
Marvelous Geeks: Fingers crossed for that because everyone should be able to get their hands on them! Last question with Ahsoka coming in live-action. Star Wars doesn’t have a multi-verse, which in a way, is kind of a good thing these days (there’s a lot of it out there). But if we could merge our two Ahsokas for one event—something, anything—what would you want it to be? What would you want it to look like?
Ashley Eckstein: That is a great question and one that I’m going to toss back to Dave Filoni. I feel so blessed and grateful to be part of #TeamTano and help originate this character and create her from the very beginning. I’m grateful it continues to grow with Rosario Dawson and everyone who continues to bring this character to life! I finally got the chance to meet her, and she’s become a friend whom I’m so grateful to her for carrying on Ahsoka’s legacy and light and doing such a wonderful job! Filoni still promised me I’d be the voice in animation. So if there were a way to merge Ahsoka in animation and live-action, that would be a dream come true and something very, very cool.
I’d love to make some sort of an appearance in live-action. That’d be a dream come true as well. I’m just grateful that Ahsoka’s story continues—whether I’m part of it or not. This character is changing lives and, in some cases, saving lives. And the fact that the story is continuing is really what matters. I’m just really excited for the future and what’s ahead.
Marvelous Geeks: I love that! And I’m sure I say this on behalf of all fans, which I’m sure you understand as a fangirl, but it’s so refreshing and so wholesome when the actor portraying the character loves them as much as the fans do. It makes for an experience that there are no words for. I can’t wait to see what else you do in the future.
Ashley Eckstein: Thank you! I really appreciate your time and support. And I’ll leave you with this: fans always ask, did you ever imagine Ahsoka would become what she is today? And I can safely say that the love for Ahsoka has wildly exceeded my expectations, but my hope from day one was that people would grow to love Ahsoka as much as I do. And I truly love this character with every ounce of my being—every bit of my heart and soul. She’s absolutely changed my life. She’s a part of my life every single day. So I thank the fans. Because this was my hope from the beginning, so, I can definitely say my dream came true.
Be sure to catch Eckstein and Her Universe at San Diego Comic-Con from July 20-23. The event will be held on July 20 at 6 pm in the Harbor Ballroom, Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel.