Ashley Eckstein has been a beloved part of Star Wars for many years now, becoming a key part of the franchise thanks to voicing Ahsoka Tano, first in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and then in Star Wars Rebels, among other projects.
In the midst of her ongoing work with Her Universe, the tremendously popular fashion company and lifestyle brand she founded, Eckstein also recently launched Star Wars Mindful Matters. A new series of shorts available on the official Star Wars Kids YouTube channel, Mindful Matters is Eckstein’s brainchild and has her offering guidance on life lessons taken from the Star Wars films that can help you train your mind. Eckstein was part of this past weekend’s Star Wars Celebration convention and her schedule was packed, including appearing to discuss Mindful Matters and serving as the moderator at other noteworthy panels, such as a 20th Anniversary look back at Attack of the Clones, which included Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor.
I spoke to Eckstein for Fandom to learn more about the genesis of Mindful Matters and how Eckstein came to expand her resume by also writing the shorts. We also spoke about what it was like to bring closure to the rightfully adored Star Wars: The Clone Wars when that show came back for a long-desired final season and the continuing impact of Ashoka Tano.
Star Wars: Mindful Matters has been a passion project for me for really about the past five years,” Eckstein explained. Though she noted the videos were made to be enjoyed by Star Wars fans of all ages, they were inspired in part by her interactions with Star Wars-loving kids, as she recalled, “It actually goes way back to Disney Star Wars Weekends, where I would have the chance to meet hundreds of kids every single weekend. And one of the most common questions that kids would ask me was how they can be a Jedi too, so I always tried to relate the lessons of the Jedi to their everyday life.”
Eventually, Eckstein said, “I got this idea to combine the mindful lessons that we learn from the stories of Star Wars, and our favorite characters in Star Wars, and combine them with clinically based mindfulness and mental health exercises, and just package them in short videos. So each video is only two to three minutes – the exercise itself only takes a minute.”
While you may not be able to, say, lift rocks with your mind, Eckstein noted you can still take many of the lessons from Star Wars characters to heart, saying the videos allowed for “teaching fans that they can train to be a Jedi or be like Chewbacca or be a friend like R2-D2. And it only takes a moment to do these, but it’ll make a powerful difference in your day. All of my ideas come directly from Star Wars. They’re pulled directly from the films or Clone Wars or Rebels.”
Eckstein added that Star Wars was full of examples to choose from, noting, “Jedi Master Yoda teaches us that a Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind, teaching that training your mind is just as important as physically training your body. So you don’t have to look far in Star Wars to find these mindful lessons.”
Though she was developing the project, Eckstein didn’t know she would be writing it herself initially. Recalling how that occurred, and overcoming her doubts about this new role, she remarked, “Matt Martin and Kerri Martin, and everyone at Lucasfilm, they were so kind and so supportive. And they said, ‘Well, Ashley, who’s gonna write these?’ And everyone looked at me because it was my idea and I was like, ‘…I am?’ So then I panicked, because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, can I do this?’”
“I had to write them and it ended up turning into my own mindful exercise,” Eckstein explained, about overcoming her concerns. “My favorite video is called ‘The Cave Challenge.’ When Luke Skywalker, on Dagobah, goes into the cave, he says to Yoda, ‘What’s in there?’ and Yoda says ‘Only what you take with you.’ The cave obviously is a metaphor for his mind. And so I did my own cave challenge. Luke failed his challenge when he brought in fear and worry and anger and aggression and doubt. And that’s what I was doing. I was bringing in all this worry and fear and doubt that I couldn’t do this. And I had to take a pause and realize I needed to pass the cave challenge. And I needed to bring in positivity and peace and calm and love. And when I broke it down and took one sentence at a time and I was positive ‘I can do this,’ I was able to write these episodes and it was a really rewarding process.”
Eckstein of course goes way back with Lucasfilm at this point and noted, “It’s been an absolutely incredible journey over the past almost 17 years. You know, we started recording Clone Wars in 2006. Lucasfilm has been one of the most supportive organizations for me and my crazy ideas. From day one, there’s always been an open door policy and a welcome phone call when I call them up and I say, ‘Hey, I have a new idea.’ whether it be Her Universe or Star Wars Mindful Matters.”
Eckstein says she often tries to evoke her animated alter ego. “It comes from a place where Ahsoka has just inspired me. I so badly want to be a real life version of Ahsoka Tano. I really kind of wake up every day and ask myself, ‘Well, what would Ahsoka do?’ And, especially after the past two years, you know, no one is untouched from a mental health perspective after what we’ve been through and these videos and content like this is needed now more than ever. So I’m so grateful to Lucasfilm. I’m also very grateful to an organization called Citrone 33. We collaborated on these videos, and they were the ones that really made it possible to create these. So it was a true collaboration between me, Citrone 33, and Lucasfilm and I’m just thrilled that we’re finally able to make them happen.”
When it came time to film the Mindful Matters videos, Eckstein ventured to the fabled Skywalker Ranch for some installments, and was tremendously thankful for how accommodating they were. “It’s so peaceful, so serene, and I’m very, very grateful to the team there. And then we also filmed two of the videos, the droid video and the cave challenge, in front of an AR wall in LA. And so it was a video wall, just like they do on The Mandalorian, and so it was so exciting. We recreated a Jedi Temple set and the Droid Depot.”
CELEBRATING SEASON 7
Several years ago, fans were crushed when Star Wars: The Clone Wars was cancelled after Season 5. A truncated Season 6, AKA The Lost Missions, would eventually air, made up of some episodes far enough along to be more easily completed, but for years it seemed that would be it, even as it was known that tons of additional episodes were in various stages of production when the cancelation occurred. Worst of all was that there was no proper ending for the series.
That all changed when it was announced that The Clone Wars would return for one final season, with Dave Filoni and his collaborators returning for 12 more episodes to give the series the closure it lacked. These episodes ended up debuting in the spring of 2020 to tremendous acclaim.
Said Eckstein, “ You know, when Clone Wars was canceled at the end of Season 5, we’ve been very open about the fact that we were devastated by it. We did not see it coming. And we were still making future seasons. And so when the show got cancelled, I think we all kind of locked this very special moment in our lives and a special place in our heart and protected it because it kind of broke our heart so much that the series ended. And I’m a very positive person, you know this about me, Eric, but I would have told you that The Clone Wars would never come back. Because I just didn’t think it was possible! I didn’t know they could get the gang back together. I thought well, everyone’s off to new projects.”
That being the case, Eckstein said, “When I found out that it was coming back, it was just truly such a gift. And we didn’t take any moment for granted. Everyone brought their A game. Everyone brought their best, because it’s always been a giant team of people that brings the show and these characters to life. So everyone literally brought, I would say, their best work to the final season. And it’s something we’re very proud of. We had the chance to properly say goodbye. We had that last episode, we got to say goodbye to the cast and the crew and sign each other’s scripts and do all those things that you do.”
One very notable thing about the timing of Season 7’s release, however, was it was early in the pandemic, meaning there was no way to have any screenings of the episodes, as The Clone Wars often had done for their big premieres, finales, and other standout installments. And one of the standout events at Star Wars Celebration this year ended up being the first-ever public screening of the final four episodes of the series, The Siege of Mandalore storyline, which was days away when I spoke to Eckstein.
Looking back on the original plan for Season 7’s release, Eckstein explained, “We had a bunch of screenings planned. We were gonna go around and go to different cities and do screenings and then COVID happened. And obviously what was going on in the world was devastating, but it was devastating not to be able to continue as planned with the finale and being together with the fans to celebrate that moment. However, in true form for Star Wars and The Clone Wars, and even Ahsoka, leave it to our show to bring hope to fans when they need it most. Clone Wars [Season 7] came out, honestly, during the scariest time with COVID because it was so early on. And we didn’t know what was going on. A lockdown that was supposed to last two weeks lasted a month and then two months and it just kept going and we were all just at home. Many people lost their jobs and it was a very dark time and leave it to Clone Wars and leave it to Ahsoka to provide light to people when they needed light the most and so I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad Clone Wars came out when it did. I’m glad it came out in the middle of the pandemic because fans needed it. And I’m thrilled to be at Star Wars Celebration and get to now interact with the fans and get their feedback and hear their thoughts. So it’s just a bit of a delayed celebration, but we’re finally getting it.”
Added Eckstein, “I think the Siege of Mandalore rivals any film – the four episodes should be watched as a film. I’m thrilled that people are able to watch them on a big screen and watch them together as one as it was meant to be.”
AHSOKA LIVES AND LIVES
Ahsoka Tano is now a central part of Star Wars, which was evidenced by the huge cheers the character received at Celebration, whether it was some of her amazing moments in The Clone Wars’ final episodes or seeing new footage of her in Tales of the Jedi, an upcoming animated anthology series from Filoni, in which Ahsoka will star in three of the six installments, covering different times of her life (Count Dooku leads the other three). Plus, of course, Rosario Dawsonnow portrays the character in live-action, first introduced in The Mandalorian, and next year starring in her own series, simply titled Ahsoka.
Looking at the character’s rise to Star Wars legend, Eckstein said, “It’s just incredible to see how far Ahsoka has come. I have so many memories from the early days. It’s so easy to forget, as we’re celebrating that Ahsoka has her own show, and now we have Rey and Jyn and all of these lead female characters, but back when Ahsoka came out, she was the first female Jedi that was a lead character in the Star Wars universe. That was a big deal. And it wasn’t necessarily met with celebration, it was met with a lot of hate and doubt. And Ahsoka, especially in the early days, was often left off of product that was sold, because they said that female characters would not sell product. It took a long time for Ahsoka to get a book and whenever they would release toys with Ahsoka, they would always release the least amount of Ahsoka toys; that’s why they were so hard to find. And so it’s always surreal to me to now walk through the store and see a poster for The Mandalorian and see Ahsoka on it. The fact that that’s just readily available, it’s mind blowing to me and truly exciting. And I’m just so grateful, just beyond grateful, for having the opportunity to be a part of originating this character and kind of breathing life into her. I don’t have a kid, but if I did, it’s like my own child and now my child’s going off to college and then watching the child thrive.”
Ahsoka stands out for being the only Jedi character – or former Jedi at least – to use three different lightsaber colors, going from green blades as a Jedi Padawan, to blue, thanks to Anakin’s tinkering in the final Clone Wars episodes, to white as she continued to fight the good fight on her own, away from the Jedi. As we were wrapping up, I asked Eckstein if she had a favorite among the many lightsabers, and she replied, “I have a two part answer. If it’s [going by] color, then I gotta choose white, because I love what it stands for. I love that she’s just neutral. Ahsoka says ‘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.’ Ahsoka just helps people. She doesn’t really care who you are. If she sees someone in need, she helps them and so I love what the white lightsaber stands for. But I do have a soft spot for the Clone Wars hilts. So my perfect lightsaber would be the Clone Wars hilts with the white blades.”