At Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, I had the pleasure of attending the Rebels Women panel, where fans were introduced to the women who work on Star Wars animation and storytelling behind the scenes. The room, at the time, was big enough to hold less than 200. The room I sat in for this year’s Heroines of Star Wars panel held thousands of fans who came to support and celebrate inspirational and revolutionary female characters.
Hosted by Amy Ratcliffe, the panel featured executive producer and supervising director of Star Wars Rebels Dave Filoni, Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), and a special appearance by Daisy Ridley (Rey). Missing from the panel was the Lucasfilm Story Group’s Carrie Beck, who has been an integral part in the storytelling process on a variety of projects, including Star Wars Rebels, LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, and the newly announced Star Wars: Forces of Destiny.
To Dave Filoni and his crew, both on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the process of introducing well-written female characters was natural. What felt unnatural were the initial conversations that took place between Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren in the earliest stages of Star Wars Rebels. According to Filoni, one exchange had the two females talking about Kanan and Ezra.
“They have other things to focus on,” Ratcliffe said, and fortunately, Filoni as well as Carrie Beck and Kiri Hart shifted that initial conversation toward the mission and the Rebellion, which turned out for the better.
Ratcliffe also pointed out something important that often gets misinterpreted by the audience. When the words “strong female characters” are mentioned, people often think about physical strength. The correct words should be “strongly written female characters.” These are characters that have multifaceted and complex personalities, and these were the characters that were being highlighted and celebrated on the stage at Star Wars Celebration Orlando.
When Ashley Eckstein and Tiya Sircar joined the stage, the conversation shifted over to their characters and how they had been received by the audience.
Everyone knows that Ahsoka wasn’t a welcomed character when she was first introduced, and even Eckstein admitted that the character came off a bit too strong, but she had begged with the viewers to bear with her.
“No character should come out perfect. If they’re perfect from the beginning, then there’s no arc for them to go on,” she said, reminding me (and others, hopefully) that Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels is currently in the same situation.
In terms of how Ahsoka had evolved over the years, Filoni said that it’s very rare to see that kind of growth in animation, given the nature of the industry.
“I always think of [Ahsoka] now as the reflection of, in a way, kind of what Anakin could be. She represents his best qualities because he passed those onto her and makes decisions that in some ways he couldn’t,” he said, while also crediting Eckstein as well as the other voice actors for their genuine ability to connect with the audience.
As for Sabine, Sircar found it interesting to explore Sabine’s complex character and to delve deeper into the Mandalorian culture, especially in season four. Sabine is not only a munitions expert and strategist, but she’s also creative and expresses herself through art. She’s always been a fascinating character for me as well as for many other fans who identify with her artistic side as well as with her struggles.
When talking about her character, Filoni mentioned that he loves Japan, especially how colorful and vibrant both the environment and culture can be on a daily basis.
“I’m also interested in what are kids into now,” he said. “And there’s so much more of this graffiti culture, painting culture, artist culture, and I thought, ‘Well, I’d love to embody that in a Mandalorian somehow.'”
At first, however, those working with Filoni weren’t sure if Sabine could work as a character, but Filoni knew that she is the type of character children want to see today.
“I’m not designing for kids from 1977. I’m designing for kids now. And they need heroes now that are going to understand them and support them. And that’s what Sabine is about, really,” he said, striking a chord with the audience because that’s exactly what many of us are looking to see not just in Star Wars but in everything that exists around us.
Filoni also spoke about how he takes the interactions and relationships from the actors and incorporates those into the series, citing Tiya/Sabine and Taylor/Ezra as an example.
“That’s always what makes a character work,” he said. “It’s the authenticity of it.”
Most importantly, the panelists touched on representation both on screen and behind the scenes, where most of the magic happens.
“It’s really important to show girls examples of powerful women doing amazing things,” Ecsktein said, and overall, bring awareness to the audience.
Sircar also chimed in saying that the more female characters Filoni and his crew create, the less we have to push for that goal because by that time, it would have reached a balance and a sense of equality. Currently, however, it’s a goal that both women and men are trying to pursue and achieve, since a more backwards mentality still exists within the fan community and society. Take, for example, the recent comments being made by men regarding a female protagonist in Battlefront II. That’s the kind of mentality we’re trying to remove and replace with a more inclusive one.
The next part of the panel focused more on the upcoming project Star Wars: Forces of Destiny. Filoni, in particular, spoke about how the 2D animated shorts fill in the gaps and how they had to feel authentic to the overall story.
Animated by Ghostbot and written by Jennifer Muro, these shorts highlight our favorite female characters and we get to see them in different ways. One of those characters is Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Daisy Ridley was kind enough to drop by for the panel to talk about her experience recording for the micro-series as well as how Rey and all these other female characters speak to fans of all ages.
My favorite part of the panel was when Filoni wasn’t given an “Adventure Figure,” which will be coming out later this summer, after being told that he was going to get one. He even jokingly proposed that there should be a director figure. On a more serious note, however, he recalled the first time he got an action figure as a kid and how that allowed him to continue to tell stories after he left the theater. That helped inform the kind of storyteller he eventually became, so he encouraged the audience to, “Start imagining.”
As the panel came to an end, Filoni brought it back to the core topics: inclusiveness and representation.
“One of the biggest influences in anything I write is my wife, Anne. She is tremendously well-read and educated and she’s a huge influence on everything I do. I couldn’t write the darksaber episode without listening to her and her friends,” he said, and that’s the key. Listening. “If you’re going to write a female character, [and] if you’re a guy like me, the first thing you have to do is listen. Stop talking and listen to what these women have to say. And I’ll be honest, it’s harder than you think because you’re not wired that way when you’re a little boy. You’re told to go after it and do things that you want, but it’s more the way of the Jedi, to be honest. We should learn to listen to other people and be patient and open-minded, and that’s what I try to put into these stories.”
So if you’re a writer, creating your own characters and worlds, take a piece of advice from a man who we all consider to be an expert at what he does: go out there, imagine, and listen.
What were your thoughts on the panel and what was discussed? Share your comments in the section below.
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