Following the release of the latest episode of The Mandalorian, which was written and directed by Dave Filoni, Vanity Fair has published an interview with him and star Rosario Dawson, who made her Star Wars debut in The Jedi, where she played the live-action incarnation of the beloved padawan of Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano. They talked about everything about the episode, and how it came to be. Make sure to check out our review of The Jedi, too.
We learn from this article that actually the idea for the casting came from a now very famous tweet, in which Dawson replied to a fan asking for her to play the role in live-action:
— Rosario Dawson (@rosariodawson) February 7, 2017
Apparently, that caught the attention of Dave Filoni, who pitched the idea to The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau when they were discussing the inclusion of the character in the second season. Here’s what they said about this:
ROSARIO DAWSON: “Actually it first came from fans online. Someone tweeted me and fancast me. I retweeted back and I was like, “Absolutely, yes please” and “#AhsokaLives.” And apparently that got the attention of someone who has been doing the Star Wars press for years. She forwarded it to Dave Filoni. That kind of started a whole thing. I was like, “Oh my goodness, did I just get fancast in something?” And then nothing happened.”
DAVE FILONI: “That was the first time and I looked at Rosario and I thought, “Huh. Yeah, I think maybe she would make a good Ahsoka.” I just kept loosely aware of what she was up to, and she was doing some Marvel things. But I’d seen interviews with her where she would talk about wanting to play the character and her excitement, so it was interesting.”
“[…] But when I started working with Jon [Favreau], I’d bring up the character and he’s like, “Well, who are you thinking of playing her?” I said, “Well, Rosario Dawson’s top of my list,” and he’s like, “I know her!” So immediately that starts to fit really well.”
According to Dawson, this happened right before the first season hit Disney Plus, on November 12, 2019. Prior to this, she had limited knowledge about the character, having only seen a few episodes from The Clone Wars. Here’s what she said about that:
ROSARIO DAWSON: “I’d seen some of Clone Wars, and once I got the role, I actually went and started watching everything in its order. I started seeing a lot more of the connective tissue. There was always that conversation around Ahsoka leaving the Order, and that being a major trigger for Anakin going towards the Dark Side. It was just really incredible that the character started off as a teenager, you know?”
A fun fact regarding her casting as Anakin’s padawan is that Dawson went to acting class with Hayden Christensen himself, and years later they even worked together on Shattered Glass.
Dave Filoni weighed in on how they decided to go with Rosario Dawson for the part:
DAVE FILONI: “When I was first exploring the possibility of directing live-action, I asked [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy about casting and when you knew someone was right for a part. She thought about it and said “you just know.” And she was right. When I met Rosario, I just knew she was right for Ahsoka. Yes there was the tweet, and her interest in the part, yes she has been in action movies and is a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy stories, yes, she knew Hayden Christensen and pictures of them together look like Anakin and Ahsoka. But in the end, when I met her and we talked, I just knew.”
One of the first hesitations that come to mind when you say out loud “We’re doing live-action Ahsoka” is, obviously, how are you going to pull off the look. Both Filoni and Dawson talked at length about this:
DAVE FILONI: “It was a pretty amazing thing as we designed the costume and worked out all the details of that. Everything got considered to an unbelievable degree—the head tails, the horns, I can’t even tell you. It’s hard. It’s so rare a person in my position from animation gets to craft and guide the character’s jump to live-action.”
“Many tests were done, screen tests, because within the Volume [The Mandalorian set that creates backgrounds on a giant digital screen] it will tend to lean magenta. You have to worry about how a character like Ahsoka would look because the temperature that we have her orange could be dramatically different in the Volume than in stage shots. So there were tiny little considerations that had to made and adjusted.”
“Performance-wise I don’t want her to be lost in all of this headgear and makeup, but she definitely is not. I kept things subtle in some ways with the markings. I mean, the funny thing is that the white markings over the brow are always done in animation to give an eyebrow performance.… I didn’t want a brightly saturated character. Again, in animation it works, but in live action I think it works another way, and so you just have to play with the values and see.”
ROSARIO DAWSON: “What I love about the Togruta is that they have these facial markings, but they’re all different on all of the different women that we’ve seen. In the cartoon it almost looks like a face paint, but what [Filoni] really wanted it to come off as very natural.”
“They definitely wanted [the make up] to be very warm and natural. In the animation it’s very different and bold, and the lighting is so different. But in the real world they wanted it to have a different kind of energy. It was fun to be able to see how that shifted when she had the lightsabers closer to her face, how you see it and feel it differently in the different lighting and the smoke.”
” Everything was pretty firmly on. Everything was built specifically to my skull and body, and the headband that she has on with the tails actually clips in the back and holds it in place. We were doing stunts in it and everything, and it wasn’t going anywhere.”
The final detail that was left for her full transformation into the character was the eyes.
DAVE FILONI: I said, “Well, Ahsoka’s eyes are blue and yours are not, but I don’t want you to worry about it. If you don’t want to go for that, we can just say that in this version they’re not.” And Rosario insisted. She’s like, “No, no, no. Let me try it.”
ROSARIO DAWSON: I remember when I put the contacts on, that was when it really solidified—the head piece, the tails, the shape, the coloring, everything. Doing the face marking, doing my skin, wearing the costume, all of that was absolutely incredible. But I still kind of felt like I was in cosplay. The second the contacts went in, it was Ahsoka. I felt like I disappeared.
Back in January, George Lucas visited the set, as showrunner Jon Favreau documented via his Twitter account.
ROSARIO DAWSON: “I actually got to be there on the day that there’s that photo. Someone took a picture of George Lucas holding Baby Yoda. I’m still calling him Baby Yoda—Grogu! I was there that day. I was all dressed up, I was just off to the side of that photo, all done up as Ahsoka. And I remember it broke the internet when that picture came out. It was just an amazing, amazing moment, and we were all beside ourselves. It was definitely very geek-out.”
“I was definitely nerve-wracked, and it was great to be there with him and Dave. I mean, it’s a lot of pressure. But it was also really fun. Both of them were looking at me but they weren’t, you know what I mean? They were looking at their imaginations come to life.”
— Jon Favreau (@Jon_Favreau) January 17, 2020
The interview also took a moment to talk about Ashley Eckstein, who voiced Ahsoka Tano in all of her appearances in the animated shows and the movie The Clone Wars.
ROSARIO DAWSON: “Ashley did a remarkable job. You’ve seeing this character first come into our hearts and minds as a teenager and then evolve, and Ashley has been there the entire way. Seeing how her voice changed, how her energy changed, and to hear the maturity develop in her was just so powerful and so beautiful. I studied it like crazy and tried my best to honor that. And it was just incredible to be able to have such an in-depth performance to source.”
DAVE FILONI: “Ashley’s fantastic and I think the character that she played, Ahsoka as the young Padawan apprentice and then going into Rebels, obviously made its mark—plus the animation team who made this Padawan such a household name amongst Star Wars fans. It’s a pretty magic thing and it speaks to how well-crafted the character is by that group. I wrote pretty much all of her character from when she’s 14 all the way up through this, and normally someone in my position wouldn’t get to do that. It would have changed hands several times.”
The interview turned to Rosario Dawson’s personal affairs, as she was asked about the lawsuit that was filed against her for being anti-trans bias, as well as a physical altercation that involved her. All of the trans-phobic stuff has been sorted out, but a part of the fanbase was still a bit concerned about this matter. Here’s what she said to calm down the masses:
ROSARIO DAWSON: “Well, firstly, I just want to say I understand that, and why people were concerned, and are concerned. I would be, too, if I heard some of those claims. But I mean, as we’re seeing right now in these past months, and just recently actually, the truth is coming out. Every single claim of discrimination has been dismissed by the person who made them, and as you’ve said, the fact that this is coming from someone I’ve known since I was a teenager, the better part of my life, and who my family was trying to help as we have many times in the past, it really just makes me sad. But I still have a great empathy for him.”
“The reason that all of the discrimination claims were dropped is because they didn’t happen. I was raised in a very inclusive and loving way, and that’s how I’ve lived my entire life. I’ve always used my voice to fight for, lift up and empower the LGBTQA community, and use my platform to channel trans voices, in fiction and nonfiction work that I’ve produced and directed. So I feel the record is really clear.”
Going back to The Jedi, the story takes place in a forest world called Corvus, which almost looks post-apocalyptic. About this setting, Dave Filoni said:
DAVE FILONI: “In all honesty, just comes out of my own personal experience living in an area [in Northern California] where there are fires. My wife and I have been evacuated three of the last four years, every fall. So I guess I’m just telling a story and can some way control it for myself. But, yeah, I’ve known a lot of people that are terribly affected by it, and it’s a powerful, powerful thing.”
“I just thought it would be really haunting. There is a foreboding feeling, I think, through the episode and what transpires in it, so it’s got its magic moments. Where you see life in the sets and where you don’t is part of the story. Most of the sets are dead and burnt, but then when you encounter Ahsoka there’s a little bit of green and life around her. That’s all just emblematic, little visual cues that you can tell to reinforce story points.”
Finally, they talked about Baby Yoda’s name reveal. Apparently, Grogu is a name that has been around for a longer time than we thought:
DAVE FILONI: “The name has been around for a while. Jon told me early on in Season One what it would be, which made me start to think about how people could learn the name. This gave me the idea that Ahsoka, who is very compassionate, would be able to connect with the child, and that without words they could probably communicate through memories and experiences. Through that connection, she learns the name and then tells Mando and the audience.”
We also learned about Baby Yoda’s backstory, and how he came to be where he is now (we didn’t get the full picture, but we learned quite a bit). Filoni also talked about why was Ahsoka the right person to tell that:
DAVE FILONI: “I felt that if anyone would know or understand The Child’s history it would be Ahsoka. She has such a long history as well. By having her relate the story it also helps the viewer to understand some of her own backstory. This is similar to when Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father’s history. Through the story about Anakin, you are getting a look at Obi-Wan and his backstory as well. A lot of the campfire scene, as I call it, is shaped around that scene between Obi-Wan and Luke in A New Hope.”
And also, they talked about one of the other main points The Jedi made – why does Ahsoka not want to train Baby Yoda (sorry, Grogu)?
ROSARIO DAWSON: “She knows what could happen if you go even remotely to the Dark Side. I love that she throws a line in this about Anakin. She knows what could happen even to “the best of us” when fear and anger take root, and she’s so vigilant about that. She is a lonely character, I think. But the Force is compelling her to just continue to do good.”
DAVE FILONI: “She wants to do good and help people, but rather than do it like the Jedi did, which was all wound up in the politics of the Republic, she’s doing it on an individual basis in the galaxy. Plus, she has a larger quest, which is always more fun when they have a larger quest.”
If you enjoyed these excerpts, make sure to head over to Vanity Fair, where an even longer version of the interview is posted.
Vanity Fair added a new question to the article:
That quest, we learn, is a search for the villain Grand Admiral Thrawn. The last time fans saw Ahsoka was this spring’s finale of The Clone Wars, but in the actual Star Wars chronology, the last time we saw her was at the end of Rebels, venturing off with Sabine Wren to find Ezra Bridger, who vanished along with Thrawn. Where does that scene fit in with where we find her in The Mandalorian?
Filoni: Right. But no, it’s an interesting one… That’s not necessarily chronological. I think the thing that people will most not understand is they want to go in a linear fashion, but as I learned as a kid, nothing in Star Wars really works in a linear fashion. You do [Episodes] Four, Five and Six and then One, Two, and Three. So in the vein of that history, when you look at the epilogue of Rebels you don’t really know how much time has passed. So, it’s possible that the story I’m telling in The Mandalorian actually takes place prior to that. Possible. I’m saying it’s possible.