If it’s Saturday at Star Wars Celebration 2023, it’s time for one of the most anticipated shows of the year to take center stage… literally. Dave Filoni and friends are ready to reveal all about Star Wars: Ahsoka, and we’re here to share everything as it happens from the ExCel in London, England.
Filoni won’t be the only one on the Celebration Stage during the hour-long panel. (It’s scheduled to run 11am through 12pm local time, which is 6am through 7am Eastern, and 3am through 4am Pacific.) According to the official panel description, he’ll be joined by Ahsoka executive producer (and The Mandalorian creator) Jon Favreau and what are described as “special guests” — which might be code for “the cast of the show,” if we’re lucky.
We’ll be live-blogging the whole panel, even — especially — descriptions of any exclusive footage we get to see of the show itself that doesn’t make it outside of this room. If that sounds like something you’re going to want to check out, bookmark this page and follow along live, or perhaps come back when it’s all over and read everything that happened after the fact, if that’s more forgiving on your time period and sleep schedule.
If you're wondering how the pre-show to the Ahsoka panel is going, a cosplayer from Paris dressed as Darth Vader was just singing "Wannabe" by Spice Girls on stage. Good Saturday morning, everyone!
Popverse's own Veronica Valencia just stood up right beside me to sing "My Shot" from Hamilton.
Traditional pre-show entertaining DJ Elliot is currently asking the crowd to enjoy the panel, but also not to spoil anything that happens across the next hour. It's the kind of thing that has us asking just what is going to happen across the next hour, really.
For those wondering: as with the last Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm isn't livestreaming the main stage panels. In yesterday's Lucasfilm Studio Showcase, the point was made that the panel was intended to be a special treat for those who were actually at the show.
(We're still waiting for the panel to begin; we're running a little behind, as with yesterday's Lucasfilm Studio Showcase.)
And we're underway! The moderator is introducing Ahsoka as a character, pointing out that the character's shown up in The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett. Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau take the stage to much applause.
It's been 15 years since Ahsoka was co-created by Filoni and George Lucas. Filoni talks about her creation. "Originally, when we did Clone Wars, I was working with a writer called Henry Gilroy," he says, admitting that Ahsoka's name was originally Asta. Lucas said, "I want Anakin to have a Padawan," according to Filoni, with Lucas coming up with the name Ahsoka Tano. We're looking at some of Filoni's original sketches for the character.
"Ashley originated the role of Ahsoka with me," Filoni says about Ashley Eckstein, the voice actor who played the role in The Clone Wars.
"We had a longterm hope," Favreau says about whether or not Ahsoka would appear in live action when The Mandalorian was first being worked on. There was a plan to eventually bring in the animated characters into the live action shows, he says, but it's a process to work out how to translate them between mediums.
Having Ahsoka as a guest-star was a chance to explore a way to bring animated characters into the live-action world, Favreau says, without placing them at the center of an all-new show. It also gave Filoni and other artists at Lucasfilm a chance to work on the process.
"I never directed live-action before, I didn't know if I could do it, and he's like, 'Nah, you're gonna be great,'" Filoni says about directing The Mandalorian and Favreau's guidance. "The first day I'm directing, it's a guy in a helmet and a guy in a pig outfit, and I'm like, 'So, this is live-action, huh?'"
Rosario Dawson takes the stage, and there's a standing ovation. She's not alone; Chopper from Star Wars: Rebels is right there with her.
Chopper gets a cheer from the audience. "I think we're making this a Star Wars Celebration tradition!" Dawson says about being accompanied onstage by the droid.
"I feel really blessed to have such volumes of history to actually reflect on," Dawson says about Ahsoka's existence before she played the role, specifically talking about "the complexities [Ashley Eckstein] brought to it, the nuance." Dawson describes the earlier appearances as being "like visual memories."
The new series is "a continuation of the journey that [Ahsoka] is on," Dawson says.
Is the main drive finding Thrawn? "Though she is not a Jedi, she definitely has so much of that at heart for her," Dawson says, saying that Ahsoka recognizes Thrawn as a threat that other people might not have been paying attention to. "There's just something that she knows that these foes are not so easily dismissed."
There's another mission in Ahsoka's heart, though. "Her relationship with Ezra is top of mind for her," Dawson says. "She brings some really awesome people along to help her."
How important is the make-up for Ahsoka? "It's an interesting thing. The contacts are really challenging," Dawson says. "Because it's kind of isolating, it is such a process. It's like meditating." Even more helpful, though, was the training for the role. "Her physicality is a huge part of who she is... I remember it being a turning point for me."
The training for the role felt like "being in her presence," Dawson says. "It's very zen." Filoni says that the make-up has evolved over Dawson playing the role, with the actor talking about the technology currently used to transform her into Ahsoka "didn't even exist" when she first played the role in The Mandalorian. "Now, just to have the flexibility... it felt even easier to step into being her."
"It's a beautiful team," Dawson says of the make-up and prosthetics crew working on the show. Filoni says, "I don't know what to think about it. I've seen these people in my head, I've drawn them, and then they're just there."
"They inhabit these characters, they bring them to life," Filoni says, adding that the performances are so successful that it allows he and Favreau to focus on the writing. "It's awesome. It is awesome," he says. "I love it all. It's Star Wars, my gosh. I get to create characters."
"We always hire people that feel the way we do about it," Favreau says about working on the Star Wars shows. "Whenever a new person comes to set, a new director, that energy returns." He jokes that, when Filoni gets to see his animated characters in live action for the first time, "he's not very creatively useful for awhile. He's just muttering, 'they're real.'"
"I don't think it's possible to do this show if it wasn't for Dave being on set every single day," Dawson says. She says that, if Filoni liked what they were doing, then they knew they were on the right path. "I'm grateful for being able to collaborate with him... but at the end of the day, this is something that he's had in his head for years."
"We are living and breathing Star Wars on a regular basis. We just really and truly love it," Dawson says. "It's not just a job. This is joy."
The "other secret awesome thing about doing it live-action," Filoni jokes, is that he gets to take the lightsabers home. "In animation, I draw it and I don't value those drawings. I mean, I drew it." "I take all his drawings," adds Favreau.
"This is not a character you just put on and leave at home," Dawson says. "It's been a lifestyle change."
The Ghost will, in fact, still be the ship on the show.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are now on stage!
"We just had to start with day one with [Rebels] and just try and understand who these people are on a fundamental level," Winstead says. "I kind of just trusted in Dave to tell me if I was delivering on that."
Bordizzo is talking about her training for the role. "It was definitely the kind of role where I didn't want to feel like a fraud when I put on the armor... I wanted to feel like, 'yeah, I belong in this.'"
Hera is now a Rebel General. "There's such a rich history there that we've been able to see in Rebels, and what happens at the end of those seasons has such an effect on her." Says that playing that history being present in her now being "an incredible leader, and also a maternal figure" is such a challenge as an actor. She describes Hera as being "everybody's mom" in addition to being a strategic leader. "I tried my best to rise to her level."
"They're phenomenal. I'm obsessed," says Dawson about her co-stars, citing "the level of trust that we have in each other." It reflects the characters' relationships. "It feels like that level of trust that they have in each other."
"Even when she was young, she was fearless," Dawson says of Ahsoka, saying that anyone Ahsoka teams with "has to be on that same level."
"I think it just makes sense" to see Sabine and Hera in live action, and with these actors. "They are the characters. I don't worry about it. I just need to write a good story." He's joking about enjoying watching the actors dancing around not revealing plot spoilers on the panel. "When we finished shooting, that was the saddest part of it, because we just went away [from each other]."
Filoni has confirmed that David Tennant is indeed returning to voice Huyang in Ahsoka.
"Before we started filming, David recorded all the lines," Dawson says. "We were actually working together."
Diana Lee Inosanto is on stage. She's returning as Morgan Elsbeth in the new series, reprising her role from The Mandalorian.
"She's a complicated woman!" says Inosanto of her character. She says that her debut on The Mandalorian was "overwhelming [and] beautiful," but also a dream come true. "I'm always so grateful that Jon and Dave would give me the opportunity to play this unique role."
Inosanto's first day on set was also the day that Kathleen Kennedy brought George Lucas to set. "It was such a surreal experience," Inosanto says. "It's something I'll always take with me forever and ever... I started off as a fan first. I remember being 11 years old and watching Star Wars."
The duel in Ahsoka's episode of The Mandalorian was all shot in one day; the fight took 17 hours, she revealed.
Inosanto is talking about what to expect from Morgan Elsbeth in the new series. "Listen, we all know that she's cold-hearted... but she absolutely is very loyal to someone. To Grand Admiral Thrawn."
Fans will learn more about Elsbeth's backstory, but she's also got some back-up: Ray Stevenson and Ivanna Sakhno, both of whom have joined everyone onstage.
Stevenson is playing Baylan Skoll, and Sakhno is playing Hati Shin. Filoni is purposefully refusing to say anything about the characters. "Everything is a spoiler from this point on," he jokes.
Shin is "very skilled in lightsaber combat," and Sakhno says that it's been a blessing in finding the character's physicality.
"There was lots of profuse sweating," Dawson is talking about the training regime. She's praising Ming Qiu, who trained all of the cast, and joking that the best compliment she got was when she was told that one fight "did not make my eyes hurt."
Bordizzo jokes that Qiu reminded her of her own Chinese mother. She jokes that she was a "sobering presence" on set that wouldn't over-enthuse about a take, and that was a necessary element that made the show better.
Who's directing Ahsoka? Filoni says Steph Green, Peter Ramsey, Jennifer Getzinger, Geena Patel, and Rick Fanuyiwa are directing the show. (He's also directing a couple of episodes, apparently.)
And who's working on the music for the show? "I had to go back to my good friend Kevin Kiner," Filoni says to cheers from the audience. (Kiner worked on the Clone Wars animated series, which is why this is a big deal.) "He knows the music of it. When you listen to Star Wars, you hear the story in the music, and Kevin knows that."
We all saw the teaser for Ahsoka yesterday, but is there something else...? The answer is yes, because of course it is. "We remixed it a little bit," Filoni says of the special sizzle reel. "There's some special things included in this version. You're the only ones who get to see it."
People are cheering the shot of Thrawn's back of head.
And we just saw Thrawn to much screaming.
"Did you spot the differences?" we're asked somewhat sarcastically. The crowd is demanding that we watch it a second time. Who is playing Thrawn? "Just meet him, he's here," says Filoni.
And Lars Mikkelsen is on stage.
Yes, it's official: Lars Mikkelsen is returning as Thrawn.
"It's wonderful" to be back, Mikkelsen says. "Thank you so much. Thank you so much."
"It was obviously, we met through Skype. We did all the sessions on Rebels on Skype, and at some point, finishing up that series, David asked me if I'd ever been to LA," Mikkelsen said. "I'd never been on set with such passion. People are so passionate about bringing this to life for you guys."
Thrawn's appeal "all starts with Tim Zahn's books," Filoni says. "It was so shocking at the time, there wasn't content all the time like there is today." He likens Thrawn as "Moriarty and Rommel all in one... That was so compelling to read."
Filoni has talked to Zahn about bringing Thrawn to live action, and there will be follow-ups. "We want to make sure that we get it right."
Favreau asks if the remixed trailer can be played one more time, to a lot of cheers. Guess what we're watching again, to finish up the panel? (I think everyone just wanted to see the cute Loth Cat in the trailer, personally.)
Seeing Mikkelsen as Thrawn this second time arguably brings a bigger cheer than the first time we watched this trailer.
We're done! Ahsoka begins in August on Disney+. Keep checking in with Popverse throughout the weekend for more Star Wars Celebration, including another liveblog or two along the way...