Star Wars: Rebels – Interview with Vanessa Marshall

We interviewed the voice of Hera Syndulla from the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series about her deep love for Star Wars...

Voice actor Vanessa Marshall joined us to talk about her character Hera Syndulla and her Star Wars experience in Star Wars: Rebels, which is ramping up toward its premiere in the fall. Marshall has also contributed her voice to Young Justice, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Mass Effect series, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast, and many more. On April 19 she attended WonderCon in Anaheim to speak about “Rebels,” where a clip of Hera in action as the pilot of the “Ghost” premiered

Den Of Geek: Now that you’ve had some time to settle in, what’s on your mind about working on Star Wars: Rebels?

Vanessa Marshall: First of all, I am so grateful to be in the company of so many talented people – brilliant actors, writers, and animators. I am also so honored to play such a strong female character. Hera spearheads the Ghost’s missions, drawing on each crew member’s strengths, motivating them, as they face impossible odds to overcome all the adversity the Empire dishes out. She is a great role model. Hera inspires me on a daily basis. I hope viewers will feel the same way!

What’s also on my mind heading to WonderCon is how grateful I am for the fan community! They’ve been so welcoming. My Star Wars fandom has been mostly a personal, private experience prior to Rebels.

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I heard [another fan] saying that she had to keep her fandom under wraps because it wasn’t really au courant for girls to be wearing Batman shirts or whatever. I don’t think it was a matter of gendered experience for me necessarily, but my experience has been more personal. Twitter has blown it wide open.

And I have been turned on to collecting more feverishly now! Social media has truly changed my life. To listen to all the podcasts and read all the blogs is an endless `nerd out’ session for me. I couldn’t be happier. I love Fangirls Going Rogue, The Wookiee Gunner, The Mary Sue, even Blog Full of Words! And, of course, I so love Her Universe. Talk about inspiring.  I love seeing all the fangirls sharing their opinions and celebrating sci-fi!

In general, I am also excited to learn more (as I do every day on these blogs), not only about the Expanded Universe, games and Episode VII speculations, but how I can become more involved in the Star Wars conversation.

In a Newsarama interview you said that you’d been collecting Star Wars action figures from the Black Series. Which are your favorite figures?

Definitely Han Solo. His detachable hands are so cool. Don’t get me wrong, Luke with his lightsaber is awesome, and Greedo is always a crowd-pleaser (for re-enacting the cantina scene – both versions), and Leia is cool too (with her bikini and chains,) but at the end of the day, for me? I think Han Solo is my favorite.

I am very jealous of Dan Brooks’ complete collection. I yearn for Boba Fett!  I will of course get them all.  If you check Dan’s Twitter feed, you can see what I am talking about. I wept! Dan Brooks is really who I look to for inspiration in terms of collecting.

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I have found things on eBay that go all the way back to 1977 original pieces. They’re not all on card but I have a Chewbacca and a Millennium Falcon and little things like that that. Even though I started collecting those recently, they do date back to when I could have started as a kid.

Do you have some favorite fandom moments from before you were signed on to Rebels?

As I said, my fandom was more of a private, sacred thing in the past.  I adore all of the story arcs in both the prequels and the Original Trilogy. I learned so much from the elements in those narratives, both spiritually and creatively. Spiritually in terms of my own personal growth, facing the dark side, if you will, and choosing the hero’s path. And creatively, as a writer, in terms of character motivations, back stories, issues of revenge, mercy, and even individuating from one’s family of origin. That is the sacred way that the Star Wars saga has deeply impacted me, but there is also the fun of it.

My new passion is the collecting.  It is hours of fun to look on for a Tauntaun Sleeping bag, or eBay for old school action figures!  I loved watching “Jedi Junkies” (a great documentary on collecting).  It inspired me! I’m not a die hard collector like the people in the film. They have been doing it way longer than I have. But the Kenner Millennium Falcon is beyond cool – the huge one! That would be a massive score! I was so impressed!  

I haven’t crossed that line where my house is a total shrine to the cause, but I think I’m approaching that shortly. All told, my various acquisitions, like my Rebel Alliance Adidas sneakers, create moments of pure joy! That’s the fun of Star Wars fandom! There is always more to discover!

On Twitter you said that you purchased a Hera Twi’lek headdress – do you have any plans to wear it to conventions or events?

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I’m so excited. It’s weird because I don’t think I can really go there at a Rebels event. It’s just a little too on the nose. But I saw that Dave Filoni posted a guide for Hera cosplay, and yes I did order green lekku to those specifications, but I defer to Dave on just how far I can go into all that! But definitely in my own spare time I will be cosplaying somewhere. No doubt. Not in the supermarket, but, in my own time. (laughs) The wheels are in motion, so we shall see!

Have you developed any personal ideas about the Twi’lek species that may not be canon but helped you get inside Hera’s head?

Twi’leks are mostly known as Jabba the Hutt’s dancers, slaves and what have you, but I look forward to expanding more on the Twi’leks we saw in The Clone Wars, like Jedi Master Aalya Secura, who kicked butt in the first battle of Geonosis. There were also many brave, powerful Twi’leks in the Ryloth arc, but I have drawn a lot more from Aayla than from the male characters. I love Aayla! She is a strong female fighter, way more than just a good dancer. Her focus and abilities are what I think about when I’m playing Hera. Granted Hera is not a Jedi, but some of the same fighting principles apply.

Quick story: I boxed twelve rounds at the gym this morning, and I was thinking about the books The Jedi Path and The Book of Sith. I was also thinking about the source of Hera’s strength and resolve. When I thought about some of the Jedi Code ideas (“there is no emotion, there is peace…”) I boxed really well. I tried some of the Sith ideas (“peace is a lie, there is only passion…”), and, strangely, I found that when I came from a place of love (not to distill the Force into such a term, but for my purposes that made the most sense) I fought better. When I thought of things that made me angry, I tired quickly and couldn’t wait for the three minute round to be done!

As far as Hera goes, she is rebelling against the Empire, but if she comes from a hateful, angry place (not that the Sith way is all that, but again for my purposes I reduce it here), how well does she fight, as compared to fighting from a place of love and compassion for those who are marginalized, the victims of the Empire’s Evil Expansion? I concluded that Hera (given her maternal nature toward the crew) while she is a tough cookie, a great fighter and pilot, she is motivated to help save the lives of innocent people moreso than killing bucketheads on principle alone. This is how I continue to get into Hera’s head!

I know my Sith friends on Twitter tell me that there is only passion, and through that one achieves peace, but, forgive me, I truly prefer the power of “the Force” to transcend any dark feelings towards my enemies. I draw strength from Luke’s commitment, as he not only gives his life but forgives and even redeems his father! He is a truly noble hero in my eyes.  

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The other cool thing about Rebels is that issues of race or even gender seem to fall away given that everyone is universally oppressed by the Empire. It equalizes everyone. Everyone is equally victimized. As a result, some of the differences between Twi’leks and whatever other race you want to think about fall away, and people just become brave beings fighting against something brutally heinous. In that sense, the Twi’lek thing doesn’t come into play. It does literally, but, Zeb is a Lasat, and we don’t talk about that. We all have a common goal and we are united through that.

The Twi’leks had French accents in The Clone Wars. Was there any discussion during your work on Rebels of whether Hera would have an accent?

I can’t speak to that right now, but you’ll find out, as will I, the reasoning behind that. More will be revealed, for both of us.

Did having played Jan Ors before help you get into the Star Wars zone when you were doing the audition for Hera?

Since I didn’t know at first that I was auditioning for a Star Wars project, I didn’t actually make that connection. I did feel like I could “feel the Force” in the script a little, like the idea of a small group fighting a big empire, and the Original Trilogy type of humor. I didn’t know if i was just projecting that onto it though. I applied my own knowledge of the Star Wars universe into the audition, and i got a call back. But it was sort of a lark that i did that because I couldn’t really believe it was Star Wars. When I got the call back, however, and I saw the concept drawings on the walls, along with Dave Filoni, only then did I realize what was going on! I almost started sobbing. No doubt playing Jan helped, but only in that second audition.

Who are some of your other favorite female Star Wars characters?

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I think overall Ahsoka Tano has had the biggest impact on me. Snips – I love me some Snips! (laughs) I still worry about her. I care so much about her. I felt so bad for her when she walked away. Another favorite character of mine is Asajj Ventress, and I loved when those two united for that brief period (in the season five finale). I loved hearing about Asajj’s backstory. There was something very warm and endearing about it. She obviously got something out of working with Ahsoka, but that was very sweet how they came together briefly. I would also say Bo-Katan is one of the favorites as well, when she’s fighting with the Death Watch, and how she helps Ob-Wan escape and fights against Darth Maul. That whole Death Watch portion of The Clone Wars was really good. She’s so cool.

I have a guy from the 501st, Kevin Weir, who’s actually working on a Bo-Katan costume for me. I just love the 501st. That’s another thing I’m really excited for, to get to know them more and get involved with their charity work.

The Star Wars universe is ever expanding. No matter what age you come to it, you can not only find anything on eBay dating back to 1977, you can start to learn with the Expanded Universe. There’s always room for growth.

Vanessa Marshall, thank you very much!

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