Dave Filoni Had to Force ‘Ahsoka’ Actress to Watch ‘Star Wars Rebels’

in Entertainment, Star Wars

Ahsoka, Huyang, and Hera Syndulla talking to each other.

Credit: Lucasfilm

It’s no secret that Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars spinoff to arrive on Disney+, is all but a continuation of the animated Star Wars Rebels series. With so many loose plot threads from Rebels making their way into the new show, creator Dave Filoni had to resort to drastic measures to ensure each of his lead actors was primed and ready to play their parts—which involved giving out some lengthy “homework” assignments.

Ahsoka Tano fighting a Sith Inquisitor in the Disney+ series 'Ahsoka'
Credit: Lucasfilm

Related: ‘Ahsoka’ Hides Massive Sequel Trilogy Connection in Plain Sight

What is ‘Ahsoka’ About?

The two-episode premiere of Ahsoka landed on Disney+ earlier this month, and now, we’re already nearly halfway through the season. Starring Rosario Dawson as the eponymous ex-Jedi, the stakes have never been higher, with the fragile New Republic facing a dangerous threat that could upend the galaxy-wide peace: the reemergence of former Imperial warlord Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen).

Dave Filoni serves as Ahsoka‘s showrunner, meaning it comes as no surprise that the series has plenty of connections to Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, both of which he created based on characters and storylines from George Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy.

Grand Admiral Thrawn in 'Star Wars Rebels'
Credit: Lucasfilm

Related: Lucasfilm Teases Live-Action ‘Treasure Planet’ After ‘Ahsoka’

‘Rebels’ Connections in ‘Ahsoka’

Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein/Rosario Dawson) was first introduced in the 2008 The Clone Wars movie and went on to play a prominent role in all seven seasons of the TV show of the same name. She then appeared in Rebels alongside the crew of the starship Ghost in the fight against the Galactic Empire, working with Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios (Steve Blum), Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) and their trusty astromech, Chopper.

The series ended in 2018, but Filoni is seemingly resurrecting the story and its primary villain, Thrawn, for Ahsoka. Elements from Rebels, such as Sabine’s lightsaber training, the mysterious World Between Worlds, hyperspace-traveling Purrgil, and Ezra’s disappearance into the Unknown Regions, are all being rehashed in the Disney+ show, leaving those who neglected to watch Rebels scratching their heads in confusion.

Sabine Wren wielding a lightsaber in 'Ahsoka'
Credit: Lucasfilm

Dave Filoni Gave Mary Elizabeth Winstead a ‘Rebels’ Watchlist

It’s safe to say that for audiences, a Star Wars Rebels viewing is mandatory to understand the ideas introduced in Ahsoka fullyAnd according to a new interview, its main cast is no exception. 

To best honor their animated counterparts, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Hera Syndulla in Ahsoka, told Empire (conducted prior to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike) that Dave Filoni gave her a Star Wars Rebels watchlist with “episodes and specific scenes” that he felt were essential for her to fully understand her character’s “spirit” and “energy:”

Dave gave me a list of episodes and specific scenes. There was a lot of looking at episodes that focused on how much she loves to fly and the way that turned on her spirit and her energy.

Photo Credit: LucasFilm

Hera, now a New Republic General, was pivotal to the Rebel Alliance and led the Ghost crew through dozens of perilous missions. Being such a beloved character, it was crucial for Filoni to nail Hera’s transition to live-action—something Star Wars media hasn’t exactly had a consistent track record of doing in the past. While Winstead almost certainly didn’t object to watching the show, it’s likely it just never came up on her radar prior to her casting, given that Rebels is geared towards younger audiences.

Still, assigning Winstead a watchlist was a good move on Filoni’s part, because so far, it seems like her preparation is paying off. While the acting in Ahsoka is leaving something to be desired for some viewers, Winstead’s performance is already proving to be a highlight of the show, with the seasoned actress bringing a grounded yet playful tone to the story, juxtaposed with Sabine and Ahsoka’s lightsaber-swinging shenanigans. Her and Kanan Jarrus’ son, Jacen, was also just introduced in live-action, meaning there will hopefully be some powerful emotional beats between them in the upcoming episodes, and a chance for Winstead to flex her acting chops.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Hera Syndulla in 'Star Wars: Ahsoka'. Credit: Lucasfilm
Credit: Lucasfilm

Winstead wasn’t the only Ahsoka star who had some homework to do, either. In July, Sabine actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo told SFX Magazine that she “watched everything” after being cast as the Mandalorian warrior, including the Original Trilogy and Rebels.

However, Bordizzo clarified in the same Empire interview that she decided to stop watching after filming began, as she “wanted to separate that whole kind of expectation” between Sabine’s portrayal in Rebels and her live-action counterpart in Ahsoka:

I did not watch ‘Rebels’ at all after we started filming. I wanted to separate that whole kind of expectation. I think it’s just healthy because you’re finding a different truth in live-action.

Ezra Bridger and Sabine Wren in 'Star Wars Rebels'
Credit: Lucasfilm

Why Live-Action ‘Star Wars’ Actors Watching ‘Rebels’ and ‘The Clone Wars’ Is a Good Thing

The transition from animation to live-action in Star Wars projects is rarely smooth, so it’s interesting to hear how two of Ahsoka‘s leading ladies approached their roles. There have been countless discourses over the years about whether or not live-action actors should take inspiration from cartoons like The Clone Wars and Rebels, with the general consensus among fans being that yes, they should.

Considering many people in the Star Wars community have spent hundreds of hours watching seven seasons of The Clone Wars and all 75 Rebels episodes, it’s safe to say that fans have a very concrete understanding of these characters and their extensive lore. Because of this, many see it as a sign of disrespect for an actor not to watch animated Star Wars projects, especially with the genre being seen as “childish” or “less important” than the franchise’s live-action works.

Ahsoka Tano in "A Friend in Need" in The Clone Wars
Credit: Lucasfilm

Obi-Wan Kenobi actor Rupert Friend got flack for not watching Rebels in preparation for his role as the Grand Inquisitor, despite sharing his valid reasons for not wanting to essentially copy voice actor Jason Isaacs’ version of the character.

Thankfully, it seems like no such controversy will occur with Ahsoka‘s main ensemble, thanks to Filoni’s efforts to ensure his cast has taken the necessary steps to play their respective roles. For now, we can only wonder which Rebels episodes are considered a “must-watch” by Dave Filoni himself, and which arc Winstead enjoyed best—and kudos to her for actually doing her Hera research.

The next episode of Ahsoka lands on Disney+ on Tuesday, September 5, at 6 p.m. PST.

What do you think of Dave Filoni giving Mary Elizabeth Winstead a Hera Syndulla watchlist? Do you agree with his strategy? Let us know in the comments below.

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