Warner Bros. Touts The Arrival of ‘Girl Power’ In “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” – Jennifer Merin comments

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The subhead of a Warner Bros.’ “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” press release reads: In the STAR WARS galaxy, it’s not just the boys who get all the fun

The document announces the arrival of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), “a formidable swordswoman, budding tactician and shrewd critical thinker, but still a youngling when she is sent to the front lines to aid Anakin Skywalker, who is leading the Clones against an army of droids.”

I haven’t yet seen “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” but the release makes me eager to discover whether Ashoka Tano battles her way across the screen and into the annals of cinema history as a true heroine, admirably representing her gender in yet another male-dominated being released during the summer that’s being hailed by some as a banner season for fem-centric films.

Whether or not Ashoka’s character qualities land her lasting super status and a galaxy of adoring fans, it’s interesting to note that Warner Bros. is strongly promoting the GIRL.

Of course, its all about marketing and market share. But can we interpret this particular publicity push as a sign of recognition that women do make box office, an acknowledgement of the value of strong leading female characters?

Read Warner Bros. full press release below, and leave a comment to let us know what you think.

THE PRESS RELEASE:

In George Lucas’s 1977 box-office phenomenon STAR WARS: Episode IV A New Hope, audiences around the world saw that women held their own in a galaxy far, far away when Princess Leia stood up to Darth Vader in the movie’s opening scene, then went on to greet Luke Skywalker with the unforgettable quip, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Leia was the first STAR WARS heroine but not the last, as Padmé Amidala also showed her adventurous side in Episodes I through III, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. And now, with the Aug. 15 release of the first-ever STAR WARS animated feature, STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, “girl power” in the galaxy far, far away takes on a whole new look.

Early on in this all-new adventure, Yoda – the diminutive master of the Jedi Knights – assigns Togruta teenager Ahsoka Tano to be padawan learner to Anakin Skywalker.

“Ahsoka is a fantastic new character,” says Catherine Winder, producer of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. “George wanted Anakin to have a padawan and it’s just great that we’ve introduced not only a padawan to Anakin, but a new female character. She is feisty. She’s got a great personality. She has a really strong sense of herself, and she challenges Anakin to think differently, so while she has been put in place to learn from Anakin, he also learns a lot from her. And she is somebody that I think kids and particularly girls can relate to. She’s a really fantastic mentor type character.”

Executive producer George Lucas says, “In the Star Wars films, there’s a tradition of someone being taken on an amazing journey and learning to become a Jedi. Luke was a farm boy swept up in the Rebel Alliance. Anakin was a little boy on Tatooine. In The Clone Wars, Anakin is no longer a padawan – he’s a Jedi.

“We needed a character who could add the dynamic that a ‘student’ brings to the story, and that’s when we came up with the idea of Ahoska,” Lucas continues. “I had always wanted to explore the idea of a padawan for Anakin, but didn’t have time in the live-action movies. We bounced back and forth on a lot of ideas about her — would she be human or alien, male or female? We thought a girl would be just more fun to have in the story, and Ahsoka takes on that role of the younger person who is being taught, which is vital to the Star Wars movies.”

In STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) is a formidable swordswoman, budding tactician and shrewd critical thinker, but still a youngling when she is sent to the front lines to aid Anakin Skywalker, who is leading the Clones against an army of droids. She’s just a teenager and appears to many to be too young to be in training to become a Jedi. But the ever-escalating galactic conflict has stretched the Jedi resources thin, and thus Ahsoka’s talents earn her an early promotion.

“We come across Anakin and Obi Wan stranded in this big battle without many supplies and all they get sent to them is this young girl,” says director Dave Filoni. “She’s a devoted student of the Jedi ways, headstrong, enthusiastic, and eager to prove herself to Master Skywalker. But she has yet to learn the finer points of diplomacy and timing.”

Besides being impressed with the girl’s composure and Force abilities, Master Yoda hopes the responsibilities associated with having a padawan will teach Anakin to behave with more Jedi-like patience and maturity himself.

“We always felt it was important to have a character whose temperament is somewhere between Anakin’s and Obi-Wan’s,” says Filoni. “Anakin will just jump in anywhere, while Obi-Wan wants to think things through before taking action. Ahsoka appreciates Anakin’s brashness but admires Obi-Wan’s patience and thoughtfulness. She has a lot to learn from both of them, but is strong and capable in her own right, so she sometimes surprises Anakin with her approach to the kinds of situations they find themselves in. She makes a great counterpoint to Anakin — visually, in her personality, her attitude. She sort of drives him crazy, but he grows very attached to her, as you’ll see in the movie.”

Like her female predecessors in the STAR WARS galaxy, Ahsoka gets away with a lot of transgression through her disarming wit, often lightening the burden of war with a well-timed quip or an insightful jab. And though Ahsoka tends to play most situations closer to the book than does her Master, she’s quickly learning that sometimes there’s no substitute for a healthy dose of improvisation, and rarely hesitates to question orders and voice her own opinion.

For Filoni, Ahsoka brings to the new film what he calls the “Carrie Fisher element.”

“When Princess Leia joins Luke, he’s been hanging out with Han Solo and Chewbacca, these two roughnecks,” Filoni explains. “She immediately takes charge on the Death Star, saying, ‘I don’t know who you are or where you come from, but from now on you do as I say.’ And then, to Chewbacca, ‘Will somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?’ She brought a lot of fun to the movie, and for us, Ahsoka is very similar. You can throw her in with Obi-Wan and Anakin, who think pretty highly of themselves, and now they have this young girl in there now who is saying, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to do things my way.’ It’s fun to have that sort of banter back in Star Wars.”

Once the filmmakers had the design of the character worked out, they needed to find a voice to give life to the fiery Ahsoka.

With the casting of young actress Ashley Eckstein, who previously appeared in the film Sydney White and the popular series Drake and Josh, the filmmakers were able to at last say hello to Ahsoka. “When we brought on Ashley to do the voice of Ahsoka, she brought such a part of herself to it,” Winder enthuses. “She’s fantastic. She is a lot like Ahsoka, and the combination of her voice with the visuals just came together beautifully. She helped shape the character.”

Ahsoka is a character with a lot of attitude, but Eckstein’s natural humor and charm made it all work. “Ashley naturally nailed it every time and helped make Ahsoka a likable, interesting and really refreshing young female character,” Winder explains.

In addition to Eckstein, the voice cast features Matt Lanter as Anakin Skywalker; James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan Kenobi; Dee Bradley Baker as Captain Rex and the Clone Troopers; Tom Kane as Yoda; Nika Futterman as Asajj Ventress; Ian Abercrombie as Chancellor Palpatine. Reprising their roles from the Star Wars Saga are Anthony Daniels as C-3PO; Christopher Lee as Count Dooku; and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu.

The Lucasfilm Ltd. production of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS is directed by Dave Filoni; written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy; and produced by Catherine Winder. George Lucas serves as executive producer.

The movie features a score by Kevin Kiner, with original STAR WARS themes and scores by John Williams. The creative team for STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS also includes editor Jason W.A. Tucker; supervising sound editor Matthew Wood; and animation directors Jesse Yeh and Kevin Jong. Gail Currey is the Lucasfilm Animation executive in charge of production.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS will be distributed worldwide in theaters by Warner Bros. pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. For more information, visit www.starwars.com.

And, now, your comment?

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).