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NYCC 2014: Vanessa Marshall on Hera and “Star Wars Rebels”

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StarWarsRebels5_1NY Comic Con was once again the host of a panel focused on Star Wars Rebels this year, and this event was rather unique in that it treated the massive and full room at Empire Stage to extensive commentary from a single guest: voice actress Vanessa Marshall, the voice of Hera Syndulla, the Twi’lek pilot of the Rebels’ spaceship the Ghost. Moderating the panel was Christian Blauvelt, Deputy Culture Editor of BBC.com. Marshall had plenty to say not only about Hera, but also the character of the other members of the core cast and the relationships they have with Hera and each other. Additionally the audience was also treated to an advance look at fifth episode “Rise of the Old Masters”, which will broadcast on Disney XD on October 27.

First off a short clip was played where Hera is piloting a shuttle with Sabine and Ezra on board, doing her best to shake a TIE fighter in pursuit. After some impressive maneuvers Ezra asks if he can be taught some of her “high flying moves”, leading to Hera asking if he really thinks he’s ready to pilot the Ghost. Right at that moment another danger presents itself, prompting Ezra to exclaim in panic that he’s “not ready. Not ready!” After this the panel got down to business, and Marshall began talking about her personal experiences with Star Wars and her role. She’s done a Star Wars role before as Jan Ors in the 2002 game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and she’d loved all of the Star Wars films and enjoyed the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series as well. Marshall found the experience of preparing to play Hera interesting because the character is a pilot while her father was an open cockpit pilot, and Hera uses a firearm while Marshall has been to shooting ranges and is “proficient with a glock and a 45.” However Marshall found that firing a gun scared her, and in Hera’s case she uses her weapon to protect others. In addition to her knowledge of guns Marshall has gone to a MMA fighting club, and was informed by her trainer that her right hook was “dynamite.” “I’m not a Jedi, but I can handle myself!”, she said.

When asked to define her character and her leadership style, Marshall explained that Hera is both captain of the Ghost and the leader of the crew. What defines her leadership is that she does it quietly, and is “selective as to when she enlightens her crew members.” Marshall cited the adage that he who talks doesn’t know, while he who knows doesn’t talk. The crew has faith in Hera and when one of them falters, she is there to remind them of what they need to do. Blauvelt then passed on a question submitted by Star Wars in the Classroom, which asked what real or fictional people serve as inspiration for Hera for Marshall. Marshall personally considers Hera “an amalgamation” of Princess Leia and Han Solo, as she shares Leia’s class and elegance while also being an excellent pilot of the Ghost – although for Marshall, “no one can hold a torch to Han Solo.” For a real world inspiration, Marshall cited the commitment of female StarWarsRebelsGrouprevolutionaries in Egypt. On a related point another question asked about how Hera fits into the tradition of strong female characters, prompting Marshall to again compare her to Leia and reference the fact that a lot of Twi’leks were slave dancers. However Marshall said she’d done research on the Twi’leks and noted that there was a Twi’lek Jedi in Aayla Secura, and she is also a fan of the Mandalorian warrior Bo-Katan Kryze. For Marshall Hera is an evolution of those two characters, someone who can fight well while also being “easy on the eyes”.

Another fan question asked about what faults Hera has that the crew might not know about, in addition to her strengths. Marshall answered that Hera is “supremely focused” and might need to lighten up a bit, although Hera is playful and makes her share of humorous remarks. However because “the stakes are so high”, there isn’t room for her to do that. Hera is someone who is “a protector, not so much an attacker”, and dedicated to helping people oppressed by the Empire. A question from theforce.net asked Marshall if there was a piece of Hera merchandise she wants to buy but hasn’t seen yet, but Marshall actually has all of the Hera merchandise produced so far. She went on to highlight how Allison of Cosplay for Jedi once stayed up all night to make her a set of green lekku (the head tails that protrude from a Twi’lek’s head) during Star Wars Weekends, which made her cry. Marshall also gave a shout out to lekku she acquired from Twi’lek Paradise in Spain, and she hopes she’ll see green lekku like Hera’s more and more as the series goes on. At another point in the panel Marshall was asked about her experiences with Star Wars fandom, which she personally adores: “If you’re wearing a Star Wars shirt, there is no way I won’t speak to you. You understand how cool this is.” Marshall has made “amazing lifelong friends” and considers herself “so lucky, it’s unreal”, and considers her interactions with fans on social media “constant soul food”.

Marshall was prompted to discuss Hera’s connections to other members of the crew, and had considerable insight to offer. Hera is a mentor figure to Sabine and both a sister and a mother figure to her yet also has “a ton of respect” for her, so their relationship is an equal one. As the crew’s munitions expert and an artist she tries to make her explosions “beautiful and magenta, sort of like her armor.” Apparently terrible things happened to Sabine and her family while she was in school, and so Hera “really needs to let Sabine know that this rebel alliance is not just another version of an organization like the Imperial threat,”. As for the the “Cowboy Jedi” Kanan, Marshall referenced the book A New Dawn as a source of good context for how the pair became involved in each other’s lives. Kanan “he has a lot of survivor’s guilt” after Order 66 while Hera has something in her past that drives her to fight the Empire, and they live in a time where being a Jedi is a death sentence. Early on Hera perceives his abilities but isn’t sure about his identity and doesn’t want to force the issue, while Kanan wants to let Hera know who he is but is afraid to. While fans have speculated about a StarWarsRebels_Hera2romance between the two of them Marshall feels that “because they’re so organized around creating the rebel alliance, there’s really no room for romance” while Jedi aren’t supposed to have attachments. However Marshall also thinks that the developing bond between the two of them brings out Kanan’s goodness and true nature, and “his true nature is to really, fully embrace being a Jedi”. Marshall cited the moment in the Spark of Rebellion series premiere where Kanan unleashes his lightsaber and Jedi skills at a key moment and lets everyone in on his secret, which is a significant moment for him and also “like putting a target on his back.” Finally Marshall discussed Hera and Ezra, and remarked that Hera “has more faith in him than he has in himself” and is a person that “helps these characters discover things that they didn’t even know they had inside to really get this job done.” To wit Hera is excited to see Kanan take Ezra on as his student, since “as it usually happens, the master also grows as he teaches his Padawan.” Incidentally, later on in the panel Marshall informed the audience that she was asked to let it know that we will see Ezra’s lightsaber training in Star Wars Rebels.

Marshall was also asked about the recording process for the show, which she described as “very collaborative.” The crew gets to interact and Dave Filoni will bring everyone together to explain the goals in a given episode and how it will affect the saga, at which point the recording sessiosn get underway. To Marshall there is “so much love” for Star Wars on the part of everyone involved that “it’s palpable in the room”, and there are battle or chase scenes she can see in her mind because they are so vivid whereas that’s not always the case with other vocal performances she’s done. Marshall also divulged that Dave Filoni is “really open to any line changes”, and willing to let the voice cast explore what their characters might do and say. As for “camaraderie” among the actors Feddie Prinze Jr (Kanan). will help his “Padawan” Taylor Gray (Ezra) while Marshall and Tiya Sircar (Sabine) will talk football, while Steve Blum (Zeb) is “hilarious” and there are moments where he “will do something ridiculous”. At another point Marshall was asked about how it was to work with StarWarsRebels5_4a Jason Isaacs (the Inquisitor), which led to an amusing anecdote about how when he came in to record Isaacs  discovered a 9-hole miniature golf course that he set up and played in between his lines. According to Marshall, Isaacs is also “kind of like his character too.”

Some time was also spent at the panel reflecting on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Marshall feels that the series made the original film trilogy even better for herself by providing a “deeper understanding” of Anakin Skywalker and enjoyed the experience of, at the direction of Dave Filoni, watching “certain things” again with knowledge of the context of what Star Wars Rebels would be dealing with in between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films. For Marshall there were moments in Clone Wars “that touched my heart, like no other show in television”, and she loved Anakin’s apprentice Ahsoka to the point that she “literally wept” after her final scene at the end of Clone Wars and worries about what became of the character. For a follow up, Marshall was asked what she thought fans of Clone Wars would appreciate about Star Wars Rebels. Marshall answered that the shows share a similar creative team that fans can trust, while the style of the show is a bit different in part due to the inspiration taken from the design work of Ralph McQuarrie. In Marshall’s opinion the quality of Rebels is the same and it has the flavor of the Clone Wars, but also “the fun and funniness of it is a lot like the original trilogy.” “There are a lot of jokes amid high drama, if you will. The darkness is like The Clone Wars and the quality of it is like The Clone Wars, but the fun and funniness of it is a lot like the original trilogy because we’re going from the darkness into the new hope. I think they’ll enjoy that journey.”