Heroines of Star Wars take Celebration by storm

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Apr 15, 2017, 1:00 PM EDT

A panel highlighting the Women of Star Wars filled the largest room at Star Wars Celebration Orlando on Friday. The panel started with a montage video featuring Leia, Rey, Hera, Ahsoka, Sabine, Jyn Erso, Mon Mothma and many more.

Amy Ratcliffe hosted the panel and started by bringing out Dave Filoni, who has worked with so many of the female characters of the galaxy far, far away. Producer and Story Group's Carrie Beck was going to be at the panel but had to cancel due to a personal issue.

"Leia is a character for me, like Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, who when I was exposed to them I was so blown away. Leia is never in distress; I fully think that when she's sitting in that cell, she's already figuring a way out, then here comes Luke in this Stormtrooper suit and she thinks, 'Okay, I can work with that.'"

When it came to Anakin Skywalker getting a padawan, it was Filoni's suggestion to make his padawan a female, and George Lucas was thrilled with that idea. Filoni said that his thought early on was that there needed to be more female characters talking together at a time about the missions and important things.

With that, two of those characters, voice actors Tiya Sircar (Sabine) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), took the stage. Eckstein hugged Filoni, then looked at the crowd and said into the microphone "Ahsoka lives!" Filoni suggested it should be said as a question, but she asserted - and fans agreed - that it should be said as a declaration.

Ahsoka's early feedback wasn't great - but Eckstein appreciated that she started a little off and annoying, and grew into who she became. "Real people don't start perfect, they go on a journey." Filoni said that Ahsoka became "what Anakin could have been. He passed on his best qualities to her. I always felt, and I've said this before, I knew the character would work because of Ashley."

Sircar said she wasn't prepared for the "amazing and overwhelming way" she was welcomed into the Star Wars community. Sabine, as a female Mandalorian, who is both powerful and vulnerable, a munitions expert and warrior who also is very artistic, is truly special in the Star Wars universe. "It's been amazing this season getting to really explore her depth a lot more."

The idea behind Sabine's varied personality - and pop-art armor and hair - was that Filoni wanted to create a character for the kids of today. He said that he actually pulls in the actors' personalities into their characters, especially with Sabine and Ezra, as Sircar and Taylor Gray bicker and pick on each other in real life behind the scenes.

Asked about inspirations, Eckstein talked about Disney movies inspiring her to make her dreams come true - but that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was her first heroine. She even dressed as the judge for Halloween as a kid!

Sircar looked to her mother first and loved that she raised her sister and her without traditional gender biases. They played with Transformers and He-Man toys as much as anything else.

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny, the newly announced series of animated shorts, was up next, another project that all three panelists are working on.

"When I started with animation, I was a 2D guy, and we started talking about doing these shorts," Filoni said. "Part of it is, you need it to fit into the Star Wars universe. They're a version of the tale - they have happened, but might have happened a little differently in live action." Filoni is really excited to work with Jyn Erso and Rey but also his animated favorites.

Daisy Ridley joined the panel and said it's "wonderful to have Rey do some different things" in this short format. Ratcliffe gave all three actresses their new figures that are being made for the Forces of Destiny line, and they all fawned over them.

After Ridley left the stage (it was just a quick appearance for her), Filoni talked a little more about the use of characters from every era for Forces of Destiny. "It's really important to have the people that played these characters voicing them. It's amazing that we have Daisy voicing Rey and Felicity Jones voicing Jyn; they know their characters in a way that no one else can."

Sircar noted that it's special to see a doll-style action figure with darker skin representing people of color. "I just didn't see any toys that looked like me when I was a kid." Eckstein agreed, noting that "Star Wars is for everyone" to a lot of applause.

For fans in attendance, they showed the first episode of Forces of Destiny, featuring Rey! Spoilers follow:
Open eyeClose eye Show Spoiler "The choices we make, the actions we take, moments both big and small shape us into Forces of Destiny," Maz Kanata says. The Rey short is basically a scene cut from The Force Awakens. Rey and BB-8 are heading to Neema Outpost, but Teedo and some thugs want to take BB-8 from her before she can go. A speeder chase ensues, with Rey pulling some smooth moves to take them out. A ride into a fallen Star Destroyer reveals a big alien sandworm - that little alien head that popped up in TFA is actually the top of that worm.

When the short ended, the fans applauded and cheered. Filoni teased that "people meet that you didn't know met before" in Forces of Destiny, "adding to the Star Wars mythology in a lot of ways."

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny airs on Disney's YouTube channel in July, with a TV special in the fall.