Ashley Eckstein is an actual Disney princess, and has built a name for herself as a professional fangirl. Star Wars fans around the world know her as the voice of Anakin Skywalker’s padawan—a plucky Togruta teenager named Ahsoka Tano, later a rebel leader known as Fulcrum—in the animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Legions of fan-femmes know the fashion line she created called Her Universe. Eckstein’s work is about ending the misconception that only boys get to be nerds or like geeky things. Now, she’s sharing her universe of fashion and fangirling with us in her new book, It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power To Make It Happen.
It’s Your Universe is part memoir, part philosophy, and part self-help book for young adults. It overflows with enthusiasm for life, and everything Star Wars and Disney. Eckstein literally grew up in Disney World and dreamed of being on the Disney Channel. She achieved this goal and continued to shoot for the stars. She landed the role of Ahsoka Tano, the first female major character in Star Wars since Princess Leia and Padmé, and became a fan favorite. Seeing the dearth of Star Wars merchandise specifically for girls, Eckstein created Her Universe, which overturned the myth that girls won’t buy nerdy things. In It's Your Universe, she tells readers the lessons she learned along the way, and even frames her pearls of wisdom in Disney quotes.
Ecktein is about to embark on a nationwide tour to promote her book and meet fans. She begins on May 4 (Star Wars day!) in Times Square, and you can see where she’ll be going on Her Universe’s blog. We interviewed her over email before her road trip. It's Your Universe will be on bookshelves on May 8.
What do you want most for people to take away from this book?
I want people to believe that their dreams can come true. I share in the book that I am just an ordinary girl, born into an ordinary life. I didn’t come from great wealth or opportunity. I came from an average middle-class family where I had to work hard for everything that was ever given to me. It can be really overwhelming to start at the beginning of a dream and figure out how to make it come true. In my book, I share my story, not as a memoir but as an example of what I did, and how I broke making my dreams come true down into steps. I want my book to be a guide for the reader on how to dream it and do it.
What was the hardest lesson in the book to learn?
I think the hardest lesson to learn in the book is one of the very first things I ask readers to do, throw away your doubts and negative preconceptions about your dreams. Unfortunately, we’ve all been told “no” at some point by someone about our dreams or something we want to do. Once that negative voice creeps in your head and says, “No you can’t,” it can be very hard to silence it. However, I encourage the reader to let in the positive and moving forward say, “Yes I can!”
You mention the importance of failure. This echoes a conversation between Yoda and Luke in The Last Jedi. What did it feel like to see your “Alphabet Plan” [If you fail A, try B] articulated within the Star Wars universe?
Oh wow, there were so many new and amazing Yoda quotes in The Last Jedi! I wrote my book before The Last Jedi came out, otherwise you would have seen some of those quotes in my book for sure. Yoda is a major influence for me when it comes to dealing with failure. I literally have a Yoda voice in my head that often speaks to me and tells me to, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
What are some of the things fangirls have told you about how Ahsoka impacted them?
I cannot even begin to tell you how many fans (fangirls and fanboys) who have come up to me and told me that Ahsoka has changed their life. I tell them that I can relate because she’s changed mine too. Ahsoka’s storyline, outlined brilliantly by the amazing Dave Filoni, is so incredibly powerful and relatable. When Ahsoka walked away at the end of season 5 of The Clone Wars, many fans could relate to that moment and have shared with me that Ahsoka gave them strength from that moment, too. Ahsoka has inspired me to be a real-life version of her. I often ask myself, "What would Ahsoka do?" I started Her Universe because fangirls needed a voice and someone needed to speak up for women in fandom. I didn’t do it alone, but I had my foot in the door at Lucasfilm and I knew I could open it. I remember thinking to myself that Ahsoka would stand up for fangirls, so I knew that as the voice of Ahsoka, I needed to start Her Universe.
Who is your favorite sassy droid?
Hands down, my favorite character in the entire Star Wars Universe is R2-D2.
Porgs or ewoks?
Ewoks, but only because I know them better. Porgs are a very close second though, and if we get more Porgs then that may change. I think they are adorable and I have a giant three-foot plush porg in my office named “Porgy Carter.”
You talk about multiple Disney princesses and the characteristics you share with them. Is there one princess you identify with more than others? Or is it better to say, “I’m unique. I’m me. I am an amalgamation of multiple princesses and their heroic deeds”?
I am definitely an amalgamation of multiple Princesses. Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Mulan and Pocahontas each taught me something valuable as a young girl and Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel and Moana have really inspired me as a grown woman. The lessons we learn from these films are timeless and ageless. They inspire regardless of the generation or age of the viewer. Still to this day, when I’ve had a tough day, I will blare Disney Princess songs on my car stereo and sing them at the top of my lungs on my drive home.
In the book, there’s a picture of you as a little girl in a Cinderella/Aurora gown you made with your mother. Were sewing and designing always parts of your life?
Yes! My mom can sew and she made many of my outfits growing up. My mom didn’t have the advanced skills to sew the more elaborate dresses, but we really enjoyed designing together. In high school, I went to a school with over 5,000 kids. When it came time for the school dances, I wanted to have a unique dress that no one else had, so I always designed my own homecoming or prom dresses.
What is your favorite thing you’ve designed for Her Universe?
That’s hard because everything has a story behind it. I’m really proud of our original lightsaber skirt. That was one of our first designs that kind of went viral because I think we perfectly infused geek with fashion. From far away, it just looked like a colorful striped skirt but up close, you see that it’s vertical lightsabers. I feel like that skirt really put us on the map as a fangirl fashion brand.
What is the design process like for Her Universe? What does it take for something to go from idea to product?
The design process can take anywhere from 6-9 months. It usually starts with a creative kick-off meeting with our team. We pull together an inspiration board with various trends, color palettes, phrases, photos, etc. From there, our designer and artists bring to life our vision and we submit our designs to the licensor or studio. Once approved, we begin sampling and fit. We work very hard to get the fit just right in all sizes and we are able to offer plus sizes in almost all of our designs. Most of our production takes place overseas in factories that have to pass the strictest of audits, and it takes about 120 days to complete production and arrive in our warehouse.
Is there a franchise you would love to add to Her Universe?
It’s been a dream of mine to do a Harry Potter collection. I’m really hoping to have the opportunity to design for this amazing franchise in 2019!
Are there any moving stories from fangirls about what Her Universe means to them?
Fangirls often come up to me a say “thank you” for creating Her Universe and creating a community where they can let their geek flag fly and just be themselves. This means SO much to me because this is WHY I created Her Universe in the first place. Her Universe is two parts, it’s a merchandise line for female fans, but more importantly, it’s a community for female fans where they can step into the spotlight and be celebrated. Her Universe is a safe place, a bully free zone where fangirls can be themselves. I’ll never get tired of hearing stories from fangirls about what Her Universe means to them, that is why I work so hard because I care so much about each and every fan.
What do you think set you apart from others who tried to make Star Wars merchandise aimed at girls?
I often say that my secret to Her Universe is the fans. Not only am I a fangirl but I’ve always asked the fans what they want and they’ve told me. It’s an open dialog, an honest dialog, the good and the bad. From day one, I said, “united we stand, divided we fall.” I couldn’t do this without the fans and that’s what set me a part from other companies.
Could you share a memory of being bullied for liking Star Wars as a girl?
I was never bullied for liking Star Wars as a young girl but as I got older, I buried my love of Star Wars because it was a so-called boys' property. I put my love of the franchise on the back burner for other things. It wasn’t until I was cast as the voice of Ahsoka that I re-ignited my love of Star Wars, and that’s when I went from a casual fan to a hard-core fan.
What’s the next big thing for you?
Adding author to my resume is the next big thing for me. One thing I said I would never do is write a book. I didn’t think I was capable writing one. Now that I have one book under my belt I really hope I get to write more! I plan to continue my acting and I’m also going to be doing more work to bring awareness to the importance of mental health.
Top image via Her Universe
More from BUST
Anna Greer was an editorial intern spring 2018 and is a senior at the University of Tennessee, where she studies comics and human rights. When she is not engaged in feminist activism, she usually can be found wearing Doc Martens and looking at Star Wars prequel memes. Follow her @activistanna42