MTFBWY #9: Vanessa "Hera" Marshall Talks Star Wars Rebels Season 1, Hints at Season 2 Changes

It was an eventful first season for Star Wars Rebels, that’s for sure. After assembling the [...]


It was an eventful first season for Star Wars Rebels, that's for sure. After assembling the Rebel squad (well, after adding Ezra, a young force-sensitive to an already well-oiled machine, anyway), their adventures were fast and furious. They struck at the Empire, made new allies, and trained as Jedi. Oh, and they met their mysterious mission-giver, Ahsoka Tano.

To that end, today I asked what your favorite moment of the first season was. I also had a nice long chat with Vanessa Marshall, the voice of Hera, about her thoughts on Season 1, and some small hints on what's to come in Season 2. But first, what was your favorite moment in Rebels season one?

Yup, that one is tough to beat, Neil!

Another great one - and having Frank Oz doing the voice again was something special.

Indeed, Michael. And I think that remains my favorite of the whole season too. "Kid, I'm about to let everyone in on the secret." What a line, what a moment, what a Jedi!

I also asked my sister, and my nephew who is 6 and has been largely introduced to the Star Wars universe through Rebels (though he's now enjoyed the Original Trilogy as well).

For my sister Larissa, it was a tie between a quiet moment and a holy cow moment: "I might have to say, me personally, when Ezra finally spoke of his parents on Empire Day, and revealed that was his birthday. Also, the last episode, when Darth Vader showed up. Whoa!"

For my nephew Ian, though, he liked "Rebel Resolve" and "Fire Across the Galaxy," and particularly Chopper infiltrating the Empire to find out Kanan was still alive. He also likes that Ezra being a Jedi too is still a secret. Oh, and naturally, the lightsaber battles! Me too, buddy - that last battle when Kanan used his own and Ezra's sabers, blasting and slashing, was awesome.

Keep the conversation going in the comments here and share your favorite moments from the first season - Season 2 premieres sooner than you think, at next month's Star Wars Celebration convention!

With that, we turn to Vanessa Marshall, the voice of Hera. I had the privilege of speaking with Vanessa in her very first interview about Star Wars Rebels, just a couple days after being announced in the role. Today we look back at the first season, and get some intriguing teases about season two and what Ahsoka and the larger Rebel Alliance mean for our heroes.

Vanessa, wonderful to chat with you again. It was a wonderful first season, as much about the relationships coming together and giving every character their own turning point, where they really become who they are going to be to build the Rebel Alliance. What do you think Hera's turning point was?

Vanessa Marshall: Huh, that's a great question. Well first what comes to mind is when she chooses to go against Fulcrum and save Kanan. I think in that moment it is revealed to her how much she cares about the people that she has gathered for that exact reason. I personally was shocked by that – because she is so disciplined. I thought it was wholly unlike her to do something like that. Unfortunately, you must sometimes sacrifice lives in order to save many more, and she knows this, she's been consistently doing that for a very long time. We saw that happen in [the novel] A New Dawn. But I thought her heart opened more in the final episode, in a way that I don't think depleted them or weakened their cause, luckily! Thanks to Chopper! (laughs)

It all panned out for them, and we of course got to see Ahsoka in the final scene. But for me that was a very impactful moment for her and her character's development.

How much of Hera's motivation for even being part of the Rebels is caring about these core people versus caring about trying to take down the Empire? When you're voicing her, are you thinking about the relationships, or the big picture?

VM: I'm not sure what the pie chart would be on that one. But the big picture, always. Absolutely. I think she means to do that at all times, and there are moments when her affections for the characters come out, in a way that is unusual for her.

As we saw in A New Dawn, she's very picky about the people who surround her. She's reticent to embrace Kanan on any level there. That gave me a greater sense of just how selective she is, and equally the amount of violence she witnesses in A New Dawn showed me how and why she considers the macro instead of the micro. In other words, the big picture, like you say. When you see someone thrown into a vat of boiling liquid and burnt alive for no reason – it's really hard to erase those images from one's mind! I think she is driven to stop that because she has empirical evidence about what is so deeply wrong with the Empire.

Empirical evidence of Imperial wrongdoing…

VM: There you have it! Yeah, I can't imagine – that had to have been very traumatic. It helped me as an actor to read about it. I've asked myself this question, what does it take for someone to be willing to die for what they believe in? I don't really know that we're asked to do that on a daily basis. They are really up against it! I think that witnessing those kinds of atrocities would make you fear nothing – you have nothing left to lose but to give your life for a cause doesn't come from nowhere.

That's interesting – I loved getting to read New Dawn before the show started; how early did you get to read it so you could apply it to your character?

VM: Right before it was released, they sent me a PDF copy before San Diego Comic-Con, when I was doing the panel there. I read it on my iPad and couldn't put it down.

I know Greg Weisman told me once that they had created backstory bibles for each character – was that something you were privy to at all so you could have some of that information when you were entering season one?

VM: Yes, definitely. But I think that telling me she's witnessed stuff, versus walking me through the attempt to save someone's life, failing, and watching loved ones grieve for the lives lost – living through every beat of that in the literature; you can give me a character bible, which gives a thumbnail sketch of what the past was like, but I think that the novel really moved me in a way that we didn't have time to get into prior to starting Rebels. I had an idea, but the clarity and specificity with which the book was written was more harrowing to experience.

Now that you have that information and that experience, and the experience of season one, is there anything you are approaching differently in working on Season 2?

VM: No; again, I think the stakes are so high that we just have to do the next right thing. We're all looking for close as to what the next move is. Joining forces with a greater network of people will aid us, but I think it's sort of more of the same. It seems like the personal stuff isn't as important as the greater issue, this genocide that's going on. I think it's going to be more of the same, peppered with some of the personal, revealing moments where Hera demonstrates her affection for her crew. Overall, it's too much of a life and death situation.

Speaking of the novels, Cham Syndulla, Hera's daddy dearest, is in the next novel, Lords of the Sith. I think a lot of more casual fans missed the fact that she's in fact the daughter of a revolutionary from the Clone Wars. How do his experiences influence Hera?

VM: Well, I think it influences me personally because I'm a huge fan of The Clone Wars, and I love Robin Atkin Downes' portrayal in that whole Ryloth arc! I don't have much more to go on than, "he raised her," but as a huge fan I know what he was like, and can imagine how he instilled certain values and skills in her. I think it'll be very fun to learn more about exactly what that looked like, where was she during the Clone Wars, what did she witness as a child? At the moment I imagine a lot of that. They had mentioned that, and gave us broad strokes, as I said. But I look forward to finding out more about Cham and exactly what happened. It influenced me from my knowledge and fandom though. I can't wait to read Lords of the Sith.

So obviously you knew from the beginning that Hera and Kanan would have a special and nuanced relationship – were there any surprises in that interaction or relationship that you weren't expecting?

VM: Well it's interesting how a lot of people thought that her saying Love, or "Yes Dear," that those comments were indicative of some greater romantic thing going on between the two of them. I remember discussing with Greg that it was more of the British affectation, "Yes, love! Hello, love!" It doesn't mean you're dating everyone you say that to, it's just a term of endearment. As far as I could tell, Hera is actually trying to manipulate Kanan – when she says Love, she's playing off his affection for her, and she may get what she wants there. She's always a strategist.

So I don't see much schmaltzy romance, on the page. When I watch the episodes and I've seen some gestures and body language that wasn't described in the script, as far as I recall, I thought, "woah, wait a minute!" I remember being at Star Wars Weekends and they played that initial short where the two of them are bickering and Chopper is going between them. At the end, they sort of come together, and I remember sitting there watching it, going "hey now! What was that?" Everyone was asking me, and I had no idea! I didn't get a sense of that while reading it or recording it! So it's interesting to me to allow what may happen in the animation, a caress or a look, that indicates a deeper connection.

I know they have a ton of history, but I don't feel like we've gotten deep into passion between them. I think the stakes are so high around them that there really isn't time for it. Equally, though, that's unfair when these images come out – as a viewer, it seems like they really like each other a lot. People have referred to them as space married, but I'm declining to comment because I feel like I'm still learning along with all of you how deep that connection is. I'm not denying it and I'm not saying it does exist, I'm just observing. They do really like each other a lot, and to the extent that they're the "mom and dad" of the ship. That's a thing that I look forward to learning more about.

How about the other relationships in the show? Was there one that changed or turned out differently than what you expected on the page?

VM: No… I really love the relationship between Hera and Sabine. I don't know if it turned out differently from the page to the screen, but seeing the two of them go on missions together and watching them learn to trust eachother, there was a very rich experience reading it, then seeing it animated. That Hera's both a mentor and also an equal, they put each other's lives in one another's hands. It's sort of a mother-daughter relationship, but I think they count on each other in a way that makes them both important and special to each other.

When we talked about this series right after it was announced and you were announced, you said then that Kanan is 100% the leader. Now that you have a season under your belt and you see the way Hera runs missions and even manipulates team members, do you still feel that way?

VM: Well, I do in the sense that – he doesn't know as much as I do, but he's sort of the front man, if you will. When captured, he appears to be the leader, and that serves the cause.

So he's the lead singer, but Hera's the guitarist who writes all the songs.

VM: Yeah, and I have the green M&Ms clause in the rider to make sure people are reading it! (laughs) I think, she is, of course the getaway driver. But I would still defer to anyone with Force sensibilities. I think he's the leader, period, but she may be the brass tacks of the operation.

You and I have talked a lot about how your characters influence you, and your real life once you've delved into them. Now that you've been with Hera for a full season and are working on season two, how has she influenced you?

VM: Well, I think I said this on the Comlink interview that I did. It's made me look at the ways I give back in my own life and make a deeper commitment to that. I really appreciate Hera's focus, her altruism, her dignity, even her fighting skills! To that end, I've been working with a group called Step Up Women's Organization, who are inspiring women to inspire girls. They help with job placement and scholarships, stuff like that.

I've also been boxing and training with an MMA trainer three times a week. It's to stay nimble and quick-witted; there's something about the confidence that I can take care of myself. I'm a totally non-violent person, but knowing that I am portraying someone that agile and dedicated in combat, it's been really fun to make a deeper commitment to that as well!

Also, I would say, not taking things personally. It's hard to do that sometimes, but now I find myself getting riled up about something and I'll ask myself if Hera would care. I think about her and how she might react to something, and I go that path instead. It helps make me a better person! (laughs) She's definitely inspired me, and I love that she's a great positive role model for girls, women, everyone. She's a great person who, they've really created a pretty amazing character!

And of course if you keep training, you're ready just in case she winds up in a live-action film or something…

VM: (laughs) Oh man! I don't know if I have the on-camera wits about me. I'm kinda shy!

Someone said something about that the other day on the internet. Yeah, who knows? Anything's possible!

I know what a huge, huge fan of Star Wars you already were. How has that evolved with you being in such a major part of the story now?

VM: Oh! (laughs) Well, everything's a Star Wars metaphor in my book! It's what I was doing with my free time and now it's my day job, too, and it's even better. Looking at the March madness, the fact that Hera was up against Princess Leia? I'm sorry, man, (laughs), I had to – of course, I voted for Leia, but the fact that it's there. I looked at that and just couldn't believe it was happening. So there's those moments of it being completely sublime, coupled with me just being so grateful that the saga is continuing. I realize I'm part of it, but I'm also just so thrilled that it's happening in general! Writing a column for the Star Wars Insider magazine? Are you kidding me? It's just all an honor.

Well we have lots to look forward to, with books, comics, Rebels Season 2, The Force Awakens, now Rogue One…

VM: Right! Amazing.

What was your reaction to Rogue One being announced with only one actor – a female actor – it seems pretty significant for the franchise?

VM: That was fantastic! Are you kidding me? Oh! Yeah, it's fantastic. I can't wait.

You obviously have a fairly busy next few months, alongside actually recording, we have the convention season kicking off. Where can fans see you?

VM: I will be at Celebration. Still sorting out details on Star Wars Weekends, but hopefully I will be down for those. I'll be at San Diego, probably New York. I'm not aware of any other conventions I'm going to – or haven't been invited to them! (laughs) But those are my plans for now.

Now that Ahsoka has been revealed – what was that reveal like for you? How early did you know and what is it like to you to have that breakout character from Clone Wars come into the fold here?

VM: It means everything to me! I was thrilled. I believe it was mentioned vaguely at some point, and it couldn't come soon enough. It was the final moment of Season 1! We whispered about it, but nothing packed more of a wallop than seeing her name in print on the script. And again, the difference between seeing it on page versus seeing it on the screen, I couldn't even breathe, when she descended that ladder. It took my breath away! I think I said in another interview it "cracked my soul open!" I'm just so happy to know she's alive, okay, and see her. Before she was asking all the questions, and now she's giving all the answers and leading! The fact that she's joining with us, it just means everything.

I guess I have known Ashley for so long now, that when Fulcrum spoke for the first time on the show, I looked at my wife and said "That's Ashley!" I recognized it just from her cadence. I was so excited to find out I was right.

VM: Yeah, that final moment – I get speechless thinking about it.

Do you think Hera and Ahsoka will clash at all, after Hera disobeyed orders?

VM: No, I don't think so. I really don't. I think, in a weird way, that was Hera misbehaving on the fly, and I don't think she'd ever allow that to happen to herself again. I don't see them disagreeing though, I think Hera will really defer to Ahsoka in all matters going forward. That's me, personally!

How you apologize for doing what you want when you want is not doing it anymore! Not that Hera is going to be a walking apology, but she's glad that she didn't destroy the Rebel Alliance. There are going to be more people around, and with the network increased, it will be easier to do what Ahsoka decrees – it's not some abstract voice in a hood, so she'll feel more responsible to her.

I usually like to close out with a tease or a hint, but I know it's very early and you don't have a lot you can say. So instead, I'll ask you this: what do you hope for Hera? What one thing would you like her to achieve that would make her happiest, or make you happy for her?

VM: I would love to see her reunited with Cham! I wish there was a way to get us back on Ryloth, I think that would be so cool.

But I hope for a greater understanding of her backstory and her childhood. I hope that for all our characters! I do think that Season 2 delivers on that front, with each specific character. I think we do learn a lot more about why they sacrifice everything. With Hera specifically, I'd like to see her go back to Ryloth though.