I had a blast at Los Angeles Comic Con 2023, especially when it came to the Ahsoka panel with Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Eman Esfandi, Ivanna Sakhno, and Diana Lee Inosanto. The quartet of actors took to the main stage on the show floor to answer everyone’s burning questions about the Star Wars Disney+ series!
In this Ahsoka panel breakdown (the second of three), the actors discuss Star Wars Rebels and “walking encyclopedia” Dave Filoni’s influence on Star Wars. From the animated homework required to bring a character into live-action to Filoni’s rabbit-hole conversations, read on to hear more from the Ahsoka cast! The other articles are linked at the end of this article, or visit the L.A. Comic Con tag.
[Editor’s Note: Quotes have been edited slightly for clarity, and may not be presented in the order the questions were asked during the panel.]
Ahsoka stars Natasha Liu Bordizzo & Eman Esfandi talk Star Wars: Rebels
A burning question on fans’ minds is how much studying Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Eman Esfandi did to get into character as Sabine Wren and Ezra Bridger. With so much history in animation, there was a lot of ground to cover before bringing these fan-favorite characters into live action!
Moderator: Natasha, I know you talked about how you watched Rebels beforehand, you knew the backstory. There was this huge reveal about your character that kind of threw all the fans too, about this apprenticeship under Ahsoka. What was your reaction [to] finding out that this was a curveball Dave [Filoni] was throwing you as far as something huge that happened in her past?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Yeah, I mean, I was learning about the character’s background as the show was happening too because there [were] all these little breadcrumbs that were left by other characters saying things. I mean, Sabine makes a lot of bad decisions in the show. I think we can all agree. But I really just loved her journey because it’s not perfect. And I think that her story makes her more interesting because there’s moments where it’s really hard to love her. And that’s really interesting to me, so I loved playing her for that reason.
Moderator: I think a lot of people do love Sabine now. Eman, what was your sort of prep? If you hadn’t seen Rebels, there’s certainly a lot of research you could do on your character. So, is there sort of that immersion you were doing as well?
Eman Esfandi: I admittedly, which if you would have found this out prior you might have taken my head off, but maybe now you don’t think that, I didn’t watch all of Rebels. I didn’t want to get too caught up in the younger version of Ezra, I felt very connected to an older version the way he was written. And I watched the episodes where he had scenes very intimately with Sabine and the Spectre crew and Ahsoka in particular. And just to understand that dynamic, obviously the hologram, the final message, and also my TikTok became flooded with the scene, rest in peace Kanan. So I was inundated with a lot of it, but I didn’t watch it until after the show. Because Dave, and everyone else who was directing me were so reaffirming, like, “No, that’s Ezra. Oh, that’s also so Ezra”, and we’d be backstage like “That’s so Ezra of you”. I was like, okay, so then I think we’re good. I’ll watch it later. So I didn’t actually do the immersion thing until all the way after shooting.
Moderator: “That’s so Ezra” would be a good spin-off title, by the way.
Some fans were disappointed at Ezra’s reunions with Sabine (and Hera), although the actors certainly aren’t in that camp.
Moderator: Natasha and Eman, there’s obviously the scene when these two characters are finally reunited after so long. I love that scene, and I loved how there is this sort of tentative nature to it. I know some people thought, “Oh, they should have run to each other and hugged”, but I liked that it was a little awkward. Did you guys discuss, “Yeah, how do we play this?” This is obviously a huge deal in Star Wars lore, but also these characters, how would they react to each other?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: It was funny because on the day, we sort of discussed it. We were like, “What does feel right?” It’s almost such an epic moment, you want to, like, cry and run to the person. But then at the end of the day, you just have to do what comes out naturally as Sabine and Ezra. And they’re just old friends who would be like, “Hey, I casually gave up the galaxy to find you, but hey.”
Eman Esfandi: For me, no questions asked. “What’s up, dude? Thanks for finding me.” It was very organic.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: It was very Star Wars, in that casual nature of something that should be so much more serious, I think.
Fans were desperate to hear more about Star Wars: Rebels because it came up a few more times during the audience Q&A portion of the panel.
Audience Question: First, I wanted to say that Sabine means a lot to me as a character, and I loved your portrayal of her. And I was curious, how did you interact with Sabine’s animated version in Rebels? Like I said, I know Eman talked about it a little bit. But how much did you watch prior, and how did you get to interact [with] and take from that character?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Thank you so much. I watched all of Rebels in the months leading up to the show. So I think I actually went chronologically, by story, which I know is controversial, but I wanted the story, you know. And then I took it all, I watched her behavior, I listened to her voice, I watched her playfulness. And then I put it in a vault in my head and sort of forgot about it because years have passed. I wanted to take the essence of that character, but not try to copy it because I felt like that would be a weird, half-assed version of what I could bring to the truth of it if I just brought my own take on it that made sense with this cast.
Audience Question: Thank you all for coming and making this great show. What scene either from Ahsoka or Rebels do you think captures the essence of your characters?
Eman Esfandi: Okay, for me in Ahsoka… Rebels is all, I mean, Ezra’s all over that, but in Ahsoka, I felt like the moment as a spectator that cemented it for me, was when Sabine was trying to give him the lightsaber. And he’s like, “No, no, I’m good, good”, and he has that whole fight. And then Ivanna and her crew are about to take us in and fire on all of us. And Ezra’s like, “Well, hey, we can talk, or you can take us as prisoners.” That part for me, even doing it on set, I was like, “Wow, this guy’s hilarious”, you know, this Ezra guy. Not me, but like the lines, you know? And so I was like, “Okay, this guy. This is how he is. In the heart of battle, he’s gonna make this silly, silly comment.” That’s so Ezra. Wow, that is a catchphrase.
Moderator: I’m gonna make it happen.
Diana Lee Inosanto: I think for myself, because Morgan is still such a new character to the universe, that she comes from a legacy of Nightsisters. Honestly, it was episode six, when she meets the Great Mothers, and hopefully that conveyed to the audience her journey and that she could communicate through the Force through visions with the Great Mothers and then, of course, the moment she sees Thrawn. So that episode six I felt really captured the essence of who Morgan was and what her goals were about. I should say, as an honorable mention, the end where she says, “for Dathomir” because then we understood what the bigger game was for her.
Ivanna Sakhno: I’m sitting, thinking, trying to pick the one… I think what captures the character truly [are] the scenes that she gets to share with Baylan one-on-one and get to speak of their lives and ask the questions about life that she wonders. But I also think, to be honest, the very end, her being on top of the hill and raising her lightsaber captures her essence in many ways, so that will be the answer.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: It’s so hard because Sabine went on such a journey from start to finish with herself, and so I feel like she changed. So, I don’t know if there’s one scene that captures her essence, but I do think in the finale, like right at the end when we’re looking up at Anakin, I do think that there’s an air of like, she’s made all her mistakes. She’s vented all of her frustrations. She’s come around, and she’s ready to respect Ahsoka and really try to be the person that she knows she can be. So there’s something in the magic of that air, that scene, that night that I love. I’m not sure if that’s her essence, but I just love that that’s her looking into the future and moving past all of the struggle.
The Ahsoka cast on Dave Filoni, Star Wars lore, & future team-ups
Moving into some deeper Star Wars fandom topics, the Ahsoka actors dived into Dave Filoni and his on-set lore lectures.
Moderator: So this is another question for anyone to jump in on, because I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dave Filoni several times going back to the Clone Wars days, and [it] doesn’t take a lot to get him talking about deep Star Wars lore. He’s a little busier these days, but I am curious if you had a question for him, if you’re asking him some little details. Did it ever turn into like, “Oh, we’re getting some deep, deep dives here”? [pauses] Natasha, it seems like-
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Of course it did, every day it did.
Eman Esfandi: I look to [Natasha] because when I first came on the set, they had been shooting for a while. And she was like, “Oh, has Dave come up and hung out with you yet?” I go, “Oh, yeah. Like everyone, a little bit.” She goes, “Did he do the thing?” And I’m like, “Oh, what thing?” “Did he, you know, go straight into an hour of Star Wars with you?” I was like, “For sure.” That’s Dave’s thing. You just sort of sit there and soak it up, and you’re like, “All right Dave, I didn’t know half of that. Thank you, Dave.”
Diana Lee Inosanto: He’s just this walking encyclopedia.
Eman Esfandi: And then he just floats away. Makes some joke and he just floats away.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Like levitates to the next set. Bye, Dave!
Eman Esfandi: Does it again somewhere else.
Diana Lee Inosanto: Doesn’t miss a beat at all.
Moderator: If he came in and quizzed you, would you be able to retain everything that he asked you about?
Eman Esfandi: Honestly, yeah, I think could.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: I have terrible memory. So I think I’ll need to watch everything every year if I’m to keep up with everything.
Moderator: You can do that on Disney+, everyone!
The moderator tried his best to get the Ahsoka cast to spill some secrets, getting them to speculate about their characters’ potential futures.
Moderator: Eman, Ezra, rampant speculation because I know you guys don’t know what the future holds. But Ezra can confirm sort of all the fears about Thrawn. We saw these glimpses of what was happening in the New Republic. And this debate, “is this even something real?” So they gotta listen to the dude, right?
Eman Esfandi: Oh, now that I’m back? Shoot, I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. They don’t tell me much about what’s coming up, maybe as a safety precaution? I don’t know. I can’t say what’s coming up, but I hope they’ll listen to whatever I say. At least take in the imposing threat of it and take that seriously.
Moderator: Diana, there was this huge reveal on your character being a Nightsister. And speaking of Dave and lore, was that something that you kind of got a big lesson on? Because that kind of goes to the Clone Wars, but it goes even further back. Did you find out everything about the Nightsisters pretty quickly?
Diana Lee Inosanto: Actually, I knew that I was a Nightsister going all the way back to Mandalorian. I did know. So that one I just kept close. I was not going to reveal that at all. But I didn’t know enough. I mean, I knew a little bit because, thank goodness, through my kids, I would always watch Clone Wars and Rebels. So I had to really go back. And then I knew by the time that Thrawn was going to be really, officially part of the universe. Thank goodness, I read the Timothy Zahn books. [audience cheers] Yeah, Timothy Zahn, right? I love it. And so that really helped me understand and have an idea of how the universe completely was going to be somewhat shaped. And then, of course, I could lean in on Dave and ask him all kinds of questions. I think early on, I knew Ezra was going to be important. I knew somehow that Ezra was going to be very, very important in this whole thing as well, but I didn’t know how.
Moderator: Oh, you’re a good secret keeper.
Diana Lee Inosanto: I try, I try.
The audience asked some great questions about the future for these characters, teasing some exciting possibilities for the future!
Audience Question: My question is for Ivanna. Ever since the trailers dropped for this show, the epic intrigue of your character kind of mystified the fandom. Knowing that you’ve got an orange lightsaber and how we saw your character at the end of the show, if you could write the script, the trajectory for your character, what would that look like?
Ivanna Sakhno: It’s a really good question, and I think it’s a question that I can’t necessarily answer because we’ve got Dave Filoni at the wheel and I trust him wholeheartedly. I will honor the path that he chooses for Shin, and it’s such an honor to be led by him. So I will follow the great Dave Filoni and his choice.
Moderator: In Dave we trust.
Audience Question: My question’s for all of you. In the future, what character do you want to see your character interact with?
Moderator: What character would you like to see your character interact with?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Bo Katan.
Eman Esfandi: Grogu.
Ivanna Sakhno: Nice one. Stole my answer. Dare I say, Darth Vader?
Diana Lee Inosanto: Okay, see, Morgan’s gone now. But I did say something like, “Would she have ever interacted with Darth Vader?” So yeah, I was for Darth Vader as well. Yeah.
Moderator: No shame in that. Very understandable.
Audience Question: This question is for the whole panel. Do you guys see yourself interacting with Luke Skywalker during this time? Because he’s around. And how do you see your purpose going forward?
Moderator: Certainly, with Ezra where he is, I’d be curious what Luke would make of that.
Eman Esfandi: This is sort of a trap, huh? “Oh, it’s Ezra’s early panels, let’s get him now.” Shoot. Yeah, I have no idea. All I’ll say is I love Luke. Luke is the OG, right? He’s the guy, so shoutout Mark Hamill and we’ll see. I don’t have an answer.
Both the moderator and audience asked some excellent questions that hint at rich futures for these Ahsoka characters. I can’t wait to see which Jedi Ezra comes into contact with, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for a Mandalorian-Jedi team-up between Sabine and Grogu! Stay tuned for the third and final part of my Ahsoka panel breakdown, covering behind-the-scenes secrets and stunt training!