Wrapping up my coverage from the Ahsoka panel at Los Angeles Comic Con 2023, it’s time to hear what Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Eman Esfandi, Ivanna Sakhno, and Diana Lee Inosanto had to say about behind-the-scenes magic! In this Ahsoka panel breakdown (the last of three), the actors discuss stunt training, lightsaber duels, and their incredible costumes. 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.]
The Ahsoka cast on training for their lightsaber fights
It’s always great to hear how actors new to Star Wars feel when they pick up a lightsaber for the first time, and we had plenty of first-timers in Ahsoka. They’re continuing the tradition of making noises while they fight, too!
Moderator: This is a question for any of you to jump in on because all of you either wielded a lightsaber or fought against a lightsaber. You were in a lightsaber fight, even if you weren’t holding a lightsaber. I’m just curious, what was the training process for that like, in general? And my second part of this question is, I remember Ewan McGregor famously saying on the prequels him and Liam Neeson couldn’t stop making lightsaber humming noises and would be chastised and told to stop doing that. Did you have that problem as well?
Ivanna Sakhno: Yeah, there was a lot of noise making on set, especially coming from Ray, he would just always go. *makes voom, voom, voom noises* You can’t really help yourself. It was great, especially getting to work with Natasha quite a bit. It was just a lot of training. We got to know one another from training, and getting to know Ming [Qiu] as well, being led by her. There’s a lot that comes along with getting to know your lightsaber, it’s a meditative process as well and showing up for yourself in a physical way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. But yeah, a lot of noises were made… and maybe still are made to this day.
Diana Lee Inosanto: It comes with the territory.
Moderator: It was interesting for you and Natasha because she has to not be great at lightsaber fighting initially. So, was that sort of a different process for you to be not as good at lightsaber fighting?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because I do have some background in martial arts. And then I also have some experience with a katana sword from another film. So I sort of started from scratch anyway because the way that we fight is very samurai, which was a very different stance, a very different form. So I felt like a beginner and the fact that Sabine is not very good just meant that I had a lot of falling over to do, and a lot of reactions. I was saying to Ivanna, I’m so not jealous of her because I’m happy that I’m the one that gets to be the bad one. The one that sucks in lightsabers.
Moderator: Eman, it’s funny when at first, when [Ezra] kind of turns down the lightsaber, you’re like, “Oh, is he not going to use a lightsaber?” Did you have that question too? You’re like, “Do I get to use a lightsaber or not?” What’s the deal?
Eman Esfandi: Luckily, when they told me I got the role, I just assumed I was gonna get to do everything. I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna do it all”. Not actually sure, but in my head I was like, “I hope to do everything”. I actually shot my lightsaber stuff first. So I knew I was going to use it. I did not make the sounds, but because I’ve seen the interviews of everyone who made the sounds so much, I was like, “I’m gonna be cool. I’m not gonna make the sound.” And then if you’ve seen the show, there’s the episode where I don’t use a saber, but I do pick up a blaster. And [the] first take of that? Nail[ed] it. I mean, practical effects, people are flying away, it’s so cool. Right away, I’m like, “Oh my god, that was really good”. And they’re like, “We’re gonna do it again”. I’m like, “Oh, what? What for?” You know, for sound, camera, whatever. “You were making the blaster sound.” I was like, “Oh my god”, I wasn’t prepared not to make the blaster sound because then they show me, they’re like “Pew! Pew! Pew!” Imagine the intensity of that scene, but I’m like, “Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!”
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Actually, one of the reasons for that is because there’s no recoil. No regular weapons in Star Wars so instead of like, if you’re pretending and there’s- there’s no push back. So you often make sounds because you almost need to tell yourself when you’re shooting. Because yeah, I was doing that too.
Eman Esfandi: So I made blaster sounds but not saber sounds.
Moderator: Diana, in both Mandalorian and this show, you’re in these big fight scenes where you have very cool weapons against lightsabers. Obviously, you have a big martial arts background. I’m curious, though, with lightsabers, what was the technique they were teaching you to do the fight scenes in this and was it brand-new stuff? Or was it kind of incorporating things you’ve done in the past?
Diana Lee Inosanto: Well, I have to give kudos for Ahsoka‘s Ming Qiu, who was our fight choreographer, and she is amazing. She was the one that was really the backbone behind all the fight scenes for Ahsoka specifically. You know, in my younger years, I used to be a stuntwoman. And before that, through my father, Dan Inosanto, I luckily was always introduced to many different martial arts styles and systems. So it was interesting. [On] Mandalorian, I could kind of pull in my Filipino martial arts roots, my Thai boxing roots. But it was great working with Ming because I had to channel my wushu roots. She created completely this amazing system for the Talzin Blade to go up against the lightsaber. That whole thing with putting my hand on the blade as the fires go- I mean, that’s Ming Qiu inventing that, and I just thought that was brilliant, so unique. And as far as making sounds, I mean, the beskar spear was “ching, ching, ching” when I was doing it. And then, with the Talzin Blade I was like, “Woosh! Woosh!” That’s all I could think of in my mind. That was it. Those are my sound effects.
Eman Esfandi: Shoutout Ming Qiu, shoutout Ming Qiu. She should be here. She’s the reason we fight well.
Diana Lee Inosanto: And our stunt team, you know, our doubles. Gosh, our doubles. Yeah. We’re loving them.
Regarding costumes and props in Ahsoka
Costumes and props are essential parts of a successful TV series, and the work put into these aspects of Ahsoka seems to be top-notch. A little boy dressed as Grand Admiral Thrawn, right down to the blue face paint and red eyes, was particularly excited to ask about the actors’ costumes!
Audience Question: How flexible were the costumes to move around in? Or, vice versa, were they flexible to move around in?
Diana Lee Inosanto: I know my costume, there was no way I could have bad posture, I’ll tell you that. Yeah. And that was the beauty of Shawna [Trpcic], she made these amazing costumes. So God rest, you know, bless her soul, man. But yeah.
Ivanna Sakhno: It’s a really good question, thank you so much for asking. We have a really great costume department. And the head of costume, Shawna, is incredibly talented. And there’s so much story being told just through the material that she uses. I’m sure that you [Natasha] can share your experience with the way that she has put Sabine’s costume together. So I think the entire costume department did everything they could in order to make us comfortable.
Diana Lee Inosanto: Yeah, our costume wardrobe people were so incredible. They really were.
Moderator: I just have to say I love the visual, it’s like cloning has occurred with Grand Admiral Thrawn over there. Your costume looked pretty comfy.
Eman Esfandi: I am very lucky. My costume was like a robe, like a bathrobe. I could move around in that thing like nothing, like butter, but the Lothal costume, the younger Ezra costume, could not step more than two inches. So when I only had that, I was very free. I was very lucky.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: I have to thank all the Mandalorians that came before me because every time they did the costume it got more comfortable and more stretchy. And I actually met Katie [Sackhoff], and we were talking about that. And most importantly, they turned the jumpsuit into a two-piece, so you could go to the bathroom 10 times a day like I do. So it was great.
Moderator: How cool was it, though? Do you know the Mandalorian armor, it goes way back? And then, of course, more recently, there’s been these great characters. So when you have that on for the first time, this is pretty trippy and pretty cool.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: Oh my God, it was amazing. Early last year when I went in for my first fitting and I don’t know, I guess before you put it on, you’re like, “Am I gonna look stupid in this, I’m gonna look like a fraud in this”, and then you put it on, and you’re like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, I can do this. I can do this.” It’s really just fit, and I felt really comfortable in it. And once I stunt trained for months, I felt like I was worthy of wearing it. Like, physically. So it was amazing.
Another fan just had to know if any Ahsoka actors stole props from the set, since we’ve heard so many reports of other celebrities doing so.
Audience Question: Are there any props that you kept from the set? If not, are there any that you wanted to steal from the set?
Moderator: Lucasfilm legal, do not listen to the answer to this question.
Diana Lee Inosanto: No, no. But the hakama, the pants, although I think a lot of people think it was a skirt that I was wearing, I would have loved to have kept that. It was beautiful, the way Shawna and the wardrobe department designed the hakama that Morgan Elsbeth was wearing in her fight scenes. And I forgot to say, by the way, I had two costumes, I had a fight costume. Because the intensity and the fight I had to do with Rosario [Dawson], it required a second costume, so I could move around a little bit easier. And I could have maybe poorer posture if I wanted, so yeah.
Ivanna Sakhno: I kept so many things. I believe I have Shin’s first skirt, when we were just trying different versions of it on. I have a little leaf from the forest that I kept, where we fought. Yeah, like a rock from another set. Did you keep anything?
Eman Esfandi: I didn’t know that was a thing. Like, everyone’s like, “Hey, what did you take?” I’m like, “What? I could have taken some stuff?”
Ivanna Sakhno: I saw Rosario just like, stealing a leaf.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: I kept a few things too. Yeah. What’s the least problematic one to talk about? I may have been told that I could keep Sabine’s leather jacket, which is pretty cool.
The cast wraps up their panel at L.A. Comic Con 2023
Finally, the Ahsoka stars talked about a few important topics that don’t really fit into what they’ve already covered. Eman Esfandi and Ivanna Sakhno were asked some important questions, and it’s wonderful to hear different perspectives from actors of varying cultural backgrounds.
Moderator: I wanted to ask you guys, an important part of joining the Star Wars universe is getting a toy of yourself. And just what’s it been like seeing the action figures start to pop up and how surreal is that?
Diana Lee Inosanto: It’s extremely surreal. And I think my kids now finally think I’m a little cool, just a little bit, you know? So yeah, it’s really quite an honor and I love it. I love it. We’ve all- I just love it, you know, so I’m having a blast. It really is. It’s fun.
Moderator: Do you have your toy out on a shelf? Ivanna?
Ivanna Sakhno: I might, yes, yes, I might have a toy. It’s just, you know, you do it for the kid within you and also for the kids around you, like my niece. It’s really exciting. It just means a lot, we get to tell stories that we really care about, and then we just get to witness the characters come to life in different forms. More than that, it’s just been so meaningful to see the fan art.
Diana Lee Inosanto: The fan art, oh my gosh. The fan art out there is incredible.
Ivanna Sakhno: And seeing people just taking their time and also interact[ing] with those characters and [giving] them an additional layer to life and existence. Yeah, it’s just really cool. It really is. It means a lot.
Eman Esfandi: Not to make it all about race, but I am biracial. I’m half Persian, half Ecuadorian. [audience cheers] Thank you. I grew up watching anime cartoons, Dragonball Z, Power Rangers, everything. And there’s no action figures that I had that looked like me. So seeing that, at first, it was like, “Oh, that’s nifty. That’s so weird and cool.” And then as I got to see it again and again and again, and kids brought it up like you were saying, I was like, “Oh, that’s not just cool.” For a generation of kids who have parents who are not from this country, or just they are of a different race, to see yourself represented in a toy, and not just a toy, an action figure like a hero. That, for me, has been one of the most special things I’ve ever been a part of.
Moderator: I knock on wood that all of you get this as well. But Natasha, the Hot Toys figure that’s coming out of you is insane. Like, what is this dark magic?
Natasha Liu Bordizzo: I got tagged in a photo and I just thought it was a picture of me. And I was like “When was that?” And I swiped, and it was in the box. I was like, “Oh. Oh, wow.” It’s so amazing. I cannot wait to get one. I didn’t think I would necessarily want one. But now I’ve seen it, I’m like, no, it’s very cool. It’s very cool.
Moderator: I think that’s very fair.
Audience Question: So my wife and I here, we’re part of the Ukrainian community too, we’re fundraising all the time as well. We know that you’re a part of the United 24. And we thank you. And so we just wanted to know how knowing what is going on at home influenced your performance.
Ivanna Sakhno: First of all, really good seeing you here. Thank you so much for being here. I think I definitely was influenced because the full-scale invasion began as we were getting ready to prep for the show. And throughout the process of filming, I felt really held by our crew, like I would see them wear T-shirts in support of Ukraine, even without knowing if they would see me on set or not. And that really, there were moments when certain moments when it was really difficult, like finding out news about your friends passing away or being killed and having to go and be in the scene. So if I’m honest, it wasn’t easy, but the experience of working with these people made it as smooth as possible because you just feel held and you feel like you’ve got people that care about you and care about where you come from. Thank you for asking.
The Ahsoka panel was a big hit! Star Wars fans were thrilled to finally hear more about the making of the series and we got some tantalizing teases for what’s coming next, whether season 2 happens or not. For more information about L.A. Comic Con, visit their official website, or our 2023 convention preview.