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How Cyberbullies Motivated Ashley Eckstein to Make the Star Wars Fandom More Inclusive

How Cyberbullies Motivated Ashley Eckstein to Make the Star Wars Fandom More Inclusive

Ashley Eckstein has never felt there was a dream she couldn’t achieve. Throughout her 20-year career in Hollywood, she’s established herself as an on-camera and voiceover star, founded her personal apparel company, written a well-liked memoir It’s Your Universe, and became an anti-bullying advocate for the geek fandom group. Eckstein, 37, credits her boundless optimism and willpower to her unique childhood.

“You can definitely say that I grew up Disney,” she advised us at her Los Angeles office final yr.

Growing up in Orlando, Florida with a father whose claims to fame embrace bringing the turkey legs to Disney World, Eckstein and her mother and father visited the theme park often — a apply her mother and father used to impart life lessons on their younger daughter. Typically, the family watched the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at night time, and her mother prompted Eckstein to wish upon a star. Then, on Christmas morning when she was in the third grade, she acquired a hat emblazoned with the phrase “Don’t dream it. Be it.”

“And they once again used it as a lesson and said, ‘OK, all of those wishes that you have been making upon all those stars? Now you need to be it. You have to do it,'” Eckstein recalled her mother saying. “‘These dreams aren’t just going to fall on your lap. You have to make them happen yourself.'” And that’s what she did.

Ashley Eckstein poses as part of Disney World's Hercules ParadeAshley Eckstein poses as a part of Disney World’s Hercules ParadePhoto: Courtesy of Ashley Eckstein

One in every of Eckstein’s earliest goals was to get a job at Disney World, and on her 16th birthday, the minimum age to apply, she auditioned and landed a job — though not the one she needed. Whereas she’d hoped to be a dance member in the Electrical Mild Parade, as an alternative she was tasked something much less glamorous: serving to crying youngsters who have been scared by the extra scary characters. Nevertheless it was a job at Disney nonetheless. Eckstein did not give up and ultimately worked her approach up to being a cheerleader in the Hercules Parade, and she or he acknowledges the priceless lesson she discovered from this and other efficiency gigs she had (and the ones she misplaced out on) as a young adult and teenage.

“Growing up around Disney and in Orlando definitely prepared me for Hollywood,” she stated. “I was able to get an agent and audition in Orlando. That’s where I really learned rejection. Nothing prepares for the amount of rejection you get when you move to Hollywood. At a young age, I was able to kind of understand how to deal with that. Understand that it’s also not personal. Often times it has nothing to do with you. I think that’s a bible lesson for any kid, whether they wanna be an actor or not, is dealing with rejection, dealing with failure, and learning from it.”

After chopping her tooth in Orlando, Eckstein made the move to Hollywood at 19, where she pursued her dream at the time: “I didn’t want to win an Oscar,” Eckstein recalled. “I actually just wanted to be on the Disney Channel.” She achieved this when she landed the recurring position of mean-girl Muffy on That is So Raven, by which she appeared from 2003 to 2006.

However Eckstein’s Disney Channel dream wasn’t the only want she was wanting to make come true. Inspired by the Disney princesses she grew up with in the ’80s and ’90s, Eckstein stated she had developed “a fascination with voiceover” and commenced auditioning for voiceover work shortly after arriving in Los Angeles. After reserving a few commercials, Eckstein thought this new career path can be straightforward, but then opportunities stalled. “I auditioned for four solid years, hundreds of auditions, and didn’t get anything,” she stated, noting that the two occasions she did land a collection lead position, she wound up being recast.

It was at this point, in October 2005, that the audition of a lifetime got here up for Eckstein: a voiceover position in a new animated Star Wars present. A fan since childhood, Eckstein was shocked by the opportunity, believing that the Star Wars franchise was completed after the divisive prequel trilogy. Having been informed the audition was for the part of Padme, played by Natalie Portman in the aforementioned prequels, Eckstein wasn’t too optimistic about her possibilities provided that her high-pitched, chipper voice does not sound very similar to Portman’s. Nevertheless, her agent satisfied her to go to the name anyway. “I’m glad I listened to him,” Eckstein stated, “because they were also auditioning for this brand new character that nobody knew about called Ahsoka Tano. She was a 14-year-old girl, and they didn’t really know what they were looking for. Thankfully, I just happened to be right for the part. After four long years of auditioning, I finally was cast as the voice of an animated character.”

How Star Wars: The Clone Wars Changed Ashley Eckstein’s Profession | The Future Is

Set between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: The Clone Wars follows the clashes between the Separatists Military and the Grand Army of the Republic, led by Jedi Knights together with Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), and his younger Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano (Eckstein). Though the collection was critically acclaimed and ran for six seasons, from 2008 to 2014 — with an introduced seventh season to air on Disney+ — its leading Padawan wasn’t immediately accepted by the Star Wars fandom.

“I definitely had to deal with my fair share of hate and negative comments and definitely cyberbullying when Ahsoka first came out,” Eckstein stated. “A lot of people did not like Ahsoka. They thought she was snippy, bratty, annoying, and also they just didn’t expect Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan to be a 14-year-old girl.”

“The one thing fans did not know was that she was almost already through [recording] Season 2 [when the character was announced],” Eckstein’s husband, baseball participant David Eckstein, recalled. “And [knowing] the way [showrunner] Dave Filoni had written the character, the development of where she was going to grow to, I was like please, just give it time.”

Ahsoka Tano, <em><noscript><img src=

Seeing the constructive impression Ahsoka was having, Eckstein needed to make certain she was as a lot of a pressure for good in the world as her character. And after going to several conventions and occasions to symbolize Star Wars, Eckstein observed that while female characters have been gaining higher representation onscreen, the female fans have been still being ignored. This sparked the concept to create merchandise particularly geared towards female followers — not just to serve the demand for merch, Eckstein defined, but to assist fill “the need for a community.”

“Because female fans were being bullied, and they were being bullied terribly for just liking what we do, liking these properties,” she stated. “Often times, women would pretend to be men on message boards just so that they could have a conversation about Star Wars and be taken seriously. Or little girls were being bullied going to school carrying a Star Wars backpack or a Star Wars water bottle. And I thought, this is no way to live your life. Being a Star Wars fan or being a sci-fi and fantasy fan, it’s not a trend. It’s literally a part of who you are.”

Ashley Eckstein and her husband David Eckstein pose with fansAshley Eckstein and her husband David Eckstein pose with fansPhoto: Courtesy of Ashley Eckstein

Even Eckstein acknowledged she had been hiding her personal fandom for years because, on some degree, she felt as though society had deemed there wasn’t a place for female followers in the Star Wars group. “I think I just fell into that trap because when you don’t see it in stores, when you don’t have the option for Star Wars T-shirts or clothes made for you, [you don’t feel included],” Eckstein stated. However after performing some research into the matter in 2009, Eckstein discovered that 45 % of Star Wars followers have been female, and that 85 % of shopper purchases have been being made by ladies. “I’m not a mathematician, but these numbers are not adding up,” Eckstein remembered considering.

Being a Star Wars fan or being a sci-fi and fantasy fan, it isn’t a development. It is literally a part of who you’re.

So the concept to discovered the clothes company Her Universe began. Figuring out she already had connections to Star Wars producer Lucasfilm, Eckstein approached executives and asked if she might help them produce merchandise for female fans. She was swiftly advised no (twice) — not because of her concept, but because Lucasfilm solely provides out licenses. So Eckstein spent the subsequent nine months creating Her Universe and finding a manufacturing associate earlier than returning to Lucasfilm to ask for a license, which she was finally granted.

Ashley Eckstein celebrates one of Her Universe's early appearances on the convention circuitAshley Eckstein celebrates considered one of Her Universe’s early appearances on the conference circuitPhoto: Courtesy of Ashley Eckstein

Her Universe was formally based in June 2010, and now, only nine years later, it is a large style company and way of life brand, with licenses to some of the hottest fandom properties, together with Disney, Marvel, DC, Studio Ghibli, and Star Trek. “I am forever grateful to Lucasfilm because I think had a major studio like Lucasfilm not stood up for their female fans, I don’t think as many would have followed suit,” Eckstein stated. “There’s nothing bigger than Star Wars, and when Star Wars stands up and recognizes their female fans, everyone else was like, ‘Huh, OK, well maybe we should start paying attention to our female fans too.'”

After it launched, Eckstein worked diligently to make the firm a hit, utilizing the platform Clone Wars gave her to get the message out about Her Universe, and the response from the group was instant. When Her Universe first expanded into Disney Parks in June 2011, it bought out inside the three days. After debuting at Scorching Matter shortly thereafter, the collection bought out online within 24 hours. At the finish of 2016, Her Universe officially turned a stand-alone subsidiary of Scorching Matter, and while the present details of the enterprise’ income are unknown, earlier than the sale it was shared that Her Universe had grown right into a multi-million greenback company.

“I don’t know what, really, I was expecting,” David stated, reflecting on Her Universe’s launch. “Our first rule was that we could only go to conventions and online. And then at Disney Parks. And then, all of a sudden, you’re at Disney Star Wars Weekends, and you see what you do there, you see the response there. Then, all of a sudden, we have the rights now to retail. … Then you’re seeing it on the girls. So it is something that has definitely been a little surprising, in the sense of how well and how it actually took off. But knowing Ashley, if she puts her mind to something, you’re never really that surprised to see the success behind it.”

And Eckstein hasn’t just seen success when it comes to providing much-needed merchandise for feminine followers; she’s watched her true aim for the firm — to help feminine fans really feel extra snug in these communities — succeed as nicely. “Having merchandise made for women has definitely changed the community,” Eckstein stated.

“When I started Her Universe, I founded it with the mission to stop the bullying. That was what I saw the real problem was,” she explained. “Sometimes when you’re wearing a men’s T-shirt, it’s just not cut for a woman, it’s not as flattering, you don’t feel like yourself as much. And so the merchandise was really a means to change the community. Because I felt that if female fans felt comfortable wearing sci-fi and fantasy merchandise, then they would feel more comfortable being themselves and stepping into the spotlight.”

What stunned Eckstein, though, was not just the response from feminine followers, but the method male fans stepped up to present their help of what Her Universe stood for as properly. And as fans of Her Universe collected, so did the requests to broaden the firm’s offerings. “It’s sort of funny, because I would say two years into Her Universe, all the guys kept asking, ‘What about His Universe?’ And I would say, ‘Well, look on the rest of the convention floor. The whole floor is His Universe. Like, we have one tiny little booth called Her Universe,'” Eckstein recalled. “I always said, if I could make merchandise for guys that wasn’t already being done, then that’s when I would make merchandise for guys.”

I feel like we’re solely scratching the surface. This is simply the beginning.

That day came in January 2018, when Eckstein launched Our Universe, a males’s and unisex line of merchandise. And in November 2018, Eckstein announced one other new venture at BlizzCon: the firm can be teaming up with Overwatch and World of Warcraft for brand spanking new clothing collections, marking Her Universe’s first foray into gaming. “I feel like we’re only scratching the surface,” Eckstein stated of Her Universe’s growing slate after the BlizzCon announcement. “This is just the beginning.”

However by far, the largest means that Eckstein has capitalized off Her Universe’s success was the creation of the Her Universe Trend Present at San Diego Comedian-Con. Having attended Comedian-Con often since she first went for Clone Wars in 2007, Eckstein stated she was instantly in awe of the impressive costumes and fashions the female followers would wear on the conference flooring. “They were using the hallways as their runway for original fashion, and I was blown away. Blown away by the designs, blown away by the talent, and I knew that I had to give these fans an actual runway to walk on. And I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” Eckstein stated.

A model walks the runway at the 2017 Her Universe Fashion ShowA mannequin walks the runway at the 2017 Her Universe Trend ShowPhoto: Courtesy of Her Universe

She approached Comic-Con Worldwide in 2012 together with her pitch for a “geek couture fashion show” to rejoice fangirl culture, “and to my surprise, they said yes,” she recalled. “And we had a very small team, but a mighty team at Her Universe. And that’s what we did.”

Although the style present was a Her Universe creation, Eckstein needed to make certain this wasn’t only a promotional occasion for her firm; as an alternative, she needed it to be initially a platform for aspiring designers to get skilled experience and in addition a leg-up in the competitive business. And they also made the trend show a competition, the place the winners acquired the opportunity to design a Her Universe collection for Scorching Matter, complete with royalties for each bit bought. The event was an instantaneous hit in its 2014 debut, and it has since develop into a Comedian-Con staple.

“We just celebrated our fifth fashion show,” Eckstein stated. “So many of the designers have gone on to have professional careers. Some designers when they entered, they were just amateurs, they just did this as a hobby, they now changed careers completely and are now professional fashion designers.”

The success of the trend present has allowed it to increase beyond the halls of San Diego Comic-Con, with Eckstein hosting the Her Universe Style Present: Junior Design Camp as a part of this yr’s WonderCon in Anaheim, California. The three-hour occasion, which will probably be held Saturday, March 30, will see Eckstein and members of the Her Universe staff share with aspiring designers between the ages of 6 and 17 step-by-step lessons on how to design and convey their concepts to life.

It is these smaller, extra intimate events that Eckstein seems forward to the most at conventions, although they could not appear as glamorous as models strutting down a runway or the roaring crowds of Hall H. But for Eckstein, the real advantage of attending these conventions is the opportunity to connect with fans one on one and be immersed in the group she has dedicated her life to making a protected, welcoming area for all.

Ashley Eckstein has fun with fans at the New York Comic Con signing for her book, <em><noscript><img src=

“I really feel so privileged to be part of their journey, and … if I might say one factor and give one message to the fans, [it] is that I keep in mind; I consider all of them, I comply with them on Instagram, I care, I root for them. And so once they comply with up and tell me what’s going on, it actually makes my day. I genuinely want to see all of the superb issues occurring for them. And so I feel that is what I am most grateful for. It isn’t just one story, it’s all of the tales, because all of the followers have made an influence on me.”

Further reporting by Lindsay Macdonald

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About the author

Saurabh Shah

Saurabh Shah

A college dropout and a junior journalist at VerifiedTasks, who is extremely dedicated towards his tasks and a true prodigy. He also developed an interest for blockchain and cryptocurrency through reading books and internet stories of millennials turning into millionaires at a very young age, which he found very intriguing. He is also a self -learned tech blogger and an SEO expert. It wouldn’t be possible for VerifiedTasks to be a success without him.
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