The Disney+ series stars tell StarWars.com about getting into character and their real-life friendship.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Ivanna Sakhno are here for WolfWren. The name was bestowed by fans of their rival characters’ in Ahsoka. However, the duo coined their own phrase for the connection between Bordizzo’s Sabine Wren and Sakhno’s Shin Hati long before the first episode arrived on Disney+: Shabine.
When their work on the series wrapped, Sakhno even made a friendship bracelet with their “Shabine” moniker, a nod to a bond between two Star Wars newcomers who started on set together training for future lightsaber battles and became real-life friends. “I loved working with Ivanna so much,” says Bordizzo. “We really went through the whole journey from start to finish together.”
“We got to know one another through working in the training facility with Ming [Qiu], our stunt coordinator, who taught both of us focus and dedication to the craft and to lightsaber combat,” Sakhno adds. “The experience of working with [Natasha] was just fun. There was a lot of laughter on set, definitely, and inside jokes.”
Although Bordizzo grew up doing Taekwondo from the age of eight and eventually got her black belt, as well as training in other martial arts throughout her career, Ahsoka marked the first time she studied Japanese Samurai forms. Sakhno’s previous work included more gymnastics-style stunt work. “[Ivanna] hadn't really done martial arts before, so I was really proud of how she just rose to the challenge, all the bumps and bruises that comes with that,” says Bordizzo. “If you're not used to that kind of combat, it's really intimidating.”
Their characters are locked on similar journeys of their own, two people just trying to find their place in a galaxy far, far away. “Our characters run parallel through this whole show together, and clearly there's been some fan response to the intensity that our characters have for each other,” Bordizzo continues. “And we felt it while we were filming. There's just something really special and magnetic. These characters are such a yin and yang at times. They're both struggling on their journeys and they're both these apprentices who cross paths in very interesting ways.”
Bordizzo didn’t just study up on series creator Dave Filoni’s earlier storytelling in Star Wars Rebels to get a sense for Sabine and her journey so far. “I prepared for the role by watching just about every Star Wars project ever made,” she says, “chronologically, by story.” Treating Tiya Sircar’s younger version of the character as a memory bank for her own portrayal in the New Republic, the actor used the Imperial-era tales as a foundation, borrowing her character’s overall energy and knowing smirk from the animation. “But then, of course, time’s passed and she's been through a lot,” Bordizzo says. “I wanted them to be streamlined, but still separate in a way, and I wanted to just bring the truth of whatever the live action project brought on the day, every day on set. Her journey has changed since Rebels in Ahsoka… where she had to work her way back to being that free spirited kind of kid that we all loved.”
Paired with Rosario Dawson, Bordizzo was tasked with acting the part of the occasionally impolite apprentice to Dawson’s Jedi Master Ahsoka Tano. “Being disrespectful to her in the scenes is so hard,” Bordizzo says. “It was challenging to remember that they have come from a period of a lot of pain and heaviness that has to be worked out and that their Master-apprentice relationship is being tested. I just respect Rosario so much, and there's times where Sabine can be a little disrespectful,” Bordizzo adds. “But I think it's all part of the journey. It’s beautiful to watch that arc happen over the show and where they end up.”
Opposite Eman Esfandi, Bordizzo found Wren’s playful and witty sibling bond with Ezra Bridger. “He came in when we had already been filming for quite a few months, and he was like exactly what would happen if Ezra suddenly joined a group of somewhat tired people,” Bordizzo says. “[Eman] jumps in and is making jokes and playing rap music, and is this burst of fresh energy. He's so Ezra.”
As for the intensity of the scenes with Sakhno, “I think in terms of the precision of my facial expressions, some of it was deliberate and some of it was inspired by the animation," Bordizzo says. "But most of the time it was really just brought out by the writing and by other actors. We just brought out that stare in each other. Nothing I could have planned.”
Meanwhile, Sakhno worked with Filoni and co-star Ray Stevenson to forge the new lightsaber-wielding duo Shin Hati and Baylan Skoll. To get into character, Filoni gifted the pair a book of Norse mythology called The Children of Odin. “The first story in that book is called ‘Far Away and Long Ago’, and it speaks on two wolves, Hati and Skoll, chasing the sun and the moon,” says Sakhno. “It has this perpetual cycle of chase that I think reflects the transient nature of life and the coexistence of opposing forces. And much like the tales of the galaxy far, far away, I think it reflects on some fundamental truth, which is: In every shadow there is light, and in every light there is shadow finding its quiet home.” For the Shin Hati actor, that mythological core also speaks to the gray area Baylan and Shin seem to inhabit.
Sakhno looked to the fallen angel Lucifer to understand the spectrum she was inhabiting and Darth Vader himself, the archetypal Star Wars villain who was once the Jedi Anakin Skywalker, on set. She would even emulate Vader’s labored breathing behind his mask to help get her into Shin’s head before the cameras began rolling. “If I'm honest, specifically in those [dark] moments, I would channel Darth Vader. Not necessarily him as a character, but the darkness that he possesses, I would start breathing as he does before doing the take and trying to really reach the evil within me.”
And although both Bordizzo and Sakhno defer to Filoni on the official lore around their characters, Sakhno has her own headcanon about Baylan and Shin’s bond. “We have yet to discover what their beginning was like and how Baylan came to know Shin, but I think they have a really meaningful relationship,” Sakhno says. "I think there's this dynamic of father-daughter. Sometimes I imagine when Shin was little and just kind of discovering the world. I think they have a very warm relationship and I think of them as a family, as much as I think of Ray Stevenson being a family to me.”
Lessons in light
Although we don’t know what the future might hold for Sabine and Shin, the actors who portray them hope their stories in Ahsoka are inspiring fans of the series to embrace their own complexities in life.
“I think perhaps they can find themselves in [Shin] or certain aspects of themselves in her, and be reminded that life doesn't come in absolutes,” Sakhno says. “It's very much that gray area of the good and the bad and all of the in-between. So perhaps those who sometimes struggle with it can find some kindness for themselves.”
“I hope that people take from Sabine's journey that you don't have to live a perfect life and make no mistakes. You can be affected by what's happened to you, and people will still be there for you,” Bordizzo adds. “People can love you unconditionally, and you may not always make the best choices, or you might be going through a very hard time and be kind of difficult — button pushy,” she says miming the gesture. “But there are people who'll be there for you. And there's light at the end of the tunnel.”
As for what’s next for Sabine or Bordizzo, “I have no idea,” she says. “But I just hope that she continues to work well with Ahsoka and have this Master-apprentice relationship that they've been trying to have, and finally be able to walk that path together.”