The actor talks to StarWars.com about playing a younger version of her fan-favorite character.
For Vanessa Marshall, it wasn’t even a question. But when the producers of Star Wars: The Bad Batch had an idea to tell an origin story of sorts for Hera Syndulla, who Marshall has voiced for years, they first reached out to see if she’d want to return to the role.
“I got an email asking if I would be interested in doing this,” Marshall says, chuckling. “Of course! I was so blown away to get this email and did not expect it at all. I had no idea what it would look like or how they would present it or in the context of what narrative. I had so many questions.”
Marshall would have to wait to get her answers. As she would find out, though The Bad Batch focuses on a gifted squad of clones and their young charge, Omega, following the end of the Clone Wars, this would be no mere cameo for Hera.
“I remember getting the script for the first episode the night before recording, and I was completely sobbing. As usual!” she says. “But it was just so moving and I really felt that they captured her innocence at that point, that would blossom into such a brilliant fighter, such a nurturing general, such a strong, iconic female character. But it was great to see her dreams before they came true.”
Hera once more
Star Wars Rebels premiered in October 2014, and it represented a defining moment for Lucasfilm. The animated series was the first canonical Star Wars storytelling to not include input from George Lucas; it followed the beloved Star Wars: The Clone Wars; and it was developed under the guidance of Dave Filoni, who all but studied under Lucas as the supervising director of The Clone Wars. For these not-insignificant reasons, it marked the beginning of a new Star Wars era. Expectations were high and there was a lot on the line with Star Wars Rebels.
It’s safe to say that those expectations were met and exceeded. Star Wars Rebels would tell the story of how the Rebellion came to be, while centering on a small, ragtag group of heroes. It ran for four broadcast seasons and garnered much critical acclaim, including four Emmy Award nominations. When Dave Filoni announced that the series would be ending to a packed crowd at Star Wars Celebration in 2017, fans shed tears.
Among the characters at the heart of Star Wars Rebels was Hera Syndulla. Hera was the ace Twi’lek pilot of the Ghost and the clear leader of her found family, there to listen and offer guidance one minute, blasting stormtroopers and leading a quick escape the next. If any character in Star Wars Rebels represented the ideal rebel, it was Hera. Fans loved and love her. And she was brought to life by Vanessa Marshall, who imbued Hera with a dual sense of warmth and authority that was essential for the character. For her part, Marshall identified with Hera right from her first audition.
“There are certain issues that I care very much about in my life, in terms of equality and representation and fighting for those who are marginalized, and speaking up for those who may have no voice. This character seemed to do that,” she says. “There’s also a part of me that loves to bring people together.” In addition, Marshall has spent significant time flying with her father, a recreational pilot -- another connection point with Hera. “I love flying with him. So I brought all of these elements together in my heart and my soul to Hera, and it just sort of fit together.”
Still, Marshall is quick to note that she is not an exact match for Hera -- and that she even learned from her character. “I would say that her level of focus far exceeds mine,” Marshall says, laughing. “I am easily distracted and working on it. She actually ended up inspiring me, in ways. I feel like we grew together as the series went on. So to do an about-face and look back at her relationship with her father, and her dealings with her uncle, very much like me flying with my dad -- to be able to go back and explore that was an honor.”