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Disney empire strikes back with ‘Star Wars Rebels’

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By Rick Bentley

The Fresno Bee


LOS ANGELES — December 2015 seems light years away, especially to “Star Wars” fans eagerly awaiting the seventh feature film in the popular sci-fi series.

Disney will fill a little of that dark void with the new animated series “Star Wars Rebels.” The action in a galaxy far, far away begins Friday with the one-hour movie, “Star Wars: Spark of Rebellion,” on the Disney Channel. The first series episodes launch Oct. 13 on Disney XD.

Events in the one-hour special and the “Star Wars Rebels” series take place between the feature films “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars: A New Hope.” A motley crew of freedom fighters aboard the starship Ghost are waging a small war against the Empire. In command is Kanan (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), a survivor of the Emperor’s Jedi purge. The crew also includes: Ezra (Taylor Gray), a con artist; Sabine (Tiya Sircar), lover of explosions; Zeb (Steve Blum), the muscle; and Chopper, a grumpy droid.

The ace pilot of the ship is Hera, voiced by veteran animation actor Vanessa Marshall. She’s as happy as an Ewok playing drums on Stormtrooper helmets to be part of the “Star Wars” world. Like so many fans of the series, Marshall can tell you exactly where she saw the first “Star Wars” movie.

“It was 1977 and I was in Boulder, Colorado. I had no idea what my aunt (Carol Van Ark) was taking me to and it completely changed my world view on every level,” Marshall says during an interview at the Disney Channel screening room. “I will never forget that opening sequence. To now be involved in the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy at this level is sublime. If my aunt had told me someday I would be piloting a ship in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, I would have never believed her.”

Hera is just one of the new characters introduced. Because of how the new show’s chronology falls, the potential exists for familiar characters from the “Star Wars” world to appear, such as in an upcoming episode with C-3PO and R2-D2. The series makers are closed mouth about other people, places and things that could appear in the series.

Because Marshall is such a huge “Star Wars” fan, she’s excited about what bits of information could be included in the show. One of the things she’s always wondered is how Princess Leia got to the point where she could put a holographic message into R2-D2 — the message that eventually brought Luke Skywalker into the battle. The potential for that kind of insight makes each script an exciting experience for the huge “Star Wars” fan.

Providing the voice for a strong animated character is another day at work for Marshall. She has been the voice of Wonder Woman in “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox,” Black Canary in “Young Justice,” Black Widow in “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” Poison Ivy in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and Mary Jane Watson in “The Spectacular Spider-Man.”

Finding Hera’s voice was easy. A major theme in the series is hope and so Marshall incorporated a youthful optimism into her voice performance.

“I think about things I care about and would call me into action that way. I think my performance is more credible because it’s coming from a real place,” Marshall says.

Marshall initially chased a career in front of the camera—a gene she inherited from her mother, actress Joan Van Ark. But once she found voice work, she had no interest in going back in front of the camera.

“If someone doesn’t like my voice. If I make a creative choice that doesn’t work—and I’ve played everything from a small African-American boy to a Russian woman—I don’t take it personally because I have three million other things to go do,” Marshall says. “But, when they reject me entirely as a person, I found it very challenging. This is way more fun. Way safer and more fascinating for me.”

Marshall also has a passion for writing, a trait she got from her father, John Marshall, a television news reporter in Los Angeles. Marshall’s so serious about playing her character as well as possible, she got her father—who’s also a pilot—to take her flying so she could better understand the science, mentality and focus flying takes.

“It’s delighting to understand what about myself I can bring to this to make it more authentic,” Marshall says.


“Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion,” 9 p.m. Friday Oct. 3, Disney Channel

“”Star Wars Rebels,” 9 p.m. Oct. 13, Disney XD

©2014 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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Disney empire strikes back with ‘Star Wars Rebels’