FANGIRLS a Growing Force in STAR WARS Empire

THE CLONE WARS - Brain Invaders

Ashley Eckstein started picking up on it three years ago.

The voice of Ahsoka, Anakin Skywalker’s plucky Padawan on Cartoon Network’s hit animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Eckstein had just started attending conventions to meet and greet fans, when she noticed something strange.

“There were women, everywhere. It seemed that [the people] coming through my autograph line, it was 50/50 male and female,” said Eckstein. “Then I went online to find merchandise for me to wear and…I couldn’t find anything. I started doing my research and found out [Lucasfilm] didn’t really make merchandise for women.”

Eckstein quickly hatched a plan and partnered with The Araca Group to create Her Universe, a line of female merchandise. While there have been a few items made for ladies in the past, like Junk Food’s retro baby doll tees, it’s the first Star Wars product line specifically targeted at the growing legion of Fangirls drawn by the power of the Force.

“Basically I want to make girls, head to toe, geek chic,” Eckstein said. “The misconception is that sci-fi in general is just for the boys, and I would say that’s not the case anymore.”

“Ashley is such an enthusiastic emissary of the Star Wars brand,” said Lucas Licensing’s Paul Southern in a press release touting the venture. “She has her finger on the pulse of what our female fans want to wear.”

Females: The final frontier

Eckstein debuted some of Her Universe’s apparel and jewelry at a recent Lucasfilm media event in here in Manhattan, which included sneak peeks at the brand’s latest variations of merchandising staples like toys, books and games. One of the biggest attractions was a demo of “The Force Unleashed II,” the much-anticipated sequel (set for release in October) to the award-winning video game “The Force Unleashed.”

But the audience for those products is already established. Star Wars merchandise isn’t really a growth market anymore.

On the other hand, female-centric merchandising is – to borrow from another well-known space-bound property – the final frontier for science fiction franchises. Twilight” may have broken through and lured girls to Comic-Con and to bookstores, but sci-fi Geek franchises have always been the pop culture equivalent of Augusta National: Boys-only clubs

But if Her Universe takes off, Eckstein hopes to offer other gender-specific items such as Lightsaber lip-gloss. If the idea of seeing Star Wars products in Sephora sounds odd, keep in mind that George Lucas’ $8 billion-per year merchandising empire already sells practically every type of product it can slap a logo on, from toys to life-sized replica props, even Tauntaun sleeping bags (no joke).  Considering that by some estimates, females make up close to half of Star Wars’ fan base, it is rather shocking Lucasfilm has overlooked such a potentially lucrative opportunity for so long.

Eckstein plans to hit all the major conventions to show off the Her Universe product line, including San Diego, Atlanta’s DragonCon and in August, Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando.

She’s not neglecting her main duty in the Star Wars universe, however. Eckstein told Newsarama she’s nearly done recording Ahsoka’s dialogue for Season Three of “Clone Wars,” which returns in the fall.

“It’s almost like a radio drama, because we’re in a booth with all the other actors,” Eckstein said about the show’s production method. Unlike most animated programs and movies, the “Clone Wars” voice actors record their parts together in the same room.

“I was just [in a recording session] with James Arnold Taylor and Matt Lanner (voices of Obi-Wan and Anakin, respectively). It’s like we’re there on set, recording next to each other, except we’re in a booth behind a microphone. We have a good time doing it.”

Dark times ahead

While careful to avoid spilling any Season Three spoilers, Eckstein did hint that dark times could be ahead for Ahsoka.

“There is something with Ahsoka in Season 3 that unfortunately I’m not allowed to say reveal yet. But it definitely goes along with the theme that she definitely grows up and matures a lot more,” Eckstein said. “They’re giving her more responsibility in Season Three. And there’s going to be some connections to the old saga as well.”

“She’s becoming more and more like Anakin, which could be good or bad. We’ll see.”

Eckstein is proud that in three years, Ahsoka has morphed from annoying sidekick to a character that has helped introduce new fans to the Star Wars mythos.

That includes her husband, San Diego Padres infielder David Eckstein.

“I caught him the other day quoting Yoda,” she said laughing. “I said ‘I heard that! If you are quoting Yoda, you are definitely a fanboy!’ We’re becoming much bigger fans together.”

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