Princess Leia, Rey, Jyn, Ahsoka Headline New 'Star Wars' Female-Focused Animated Shorts

Marcus Errico
Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
Princess Leia and Wicket take cover behind a tree in Forces of Destiny. She will be voiced by Shelby Young ( American Horror Story). (Credit: Lucasfilm)

The Last Jedi won’t be the first new Star Wars screen project to arrive in 2017.

This summer, Lucasfilm will begin rolling out Star Wars Forces of Destiny, a series of original animated shorts set in that galaxy far, far away and focusing on the franchise’s roster of female heroes, led by Princess Leia, Rey, Jyn Erso, The Clone Wars fan favorite Ahsoka Tano, and Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels, with each installment narrated by Maz Kanata and featuring John Williams’s seminal soundtrack.

Watch a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of Forces of Destiny:

The first of these micro-stories, “BB-8 Bandits,” will be unveiled at Star Wars Celebration. The short shows Rey (voiced by Daisy Ridley) deftly avoiding a trap by Teedo (the Jakku scavenger who scoops up BB-8 in the early moments of The Force Awakens) while taking her droid pal to Niima Outpost.

All of the episodes will be considered canonical to the Star Wars universe, with some riffing on story lines ultimately cut from the movies. For example, “Beasts of Echo Base” riffs on deleted scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and finds Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO trying to prevent a Wampa incursion at the Rebel headquarters on Hoth. Another, called “Tracker Trouble,” takes place aboard the Millennium Falcon as it heads towards Maz Kanata’s castle. Rey, Finn (voiced by John Boyega), and BB-8 desperately scramble to find a homing device installed by Unkar Plutt — which informs a scene in The Force Awakens novelization (and was featured among the outtakes on the DVD/Blu-ray) where the Jakku kingpin tracks the Falcon to Maz’s place for a disarming confrontation with Chewbacca.

Rey to the rescue in “BB-8 Bandits.” (Credit: Lucasfilm)

“The movies tell these epic heroes’ journeys, big pieces of mythology,” Carrie Beck, VP of Lucasfilm Story and Animation and a producer of Forces of Destiny, told Yahoo Movies during a pre-Celebration briefing this week. “For this, we thought these stories could tell those moments of everyday heroism… the kind of stories that would be appropriate over two to three minutes.”

Beck says that new and casual fans will be able to enjoy the shorts without having Wookieepedia-level knowledge of the space opera. “But if you know anything about the Star Wars franchise, these stories are additive. They tell you a piece you don’t already know and give you additional expression of some of your favorite characters.” She also promises that the shorts will be “authentic.”

Jyn Erso stares down some Stormtroopers in Forces of Destiny (Credit: Lucasfilm)

“These characters are going to be treated just the same as they would in movies and television,” Beck explained. “There won’t be into any false social construct. These are their stories that are true to them on their moment on the Star Wars timeline.”

Lucasfilm Animation has produced an initial run of 16 shorts, which will premiere on Disney’s YouTube channel beginning in July and then will be compiled into a two-part TV special on the Disney Channel this fall, helping to build momentum toward The Last Jedi‘s December premiere.

In addition to Ridley and Boyega, film stars Felicity Jones (Jyn) and Lupita Nyong’o (Maz) will reprise their roles, as will key talent from Clone Wars and Rebels, including Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), Tiya Sicar (Sabine), and Vanessa Marshall (Hera Syndulla). Several of the actors are expected to join Beck and fellow producer Dave Filoni (who also shepherded Clone Wars and Rebels) for the Heroines of Star Wars panel at Celebration on Friday, which will serve as a kick-off for Forces of Destiny.

For those keeping track at home, Anthony Daniels will voice C-3PO, continuing a streak that spans virtually every Star Wars media property. Meanwhile, Shelby Young, whose credits include American Horror Story, will voice Leia in the absence of the late Carrie Fisher.

Ahsoka Tano in action in Forces of Destiny. (Credit: Lucasfilm)

Animated versions of the Star Wars universe dates back to 1978’s Star Wars Holiday Special, which featured a cartoon pitting Han Solo against Boba Fett, followed by TV series and specials — from Droids and Ewoks to Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2-D Clone Wars to the more recent CGI Clone Wars and Rebels. Beck says Lucasfilm wanted Forces of Destiny to stand apart. “We wanted something that felt graphic, something that felt totally in line with Star Wars and an expression and stylization you haven’t seen previously,” she said, noting that the project has been in development for nearly two years, commencing shortly after The Force Awakens arrived in theaters.

Jyn Erso on the drawing board. (Credit: Lucasfilm)

To complement the cartoons, Disney, Lucasfilm, and Hasbro have created a line of books, role-play toys (including Rey’s staff from The Force Awakens), and “Adventure Figures” — an 11-inch doll-action figure hybrid — set to hit shelves this fall.

Jyn Erso, R2-D2, Princess Leia, Rey, BB-8, and Sabine Wren “Adventure Figures.” Solo figures will cost $19.99; the figure-droid combo will be $24.99. (Credit: Hasbro)
The “Adventure Figures” of R2-D2, Leia, and Chewbacca. Leia and Artoo will be available in a two-pack for $24.99; the deluxe Chewie will retail for $29.99. (Credit: Hasbro)

Asked if the Forces of Destiny initiative took a cue from Disney’s phenomenally popular Princess line — which unified merchandise and content from across the Mouse House’s classic animation catalog aimed toward young girls — Paul Southern, SVP of licensing for Lucasfilm, said no. “The basis for this initiative is rooted in Star Wars…. The original conceit behind it, the original vision came from Bob Iger,” Southern explained, adding that the Disney CEO wanted to “broaden the audience” after the company acquired Lucasfilm in 2012.

Southern also said Forces of Destiny was not a response to criticism leveled at Hasbro and other Lucasfilm licensees about the perceived dearth of toys based on Rey and The Force Awakens‘ other female characters. “The reality was we had hundreds and hundreds of Rey products that we developed, and they sold extremely well,” he said. “This is really an articulation on Bob’s vision and expanding the audience. It’s going to work all around the world.”