Star Wars’ Diana Lee Inosanto Digs Deep Into Tales of the Empire

Star Wars’ Diana Lee Inosanto Digs Deep Into Tales of the Empire

Star Wars loves nothing more than understanding a villain. Part of the reason the franchise’s greatest evils are also some of its most compelling characters is because it loves to dive deep into understanding why these figures are the way they are. The time has come for Morgan Elsbeth’s turn—and for us and the actress behind her alike to lift the lid on this wayward daughter of Dathomir.

Although we saw Morgan meet her untimely end at the climax of Ahsoka, we will finally get to see more of what makes her tick this coming weekend when Star Wars day brings Tales of the Empire to Disney+. The new six-part anthology series delves into two tales of survival in the Imperial Age: including, of course, Inosanto’s return to Morgan Elsbeth, as we see her journey from Nightsister to Magistrate—and Thrawn’s right hand. To learn more about how she prepared to return to the galaxy far, far away, io9 sat down with Inosanto over Zoom to learn more about Tales of the Empire. Check it out in full below!

James Whitbrook, io9: Morgan has been well established in live action Star Wars. What surprised you about getting to visit her now in the realm of Star Wars animation?

Diana Lee Inosanto: For me, it’s the details the confirmation of finally, really understanding her background—particularly going all the way back to Dathomir, and what happened in that period of time. I love the fact that we see her love for people. I think people have been used to, in the live-action, seeing this more villainous approach [to Morgan], her own agenda. But I love that we get to go back and see what her people meant to her: her love for her mother, her love for her fellow Nightsisters, and that she was, still, in her own way unique.

As dark as it is, you understand why she had to become a survivor, and that every time, in every moment, she’s always thinking of her people, and her roots, and her heritage—that’s what I find fascinating about Morgan.

io9: We get to see her history with the Nightsisters here—how much of that history as we saw it in Clone Wars and Rebels were you familiar with as you started to embrace this particular facet of Morgan’s character?

Inosanto: For me, it was kind of… almost like an IV drip for me! [Laughs.] When I auditioned, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, to be honest with you. When I met with Dave [Filoni, Lucasfilm’s Chief Creative Officer and co-creator of The Mandalorian], that’s when I started learning. “Oh, she’s a Nightsister?” I understood even from the audition sides that this was a woman who was a conqueror, and that she was definitely resilient… and somewhat of a bully, in her later evolution. But I think it was down to her having to survive and being misunderstood.

The people I really leaned on and their work… there was Timothy Zahn, with all his books—because I figured there must be something that she has in common with the people that circle around Thrawn. The second important person I leaned on was E. Anne Convery [a writer in the Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark anthology], where she writes about the Nightsisters in her short story “Bug.” That was very instrumental for me to understand her better. I didn’t even know if Morgan, back then, was there to see what happened to her people—I just had to find out what was the culture, and the heritage, that she’d been a part of. And it’s going to be interesting because [in Tales] we’re going to learn more about all these other clans that were there on Dathomir too.

Image: Lucasfilm

io9: Part of what has defined Morgan so much for people is the physicality you’ve imbued her with. What was it like for you to transition away a little from that side of her now that you’re potraying her primarily through your voice?

Inosanto: I remember watching the behind the scenes [of The Mandalorian], of Pedro [Pascal] doing the voice of Mando, and I saw his physicality there. To me, when I’m in that recording booth, it’s still the same thing: I’m still locked up in my actor’s bubble, and I will do anything everything. I’ll get the breathing down, I’ll jump in place, I’ll move, I’ll grunt, to get everything right!

But my hat goes off to the Lucasfilm animation team—I met with them several weeks ago and I was stunned at the martial arts [on display in the animation]. Steward Lee [Lucasfilm animation director], who ironically had met my godfather [famed martial artist Bruce Lee] as a child, really loves martial arts. Several of the team members that were just on the fight scenes for Tales alone had an understanding of martial arts, and they studied videos of me on YouTube, as well as my fight scenes in Mandalorian and Ahsoka—and there’s some homages to my godfather, and my father. I think it’s an amazing compliment when people come to me just having watched the trailer alone, with the fight scenes, and they go, “Did you do mocap?” They think it’s actually me—that’s an idea of the sophistication of the animation.

io9: In Tales we get to see Morgan, as her story progresses, her meeting with Thrawn for the first time. Having established their relationship in Ahsoka, what was it like to play that moment for you?

Inosanto: I love that scene with Thrawn—especially because in some ways, they’re both considered outsiders in the Empire, right? They’re two very highly intelligent people who have their specific goals.

Lars [Mikkelsen] does such an amazing job as Thrawn, so it’s really easy to all of a sudden disappear into the space with him. When I recorded, I wasn’t with Lars, but I’d had enough time with him on Ahsoka to know and hear his voice in my head—and it came out, I feel, beautifully, in that moment, with him, and the whole Lucasfilm animation team, how they put it all so swiftly and smoothly together.

io9: Ahsoka gave us Morgan’s untimely end, and now Tales has brought us back to parts of her life before we met her in The Mandalorian. What’s a side of Morgan you think hasn’t been explored yet, that you’d love to see in the future?

Inosanto: If there was a chance to see her expressed somewhere in the Star Wars timeline… I always love playing characters that are a little bit vulnerable, and maybe seeing them laying down off on a trail to hell, whatever kind of people they become. That’s why I loved going back particularly to episode one [of Tales], because now you know where her vulnerability came from, her pain and the hurt and how she lost her people. It’s that reflection of her being connected to her roots, and this is really, truly what drives her. Sometimes they say that the most troubled people do what they do because they come from a place of fear and pain—we’re truly seeing a survivor [in Morgan].

And you know, I do love though, in a way, she is a character that just does not forget. She has this whole revenge factor that’s like… wow. [Laughs.] There’s just so much more to explore about this woman. There’s a lot of different shades to her.

Star Wars: Tales of the Empire begins streaming on Disney+ May 4.

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