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Hera Syndulla's voice in Star Wars: The Bad Batch was inspired by Marvel

Actor Vanessa Marshall took inspiration from a past Spider-Man role.

Hera Syndulla in Star Wars: The Bad Batch

Star Wars: The Bad Batch introduces a young Hera Syndulla.

Lucasfilm

Hera Syndulla is back. Star Wars fans came to know and love her as the pilot of the Ghost in CGI animated series Rebels, and Disney Plus show The Bad Batch is revealing the Twi'lek's youth for the first time.

Since the show is set in the immediate aftermath of the Clone Wars and the events of Revenge of the Sith, Hera is still years away from being a superstar of the Rebel Alliance. She and her parents are trying to navigate the postwar reality of the galaxy as the Empire seizes control of their planet, Ryloth, but it's clear the spark of rebellion has been lit in Hera's heart. 

Last week's episode, Devil's Deal, ended on an intense note, so fans are ready to see Hera take a step toward heroism in Friday's installment.

Actor Vanessa Marshall has played Hera every time the character has appeared, through all four seasons of Rebels, 2020 video game Squadrons and plenty of spinoffs. She's voiced characters in countless other animated shows and video games, like Mary Jane Watson in Spectacular Spider-Man, Wonder Woman in Harley Quinn and Sheeva in Mortal Kombat 11.

Vanessa Marshall

Vanessa Marshall plays Hera as a teenager in The Bad Batch, having previously portrayed her as an adult.

Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

As it happens, she was the first Star Wars actor I ever interviewed, back in 2014. At the time, we were just getting to know Hera in the early episodes of Rebels. That show presented us with an experienced version of the character, but Marshall is portraying the character as a teenager for the first time in The Bad Batch.

I chatted with Marshall again over Zoom earlier this week about finding Hera's voice as teenager, how she pitched the character's French-adjacent Ryloth accent, and further storytelling possibilities. Here's a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity. 

Q. Lovely to see you again. I was very pleasantly surprised last Friday when I started the episode and I realized we were going to see Hera again -- it was pretty incredible. Can you tell me when you were first approached about The Bad Batch?
Marshall: I got an email from my voice-over agent, asking if I would be interested in playing Hera at a much younger age. I was thrilled. And then my mind started racing: "I wonder how old she is? I wonder if it's on Ryloth? What does this mean?" And then it was some time before I received the script and we did the recording. They knocked it out of the park, it was so well written that it was easy to act.

When did you record your lines? I'm always curious about the production timelines of animated shows -- I understand they take a long time to make.
In the pandemic, my sense of time is so upside down. I believe it was earlier this year, if not the end of last year.

What age is Hera at this point? I'm not so good at guessing Twi'lek ages.
I believe she's 14 at this point. I believe she's early teens, 14 or 16. Somewhere in there. 

She gives off that vibe -- it was great. So I feel like portraying a child must be quite challenging for an adult actor. How do you give a character that sense of wonder?
As with all acting challenges, it's important to start with the interior landscape and go from the inside out, as opposed to placing an affectation on something and going for a sound externally. I was so intrigued by her innocence as it was portrayed in the script, that I really had a lovely time getting inside that and coming from a very real, authentic place.

For Mary Jane in Spectacular Spider-Man [a beloved 2008 animated series], I almost didn't audition for it because I thought "Oh, this will never happen. I mean, why am I doing this?" But my agent convinced me that I should try. 

Mary Jane in Spectacular Spider-Man

To find Hera's teenage voice, Marshall drew on her experience playing Mary Jane Watson in Spectacular Spider-Man.

Sony Pictures Television

I imitated a friend of mine who I thought sounded the way Mary Jane would sound. I know how she thinks and I know how she feels. I guess I was doing an imitation of her. But there was something about it that I believe rang true. And I learned a lot from that -- not only confront your fears and do it anyway, but if we find something very specific and authentic to connect with, certain things that seem impossible just might happen. 

They were in high school in that show, so I reflected on how I arrived at Mary Jane's voice, then also put a French accent on Hera as a younger person. I don't know if that made it harder or easier, because it was further away from the adult Hera, but it was definitely more fun.

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I felt like you were about halfway between Hera's parents in terms of the accent.
I agree. The thing is I hadn't heard how Eleni [Hera's mother, played by Ferelith Young] spoke when I was doing this. But I know how Robin Atkin Downes does Cham [Hera's father] -- I've been watching him for years.

I just tried to play the French accent down the middle so that it would be understandable -- I cut a little bit more toward a softer French accent. I'm glad that I landed somewhere in the middle of those two incredible characters.

I guess that's also down to your experience as an actor and the fact that you know Hera like no one else. It's unusual for an actor to get to define a character at so many stages of their life. How does that feel?
It's an absolute honor. The writing was just so lovely, the way they captured her innocence. That's really what it was like with Rebels as well. When I say it's easy to act, I don't mean like "Oh, it's so easy." What I mean is that the words fall trippingly off the tongue and it's so easy to connect to them that it almost feels like we're not even doing anything.

To be able to look into all of these things and just revel in them with the writer and director -- we had a blast, it was wonderful.

Hera Syndulla in Rebels

Hera grows up to be a crack pilot.

Lucasfilm

After Friday's episode, which I presume will pick up with Hera, where will we see her next?
Oh man, I have no idea. She will be where she's meant to be.

I would love to see more of her as in the latter part of the war with the Empire or as an even more seasoned general later in the timeline. We've seen some of that in books.
That would be interesting to see how it all played out with Jacen [her son with the late Jedi Kanan Jarrus]. And if Ezra and Ahsoka and Sabina ever found each other [after the events of Rebels], I would love to know. That'd be a beautiful story. I hope that happens in some medium -- comic book, novel, anywhere. It would just be so satisfying to see how that all finally went.