By Bryan A Westfall

If you know me only from twitter, you’d think after unexpectedly meeting¬†Dave Filoni¬†earlier today on the expo floor of Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, that I’d be here talking about that chance encounter. He’s what I’ve talked about most when on the topic of Star Wars since listening to him talk about “The Force” at the same event in Orlando two years ago.

If you know me well, you know I’m here because the “Sisters of The Force”¬†panel a few hours later gave me an excuse to talk about the women. The women in my life, as well as the women in the Star Wars Universe.

Brave, strong female characters in fiction have always reminded me of the amazing women in my life. My mother and grandmother in particular, but also many of the best friends, coworkers, teachers, and other role models throughout my life.

When Princess Leia¬†arrived along with Star Wars when I was a kid, I thought “Gotcha. A lady my Mom would hang out with. Loads in common”. My grandmother was also someone who inspired me, as she was always able to find the positive in anything around her. Both of them lived how they were going to live & were going to achieve what they were going to achieve. Try and stop them. That’s pretty damn Leia…

…and Hera, and Ashoka, and Mon Mothma, and Padme and on the list goes.

What I learned today (to no surprise), was the women behind some of these characters, as well as behind the scenes on the shows and in other areas of the creative side of this Star Wars Universe…are equally as inspiring. What I love about this is that even if there is a shortage of “built in” female inspiration in a young persons life, there are women who can step in and inspire them straight out of popular culture.

This was literally put on display in this panel today.

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Vanessa Marshall¬†(“Hera” from “Star Wars Rebels“) connected with a young Star Wars fan at an event years back. She went by the handle “Darth Makenna” online…dressed in a sparkly, Vader themed cosplay. When Vanessa came across Makenna years later, she was concerned as she wasn’t as high-spirited as she had always known her to be. She connected with her mother over email, who explained she’d been bullied and that had led to depression.

Long story short…”Darth Makenna” was here. In Chicago. Backstage. In cosplay (OMG THE HELMET)…and Vanessa brought her on stage in front of thousands. Thousands who were touched by her story and cheered for her because this actor who cared reached out and did what she could to help.

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The rest of the panel was filled with more stories of inspiration, showing the impact these awesome women are having on the fans (young and old) in the Star Wars fandom.

The panel host, Ashley Eckstein (“Ashoka Tano” from “Clone Wars” and “Rebels”) met a young fan named Miranda at a “Doctor Who” convention. Miranda has since battled (and beat) cancer numerous times. “I’ve met a real life Ashoka Tano”. She orchestrated a rendition of “Happy Birthday” with the crowd to send to Miranda who was watching the live-stream.

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Catherine Taber (“Padme” in “Clone Wars”) met a young boy at an event who’s favorite character in Star Wars was Padme. He wrote a pretty lengthy summary on his reasoning as well (which again reminded me of the women in my life). Over the years he’s battled cancer and is in remission, currently readying for college to study film. She hopes to be hired by him some day.

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Voice actor Suzie McGrath¬†(“Tam” in “Star Wars Resistance“) used the opportunity of her first ever Star Wars Celebration appearance to talk about overcoming a stutter when she was young. She mentioned she didn’t bring it up much, but did so in the spirit of this event.

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Writer and host¬†Amy Ratcliffe¬†talked about the work that went into getting where she is in her career. From writing a blog, to Nerdist and more. Brick by brick. She’s currently hosting at this massive event, and late last year she released the book “Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy“. She shared how excited she was when fans showed up to book release events in Star Wars cosplay.¬†

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Athena Portillo is the Executive Producer on “Star Wars Resistance” and was also a producer on “Clone Wars” & “Rebels”. She chronicled her path from being 45 minutes late to her internship interview with Lucasfilm back in the 90’s, to where she is today…learning about what will be going into all of the stories the actresses on that stage with her would be acting out later on.

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The future of Star Wars is bright because of these women. But more importantly, so are the lives of the people around them (friends, fans, family) who they can inspire in the ways that were on display here in Chicago today.

I should call my mom.