The HoloFiles

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘Tales of the Empire’ Star Diana Lee Inosanto Offers Insights Into the New Star Wars Show

By George & Josh Bate

Tales of the Empire diana lee inosanto iinterview
Morgan Elsbeth in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Introduced in 2020 in The Mandalorian Season 2 episode “Chapter 13: The Jedi,” Morgan Elsbeth was an immediately compelling antagonist, in large part due to the commanding performance of actress Diana Lee Inosanto. Several years later, Inosanto returned to the role for the Disney+ series Ahsoka, in which Morgan Elsbeth was one of the primary villains going against the titular character. Morgan Elsbeth met her demise in that series, but, as Luke Skywalker once said, “No one’s ever really gone.” Now, Inosanto makes the jump from live-action to animation to depict the origins of Morgan Elsbeth in the new Star Wars series Tales of the Empire.

The HoloFiles recently had the opportunity to speak with Diana Lee Inosanto as part of a roundtable interview alongside Star Wars Explained, Jedi News, Skytalkers, Fantha Tracks, Skywalking Through Neverland, Father.Son.Galaxy, Fangirls Gone Rogue, Ion Cannon, and Coffee with Kenobi. In the interview, Inosanto discussed returning as Morgan Elsbeth, how she prepared for the role by watching The Clone Wars and reading Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books, the ways in which her godfather Bruce Lee influenced the show’s fight sequences, how she tackled playing the character in animation, what she’s learned from talking to Star Wars fans at conventions, and more.

Tales of the Empire diana lee inosanto iinterview
Morgan Elsbeth in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

In appearing in Tales of the Empire, Diana Lee Inosanto makes the change from live-action to animation. The actress and accomplished martial artist reflected on the similarities between playing Morgan Elsbeth in live-action in The Mandalorian and Ahsoka compared to this new animated series. “It’s still the same approach,” Inosanto said. “I make the commitment in the room and in the space and in the recording room. I do the same breathing. I will jump in place. I will literally grab a pen and make it all of a sudden my sword. Just anything that will give me that space and that place of being in the moment as Morgan Elsbeth. So, kudos to my theater teachers for teaching me that technique, because it really helped me in the recording room with Dave [Filoni]. And, of course, Dave is there to give me notes and to explore different choices and approaches to say the line.”

To prepare for her role in Tales of the Empire, Inosanto watched The Clone Wars and Rebels and read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn books. “I watched The Clone Wars and Rebels, but I also read Timothy Zahn’s books,” Inosanto detailed. “I felt that, most likely, Morgan would have a certain common ground with the people Thrawn chose to be in his inner circle as well…I love how Timothy Zahn writes Thrawn and all of the characters within his circle. So I certainly felt that Thrawn would seek the same kind of relationship with Morgan, you know, that she was brilliant. That she was ahead of her time and strong and that he could count on her and her loyalty.”

Thrawn in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Tales of the Empire further explores the nuanced relationship between Thrawn and Morgan Elsbeth. “What I love is that Thrawn saw something in Morgan,” detailed Inosanto. “Saw that she was not just smart, but she was tenacious and also, in many ways, they were outsiders, right? And so they realized that, in some ways, when you’re an outsider trying to navigate the Empire, that can possibly be a weak position, but not for those two. They knew that they were both brilliant and had great minds. And I love that Thrawn wanted to recruit Morgan and bring her into his circle, because there was a whole new agenda for Thrawn, right, but also for Morgan wanting inevitably as we would see in Ahsoka to restore Dathomir.”

Inosanto continued, “I mean this is a woman who helped engineer a Navy and all we see in the Empire. And I think it’s just brilliant that Thrawn knew this is the woman to share an alliance with. And I think that was really coming off the pages.”

Inosanto also prepared for Tales of the Empire by watching clips from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and reading a lesser known Star Wars story short. “I love E. Anne Convery’s [short story “Bug”], because you really see that you get a sense of the commitment these women have to each other as a clan and as a family. And I was so happy that I had at my disposal these books. I will also say, and I have to give kudos also to [Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order], Iwatched the video clips on YouTube between Cal Kestis and Merrin. I thought that, ‘Oh Merrin, she’s close to a Jedi.’ There’s a complexity to the Nightsister in general, where they could be more dark or maybe they could be more light. It is fascinating to me.”

Tales of the Empire diana lee inosanto iinterview
General Grievous in a scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Morgan Elsbeth’s journey in Tales of the Empire begins as the Nightsister witnesses the sacrifice of her people at the hands of General Grievous and the Separatists. “I didn’t know if Morgan was truly on Dathomir see Grievous mow through her people,” Inosanto stated. “So, when I finally got the script for Tales of the Empire, I was absolutely thrilled.”

Elsbeth’s traumatic past ties into the theme of motherhood, which runs poignantly through Tales of the Empire. Regarding this theme, Inosanto reflected, “To see how she can lose her mother, but that her mother was a role model to her of sacrifice. And being able to defend and protect her daughter and to be this incredible woman warrior. So, that was the kind of role model she had – from her mother. And I think that kind of role modeling helped her survive the rest of her journey through the galaxy and that’s what I like for myself.”

Inosanto identified that, although her character is “technically classified as the villain in The Mandalorian and Ahsoka,” there’s more subtly to the character’s moral compass. “No one ever sees themselves as a villain, right? They just have certain needs and goals and they’re hoping to accomplish that. And I love that we see the vulnerability in Morgan [in Tales of the Empire] I love that we see that she also, in her way, a long time ago, had the ability to love and be loved by her mother and by her fellow Nightsisters. And, you know, it’s just unfortunate that she’s seen such chaos and annihilation of people that she developed this armor of anger. So, in a way, for me, psychologically, she’s a fascinating character, because there are aspects we can all relate to.”

Tales of the Empire diana lee inosanto iinterview
A scene from “STAR WARS: TALES OF THE EMPIRE”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

In response to a question posed by The HoloFiles, Inosanto discussed how her godfather Bruce Lee influenced the fight choreography in Tales of the Empire. “I cannot get over the amazing approach and quality of the fight scenes in this,” Inosanto excitedly remarked. “My hat goes off to the Lucasfilm animation team that really concentrated on the fight scenes and they did an incredible job, and I believe was under the leadership of Steward Lee. He does a whole homage to my godfather the late Bruce Lee and my dad. They looked at martial artists I did on YouTube. They studied my fights on Mandalorian and Ahsoka. And it’s just brilliant how they put it all together. I’m stunned as a martial artist.”

Morgan Elsbeth died in the Ahsoka series, but many hope we will see more of the character in future stories. When asked by The HoloFiles if Tales of the Empire is the last we’ve seen of the character, Inosanto stated, “I don’t know, but I hope to the Star Wars gods it’s not. I hope that we get to explore her some more. I mean I still have some questions. Questions of how did she get her Beskar spear? That wasn’t explained. I have questions, like simple things, like did she ride Rancors on Dathomir? Did she know Darth Maul? Did she see Asajj Ventress and go ‘Wow, I want to grow up and be like her!’?… I hope there’s more of Morgan Elsbeth to come, but who knows? We’ll see what the threads of fate decide.”

Beyond Tales of the Empire, Inosanto also took the time to discuss her love for the Star Wars and Lucasfilm more broadly, including the late Ray Stevenson (Baylan Skoll in Ahsoka), Carl Weathers, and costume designer Shawna Trpcic. “I loved being with Ray [Stevenspn] when he was alive,” Inosanto fondly recalled. “We formed a very tight family unit. And not just cast members, but with our crew members too. I feel so privileged and so lucky to be part of that experience, because I’ve heard and I’ve seen of some sets where it can be kind of dysfunctional or toxic. But I tell you, from me, the Lucaasfilm family is incredible. To me, they are Ohana. And we all support each other. We love each other. We’re rooting for each other. And I’m just thrilling that I get to be a part of this experience and journey with everyone.”

Tales of the Empire diana lee inosanto iinterview
Diana Lee Inosanto with Ivanna Sakhno and the late Ray Stevenson behind the scenes of Ahsoka

Inosanto continued regarding lost members of the Star Wars family, “I especially think about Ray. I think about Shawnna Trpcic who we loved, who was our beautiful wardrobe designer. And I know on The Mandalorian we have Carl Weathers that we lost. So, when we lose people, it really feels deeply and it’s still…I’ll look to the stars and think to them.” And it’s a great experience. I’m not just saying that to say that. I hope that all people can experience eleven a little of what I’ve fel.t And the fans have been incredible. And I think they know how much I love Star Wars. I always have since I was a little girl.”

Inosanto believes Star Wars fans will fall in love with Tales of the Empire. “I love the finished product here,” Inosanto remarked. “I think people are going to enjoy Tales of the Empire.” We at The HoloFiles think that Inosanto is spot on about the expected reception to the new Star Wars series. Tales of the Empire is not only an excellent showcase for Inosanto’s versatility as an actress, but also deepens one’s appreciation of Ahsoka and The Mandalorian by providing nuance and context to the character of Morgan Elsbeth.

Listen to the full interview with Diana Lee Inosanto below….

The new Star Wars series Tales of the Empire streams May 4 on Disney+.

The HoloFiles

The HoloFiles is a website and series of social media accounts, including Star Wars Holocron, Marvel Tesseract, DC Motherbox, Film Codex, and Horror Necronomicon. We love cinema and television, and aim to spread positivity across different fandoms. Come to us for news, reviews, interviews, trivia facts, quotes, behind the scenes photos, analytic features, and more!