When clones strike back

Ming-Na Wen sits down with Life to discuss her character Fennec Shand in Star Wars: The Bad Batch and her love for sci-fi

After being first introduced in the live-action series The Mandalorian, fan favourite Fennec Shand -- a mysterious and fearsome female assassin -- makes her return to the Star Wars franchise in Star Wars: The Bad Batch, a computer-animated television series that spun off from The Clone Wars (2018-2020).

Based on stories by George Lucas and created by Dave Filoni for the streaming service Disney+, The Bad Batch follows a special and unique team of Clone Force 99, also known as the Bad Batch -- a group of clone troopers with genetic mutations -- as they take on a mercenary mission at the dawn of the Galactic Empire.

Bounty hunter Fennec Shand made her debut in the fifth episode of The Mandalorian Season 1 and her character was played by Chinese American actress Ming-Na Wen. As the new animated series takes place decades before the events of The Mandalorian, we see a younger incarnation of Fennec Shand -- with Wen providing a voice-over -- who is not as decorated as a bounty hunter. It's possible her fame comes as she meets Clone Force 99 face-to-face.

The Bad Batch isn't the first time Wen gave a voice-over as her impressive resumé dates back to the 90s, including a vocal performance for the title character in the 1998 animated film Mulan, 2001's animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, detective Ellen Yin in the animated series The Batman (2004–2005) and as Phyla-Vell in the Guardians Of The Galaxy TV series. Despite the long list of experiences, a long-time fan of science fiction and the original Star Wars trilogy, Wen believes that she's accomplished her wildest dreams. Life had an opportunity to talk with the 56-year-old star via Zoom and discuss her appearance on the show and her enduring love of the saga.

How would you describe Fennec Shand to those who are still new to the franchise?

In short, Fennec is a bounty hunter and she's a mercenary. She's very cunning and really skilled at fighting and an incredible sharpshooter. She's definitely really fun to watch. She's first introduced in The Mandalorian and Dave Filoni wanted to have her in Bad Batch as well to show the story of how she became a bounty hunter because she's about 20-22 years younger than in The Mandalorian.

How did you approach different voices for each version of Fennec?

I definitely use a slightly different voice for Fennec -- a lower register -- because I want her voice to be recognisable. When she speaks, there's sort of like a soothing kind of slinky tone to it. She pauses at strange places in her dialogue because she's thinking. So, I wanted to make sure that people would recognise her just from her voice.

When you started working on The Mandalorian in 2019, did you ever discuss with the director the future of Fennec's character?

Oh gosh, no. Not at the time. But she [Fennec] is the first character to go from being a live-action character into animation. There have been a lot of Star Wars characters from The Clone Wars that have come to life in The Mandalorian. So, this is the first time it's gone the other way. I had no idea and Dave really surprised me with that.

According to your previous interview on starwars.com, I read that growing up in Pittsburgh, you became a fan of science fiction and movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Star Wars trilogy. What do you particularly like about the sci-fi genre?

I was one of the few Asian American kids growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a neighbourhood called Mount Lebanon. We had come from Hong Kong to New York and I found myself in a small suburban town. So for me, science fiction was an incredible escape, where I just felt like I fit in. I felt like I could fantasise about travelling the galaxies and being this adventurer. I just fell in love with science fiction and science fantasy in general because so many of its stories were about using your imagination to see what the future could be or what other possibilities existed. What I loved about Star Wars is that it's always about hope. No matter who's fighting who, or what's going on, basically it's about friendship and it's about hope and positive messages.

Who are your most favourite characters from the Star Wars franchise?

Besides Fennec Shand? [laughs]. I mean it's hard you know because the trio of Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker is amazing and they're almost like one. I'm also going to throw a Chewbacca in there because he always gets left out. I'll even add C-3PO and R2D2 but it's really impossible to pick my favourite.

As Disney+ has just officially launched in Thailand, what should Thai fans not miss on the platform, especially when it comes to Star Wars content?

To all the fans in Bangkok, if you love Star Wars, you're going to love The Mandalorian and Bad Batch. The animation is spectacular and both are visually stunning as well. Also, check out The Book Of Boba Fett, which is my other series that will be coming out soon depending on how it rolls out. There's so much amazing storytelling, adventures and characters to fall in love with and I hope all the people in Bangkok fall in love with its authenticity.

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