It comes as no surprise that diehard fan Will Janssen — and his small but growing household — recently represented the UAE as one of 10 fan families around the world selected by Lucasfilms and The British Journal of Photography to share their love of the franchise.
Janssen — a keytarist and marketing manager for UAE-based band The Boxtones — was chosen along with his wife Gill Tierney (drummer and vocalist for The Boxtones) and their son Luke, to participate in the exclusive Star Wars Families project.
Ten families were visited by 10 different photographers and videographers to document their stories. They shared their tales of loving the epic space-opera franchise, created by George Lucas, the first film of which released in 1977.
Two weeks ago, the Skywalker saga — chiefly involving siblings Leia and Luke — ended with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Star Wars Families therefore served as a snapshot of a historic moment in the franchise — and the end of an era. It was co-run by The British Journal of Photography, whose first issue was released in 1854, making it one of the oldest photography magazines around.
“Our singer Louise sent me a link asking families to submit a 250-word essay about how Star Wars has affected your life,” said Janssen, of being chosen.
“We have three cats named after Star Wars characters, we named our first child Luke after the main character [Luke Skywalker], we have Star Wars tattoos, Star Wars collections, and we love the movies, cartoons and the whole shebang. They selected our family amongst thousands of other families around the world.”
He continued: “Ten photographers visited 10 families from South Africa, United States, the UK, Germany, Brazil, and all around the world.
“Josh Adam Jones, an award-winning photographer from Bristol, came to visit us and took photos of us in our home. We had an interview with a videographer named Michael Bell. They put together a little documentary and released it two weeks before 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' came out.
“The thing that blows my mind is that it’s featured on Starwars.com, the Star Wars official website. So, for a while, it’s on their home page, and the thumbnail for the video is my little R2-D2 toy with my wife Gill holding our son Luke in the background.
“The photo shoot was partially done in our living room. They wanted to know where we sit and enjoy watching Star Wars movies. Because I have a Darth Vader statue on one side and the Red Guard on the other side, we took a few shots with those, as well.
“One family in Italy, who were also a part of this project, had some shots outside frolicking in the snow. Because we’re in the desert, it was a good contrast. Plus, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed in the desert just outside of Abu Dhabi, for the planet Jakku. So, we had a few shots with the sand dunes and the sunset in the background.”
GROWING UP STAR WARS
Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, 40-year-old Janssen grew up watching Star Wars obsessively as a young child.
“I was born in the late ‘70s and the first movie came out in ‘77, followed by the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi throughout the early ‘80s. I was pretty much watching it when I was about five, six years old and even had VHS tapes, which we had taped off of TV years and years ago, and I watched them until the tapes didn’t work anymore,” said Janssen, laughing.
He married wife Gill, also a Star Wars fan — the pair sometimes dress in Darth Vader/Red Guard costumes — a year-and-a-half ago in Fort Gibraltar, Manitoba.
“We had a German brass band who played some Star Wars music for our cake-cutting — it was the Cantina Band music,” said Janssen.
The pair have an emotional connection to the movie franchise, which helped them overcome a difficult period in their lives after their son’s birth seven months ago.
“We had a bit of a health scare this past year after having our first child. We were down in the dumps as it was quite horrific news,” said Janssen.
“But it’s all good now and we’re on the mend. The one big thing we learned from the Star Wars series is the quote, ‘In darkness, you’ll always find light.’ The hope throughout the entire series showed us that as devastating as everything is, you can always find a way to plug through and keep moving on,” he added.
Would he be sad if son Luke grew up to not love ‘Star Wars’?
“No, I won’t be sad… But he has to be into Star Wars,” Janssen said, chuckling. “He better, after all this!”
CATS, TATTOOS AND MEMORABILIA
Though seven-month-old Luke is the family’s only child, they also have three hyperactive rescue cats with Star Wars connections.
“They’re all Arabian Maus, so they’re running around the house constantly. The first is Princess Leia, she’s a little tortoiseshell cat and she’s wild. Our second is a big black cat named Darth Vader. The third was found trapped in an escalator in Mazaya Centre; she’s a little scaredy cat and she had the biggest ears, so we called her Yoda,” said Janssen.
Five years ago, while visiting a friend in Canada, he got his first and only Star Wars tattoo, though he says there are more to come.
“I have Darth Vader on my right bicep — it’s half a skull, with the other half being a Darth Vader helmet. I got it for a friend in Banff, Alberta, in the Rocky Mountains. It’s kind of like a souvenir. Whenever we travel around the world, instead of picking up postcards, we pick up tattoos,” said Janssen.
“There is more coming. I have a leg dedicated to getting the Mandalorian — either that, or the Baby Yoda. But the Mandalorian is cooler,” he joked. (The Mandalorian is a new Star Wars television series directed by Jon Favreau; big-eared, wide-eyed character Baby Yoda became a massive internet sensation.)
“My favourite has always been Darth Vader,” said Janssen. “He’s a commanding force. People look up to him. Everyone was afraid of him until Return of the Jedi, where it showed that he had a soft side and there was still good inside of him. I like the idea that not everybody is pure evil. Plus, I have asthma and he breathes like he has asthma — so, we’re the same.”
Does Janssen hold onto any Star Wars memorabilia, perhaps something that broke the bank?
“They’re not crazy expensive, but I do have some pretty cool rare items — I have a stamp collection from the Royal Mail in the UK, as well as a commemorative coin from the first Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, where they have the awards ceremony at the end. I have one of 10,000 made in the world — it’s number 4,687. And that just sits in a frame — I don’t touch it. No fingerprints!”
For him, the more valuable memories are connected to his son.
“We did a photo shoot when Luke was 12 days old and we brought a few stuffed Star Wars toys with him. He was barely opening his eyes — those are kind of memories you can have forever,” recalled Janssen.
“I’ve had some replies and tweets and likes from Mark Hamill [who plays Luke Skywalker] on Twitter. He is like the nicest guy on social media — and it’s actually him,” he said.
“I’ve had him tweeting about my son Luke, saying, ‘He’s quite adorable, from one Luke to another Luke.’ That’s always made my day when I turn my phone — yep, there’s another like by Mark Hamill.”
WHAT IS STAR WARS?
Star Wars is an epic space-opera media franchise created by George Lucas. It kicked off with the 1977 film of the same name and quickly gained devoted fans around the world.
This first film was later renamed from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’.
It sparked a seemingly endless franchise of films, TV series, video games, merchandising and more, which continue to expand until today.
WHAT IS STAR WARS ABOUT?
'Star Wars' is a classic good versus evil story. The franchise takes place in “a galaxy far, far away” a long time ago. In the Star Wars universe, humans co-exist with robots – or droids – and multiple alien species. Hyperspace technology allows them to travel between planets.
There is a mystical power known as “the Force”, which can give certain people superpowers – such as telepathy or telekinesis – if the Force is strong enough with them.
This limited number of force-wielders can train and meditate to reach this level.
Two knighthood orders, who are enemies to one another, can wield the Force. The good, or the light side: the Jedis (i.e. Luke Skywalker), and the bad, or the dark side: the Sith (i.e. Darth Vader).
However, it is possible to move between the light and dark side.
Their primary weapon is a lightsaber, which is a laser blade – often red or blue – that can slice through physical matter.
HOW MANY MOVIES ARE THERE?
Famously, the sequence of the Star Wars franchise was released out of chronological order.
It began with episodes four, five and six – A New Hope, the Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi – and then tracked back to a prequel trilogy, consisting of episodes one, two and three – Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – ending in 2005.
A decade later came a sequel trilogy – Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
There have also been standalone films, including Rogue One (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018).