“You’ll stand with me”

We went to see “The Last Jedi” twice during opening weekend, and I absolutely loved it. The plot problems didn’t bother me much; I loved what was being done with the characters – particularly Rey and Kylo Ren.

I confess that I didn’t trust the movies to develop in a way that would feel satisfying to me – psychological depth had never been the strong suit of Star Wars. I certainly didn’t expect for the movie to go the route it did, but I was delighted to see it.

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“You’ll stand with me”
Watercolour and gouache on Saunders Waterford cold-pressed paper, 15×25 cm

Prints

I had managed to stay almost completely spoiler free, and I really didn’t see this scene coming. I confess I yelped aloud in the cinema when it played on the screen. And all the while, hanging on the edge of my seat, watching Rey and Kylo Ren dissecting Snoke’s guards and cheering for them, I had a little voice at the back of my head: “But I don’t want it to be that easy. Don’t let them ride into the sunset together now.” I loved the way my wish was granted. I can’t wait to see what happens in IX.

Something that really impressed me was the handling of the “fear” theme in the plot. It was fear (however contrived…) that made Anakin turn to the dark side, it was fear that made Luke break off his training, it was fear that drove him to almost kill his own nephew, and it was that fear that fully turned Kylo Ren to the Dark Side.

I love the way they spun this plotline further, and I love the way how Rey turns it upside down. She isn’t afraid, not in the sense those others were, insecure, afraid to lose someone. She grew up depending solely on herself, and while she is cautious and brave and sympathetic towards others, she lacks that desperate streak that those other Force-others had which spoke to the Dark Side in themselves. How I would love for the end to be a true balance, with the Dark being a necessary part of the Light that needs to be understood and worked with rather than feared and avoided!

Yoda understood that; he had some of the best lines – about failure being the greatest teacher, and this truly remarkable line that resonated with me as a teacher and as a parent: “We are what they grow beyond.”

 

 

Learning to fly

What he saw…

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Watercolour and white gouache on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 25×35 cm.

Commission for Doug, who wanted me to show what Kylo Ren saw when he stood in the deserted cockpit of his father’s ship. An unusual piece for me, with all those darks (and that mechanical…. shtuff!) but I’m really pleased with it. It was a great challenge to portray emotion without seeing any faces at all, just through body language. Of course, watching Adam Driver do just that for most of TFA helped!

Prints here!

The Monster and the Scavenger

This piece combines two of my greatest loves – Star Wars and Art Nouveau. Some very mucha part in me squeed when I saw Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s long-trailing costumes. They were meant for Art Nouveau.

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Watercolour and gouache on Clairefontaine Etival cold-pressed paper, 28×39 cm (11×15 in).

The dark side, and the light

Trying my hand at another full watercolour portrait of Kylo Ren. It’s cool how much this working from photos phase has taught me about realistic painting since January! Adam Driver’s face still defeats me more often than not, but I’m quite happy with it here. A bit too handsome, perhaps, but I’m biased.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Clairefontaine Nuageux cold-pressed paper, 39×29 cm (~11×15 in)

Original and prints available here!

Video on Patreon.

 

“That hairy beast”

Kylo Ren remembering Chewie. Or trying not to.

Just as he calls his father “Han Solo” to avoid any emotional ties to him, I imagine he avoids thinking of Chewie as anything than in terms of “that hairy beast” or maybe the “walking carpet” Threepio and Leia used to denote the Wookiee. Especially after being shot by him.

Except “Fuzzball”. That was Han’s. He wouldn’t use that.

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Watercolour and gel pen on Hahnemühle Le Rouge cold-pressed paper.

Original here.

Ben and little Rey

Okay, this is it. I’m illustrating headcanons that have a fat chance of being AU in two years’ time. I regret nothing.

Ben Solo (around 15) and Rey (around 4) at the Jedi Academy. Ben is already firmly under Snoke’s influence, already knowing he has to kill his fellow students on Snoke’s orders, and allows nobody to break into his shell. Rey is still trying.

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“Why are you angry?”
“Get lost.”

Watercolour on Clairefontaine Grain Nuageux paper, 30×21 cm.

Original here.
Okay, I’ve broken down and made prints available. :)

 

Sketch to painting video here.

A creature in a mask

Is she done with him yet? Nope, she isn’t. ;)

In fact, the more theories I read about this guy, the more he intrigues me.

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A creature in a mask

Watercolour and gouache on Canson Montval paper (which is seriously reaching its limits for the amount of water I’ve been sploshing on it recently). Size 42×30 cm.

Original here.

Timelapse video here.

Can we talk about the Force vision Rey has when he is called to the Skywalker lightsabre? How amazing is it to heap spoilers and dead giveaways on the audience in such a way that most of them will be too dazed to make any sense of them until they’ve watched a couple of Youtube videos taking the footage apart? Even after the second rewatch, I didn’t have a clue what I’d seen. In my head, it was WHAM rey-rain-hey-its-R2-was-that-luke-menacing-people-ah-that-kylo-guy-awww-that-poor-girl WHAM, and I never realised that I had just seen Kylo Ren saving Rey’s life by running his iconic lightsabre through a masked man – another knight of Ren? – who was just about to kill her.

Which has sold me on the theory that Kylo Ren was the one who left Rey on Jakku.

This is why nobody ever came back for her – because everyone thought she was dead like the others. Kylo Ren defied Snoke by letting her live, and hiding her. That’s why he seems to know who she is throughout the movie. On my first watch, I was sure she was also a daughter of Han and Leia, so that would have explained the familiarity. Obviously, she isn’t (and is quite probably Luke’s daughter – while that Anakin reincarnation theory is beautiful, I think it’s too out of the way), but he still freaks out when he hears that BB-8 left Jakku with the help of a girl. Because now Snoke will know that Kylo Ren disobeyed him all those years ago. I have a feeling that the completion of his training might be an unpleasant experience.

 

Torn apart

… in which I refuse to feel ashamed for loving Kylo Ren.

This piece was a commission for Deanna, one of my fantastic supporters over at Patreon. She threw a few ideas my way and we ran with Ben Solo as a young Jedi in training, corrupted to the Dark Side by Snoke, torn between the light and the dark but having his path laid out for him through his fear and aggression.

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Torn apart

I can’t believe how much fun it is to figure out this character, and seriously, the only thing that’s keeping me from taking the path to the Dark Side of Fan-fiction is a deeply ingrained aversion against being rendered AU in two years’ time. Art will have to suffice. I put enough story in that to satisfy my needs for explaining the character, but try to leave it symbolic enough so it’ll still work when Episode VIII is out!

The reactions to Kylo Ren are really interesting. Most critics agree that he’s one of the most interesting characters this franchise has had, and certainly the most compelling bad guy. When you’re a teacher in Germany, that picture is slightly different. Quite a few of my students tell me they hated Kylo Ren.

Why? I think he’s too close to home for many people in a certain age group. He embodies the aspects a (male) teenager might dislike about himself. He isn’t cool and badass. He certainly wants to be, and sometimes he fails at it utterly. (Of course, female teenagers usually like him a lot more as they want to pull him back to the light. By his hair or otherwise.)

The expectations for the character were certainly high. In the lead-up to Episode VII, he was everywhere, even on mineral water. You expected him to be the next big bad, and were prepared to embrace your inner badass when you saw him on screen. I think the marketing really has a lot to do with the bad press Kylo Ren gets among younger fans of Star Wars.

And then, of course, he’s got it especially hard in Germany, as the guy who lent him his voice also voices JD from Scrubs. (Funnily, he also voices Dean Winchester, but I never would have known. For Kylo Ren, he definitely gave it a lot more John Dorian and a lot less Dean Winchester.) I don’t know if teenagers in Germany know much Scrubs these days, but the rather whiny voice doesn’t really help. My ears did a couple of double-takes when I heard Adam Driver’s original voice. (His clipped “I’m being torn apart” becomes a melodramatic “Ich bin innerlich zerrissen” in German, which is best translated as “I’m rent on the inside”. Way to kill off that character for German audiences!) My kids will have to endure the movie in English as soon as it comes out on DVD, I can tell you! Here, kiddo, it’s English. It’s good for you. Your resident English teacher says so.

Next stop: Rey!

The Force, it’s calling to you.

So I’ve fallen in love with Star Wars again, and the more I think about it, the more I know why that is. (Scroll down for the art if you’re not into rambling.)

Last week, I dug into my old diaries and found what I wrote when I first saw Episode 1. I was surprised to read myself gushing over a movie that is today considered as bad as they get. I even loved Jar Jar Binks. But even then, I wrote that I loved it all because it was so bad. Literally. I’d been prepared to love it all and when it turned out to be silly, I told myself I loved it for the trash factor. Back then, I was okay with that.

Now, after seeing The Force Awakens twice, I’m only slowly understanding how much the prequels let me down, and how much Episode VII lives up to its very first sentence spoken: “This will begin to set things right”.

Yes, the obvious plot parallels to IV and V bothered me after the first viewing. Not so much after the second. JJ Abrams felt sure Star Wars needed a reboot, and I think it worked fine. My only qualm remains Starkiller Base, but I can apply my Episode 1 practice here and like it because it’s just so ridiculous.

What I love more and more is the characters. Those characters! I can’t even decide which I love most.

JJ Abrams gave us a female protagonist whose gender isn’t even an issue, as well as a black hero whose skin colour is never even mentioned. (It reminds me of the novels of David Weber, where skin colour and gender are totally secondary.) He gave us a daredevil pilot who is kind and likeable instead of selfish and badass. He gave us a villain that is so much your typical entitled manchild that teenagers hate him and adults love him for being such a complex figure.

 

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Poe Dameron

How can you not love Poe? I’m hoping the rewrite of Episode VIII will enlarge his role.

Video of the painting process is here.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Scarred

I didn’t fall in love with Kylo Ren until really late in the day, but as you’ll have noticed, fall in love I did. I can’t wait to find out what turned him to the dark side, and whether anything might turn him back to the light. I’m also semi-guiltily digging through Youtube to locate anything with Adam Driver in it. I can’t believe how versatile he is.

You can buy the original painting here.

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Han Solo

I never really liked Han in the original trilogy. “I happen to like nice men”, and as opposed to Leia, Han never managed to convince me he was one. But in this film, he breaks my heart. He started out as a cocksure smuggler who hadn’t even realised he’d lost his way; he found a terrific girl, found purpose, and ended up losing purpose, and the girl, and his way, as well as their son. The Force Awakens gives us what Han Solo “used to be” and tries to be again, but too many things have happened to be that person again. The Force Awakens is so psychologically astute and I connect with it on so many levels, and I keep discovering new ones.

If you like these (or my other work, to which I’ll no doubt return to, in case you were beginning to worry) – please consider supporting me on Patreon! Early access, special deals in my Etsy shop, digital and physical content, and a chance to win commissions and other goodies!

The Force, Awakened

Three weeks after “The Force Awakens” has hit cinemas, the Star Wars fans are coming out of the woodwork. It’s amazing how many there are. They’ve all lain dormant for the last 15+ years, apparently, including me. Teacher colleagues I’d put down as the most no-nonsense, non-SciFi, and certainly non-space-opera people on earth are discussing Rey’s parentage and Kylo Ren’s story arc with me during breaktime. The geeks awaken. In the least expected and most delightful places.

Just mid-December, I had found myself seriously considering all the steps I would have to take to get rid of the old “GoldSeven” tag and set myself up as Jenny Dolfen instead. And then The Force Awoke. And how it awoke.

Twenty years ago, I was a major Star Wars fan. Ah, the days of the Special Editions! Midnight premieres, binge-drawing Luke Skywalker (mainly 1997-1998), Star Wars role-playing for two days on end.

Luke, 1997

Luke, 1997

Landing on Dagobah, 1998

Landing on Dagobah, 1998

We played a pen and paper RPG campaign that ran for three years (1998-2001), centering on a female former TIE fighter pilot who fled the Star Destroyer she served on with a captured Rebel agent. (You can imagine how wildly I cheered during the escpae scene with Finn and Poe.) She found herself on a Rebel base in a place called Yavin – and then the Alliance needed every capable pilot. So she flew against the Death Star as Gold Seven – and was the lone Y-Wing you see returning to the base with Han and Luke.

Rhun and Sam, 1998

Rhun and Sam, 1998

Comic page of their first meeting, 1999

Comic page of their first meeting, 1999

(I wrote a long fanfic/novel about their story, which can still be found here. The link leads to parts of my old site.)

Then Episode 1 happened. And it all evaporated. All those characers I was prepared to love – Obi-Wan, Padme, Anakin – fell flat or were barely there, or just obnoxious.

While I was optimistic for Episode VII and the trailers made me giddy with excitement, I didn’t dare get my hopes up too far. I expected to like it, and move on. [Spoilers ahead – but if you’re still reading this, you’ve probably watched the movie a couple of times already!)

And now I’m fangirling over Kylo Ren. Sorry not sorry. What a compelling story, what a great reboot, what a wonderful feeling to be “home again, Chewie”. And that’s saying nothing about Ren’s hair, which is almost Fëanorean in its qualities. Along with his whole “tragic flaw” thing (okay, flaw sort of makes it sound manageable), this was the first Star Wars villain ever that really drew me in. Sure, Vader was formidable, the Emperor was sublime, and Anakin was… conflicted on the surface, but the writing and the actor never managed to make me care for his conflict. The Force Awakens, on the other hand, made me feel for a brattish, insecure kid while running a lightsabre through his own father. Well done, JJ Abrams. Well done!

Is it 2017 yet?

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My first Kylo Ren, drawn as Patreon commission for Juhi. Still trying to pin down Adam Driver’s very un-Elven facial structure at that point.

 

“I Will Fulfil Our Destiny”

Even while I was planning this one, I was scared stiff of the composition and that lightsabre. I still can’t believe I managed to pull it off! *happy*

Process video (narrated, including ideas to paint lightsabres) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMwicEAFCnw

I sincerely thought Star Wars was one of the fandoms I had left behind for good, and it feels so good to be back. Chewie… we’re home.