To say that Star Wars has impacted popular culture is a bit of an understatement. Star Wars has left an indelible mark on the zeitgeist; terms like Deathstar, the Force, and Wookie are common enough for even non-fans to recognize them as Star Wars allusions.
Here’s something that may not have occurred to you: Star Wars may have had a massive impact on mainstream culture, but as a force, it’s made waves in seemingly counter-culture spaces as well. Tattoo art has been significantly impacted by Star Wars, allowing for a very geeky tattoo culture to emerge.
While expressing love and fandom with permanent ink on skin now is as common as geeky fanart t-shirts, it wasn’t always the case. Though tattooing and body art has had a long and storied past, its recent history saw the art relegated to a less-than-desirable space in Western society. It was closely associated with bikers, gangs, and prisons as recently as 25 years ago.
Shane Turgeon has advocated for, written about, and chronicled the emergence of geeky tattoo culture. While not a tattoo artist himself, he does own Shades of Grey, a hybrid tattoo, comic, and collectible toy shop in Edmonton, AB Canada. As huge Star Wars fan himself, Turgeon knows full well what kind of challenges you had to take to get a geeky tattoo in the late nineties. “You couldn’t just walk into a biker shop and get a geeky tattoo.”
Around the turn of the millennium though, artists who were influenced by comics, heroic TV shows, and movies were emerging in the tattoo industry. Western tattoo practices were also evolving–moving past walls of flash (generic, pre-designed tattoo images people could pick from a wall) towards a culture where creating unique and meaningful art pieces for each individual was much more common.
It was a confluence of these geeky tattoo artists, many of whom were deeply influenced by the phenomenon of Star Wars, comic books, and other geeky visuals, along with the paradigm shift from flash tattoos to custom art tattoos, that allowed for geeky tattoo culture to emerge. Turgeon’s two volume collection, Force in the Flesh, showcases some of these artists as well as those that don their work.
Joe Pomparelli, founder of GeeksterInk, an app that allows people to find geeky tattoo artists and see their online portfolios, describes the shift in tattoo culture thanks to geekdom: “[I]t just isn’t that hard or scary to go and get a geeky tattoo. What I mean is that you don’t have to walk into a random tattoo shop and try to explain to the artist who Admiral Akbar or Thanos is.” He further describes the profound impact Star Wars has had on tattoo culture and just how prevalent Star Wars art is within the app: “We see lots of Star Wars tattoos, and of the Star Wars tattoos I would say more Darth Vaders, Darth Mauls, and Boba Fetts than anything else.”
Things have ultimately come full circle. Turgeon curated an art show in November 2015 with approximately 45 artists creating images of how they’d imagine tattooed Star Wars characters. The show, titled Portraits from a Galaxy Far Far Away is remarkable as both a reimagining of beloved Star Wars characters, as well as a commentary on how much Star Wars itself has influenced the tattoo artists who contributed to the show.
With more movies to come over the next few years, it’s clear that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Star Wars on skin. But next time you think about getting a BB-8, D20, Meeple, or a Deathly Hallows tattoo, take a moment to appreciate how it’s possible partly because a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke didn’t go to Tosche Station and just pick up some power converters.
Check out the gallery below for how some people have expressed their love of the franchise through tattoo culture and art and let us know in the comments below what you think and if you’d get a Star Wars tattoo yourself!
Featured Image Credit: Force In The Flesh Vol II (Courtesy of Shane Turgeon)
Image Credits: Shane Turgeon, Force In The Flesh Vol II (Courtesy of Shane Turgeon), Bonnie Burton | Star Wars Flickr (CC 2.0 License), Portraits of a Galaxy Far, Far Away (Courtesy of Shane Turgeon)