Star Wars Day: a unique Malaysian artistic twist on galactic tributes


In 2018, comic book artist Julian 'Lefty' Kam cleverly blended local life with the Star Wars universe in his series 'Welcome to Sri Angkasa' ink prints. Photo: Julian 'Lefty' Kam

On this "May The Fourth" (aka Star Wars Day), let's strap in, engage hyperdrive, and look into the fascinating intersection of Star Wars and Malaysian culture, where the galaxy far, far away has not only inspired, but also given a youthful and curious audience a chance to learn more about traditional shadow puppetry, featuring characters from the beloved sci-fi films.

From a local standpoint, the Star Wars story has been retold in many ways. It has undergone a clever adaptation infused with homegrown flavour.

Through the incorporation of comic book art, batik prints and photo-editing skills, the epic saga continues to intertwine itself intricately within the colourful fabric of Malaysia's storytelling tradition.

While Star Wars has inspired countless fan art tributes, a select group of local artists have elevated their adoration for the series to intergalactic heights.

Below, we roll out a list of Malaysian-themed Star Wars creations spanning across the years, sure to capture the imagination and hearts of the faithful.

PLAYING WITH DARK AND LIGHT

"Who's your daddy?" That legendary (loosely themed) Star Wars line couldn't be more fitting for Fusion Wayang Kulit, a standout figure in Malaysia's crossover traditional arts and pop culture scene.

Established in 2012 by Tintoy Chuo and Take Huat, this award-winning team pioneered a one-of-a-kind fusion of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and science fiction. Fusion Wayang Kulit’s groundbreaking Peperangan Bintang, a Star Wars-inspired, series has become a live staple at culture-based events and arts workshops, while its shadow puppets have been exhibited in art museums in Kuala Lumpur.

The main goal was to revive the fading traditional art of wayang kulit by infusing it with modern storytelling and multimedia elements, while preserving its authentic essence (with Kelantanese Malay dialect used as the language medium, with English subtitles).

Peperangan Bintang debuted in October 2013, marking Fusion Wayang Kulit's entry into the public stage. Since then, the series has been expanded to include 30 Star Wars-inspired shadow puppets, starting with the character Sangkalah Vedeh, a cross between Darth Vader and the Ramayana demon. Subsequent creations include Perantau Langit (Luke Skywalker), Tuan Puteri Leia (Princess Leia), Si P-Long (C3PO), Ah Tuh (R2D2), and Stormtroopers, resembling a skeletal army.

Today, Peperangan Bintang is a regular fixture in the mainstream cultural and educational scene, with the cool wayang kulit storyteller-master puppeteer Pak Dain (Tok Dalang) and traditional musicians on board.

Star Wars means a lot to me, but the most meaningful memory is being featured in a video on the official Star Wars YouTube channel,” says Chuo, about a video series posted in 2020, where Star Wars fans from around the world sat down for interviews.

He also revealed that he has a soft spot for Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (the Alec Guinness original, mind you).

A view of Superdoofus' super detailed batik art Star Wars-inspired prints, which have been a massive hit with the fanboys and fangirls. Photo: Superdoofus A view of Superdoofus' super detailed batik art Star Wars-inspired prints, which have been a massive hit with the fanboys and fangirls. Photo: Superdoofus

DRESSED UP IN BATIK

Illustrator-comic book artist Arif Rafhan Othman, also known by his alter ego Superdoofus, says it's been exactly one year since he started making artwork of Star Wars characters using batik motifs.

“I started doing Star Wars-inspired batik (prints) last year on May 4th, in honour of Star Wars Day, starting with Darth Vader. So far I've done about 15 characters,” he shares.

He also gave an iconic film poster and a dynamic fight scene in Star Wars the batik treatment, while scaling down designs for a recent limited edition sampul Raya (money packets) series.

Thinking back to his earliest memory of Star Wars, Arif tells us that he actually learned the alphabet with it.

“My mum bought me this Star Wars read-along book about the ABCs and shapes.

“I would read the book while listening to the narration from the cassette together with the sound effects. It was a great experience,” he recalls.

When asked what Star Wars means to him, he tells us that the main thing that drew him the series was because it was about standing up against imperialism.

“The original trilogy is about the Vietnam War. It’s about a group of rebels against the imperial forces, which is very much relevant up until today,” he adds.

USE THE 'FORCE' ... AND SOME CHOCOLATE

Star Wars isn't just for the fanboys. As the movie franchise presents a classic battle of light versus darkness, contemporary artist Red Hong Yi, a next level fangirl, decided to take things up a few notches with her "Star Wars Shadow Art" in 2015.

In this galaxy-twisting series, the shadows of seven beloved Star Wars characters – Darth Vader, Yoda, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, among them – materialise through the DIY wizardry of casting a solitary beam of light onto various wired materials. Adding to the spectacle, another piece flaunts the "Star Wars" logo, resplendent in its iconic font.

Red Hong Yi, famed for crafting art from the most unconventional of materials, definitely had the "Force" by her side. Employing an curious mix of resources – from aluminum foil and discarded computer chips to vibrant feathers and chocolate nibbles (sprinkles included!) – she conjured up some Jedi magic (like Yoda) in this series.

In a behind-the-scenes video, she unveils her studio secrets, demonstrating how she manipulates the beam of light until the character's shape gradually emerges, underscoring the vision and creativity required for such an artistic project.

What would you do if an AT-AT walker rocked up to your kampung? For photographer Zahir Batin, he rolled up an impressive series of Star Wars-inspired intergalactic action. Photo: Zahir Batin What would you do if an AT-AT walker rocked up to your kampung? For photographer Zahir Batin, he rolled up an impressive series of Star Wars-inspired intergalactic action. Photo: Zahir Batin

THERE GOES THE KAMPUNG ...

Imagine "The Empire" invading a Malaysian kampung – that's the vision artist and photographer Zahir Batin brought to life with his 2015 viral photo series, drawing inspiration from his idyllic hometown of Kampung Sawah Sempadan, Tanjong Karang in Selangor.

With nothing but his precious collection of Star Wars figurines, spaceships (a testament to his fandom) and his skills in Photoshop, Zahir brought to life stunning rural "battle" scenes. Adding Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, X-Wings, AT-AT walkers, cuddly Ewoks, and other iconic elements from the Star Wars universe, he let his imagination run free in his "Intruders" series.

To capture the cinematic essence of the movies, Zahir balanced light and shadow in his photographs, often shooting during sunrise or sunset. Yup, waking up early to get a shot before breakfast! Details such as Imperial or Rebel fighter headlights and motion trails were also meticulously incorporated to enhance the realism of the scenes.

Initially creating the photos as a hobby, Zahir never anticipated their viral success on social media. Let's hope he's eager to further develop the collection, especially with numerous other figurines still waiting to be incorporated.

In Lefty's 'Welcome To Sri Angkasa' series of ink prints in 2018, his lorry driver characters were named Hang Sulu (Han Solo) and Chew Bak Kah (Chewbacca). Photo: Julian 'Lefty' KamIn Lefty's 'Welcome To Sri Angkasa' series of ink prints in 2018, his lorry driver characters were named Hang Sulu (Han Solo) and Chew Bak Kah (Chewbacca). Photo: Julian 'Lefty' Kam

WELCOME TO TAMAN SRI ANGKASA

Back in 2018, comic book extraordinaire and documentary artist Julian "Lefty" Kam unabashedly let his inner Star Wars fanatic run wild, crafting a delightful series of sketches that spoke volumes about his devotion to the galaxy far, far away.

Ironically, the best part of this B&W series was its localised neighbourhood feel. In his series of ink prints titled “Welcome to Sri Angkasa," Lefty transported the intergalactic saga to the confines of Taman Sri Angkasa, a quaint border town nestled close to "Bolehland's North South Highway".

In one print, “Kak Lia” (Princess Leia) cheerfully distributes steaming packets of nasi lemak, while fortune teller “Sifu Yuda” captivates the crowd at a bustling pasar malam.

Portrayed as lorry drivers, Hang Sulu (Han Solo) and Chew Bak Kah (Chewbacca) look cool traversing the highways, shuttling "bounty hunter" goods between Kuala Lumpur and the northern cities. Boba Fett was handed a grass cutter, instead of a blaster, to ensure he kept the lawn of a kampung house neat and tidy.

The daredevil Mat Rempit were also reimagined as reckless speeder bike riders. Watch that speed limit and tree!

“I wanted a down-to-earth Malaysian suburb that could contain this bunch of intergalactic characters. I believe that it could be fun to see iconic international characters in our everyday life scenarios," Lefty was quoted in an interview with The Star in January 2018.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In Culture

Hermes v Hermes: Turkey bookshop marks win in copyright fight
Weekend for the arts: 'Twisted' fairy tales at KLPac, poetics of translation
'We are crying,': 8yo 'Goldsmith' mural in KL erased, street artist asks, 'Why?'
Strasbourg, with its literary history, shines as Unesco's World Book Capital 2024
Art is cool, museum tells sweltering Muscovites
Tracing Chinese memory and identity in Indonesia's history
French author Leila Slimani drafted for Paris Olympics role
Gen Z puts a fresh spin on Kafka and various literary classics through TikTok
Bronze echoes: Gamelan studio resonates in downtown KL
Author Oliver Jeffers makes climate picture books for adults and kids alike

Others Also Read