Photo courtesy of Joe Corroney.
If there’s anything Joe Corroney, Brittney Jackson and Julia Speller have in common — it’s their passion for “Star Wars” and their talents to convey that through art.
With Tuesday marking yet another “May The 4th” — also known as “Star Wars Day” — the three illustrators told Slice of Culture that because they were so mesmerized watching their first “Star Wars” film, captivated by the storyline and characters, they had to enter the universe in their own way.
It shaped my imagination
Corroney, of Indianapolis, was about four years old when he saw “Episode IV: A New Hope,” which released on May 25, 1977. He said it was the first movie he saw in theaters and you just couldn’t help but be blown away.
“Visually there was nothing like (Star Wars),” Corroney said. “It was so revolutionary with the special effects… There wasn’t really anything that broke the barrier of, not just visuals, but of stories too… (Star Wars) just sort of shaped my imagination.”
The film — written and directed by George Lucas — follows young jedi Luke Skywalker and cocky pilot Han Solo who battles to save Princess Leia who has been held captive under the orders of Darth Vader in an effort to fend off the Rebel Alliance.
Aside from May The 4th — which plays off “May the force be with you,” a famous line in the film — May 25 is another official Star Wars Day in the year as it marks the anniversary of “A New Hope,” the first film that ever premiered in the franchise. In 2007, the city of Los Angeles declared May 25 as an official Star Wars Day.
After Corroney saw the movie, he said he began drawing the characters at home. And as “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” premiered in 1980 and “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” released in 1983, Correney grew up, but his love for the franchise never changed.
From creating his own comic books in middle school to studying art in college, Corroney said he always knew he wanted to be an illustrator, but he never thought he’d be where he is today.
Now, Corroney is 47 years old, lives in Ohio and is a decorated illustrator who has given Lucasfilm Ltd. official “Star Wars” artwork for books, games, trading cards and magazines since 1996.
About six months out of Columbus College of Art & Design, Corroney did freelance work for “Star Wars” gaming books. Then, just a few years later, “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” premiered in 1999 and the franchise began to go on a high again.
Corroney penciled “Star Wars: Empire” for Dark Horse Comics and created characters Kai Justiss, a male jedi knight who survived the “Clone Wars,” and Ur-Sema Du, a female jedi master who served the Jedi Order.
But Corroney said his favorite characters to draw are Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Darth Vader, a once heroic jedi knight, is the main antagonist in the original trilogy; his signature raspy breathing and lust for power painted him as the perfect crook. Boba Fett was a Mandalorian warrior and skilled bounty hunter who emulated his father, Jango Fett.
“(Darth Vader) was my favorite character,” he said. “… Going back, a lot of people knew Anakin became Darth Vader because of ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ but we didn’t really know why… When we see ‘Revenge of The Sith’ it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s kind of misunderstood.’ We didn’t know that about him. We didn’t know he had a passionate side and loved a woman named Padme.”
“The Great Remorse of Darth Vader” is one of Corroney’s popular art pieces, and also his personal favorite. He completed and released the piece around 2005, the same year “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” hit theaters. The film shows how Anakin Skywalker, once labeled the chosen one, is led down the inevitable path of the dark side after a battle with emotions and attachments — two things a jedi shouldn’t have.
Yet the fictional universe lives on not only through the work of official illustrators, but fan artists too.
“There is a sense of family and community… especially in person (at comic conventions),” Corroney said. “Everyone’s feeding off each other’s energies and we’re always inspired by what other artists are doing.”
Drawing them is a comfort
When Jackson watched “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” she said she instantly got into “Star Wars.” Her brother got the newly released movie on video for Christmas and the two were “completely mesmerized.”
“I became completely obsessed and clearly never grew out of that phase,” Jackson said.
“The Phantom Menace” is the first of the prequels. The film shows apprentice jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and master Qui-Gon Jinn come across 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine while they’re sent to settle matters with the Trade Federation.
The Florida-based artist said she fell in love with “the characters, their stories and the worlds they lived in” since that day. She’s redesigned her favorite characters — Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, Leia Organa, and Grogu — put them in “what if” scenarios and drawn them just to get her creativity going.
“Some of the earliest Star Wars-y things I can remember drawing as a kid were Episode 1 scenes such as the Duel or the Fates fight and the podracing scene. As I grew up, I got to be not-so-confident in my human drawing abilities and generally avoided drawing people. Thus I mostly stuck to animals and didn’t often do many Star Wars characters, and especially didn’t show those drawings to anybody. Up until very recently I started conquering that fear, learning and practicing human anatomy, and now I can’t stop. As a result, I get to produce a whole lot more Star Wars pieces.”
A year ago she drew Ahsoka versus Maul’s duel on Mandalore, which she took time working on the characters, composition, lighting, background and colors — it’s her favorite piece.
Jackson only recently discovered the “Star Wars” fan artist community, but said everyone is talented and inspiring with their different styles and techniques. She has a folder on Instagram where she’s saved artwork from fellow fan artists that she scrolls through for inspiration, she said.
Now Jackson is 28, has over 5,000 followers on Instagram and regularly shares her illustrations.The entire art community on Instagram has been “a huge blessing.”
It’s an endless universe
Meanwhile, Speller didn’t really dive into the “Star Wars” universe until Disney’s hit-show “The Mandalorian.”
“I felt that I could be getting more out of the story if I knew more about it’s universe,” Speller said. “It’s been great because there’s just this endless trove of movies, shows, books and comics that already exists out there for me to discover.”
“The Mandalorian” follows a lone gunfighter after the fall of the Empire, five years after the events from “Return of the Jedi.” It currently has two seasons and is only streaming on Disney+.
Speller said what makes her want to create fan art based off the saga is the expansive universe and infinite stories to tell. She enjoys picking characters that she’s connected with and give them more focus.
Her favorite characters to draw? The aliens and cyborgs. Specifically, she prefers to draw Wat Tambor, Mon Calamari, the Rodians and the Neimoidians.
As for her favorite piece, she said she’s unsure, but she’s working on an Aurebesh character alphabet and she thinks that might be the one. Until then, her General Grievous piece is up there, but she’s also fond of her “sillier” pieces like Darth Maul doing his daily makeup routine.
The 28-year-old New-York based illustrator has over 1,000 followers on Instagram. Like Jackson, she finds inspiration from other artists.
“A very imaginative and passionate bunch. I find it equally inspiring to see professional level concept art as well as new artists who are just getting into drawing because of their love of Star Wars. I also admire comic artists, creating new stories for our most beloved characters. They always keep me motivated to try new styles and mediums.”
The meaning of May The 4th
While many artists, like Corroney and Jackson, are having “May The 4th” Day sales for their artwork, all “Star Wars” fans are taking the day to reminisce on a franchise that has given them a good memory, one way or another.
“It’s a special day to celebrate your favorite franchise and more socially acceptable get to let your inner geek out,” Jackson said. “I’m always especially excited about getting to proudly sport my Star Wars t-shirt in public and run into other people who are doing the same.”
“Star Wars Day is everyday for me,” Corroney laughed.