You know the old saying: if you love something, ink it permanently on your skin. At the Star Wars Celebration convention in London this year, fans of the franchise lived up to these wise words, queueing for tattoos of droids, Jedi, and Sith Lords alike. Amongst the stands hawking T-shirts and toys, more than a dozen tattoo artists from around the world turned up to ink the crowds. Although most of them were fully booked up before the convention's doors even opened, cruising their makeshift tattoo parlors made for a compelling spectator sport — even if it was a little bloody for some tastes.
Whether getting their first tattoo or simply adding to their collection, the fans I spoke to all stressed how iconic they thought the Star Wars films, books, and comics were. From aliens and armor to ships and ‘sabers, the franchise's universe is full of so much potent imagery that nearly everyone can find something that looks "cool." But equally important to fans is being able to identify with a character’s journey or struggles. "It's kind of the universal story," tattoo artist Adam Guy Hay tells me as he preps his booth. "Everyone can associate themselves with it, and find something to admire, or aspire to, in the films."
Adam and Shane of Red Rocket Tattoos joke as they work.
Over the morning of the last day of the convention, I watch Hays ink his first tattoo on a regular client, a gentleman named Matt. Hays goes from shaving Matt's calf ("All part of the service.") to wiping the blood off the finished product in just under two hours. That's a quick tattoo by most people's standards, and it's even more impressive considering Hays only came up with the design that morning, sketching it freehand onto Matt's leg with a Sharpie before inking in the lines and color. "Freehand is the stuff that guarantees originality," Hays tells me. "And I prefer it when people just show up [to talk through a design] rather than hashing it out over 20 emails."
Matt himself take the whole thing (literally) lying down. He doesn't wince at all during the tattooing process, and only lets out a quiet "Oooh" after standing up midway to stretch his legs. He tells me he got his first Star Wars tattoo seven years ago (a Princess Leia on his arm, also by Hays) and says that he's always felt an affinity with the franchise. "Star Wars has always been massive for me, and for tattoos, you've got to pick something that's important to you. So I just thought: why not, let's do Star Wars."
You can check the whole process of Matt's tattoo below, along with shots of other customers at the convention.
- After shaving Matt's leg, Adam freehands the design onto the skin, using a sketch of Kylo Ren's lightsaber for reference.
- The first bit of ink goes on (and in).
- Matt, however, remains supremely chill.
- The black and red colors are now complete. Luckily you can barely see the blood, thanks to all that red 'saber flare.
- Next: the other colors go, as well as the details on the 'saber's hilt.
- And voila: the final product. R.I.P. Solo.
- At the booth next door another fan gets a tattoo.
- Artist Rizza Boo on the appeal of her Star Wars tattoos: "You have a universe of stuff to choose from, and there's just so much nostalgia."
- The recipient: "I wanted to find something I'd not seen before, and I love the image of Chewie on top of the walker."
- Tattoo artist David Corden inks a happy customer.
- Chris Jones inks Adam Driver's SNL appearance as Star Wars Undercover Boss. (Side note: I saw at least three people cosplaying this character at the convention.)
- Tattoo artist Guy Tinsley tries out his first trooper. Why a trooper for a tattoo? "Because it's awesome," says the recipient.