“In our philosophy, the Force is very strong”: Star Wars Families in India

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“This is a really interesting commission for me because I’ve spent most of my career travelling the world and photographing global landscapes,” says photographer Jason Koxvold. “This is the first time I’ve gone to a place like India to make portraiture.” 

Koxvold’s subjects are the Tewari family — Shiv, Karen, Anishka and Arav — who live in Goa. Anishka and Arav enjoy art, drawing, and reading; Shiv spent years in the Indian Navy and now runs his own consultancy; and Karen is an ex-teacher who runs Kid Venture, a series of camps for children that encourages them to “get off their devices” and go trekking, fishing, and playing games in the outdoors. Between them, the Tewari’s share a love of Star Wars that has only grown as the years have passed.

The origin story of the Tewari’s fandom begins with Karen, who was born in 1977, the same year  A New Hope was released. When Karen was seven, her father came back from months away in Malaysia, serving in the army, with a VHS cassette of Return of the Jedi. She was immediately obsessed. 

“All throughout my growing up, I loved it,” she describes. “I loved the different worlds, and every single one of them reminded me of my dad because he was a huge Star Wars fan, and so was I. When my kids came of age, I introduced them. It connects us. It’s a genetic love for Star Wars that’s gone from my dad, to me, to my kids.” 

Shiv’s Star Wars story began with the score. “In the early 70s, when Star Wars was released, access to VHS or films was not so easy,” he says. “I think the music came first, and the theme song. We could just pause and feel the star exploding.” He would imagine Star Wars, visualising it via its iconic soundtrack before seeing any of the films. 

Then Shiv met Karen, and shortly after they married, they travelled more than 30km together on a motorbike to see The Phantom Menace in the cinema. He had been officially initiated. “She brought more of the Star Wars world into my life,” he describes. “I just got fascinated with the storyline, the [triumph of] good over evil, and that’s how it continued into our lives.”

Today, the family watch the films together, dress up as Han and Leia, and have adopted principles from the saga in their own lives. Star Wars provides modes of living and role models to aspire to. “I think it’s very nice that they have female empowerment,” says Anishka. “I feel like Rey is a much stronger role model than Leia was, but Leia was also very strong. They show that women don’t need saving.” 

Shiv agrees that the teachings of Star Wars resonate further than you might expect. “I truly believe that there is a force,” he says. “If you talk about India, our scriptures, our philosophies, the spirituality here… We believe that there is a force and energy. Force is nothing but energy, and how you use it for the betterment of mankind or other humans. In India, in our philosophy, the Force is very strong.”

Koxvold, a British photographic artist, flew over from his resident New York City to take up the commission. Star Wars Families was an unusual opportunity for the artist. His typical methods of researching subjects, using Google Earth to look at satellite imagery, were of little use. 

“Essentially, it came down to on the day, showing up and hoping they’re going to be great in front of the camera, which they have been,” he says. “Most of the time, when I shoot a commercial commission, you don’t have much time to make a connection with the subjects,” he continues. “In this instance, we have two days to shoot. It was a relative luxury to be able to come in, spend a couple of hours talking before we started shooting, and really getting to know them and what they’re interested in, how they like to be represented.” The Tewari family made it easy for him. “They’re so outgoing, so warm and welcoming, that it’s almost impossible not to make a good connection with them.”. 

The photographer himself admires the Skywalker saga and the themes it has explored over the course of the eight, soon to be nine, films. “One of the aspects I have come to appreciate from Star Wars is the power of resistance,” he says. “These are stories that are playing out across the world again today — the underdog against the massive, unchallenged corporate military. In the present day context, Star Wars becomes quite subversive.” 

Koxvold’s imagery is spare and crystalline. Anishka floats on her back in a lake, the pale gold of the sun glancing off the water around her; later, Arav uses a mirror to reflect the sun back towards the camera, a bright starburst in the centre of the frame. It is an oblique family portrait, subtly composed of graphic details, and meticulously arranged shadow, light, and colour.

Often, we don’t see the Tewari’s faces as they turn away from us, towards the lake, or stand in silhouette. It is especially striking, then, when we see Karen gazing towards us in her sari, leaning on the same motorbike that cemented her and Shiv’s shared passion for the saga. “I avoided specific visual reference to the Star Wars story,” explains Koxvold, “focusing instead on thematic links. What I hope to achieve is a sense of the edge of the empire — a place where surprising things are possible, where there’s dignity in hard work, a respect for the sanctity of life and, most of all, the power of belief.”

“I don’t come from a background of fandom, so to meet people who are true fans was really eye-opening,” the photographer goes on. “Not just in that they collected the figurines, not even that Karen would bake the most extraordinary Star Wars-themed birthday cakes for her children, but that they apply their interpretation of the films and their meaning to the way they live their lives, and not in a frivolous way.”

Star Wars Families presented by eBay is a collaboration between Lucasfilm and British Journal of Photography in advance of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. An immersive photographic and editorial project, it sheds light on families around the world who have enjoyed the magic of Star Wars for nearly half a century.

The Star Wars Families commission is organised by Studio 1854 in collaboration with Lucasfilm. For more information on sponsored content, visit 1854.studio

To hear about upcoming commission opportunities, register with 1854 Commisions.