“Anybody can be anything,” says Benjamin Bedeman, talking about a subject close to his heart: Star Wars. “There’s a princess that becomes a general; there’s a young boy that becomes a Jedi; there’s a smuggler that becomes a war hero. It doesn’t matter where you come from, and it doesn’t matter what your family is, because family bonds will just form somehow. I think that appeals to a lot of people around the world.”
Bedeman lives in Blieskastel, Germany, with his partner Caroline and her daughter, Ylva. The three of them describe themselves as a “patchwork family.” “I’m not Ylva’s biological father, but when I started dating Caroline it was clear that to have a successful relationship with her, I needed a successful relationship with Ylva as well,” Benjamin describes. “Maybe she doesn’t yet get the concept of having a Dad. But she knows what I am [to] her… We are a family. We are not blood-related, we’re not married, but that’s not important. It’s how you feel about it.”
Benjamin and Caroline realised early in their relationship that a love of the Skywalker saga was common ground for them, and they began to watch the films together. As it turns out, their shared life is full of echoes from the galaxy far, far away, like how Caroline’s father was born on 4th May (“May the Fourth be with you!”), or how she shares her nickname, Carrie, with the actress who first brought Leia to life. Benjamin spent a week (five or six hours every evening after work) building an 8000-piece LEGO replica of the Millennium Falcon, which is now proudly displayed in their living room, and the family have now begun to attend the occasional Star Wars cosplay convention.
The Bedemans spent a weekend being documented by Daniel Chatard, a German photographer based in Hanover where he is currently studying documentary photography. The commission was a refreshing change of direction from some of his recent visual projects. “I’ve been working on political or environmental topics in which you try to find the big picture,” he describes. “Now, this is an assignment about a very small group of people — a family — and that’s wonderful because I can establish this personal relationship.”
Chatard was struck by the strength of the Bedeman’s passion for the Star Wars films. “Getting to know them, I realised how strong the impact can be for humans around the globe,” he says. “People develop thoughts connected to the Star Wars saga, and even base some important decisions in their life on what the characters in the movies would do. I think Star Wars can serve as an orientation in people’s lives, which is something very valuable.”
Their time spent together also saw him witnessing up-close how a “patchwork family” can work. “I understood how all members can give comfort and strength to each other,” he says. “I imagine it must be a challenge to suddenly create a close connection to a child that is not yours, but Ben and Ylva have a very good relationship. I feel like they have a very strong connection.”
The resulting series of photographs is full of a sense of shared adventure: the family wrapped up against the cold of early winter in Germany and tripping through the woods with a lightsaber, or bundling into the car to go out somewhere together. Chatard captures a remarkable breadth of different experiences given the short timeframe he spent with the Bedemans. We see Caroline and Benjamin share quiet, intimate moments together, as well as the bustle of the family as a group, sometimes dressing in costume, often with Aragon the husky sitting nobly beside them. The tenderness amongst them is recorded without the images being mawkish or sentimental. Chatard’s record of the family’s ease with one another is gracefully matter-of-fact.
Caroline and Benjamin’s passion for the films has brought them closer as a family, especially when seeing the characters afresh through Ylva’s eyes. “She was just so happy to run around as Rey,” describes Benjamin of the first time the family went to a convention in costume. “She wanted to fight Kylo Ren, she wanted to fight Darth Vader. She was just so in character, and that was almost a way for us to relate more to the characters. It was just an awesome, awesome experience.”
Benjamin and Caroline had debated for months about what characters to dress as — they eventually settled on Han and Leia — and were slightly apprehensive before they first attended, but the atmosphere swept them all away. It wasn’t long before they went to another. “When we got to that convention and the first people reacted to us, it was just so fantastic,” says Benjamin.
Star Wars has also had a profound effect on Benjamin and Caroline, providing life lessons with a genuine emotional resonance and real-life application. “My grandma passed away in April this year,” says Caroline. “We came from the funeral and Ylva was sad. She was like, ‘Mummy, she’s not going to come back and now she’s just gone.’” Caroline remembered a moment from the films that had helped her understand loss and now could help her daughter with the same. “I said, ‘Do you remember what Luke says to Leia? No-one’s ever really gone. As long as we keep her in our memories, she’ll always be here.’”
As a woman raising a daughter, the films’ inclusion of empowered, nuanced female characters also resonate with Caroline. “She is such a strong woman and she’s got such an awesome personality,” she describes of her favourite character, Princess Leia. “She never gives up. She’s feisty, she’s strong and she’s powerful. As a kid I just wanted to be like her… I wanted to be that strong, [so] that no-one could ever really get me down.”
As the Skywalker saga draws to a close, Benjamin and Caroline are feeling a mixture of emotions. “It’s really sad that the story kind of ends here, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Carrie Fisher on screen again, one last time,” says Caroline. “I’m looking forward to finding out how everything works out for all the characters, and what kind of people they become in the end.”
Benjamin shares Caroline’s sadness that the story is reaching its end. “It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” he says. Then again, he also shares her excited anticipation of the closing of the circle, and the characters realising their potential. “I really hope that the character arcs they started in The Force Awakens now come to a full close, and that everyone will get the ending they deserve,” he says.
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.
To hear about upcoming commission opportunities, register with 1854 Commisions.