Amarjit Singh was the one who initiated his family into a love of the Force. “The first time I watched Star Wars was when it initially came out in 1977. It just blew us apart,” he describes. “It was beyond its time. I just fell in love straight away, and it’s been a part of our lives ever since.” The films are a mainstay of Singh family life. “All of the recent movies that have come out, we watch a few times,” says Updesh, “but the first time is always as a family.”
The Singhs are a Sikh family living in Melbourne. Amarjit, 57, is a nurse; his wife, Gurmit, works for a textiles company; his children, Kirtan, 20, and Updesh, 23, both work in retail. Updesh has just completed her studies in psychology and Kirtan is pursuing a degree in education, which he hopes to switch to media. Together, they share a love for the galaxy far, far away.
There are parallels in the power of the Force and the religion practised by the family. “The practices of the Jedi and the lifestyle of the Jedi is what a Sikh is also,” says Amarjit. “The Jedi look after the downtrodden, defend the defenceless, do no harm, and that is what a Sikh is all about. A Sikh is not only about himself, but looking after his community, his friends, his family and his neighbourhood.”
Kirtan agrees, finding strength and lessons in Star Wars as well as his faith. “The values that I take from the Jedi help me in real life, in my religion,” he says. “Whenever I was dealing with racism, the practice of the Jedi would always come into mind, and I would know not to pursue any anger or take any vengeance upon someone else. It’s always better to be calm and respectful, and Star Wars helped me in that.”
Just as Amarjit passed down a love of Star Wars, he also passed down the teachings of his faith. Kirtan therefore recognises the dynamic between Yoda and Luke in his own relationship with his father. “I could really compare it to almost any master and apprentice on the Jedi side of things,” he says. “My dad is always doing interfaith work; it is always inspiring, always helpful, especially because I’m doing that work as well. I’m being trained in what I should be doing when I’m older with the future generations, with my kids. In the same way, Yoda trains Luke in the teachings that he knows.”
Updesh, too, finds lessons that resonate in the Star Wars galaxy. “Kylo Ren and Anakin have both struggled with the Light Side and the Dark Side, teetering between the two,” she says. “It’s like in life, you go through different experiences and you teeter between.” Her favourite character is Kylo Ren, by virtue of his complexity. “Especially in Episode VII. He’s feeling that pull to the light.”
Ying Ang, the photographer assigned to shoot the commission, says: “I found the Singh family powerful in their spirituality, humor and service to their community. My experience with them was a warm meeting of minds and souls.”
Ang is a social documentary photographer based between Melbourne, Singapore and New York, and noted for her intimate portrait-making. The family-centric subject matter especially resonated with her during this particular commission. “I worked with my sister on this assignment,” she explains. “She was the videographer. The meeting of my family and the Singh family was unique compared to any other assignment I’ve done alone, in that there was the immediate recognition of bond and familiarity.”
Not only was the family focus reflected on both sides of the lens, but in the respective background of both photographer and subject. “Finding out that they were also from Singapore, had moved to Australia and had problems assimilating, it felt like their struggle was largely akin to mine growing up,” says Ang. “I wanted to be able to try and find a way to show what bound them together, and what lent them the strength to continue living and prospering in this country.”
Their shared experiences allowed the group to work together to produce a project that feels open and collaborative. “It was a dynamic that showed how much in common we found on both sides of the lens,” says Ang, “and what a difference it makes in building trust between photographer and subject.”
This trust, established in such a short space of time, is evident in the series of images Ang has produced. The family sit or stand together, clearly completely at ease, either when stroking one another’s cheek, posed by Ang in constructed set-ups that recall stills from the Star Wars films, or in candid moments of laughter. The photographer makes use of a rich, textured palette: Updesh’s turban as a flash of blue amongst a mostly white frame, light spilling through lace curtains, the glow of a light sabre illuminating the faces of Kirtan and Updesh as they wield them in darkness.
Ang’s work has captured the way that a love of Star Wars runs through the Singh family like vital thread, but it is not the essential fact about them: what is essential is their deep family bond, recorded incontrovertibly and skilfully by Ang’s lens.
The Singh family is anticipating the final Episode of the Skywalker saga with excitement and nerves. “I could cry at the end of Return of the Jedi because it was such a beautiful ending,” says Kirtan. “I wasn’t sad about what happened, but I was sad it was over. It was a really perfect ending.”
Will the new film be able to match such a perfect summary, given that it will be a final end to the series? Kirtan says “I’m just questioning how can they give us a new ending which justifies the fact that Return of the Jedi is no longer the ending for the saga. I’m nervous, anxious, and interested in finding out how they can tie it all together and conclude it.”
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.