Earlier this year, Mondo, (a cool collective for pop culture-inspired art, toys, records, attire, and collectibles), in conjunction with Acme Archives, embarked on an ambitious project—they would do a series of Star Wars-inspired prints rendered, in a style both painterly and realistic, by one of the greatest pop culture artists working today, Mike Mitchell. (Mitchell is based in my hometown of Austin, Texas, just like Mondo.) The first release was Luke Skywalker in his Red Five fighter attire (from the Battle of Yavin, at the end of the first Star Wars), followed by characters both odd (lizard-faced bounty hunter Bossk, Imperial officer Grand Moff Tarkin) and familiar (C-3PO).
And we are so thrilled to debut the next two characters in this amazing project–Lando Calrissian and Boushh (the bounty hunter character Leia disguises herself as when they’re rescuing Han from Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi). What’s more, I got an exclusive interview with Mitchell. He told me about his love for Star Wars, how he chooses the characters, and what we should expect next. (Also, while Mitchell has only done original trilogy characters so far, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that we’ll be seeing a character from The Force Awakens in the not-too-distant future.)
When did you first fall in love with the franchise?
Honestly, I think about this all the time. I don’t really know when … I think my love of Star Wars really took off when the Power of the Force figures came out, like in the ‘90s. I was really into collecting toys. I was born in ‘82, so it’s always been there; it’s always been this juggernaut. I think it really took off when I started collecting the toys and really started falling in love with the designs of the characters. There’s nothing in pop culture quite like Star Wars.
How many Star Wars portraits will there be when all is said and done?
We originally talked about doing 25; I’ve done that for Marvel in 2014 and I did like 50, and that was just so much. We’re shooting for 25, but it’ll probably end up being higher than that. I really wanted to do this series, I’ve been wanting to do it for awhile, and now that I’m doing it and rolling through it, it’s like, Oh well, I can squeeze this character in. Originally, I was just going to do the characters that I really wanted to do. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there’s a lot of Darth Vader stuff out there, there’s a lot of Boba Fett stuff, and I love those characters, but I wanted to do these off-the-wall characters. I really wanted to tackle some of these characters that I really liked, that maybe don’t get enough love. Like, every five years, or every 10 years, maybe they make one figure of it for every 20 Luke or Darth Vaders.
How long do these typically take you?
Well, the portraits — some of them go quicker than others. But with the Star Wars stuff, there’s one thing that I really love — there’s such attention to detail on a lot of the characters, and a lot of the outfits. So, it’s not just the straight up, Oh, here’s a human with a haircut and a T-shirt on, it’s like, Here’s an alien with armor and a helmet on, and a helmet that has decals, but the decals are scratched off, you know. So, to answer your question, it’s hard. I spend about a week or two on each one, working a few hours a day, generally a lot more, but I would say anywhere from 10 to 30 hours, something like that.
How do you come up with the background color for each character?
Sometimes in my head I have a rough idea of what the colors will be. There are certain colors that just work. Sometimes there’s only one color that really works, and I play with that. Sometimes I know which one it is going to be right off the bat, and I try other stuff and it just doesn’t work. I mean, sometimes what I think is going to work doesn’t work, and I have to figure out something else.
It seems like Lando could only have this purple, bluish-colored background.
And you’re right, I tried other stuff, but it just didn’t look like Lando at all. But yeah, I put that in there right off the bat, and it just stuck. I was like, I can’t change that, it’s got to be that. I think it works.
Was Lando a character you definitely wanted to do when you started this project?
Yeah. He’s just the best.
The other character we’re debuting is Boushh, which is Leia in her bounty hunter attire from Return of the Jedi.
That was number one on my list. Well, maybe not number one, but it was up there. That’s the one I was most excited to do out of all of them. I just love that costume design—it’s so crazy. That might have been the easiest one in terms of it just coming together exactly how I wanted it to. I’m really happy with that one.
How much research do you have to do? Do you watch the scenes endlessly?
Yeah, I go in and look at all of the different scenes, and capture different angles, and then I go in and see if I can find … You’d think there’s a lot of accurate reference photos, but there really isn’t a lot. There’s a lot of stuff that gets approved to be made into sculptures, and they’re not necessarily accurate, so you have to weigh that against what’s on the screen. Star Wars will do the traveling exhibits of the costumes and props, but even that — some of that stuff’s not accurate. They put stuff in there that’s not on-screen stuff, so you just have to try and research it. I try to make sure I’m as accurate as possible, but it’s hard. I mean, some characters, like Bossk, you know, he’s on the screen very, very briefly, and it’s not super high-res. Actually, there’s a lot of cosplay communities—they go crazy because they want to make it as accurate as possible of a costume. There are people on there that have been researching specific costumes for a very long time, and they have a lot of information on those. A lot of thought goes into that stuff.
How small does a character have to be for you to not want to do a portrait?
I don’t think there is. If it’s in the movie — I mean, if it’s a unique character, like, there’s a couple—one off the top of my head, there’s a cantina character that I want to do that’s like, it’s there and then it’s gone. It’s just really, really brief, and it has no dialogue, people don’t know what the name of the character is. If I did a portrait, a lot of people probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what it’s from, but, I’m not against that at all. I like the focus on that, and showing an appreciation for something …
Harkens back to the action figures you were talking about, because they would put out every single alien, and you’d be like, Who is this?
And I love that—the weird ones.
When will this project be done?
The original plan was to do it for a year with releases every month. But we’re exploring a retrospective show of the portraits at the gallery in Austin next year, and so that would be the cap on it. There will probably be stuff to do after that, but that’s the plan right now. So, we started doing it for a year, basically. I’m donating a lot of time to get all these done. And like you said, they take a lot more time than the other portraits. This has been a pretty big focus of the year for me.
These two prints will go on sale on Thursday (6/16) at 12 p.m. CST for 72 hours at Mondo.