Not every fan can say they have a stained glass window taken from the design of a drawing they did of Darth Vader when they were a kid. Paul Souders has such bragging rights. Here’s the backstory of the Stained Glass Darth Vader and how it came to be.
What’s the story behind the stained glass design?
In 1977, my family was living in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, where my father (a geologist) was working on a long-term project. His colleague Jim was visiting from the Big City (Lincoln) and took the family to see Star Wars at what was probably the only movie theater in town. Scottsbluff is pretty remote — we got all our movies a month or so after the rest of the country. Anyway, Jim was a big SW fan, had read the Lucas novel, and seen it probably a dozen times already. He was an excellent interlocutor — I was 6 years old and my brother was 4, so a lot of the movie might have sailed over our heads if he hadn’t been on hand to translate. For about five years Jim was like my favorite grown-up.
This is definitely my first clear memory. I remember everything about that day, and the next. I fashioned a Lego version of R2-D2 and played Star Wars all day. In fact, my brother and I pretty much played nothing but Star Wars until about 1983. I don’t exaggerate to say it was a life-altering event, it shaped a lot of my personality. As a kid I was fascinated by astronomy and stayed up all night stargazing. My head was just always in the clouds. I loved the idea of the Force, that God is an emergent phenomenon … “luminous beings are we.” That’s a great mythology to grow up with, it makes the universe a place of wonder and depth. On my college admissions form I listed my religious preference as “Jedi.”
How did your drawing end up as stained glass art?
That Christmas (1977) I sent Jim a homemade Star Wars-themed Christmas card. The front featured Darth Vader in exactly the form you see rendered here in glass. Darth was definitely my favorite character to draw. At the time Jim was doing a lot of art like stained glass. He created a stained glass version of Darth and presented it to me, probably for my seventh birthday.
What has been the reaction from people who see it?
I’ve been carting this thing around for 30 years now so it’s garnered a lot of reactions. Your reaction will depend a lot on your childhood relationship with Star Wars, I think. My wife for example, who is a few years younger and grew up overseas, wasn’t steeped in the SW mythology like I was and finds it touching and faintly comical. I guess that’s the usual reaction.
People who came to SW late in life — born after 1983, probably, or who just don’t like sci fi — can find it pretty hilarious. And I admit it’s funny, that became part of its charm as I outgrew Star Wars. A lot of people poke fun at Darth’s wacky proportions, like his little peg feet or stumpy arms. Some people think it was executed in a deliberately stylized fashion, which isn’t true. The window is an exact copy of my drawing. I think some people find it ironic or kitschy, but it isn’t. It’s totally sincere.
But for people who really grew up in the Star Wars mythology, like me, the window can have this almost reverential aspect. It represents the Star Wars-infused childhood that a lot of people my age experienced. I get a lot of “I used to draw Darth Vader all the time, too.” And it’s wonderful how many thirty-somethings have, as their first memory, seeing Star Wars in 1977.
No matter what, as soon as anyone hears the story about its genesis, they kind of melt. If you can’t find something touching in a stained glass window made as a present for a six-year-old from his own drawing … geez, you’ve got ice in your marrow.
Any plans for another Star Wars stained glass piece?
I really doubt it, but life is full of surprises. Right now Darth is in my son Orion’s nursery. On the one hand I’m kind of passing on this tradition, but who knows if he’ll be into Star Wars? Maybe there’ll be some other cultural phenomenon that just consumes his life like Star Wars did for me.