Doug Chiang chats with StarWars.com about his life and career, his Taiwanese heritage and life as an Asian American and folding in global cultures into the design of the Star Wars galaxy.

StarWars.com: What cultural experience plays into your work? Is there any intentionality in it or does it come naturally?

Doug Chiang: A lot of both, actually. I remember when I first started working on Star Wars with George Lucas in 1995, one of the biggest lessons that I learned from him was to study history, study other cultures, to design an alternate future. I didn’t expect that. At that time, my only experience with Star Wars was from watching the original trilogy and looking at the Art of books in terms of design aesthetics. When I finally started to work with George, my first intention was to repeat exactly that, and he was the one who said, “No, we’re going to try something new. Let’s look into different cultures. Let’s study history and study other cultures to come up with exotic designs.” It was such an eye-opener, because he really encouraged myself and the other artists to look at Japanese culture and Chinese culture for design motifs that we could incorporate.

When I heard that from George — [to] do more of that research, really go in and look into different cultures, obscure cultures, whether it’s costuming or type of weaponry or form language, and bring that into the Star Wars universe [it was eye-opening]. What happens when you design that way, you actually are imbuing a lot of that cultural heritage into the Star Wars designs. It makes it more grounded. That was one way that I started to lean into that more specifically.

Now, with the Obi-Wan [Kenobi] series, working with [Deborah Chow], we both lean into that quite heavily.

StarWars.com: Mentioning that you worked with Deborah Chow, how does it feel working with another Asian person on a project, rather than, sometimes, being the only one? When you work with someone who comes from the same background, you have that familiarity. Has that helped you?

Doug Chiang: Oh, immensely. We have a shorthand. There are certain cultural things that we can understand right away, and culturally specific things design-wise. Like, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t do this, but this?” Things that, intuitively, we pick up. It’s been an absolute joy working with Deb because she gets it. She’s very smart and knows what she wants. I really enjoy that collaboration because now, I feel like, for the Obi-Wan series especially, we have an opportunity to bring a richness to it that hasn’t been explored. And I’m working with Chung-hoon [Chung], our director of photography, he’s brilliant. He has a wonderful eye.

What I find fascinating is that on the Obi-Wan series there are easily six department heads who are of Asian American heritage. [I’ve] never experienced that before. Normally I am the only Asian in the room and it is a little bit awkward. I do have to check myself, if we’re doing a design, “Is that culturally appropriate? Can we do that?” And now we all kind of do that. We all live in that world, so we automatically know what can work and what cannot work.

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Star Wars The Clone Wars Character Encyclopedia: Join the battle!
  • Fry, Jason (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 04/27/2021 (Publication Date) - DK Children (Publisher)