Studio 1854

A rock band and a newborn in the desert: Star Wars Families in Dubai

On the 19th of December (20th of December in the US), the Skywalker saga will reach its epic finale with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Ahead of its release, Star Wars Families presented by eBay, in collaboration with Lucasfilm, sees 10 photographers document families around the world as they each share their own Star Wars story.

Musicians Will and Gill Janssen have spent the last few years living the rock’n’roll dream. Expats from Canada and Scotland respectively, the couple live in Dubai and play keyboard and drums in The Boxtones, one of the city’s leading bands. Signed to Universal Music MENA, they have toured the world and played support slots for some of the world’s biggest artists, including Liam Gallagher, The Stereophonics and Bryan Adams.

Yet while their lives revolve around playing music, the Janssen’s Dubai Marina apartment suggests there is another prominent passion in their lives: the Force. Boxes of Star Wars jigsaw puzzles sit alongside Star Wars vinyl records and read-along cassette tapes, while Darth Vader’s cloak and headpiece hang ominously in the corner, overlooking a pristine collection of Stormtrooper helmets.

The room’s light switch reads ‘LIGHT SIDE’ and ‘DARK SIDE’, and their cats are named after characters in the films. You might even hear John Williams’ iconic score playing. “It gives me peace,” says Will. “You sit back after a long day, you put on some music, no distractions, close your eyes… It brings me back to being young again.” As Gill puts it, “Since meeting Will, I’ve been indoctrinated into the Star Wars way of life.”

Most precious of all is the couple’s son, Luke. At only six months old, the Force may not be entirely with him just yet, but Will has big plans, not only to pass on his love for the series, but to bring up his son with a strong set of Skywalker values. “[Luke] was obviously the positive hero figure, fighting for good,” he explains, “We hope to pass those kinds of traits onto our son when he’s older… We’re going to really enjoy watching him grow up to be a little Jedi.”

The Janssens have been able to take more from the films than an ever-expanding collection of memorabilia. A few months after Luke’s birth, Gill discovered that she was suffering from cervical cancer. Thankfully, following emergency surgery, she is already in recovery.

“I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from Star Wars to help me get through life was, ‘In darkness, you’ll always find light’,” says Will. “We had quite a scare, with a newborn as well. There was a lot on our plate. But we found the care we needed… It was a support system, a feeling of hope leading forward that we can overcome pretty much any obstacle as long as we’re together and we’re focused.”

Will’s love of Star Wars merchandise certainly struck a chord with photographer Josh Adam Jones. He fondly remembers “collecting the figures from cereal boxes [and] playing the many iconic video games across various platforms” during his own childhood. Yet among all of the Janssen’s souvenirs, costumes, and artworks, it was this sense of support that stood out most clearly to Jones in his time with the family.

“I think what surprised me the most is the power that Star Wars has on people’s lives,” says Jones, “and how the many themes presented in the films are prevalent in most families… I hope the images that the family and I made together will communicate a snapshot of their personal lives in a way that is positive and celebratory of their relationships with one another.”

The Dubai landscape was of particular interest to Adam Jones during the project, comparable as it is to his previous work focussing on the notion of ‘home’ for expat communities living in Muscat, Oman. Likewise, this idea of making a home somewhere initially unfamiliar was central to his conception of this project; Star Wars seems to help the Janssens create, as Jones puts it, “a certain element of home away from home.” “They’ve created this universe relating to Star Wars,” he says, “but also it’s a place that they feel comfortable in and feel at home at.”

All of these aspects of the work sit alongside one another in the pictures. Next to the elegant portraits of Will’s painstakingly curated exhibitions of memorabilia, the series also bears witness to the bonds that unite a young family making a life for themselves in the midst of Dubai’s sand dunes and arid desert plains. It looks not unlike Tatooine — a fitting place for a young Jedi to grow up.

Now, Will and Gill will immediately be returning to their hectic schedules as the busiest musicians in Dubai. In this sense, they are blessed to be part of more than one family unit. For the Janssens, The Boxtones themselves are family, in both a literal sense — Gill’s similarly Star Wars-obsessed brother, Gary, and his wife, Louise, play guitar and sing in the band — and, perhaps more importantly, in the strength of the bonds developed through years of working hard and travelling the world together.

As Gill says, “Even though we’re not all blood-related, we have been working and living in each other’s pockets for so many years that we are like family.” Here, Will chimes in: “We’re the Rebel Alliance!”

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.

The Star Wars Families commission is organised by Studio 1854 in collaboration with Lucasfilm. For more information on sponsored content, visit 1854.studio

To hear about upcoming commission opportunities, register with 1854 Commisions.