Interview with Tsuneo Sanda
(Original posting: June 16, 2004)


If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably seen the work of Tsuneo Sanda in many places and have never even realized it. He’s done everything from Yoda-claus to Anniversary images to prequel images to expanded universe. He’s also worked on Star Trek pieces and much more. You’ve seen his work on book covers, in comic books, and in magazines like the Star Wars Insider magazine. I love his style and I especially like his “Shadow of Evil” series which you can find at his site  (Original posting: June 16, 2004)

What first attracted you to Star Wars?
From the time I was very young, I was interested in fantasy movies and novels. That’s why I think I was able to enter into the world of Star Wars so easily. I also liked Star Trek very much, but in comparison, the story development of Star Wars has a good tempo and unique and attractive characters as well.

Tell me how your involvement with Lucasfilm began.
The first work I did for Lucasfilm was a poster for Star Wars fans in 1994. I recall how enjoyable and exciting it was for me to work on the Millennium Falcon. Around that time I was mainly doing Star Trek work, so during the following three years I did only two or three Star Wars pieces. It has only been since I did the “20th Anniversary” piece that I became seriously involved with Lucasfilm projects.

How did it feel to go to Skywalker Ranch and see many of your pieces on display there?
Until my visit to Lucasfilm, I could not even imagine it. When I saw my work there, I felt my heart beat fast, my body lift up, and I could not speak. I remember just looking at them as if they were someone else’s pieces. I did not understand why my pieces were hung in this great gallery. When I met Mr. Lucas and was told that he is collecting my artwork, my heart stopped for a moment. I am very proud that my artwork is decorating Lucasfilm.

Have you any favorite influential artists?
My favorite artists are Ren Magritte, Andy Warhol, and Rembrandt. One other person I respect in all aspects, and not only as a Star Wars artist, is Mr. Drew Struzan.

Who are the easiest/hardest Star Wars characters to draw?
The easiest Star Wars characters to draw are R2-D2, C-3PO, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader. There are no characters that are especially hard to draw. I like them all.

How long does it usually take you to do a piece from reference materials?
When I work on characters, I need a lot of reference materials as I am not able to observe the real characters. It depends on the theme, but generally the time I need to do a rough sketch is about one week and to paint is about 10 days. I use pencils to sketch to detailed parts. Then I use acrylic paint. I use airbrush too, but basically I use Japanese brushes to draw. When sketching, I think of light and shading before I think of anything else. They provide the feeling of depth, three dimensions, and space which are indispensable in giving dramatic expressions. The one thing to remember is to always keep the image of the finished work in mind.

Are you impressed with all the Eastern parallels in Star Wars?
I was not particularly aware of that, but probably because I am Japanese. In Star Wars, I suppose, it is the costumes that most closely express Eastern concepts. But I have never thought of Star Wars as being Eastern in and of itself. We Japanese view Star Wars as a Western story. There are old Japanese tales which tell of similar struggles between “good and evil,” and maybe that’s why we feel a connection to Star Wars. I have not reached the stage where I can say I understand Zen. It may be that simple living—putting all unnecessary thoughts out of my mind, fervently trying to cultivate myself, believing in myself without fear of death, searching for the ideal—share common characteristics with Zen.

I understand your whole family is made up of artists. Do they enjoy Star Wars?
I don’t know what will happen in the future. Only God knows. Of course, in the beginning, their choosing art as a field of study may have had something to do with my work, but as for the future, I will be content if they meet life on their own terms, doing their best in whatever situations they find themselves. All of my family loves Star Wars. I don’t think they are devoted to the universe as much as I am, but that’s fine. I wouldn’t want them to be exactly like me in everything anyway. They are different in everything. There are no two identical human beings on earth, and it is wonderful that each person has his/her unique sense of value. It is proof that he/she has individuality. I am happy about that.

Tell me some more about your non-Star Wars art.
I was involved in doing cover art for the New York-based magazine OMNI for five years and poster art for Paramount’s Star Trek for five years as well.

Did you enjoy Episode I and Episode II?
There is no other word but fantastic! That must be the same feeling that Star Wars fans are feeling. I think the fight scenes in all the films of the series are realistic and breathtaking.

Are you planning on attending any conventions around the world?
I always want to attend, but I am not sure of the procedures or how to prepare for them. I plan to talk to Lucasfilm about attending the convention before the Episode III opens.

Have you been contracted for any Episode III work yet?
Maybe in the near future, but I am always thinking up new projects and I already have several ideas that I can propose.

Why do you think Star Wars has lasted all these years and still remains so popular?
I think it is because Star Wars is always evolving in unexpected ways and is scattered with surprise elements.

What’s your best Star Wars memory?
It was when I took my young sons to a movie theater to see Star Wars. When I had taken them to other movies, they did not sit still and were noisy. But Star Wars was different! I was surprised how still they sat till the end so that they could see all of it. The story developed from one moment to the next with a fast pace and new characters continued to appear! I feel this is the essence of Star Wars. Even without understanding the words, we can understand the story. This is surely the reason why Star Wars is loved throughout the world. I strive to do the same with my artwork.


If you’d like more information about Tsuneo Sanda and his artwork, don’t forget to visit his site at

(Original posting: June 16, 2004)

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