Artist makes popular Star Wars characters using Native symbolism

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – They are Star Wars characters with a twist, a local artist interprets pop culture through Native art. He hopes these popular characters will help others understand native culture better.

Michael Toya does pieces using precise mat cutouts. His latest series is Star Wars characters just in time for the big movie premiere. But he tells KRQE News 13, the force of these pieces is about more than just light sabers.

“First thing he said was Rogue One. Are you excited dad. Of course I’m excited. Gave me a high-five,” said Michael Toya, an artist, Native Flair – Contemporary Designs.

Toya and his son are avid Star Wars fans. They plan to watch the new movie opening weekend.

“Han Solo might come back maybe, hopefully,” said Toya.

Their fandom inspired Toya’s latest series of art work.

“I have a storm trooper, I have a Boba Fett, I have Darth Vader, of course. And I also have R2D2,” said Toya.

He draws designs with black ink on one board, then one edge at a time, he completes his characters with the second piece.

“Intricate mat cutouts,” said Toya. “Ties together and becomes as one in the piece.”

Toya is a native artist, from the Pueblo of Jemez. He uses current popular themes and interprets them using native symbolism.

“Incorporate pop culture and the colors and the meaning that no one’s ever heard of,” said Toya. “I want the spirit of my people to touch that piece.”

At quick glance, his pieces may look like any other Storm Trooper or Darth Vader, but if you look carefully, you will find bear claws.

“Represent strength, wisdom, and courage,” said Toya.

Eagle feathers.

“That majestic spirit of the eagle, and the strength and the spirit of the eagle,” said Toya.

And forces of nature.

“The rain comes and brings a blessing on the land,” said Toya.

He hopes people will look between the lines and see beyond the popular characters.

“For people to know about what our culture represents,” said Toya.

Toya said each Star Wars piece takes about 12 to 14 hours to complete.

According to Disney, the latest movie in the Star Wars series is projected to bring in $140 million opening weekend. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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