At first glance, you might mistake the campy photos of the Stormtrooper on Darryll Jones’ Instagram as cosplay. How else could a Star Wars henchman, equipped with his own jeans, bag, and bike, end up knee-deep in a picturesque lake?
This trooper is no superfan, though. His name is Eric, and he’s a 6-inch Hasbro toy that has been making his fans on Instagram smile for years. While Eric might not be human, his creator, UK-based artist and photographer Darryll Jones, certainly is.
“[W]ith Eric, I have always tried to be a little more simple on the special effects and tell more of a story, a little emotion captured and hopefully make someone, somewhere in the world smile,” Jones told Gizmodo. “All feel something.”
You can follow Jones’ and Eric’s adventures on Instagram at @darrylljones.
The real man behind Eric the Star Wars toy
Originally from South Africa, Jones explains that Eric was born after he moved to the UK about 13 years ago and experienced the country’s winters. Since the sky got dark so quickly, Jones told Gizmodo, he found himself stuck inside with his toy figures, including a Lego Dark Vader.
The artist, who co-owns a food and drink photography studio, found that he wanted to tell more visual stories with his pictures, so he decided to take a few shots of his toys.
“I have always loved Stormtroopers and the Dark Side,” Jones said in an email. “[T]hose very first shots of Stormtroopers made me laugh as they had the same monotonous expression, which quite weirdly resonated with me and a lot of others.”
How Eric the Stormtrooper started travelling across the UK
Before working in his own studio, Jones used to work for grocery giant Tesco, where he travelled across the English countryside taking photos of food and farmers. Jones recounted taking the little 6-inch toy on long trips with beautiful sights and snapping pictures of him that would make him laugh. He would then post them on Instagram, although he didn’t expect a reaction.
Yet, Eric did resonate with people, and in a big way. After his first trip to Scotland, Jones said he felt that Eric had shot to stardom on social media. People were interested in the everyday life of the toy, he said, and started emailing him to tell him how they looked forward to Eric’s antics every day.
Eric’s most memorable snapshots
Over the years, Eric has seen incredible destinations. He’s made sand angels, gotten to recreate Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white dress scene, ridden his motorcycle alongside his friend Karl, and even posed with one of his greatest fears, a snake. These are only a handful of Eric’s countless adventures.
Although picking a favourite Eric photo is difficult, Jones said that there are a few over the years that are very special to him. One of them is the image of Eric walking in Scotland with a kilt, which is the very first image that got picked up by a news outlet. It ran on the BBC in 2015.
“Eric has marked various points of my life”
There are other memorable photos, though, Jones said. The artist explained that Eric has been with him through many important moments in his life, such as the birth of his second daughter, holidays with his daughters, the death of his grandmother, a divorce, and becoming a single, full-time dad.
“[I]f you look through the feed, Eric has marked various points in my life,” Jones told Gizmodo. “I have always said [that] Eric has pulled me through a lot of hard times and also been there for all the good, I owe a lot to that little guy.”
In addition to Eric, there are other characters who pop up in Jones’ photographs every once in a while. Recently, he’s focused on his own character named Bill.I.Am, a robot left alone on the planet when the world ends. Jones made Bill.I.Am out of bottle tops and wire during the first coronavirus lockdown.
Lucasfilm’s reaction to Eric
When I first saw Jones’ feed, besides being captivated by Eric, I was also struck that Disney and Lucasfilm hadn’t gone after the artist with a big band of lawyers. Jones said that a lot of people ask him if Lucasfilm is OK with what he does and admits that he was worried about the company’s reaction at first, given that he is essentially “using someone else’s character to make my own little stories.”
Surprisingly, the big band of lawyers never came. In fact, Jones said that he’s partnered with Disney, which owns Lucasfilm, on a few things and that it was fine with Eric and his art. Disney sometimes sends him new products to feature.
Jones points out that it’s obvious that he’s not making millions in profit from what he does with Eric, and that he’s not defacing the brand or being derogatory. He doesn’t mass produce his work, but he does make occasional prints and other items, including coffee paintings. Right now, he’s working with a supplier to release some limited t-shirts.
“Art Should Evoke an Emotion”
The UK-based artist wants the public to know that art should evoke an emotion. When people look at his work, he hopes they can see something other than a re-created Star Wars toy image. There are thousands of those, Jones explained, but Eric is meant to be different.
Long Live Eric
Jones is grateful to all of Eric’s followers that have kept up with him over the years, pointing out that some have even been inspired to pick up a camera and gone out to have fun themselves. That’s what it’s all about, he said. In recent years, he feels that Instagram’s changing algorithm has not been kind to Eric and said that he seems to be losing followers instead of gaining them. It doesn’t matter to him, though.
“We have never really done this for the followers, it has always been an exercise in making people smile, so, we carry on, and will always carry on doing it,” Jones said.