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Star Wars changed his student’s life

Asst Prof Liew Kai Khiun tells Foo Jie Ying how Star Wars figures in his office and classes, and the craziest thing he’s done as a fan

PHOTOS: JASPER YU

Tell us about your first Star Wars toy.

It was an R2-D2 droid that my dad bought for me in 1978, when I was five. Back then, it was only $1.80. Had I kept the R2-D2 intact, it’ll probably be worth $20,000 now! My mum bought me a Millennium Falcon in 1982. I still remember it cost $125, from Thomson Yaohan. Back then, it was considered exorbitant. It still is. Those were the little things that were more important than studying for exams.

How big is your collection now?

From T-shirts to action figures and even chopsticks, frankly, I have lost count. What can’t I absolutely live without? The Uniqlo Star Wars T-shirt that I take along to overseas conferences and vacations.

I see part of the collection in your office now. Is there any item here that evokes memories?

I think my TIE Fighter toy changed one of my former students’ life quite a bit. After graduating, he had a rough time trying to fit into corporate jobs that weren’t suitable for him. When he came to my office and saw my TIE Fighter, he started opening up and shared his interest in toy collecting. Now, he's selling toys online, and I think he’s in a much happier place.

What’s the craziest thing you have done in the name of Star Wars?

In 2015, I dressed up as Kylo Ren for a charity screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Turns out, it feels worse to be in that costume than the biowarfare suit worn by soldiers – I was steaming up even in an air-conditioned room, and virtually blind without my glasses. I’ve also tried to ask for the cardboard Stormtrooper standees used as promotional displays, but was roundly rejected.

Don your academic’s hat: What lesson can one learn from Star Wars?

I use Star Wars to teach changing cinematic representations of women. The images of strong and independent personalities like Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) and Rose Tico (played by Kelly Marie Tran) do not fit into the stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of women. There is also a life lesson to be learnt in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, when Jyn hypes up her troops for the mission to Scarif. She tells them: "We’ll take the next chance, and the next, on and on until we win, or the chances are spent.” I think that’s a way of looking at life.

Describe your life with a line from Star Wars.

I would like to think that it is as Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) puts it in Rogue One: “I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.” But in reality, I guess it’s more like C-3PO crying out “We’re doomed!” as Darth Vader attacks Princess Leia’s ship in Star Wars: A New Hope.

You recently gave submissions to a government committee set up to look into combating the problem of deliberate online falsehoods. What is one falsehood that’s been spread about you?

That I may have undergone cosmetic surgery. But those are just tongue-in-cheek comments from friends on Facebook.

What did you do on Star Wars Day?

I bought some action figures and merchandise at the Star Wars Day festival held at the F1 Pit Building.