Most Impressive Fans: Yuki Shibaura’s Incredible, Intricate Star Wars Kirigami

Learn how one fan makes gorgeous paper art inspired by a galaxy far, far away.

Most Impressive Fans is a feature highlighting the amazing creativity of Star Wars devotees, from cosplay to props. If there’s a fearless and inventive fan out there, we’ll highlight them here.

Yuki Shibaura‘s simple paper cutting knife is an elegant weapon, her patience not unlike the concentration and focus required of a Jedi in training. As she makes another slice, the subject of her latest intricate kirigami piece comes alive from what was recently just an ordinary blank piece of paper.

And although the longtime Star Wars fan assures me anyone with these same simple tools can create their own paper cutting art, her decade of experience with the craft shows through in the fine details of her work.

Star Wars fan art by Yuki Shibaura depicts Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The likeness of her latest piece is unmistakably a grizzled and world-weary Luke Skywalker. To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Yuki made the work exclusively for and took some time away from her art to talk more about her impressive skills with a precision knife and her favorite Jedi masters from her home in Osaka, Japan.

The Force is her ally

At 46 years old, Yuki can still recall the excitement of seeing the original Star Wars in the theater for the first time with her father. “It was shown in Japan in 1978, so I was seven years old,” she says.

Some of the plot details eluded her, but the heroes she discovered in Luke and Han made an impression from the start. Still, Star Wars was just one of many interesting films and animations that intrigued her young mind, eventually inspiring her to go into a career as a designer at a video game production company.

Fan Yuki Shibaura, dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi, stands in front of an airplane.

Then the Special Editions hit theaters.

Through the eyes of an adult, the then 20-year-old film, newly restored and revamped, turned her into an unabashed fan overnight. “I became able to understand the story and the wonderfulness of the design as a sci-fi movie,” she says. And she came away with a newfound appreciation for the crazy old man she discovered in Ben Kenobi, inspiring a future cosplay of her own.

When she started dabbling in the hobby of paper cutting 10 years ago, Star Wars was an obvious choice as both subject matter and inspiration, counting the likes of illustrators Tsuneo Sanda and Star Wars poster illustrator Drew Struzan among her favorite artists.

A small paper cutting of Princess Leia is held in front of a cloudy cityscape.

Simple tools, complex art

Yuki quickly learned that the art form can be somewhat unforgiving. Each work is crafted from a single piece of sturdy Tant origami paper, so one slip of the cutting tool and a Jedi subject can easily lose a hand. “If I cut off the part I should not cut, I will start over from the beginning,” she says. Trying to mend the error simply mars the overall aesthetic. “Of course, it is possible to fix it if bonding is done using tape,” she says, “but I think it is not beautiful. It is no longer ‘artwork.’”

Yuki has had her share of redos, but now she rarely makes a misstep and her pieces have become more complex over time. As Yoda would say, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”  Or as Yuki puts it, “Every time I made a mistake, I learned how to avoid mistakes.”

To make her latest piece inspired by Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Yuki turned to Photoshop to draft her design and printed a template on plain copy paper to act as a stencil of sorts. She avoids putting the ink directly on the finished paper because it can leave behind traces of color and distract from the overall clean look. Then she gets to work, slicing through the two layers to remove key sections and reveal the art she’s envisioned. Old Master Luke, for example, required painstakingly small cuts to give his beard and cloak the proper textures. A stylized design like tongues of flame surround him, completing the work on black paper. The piece is showcased by overlaying it over another solid piece of paper or another background.

A Rogue One sketch of Princess Leia, Jyn Erso, and Galen Erso in front of the Death Star.

Smaller pieces can be finished within a few days, while larger works can take weeks. A complicated Rogue One design that included Princess Leia, Jyn and Galen Erso, a menacing Death Star backdrop, and Yuki’s artistic rendering of hope took a month and a half to complete, she says. Although she primarily works with characters, faces of such well-known heroes and heroines pose a challenge to translate into the paper cut art form. If the features don’t look exactly right, it will be the first thing someone notices, she says. And thin long pieces, like strands of hair, pose their own difficulties because of their delicate nature. Those fragile wisps are easy to tear by accident.

For her larger works of art, Yuki’s template is portioned out into sections. It’s one of the lessons she’s learned through practice. “As I cut them, the white paper that remained in the part where cutting was done became an obstacle,” she says. Her fingers or the blade itself would get caught, sometimes tearing the paper beneath and forcing her to begin again.

But the tools and supplies are easy to find and she says the most important thing to know before trying it for yourself is that anyone can do it with enough patience and time. “The only thing needed to make paper cutting art is a piece of paper and a cutting knife. It’s so simple,” she says, “but I can cut out very complicated pictures with only these basic tools.”

And she says it’s important to start simple, like with a design like the Imperial or Rebel Alliance emblem.

Next up, Yuki hopes to keep working on perfecting her ability to capture that old wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi and she plans to give herself a new challenge with an intricate battle scene set among the stars.

A pencil drawing of a starfighter being traced with an ink pen.

A colorful handmade folding fan with a painted starfighter design.

She’s already dabbled in drawing starfighters, turning a painting into a folding fan for a functional piece of artistry that takes a classic cultural symbol and gives it a little galactic flair.

But the long and lean X-wing design is filled with small details that will have to be carefully cut into kirigami art. “My work so far was often themes with characters,” she says, so capturing the drama of combat is uncharted territory. “It is a battle scene where battleships and fighters are intertwined…It will be very complicated. It is a big challenge for me,” she says.

Like most artists, Yuki is her own harshest critic, even dismissing her earliest Star Wars-inspired work as “not very good.”

But she kept practicing and refined her technique, and she’s come a long way from that simple silhouette of Anakin and his master Obi-Wan standing back-to-back, lightsabers ignited and ready, to craft pieces so beautiful, they truly belong among the clouds.

Be sure to check out Star Wars Kirigami by artist Marc Hagan-Guirey for more on this incredible art form!

The Most Impressive Fans Q&A

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. I LOVE Obi-Wan Kenobi in this film very much!

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

About 40 years ago when I was a little child, I went to a movie theater with my dad and watched A New Hope. In Japan, sci-fi animation was a fad at that time, with robots, science, future technology. I thought that they were very cool, so I became interested in Star Wars. I couldn’t understand the story well, but I enjoyed Star Wars very much!

Do you have a favorite scene?

The lightsaber duel of Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith. I often practiced this scene with my Star Wars geek friends using a toy lightsaber!

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

Join the rebels! If it is possible, I’d like to become Jedi Knight!

Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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