Body artist Brian Keith Thompson was influenced by the original Star Wars trilogy. (Pic credit: Brian Keith Thompson)
Piercing artist Brian Keith Thompson is best known as the proprietor of Body Electric Tattoo in Los Angeles.
After serving as a Marine and working in the traditional business world, hes become an influencer in an industry undergoing rapid cultural changes.
With his distinctive body art juxtaposing crisp suits, Thompson has appeared on 2 Broke Girls, Basketball Wives, Vanderpump Rules, and The Story of God With Morgan Freeman.
Sign up for our Movie newsletter!
Every artist can cite significant influences. For Thompson, a major one was the original Star Wars seriesspecifically, a certain red lightsaber-wielding Sith Lord. When clients come to him for piercings, they place themselves in a vulnerable position, but this Darth Vader fan puts them at ease and sees himself as a protector.
In a recent phone interview, Thompson shared the impact of the series on his life, what he remembers about a Star Wars-soaked childhood, and why he has Darth Vader in his kitchen.
Monsters & Critics: When did you discover Star Wars?
Brian Keith Thompson: Im 49 this year. My father took me to see Star Wars in the theaters in 1977. We actually stood in line. Im not trying to get sympathy here, but that is the only movie my father ever took me to. Never went to the movies with me again. I think I took him to (the prequels.) I took him as a reflection on our trip in 1977.
I fell in love with that movie in 1977. And thats the only toys I wanted. I played with the action figures. I always identified with Darth Vader. I liked him because I was picked on heavily in school. I always fantasized that I was Darth Vader, because nobody ever bullied or messed with Darth Vader. He would walk into a room and everybody would shut up and get quiet, right?
But I never wanted to get into violence. I just wanted to be powerful and a boss like him. I didnt really like that he was evil and I didnt like the philosophy of the Empire
Back in the late 70s when you played Star Wars, you had the action figures and you would go outside with your friends and create little environments. And everybody wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Nobody is the Terminator.
M&C: Hes the bad guy.
BKT: So I was always the bad guy. But I didnt see him as a bad guy because, in the end, he wasnt a bad guy. He turned to good. He was just manipulated through the anger of losing his mother
For me and my little kid mind, I saw him as my hero and he was my savior. He was so strong. He always knew what to do when he would walk off that shuttle and the commanders would be standing there. It was his sense of command.
And its one reason I joined the Marine Corps after high school. I wanted to feel that authority. I wanted to be a part of a military structure like that. So I picked the Marines. Darth Vader was very influential through my entire life.
M&C: It sounds like you even before the prequels came out, you were sensing that he was acting more out of pain rather than just evil.
BKT: Im not a violent person by nature. I dont want to hurt innocent people. But I would fantasize that I was Darth Vader and I would walk in and everybody would be in awe, and leave me alone.
M&C: That was a safe way for you to process those feelings rather than actually being violent.
BKT: Exactly. When I see these school shootings, and sometimes I read about the individual, I understand their pain, but I do not understand inflicting violence on innocent people. That, to me, is just absurd. And its downright evil. Just because youre hurting, you dont need to make someone innocent hurt as well. Thats not going to ever take your pain away.
Vader was hurt. He was injured. He was in this suit, but he still didnt let it stop him. He lost his legs, his arm. His wife was taken from him. She died. And then he was manipulated and controlled, and ultimately came around and saw the light with the son. A solid good man who killed the Emperor. In the end, he was the good guy.
M&C: You felt like the treatment of Anakin in the prequels pretty well matched up with your idea of Vader from the original trilogy?
BKT: Yes, I kind of sensed that He was just not a bad guy to me. He was what I wanted to do take all that pain I had and use it as a sense of power. Vader took everything that happened to him the loss of his mother, being a slave and then used that as the source where he channeled all that anger.
M&C: Your aesthetic is one of a kind. Did the look of Vader and Star Wars influence that?
BKT: He always was put together. His movements were competent and sure. I love the way he walked off his shuttle. He had somewhere to go constantly; he was never lollygagging. He would talk to you and then turn and exit, because he had things to do.
Before the pandemic, when I would walk into my studio, I would walk in not like Darth Vader but with that kind of mindset, like a commanding officer, the CEO walking on the bridge of his aircraft carrier.
M&C: Thats such a creative marriage of the free-flowing form of art and the structured nature of the military.
BKT: Yes. And employees, just like children, need structure, and they want it even though they say they dont. And its nice to work in an environment that is structured, and has a command and control. If you have too many bosses and not enough subordinates, you dont get anything done.
When you work for a company and its overladen with managers, the managers start competing with each other for their jobs, and then its just counterproductive. But I was the boss, and when I walked in that studio, everybody knew that I was the boss.
I wear a suit every day, pressed, and my jewelry is polished and clean. Right now, Im polishing my jewelry, getting ready to go to work. I polish everything about me. You never saw Vader with a smudge on his helmet. You never saw him with a wrinkle in his cape. He understood that the look of him was just as powerful as him.
In the military, you dont want to have to fight every battle if you can intimidate your enemy before you get there. Alexander the Great would have his riders ride into a city before the army and tell them to surrender. Intimidation saves your energy and saves your ammunition. You can stop a war before it starts just by intimidating your enemy invader. Everything about (Vader) was intimidation.
I always joke and say Empire Strikes Back would have ended differently if I was Luke Skywalker. If I was on that railing, and Vader was to say, Im your father, I would have been like, Wait, what? Hold on, hold on. Youre my dad (and) you want me to join you, and rule the galaxy together, father and son?
And then the movie would have ended. When his hand is out and hes like, Join me, I would have slapped his hand and it would have just ended with our hands together a perfect handshake. Lets go. Lets go get em, Dad.
M&C: Is A New Hope your favorite movie, then?
BKT: No, Empire Strikes Back was my favorite part because Darth Vader had more screentime in that movie than any other. It was all about him. And I was a little bit older. I was eight years old when that movie came out. So I could understand a little bit more.
I remember my first ever Star Wars toy was a TIE fighter, where you could push the button and the wings would fall off. And it had the little red light in the front for the laser. It was one of the original toys from the original movie.
I played with that thing just daily every day, every day, every day, every day. That was my movie. Its more American to me than apple pie and the American flag. It definitely changed my life as a kid. It influenced me a lot.
M&C: What was your opinion of the sequels?
BKT: I didnt really care for them. They werent my favorite. I dont judge and Im not George Lucas, or the artist that created them, but I liked (Episodes) four, five, and six. Those were my movies.
You identified with them. Those were the originals. I was already in my 30s when the prequels came out, so I watched them, of course, and I went to the theater to see them.
I liked Revenge of the Sith where (Anakin) became Darth Vader. When I bought it on DVD, I watched that scene where he becomes Vader so many times. I just loved when they put the helmet on him and it makes that airtight seal. And then his heads-up display in his helmet goes all red, and then he sits up. That was everything to me.
When I was bullied, I never told my parents about the bullying. I never told an adult about it. I never told anybody about it. It was my problem. And I dealt with it. I would never talk about it. I dont know why.
That was the 70s Be a man, stuff it down, dont talk about your feelings. Save it for later. Even when I was in corporate America, I was bullied by those dude bros in corporate America. Toxic masculinity has just now kind of started to subside. I dont see as many toxic males as I used to as a kid. But even in corporate America, I encountered a lot of them as well.
M&C: The bullies grew up and entered the boardroom.
BKT: Yeah. And theyre still bullies. Im not trying to sing a sad song and say, Oh, poor Brian. It made me who I am. It made me stronger. It made me never give up. It made me want to show people what I could do. And ultimately, it made me who I am. So, I dont necessarily regret it.
But some people cant handle it. Some people it destroys them. I was lucky that I was strong enough to compartmentalize.
M&C: Thats the important part.
BKT: Yes, I didnt give in and I didnt become a bully myself. And I didnt want to. If I see somebody getting bullied or made fun of, I always try to take their side in a nice way, not in a way that would embarrass them. But I always try to take the little guys side. I know what its like to go through that. It sucks.
Youre always going to encounter bullies. And I think it was Chris Rock that did a comedy special on Netflix who said, Thats what we need. We need those bullies. Because they make us who we are.
A certain type of bullying can help you in certain ways. It helps me to realize how tough it is in the world. Its a brutal place. And your parents arent always going to be there for you. So youve got to be able to thicken up your skin a little bit and take a little bit of ridicule. Its not going to kill you.
M&C: Is there a relationship between that and the way your art expresses itself is on the body? Its tattoos, its piercing. And theres a certain amount of pain.
BKT: Oh, yes. There was a relationship. I embraced tattooing in 1992. I joined the Marine Corps during a war. I wanted to be in the infantry, I wanted to fight in combat. Thats what I wanted to do. And my father tried to talk me out of it, and I wanted to go to combat. And I think secretly, I was a little depressed, and I didnt feel like I belonged in the world. I thought a way for me to get out of the world and not look weak was to die in combat.
What is more respected in our culture than a warrior going off to fight for their country and dying in battle? Your family gets a flag, you get this funeral, youre seen as a hero, and youre gone. You dont have to be here anymore. Thats a little bit of what I wanted.
M&C: Do you feel like Vader is a positive outlet for you?
BKT: I have a picture of him right now in my kitchen. (Its) from Empire Strikes Back, where hes standing on the platform. Hes waiting for Luke Skywalker. Hes ambushing him to put him in the carbonite. And its just a silhouette of Vader with the smoke and steam around him.
People ask me, What is this? I tell them, Its a portrait of my father.
And its always there. I was telling my girlfriend a couple months ago that Im not a hardcore Star Wars fan. And she goes, Dude, youre a hardcore Star Wars fan. You have a picture of Darth Vader in your kitchen, okay? You have paintings of him in your office. I wanted to be like him, but I didnt want to be evil.
M&C: You were a fan of the power and the control.
BKT: Yes, but I didnt want to hurt with it Im more of a protector. My last name is Scottish. I wanted to be a cop when I got out of the Marine Corps. I tried to get on with the LAPD. Ive always wanted to be in a position of protection.
Vader was the best commander. When he walks in on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, people sit up straighter, stand up taller. They are hanging on every word.
And in the Revenge of the Sith, that last scene was him and Emperor standing on the bridge. and they fold their arms and theyre looking at the at the construction of the Death Star that was thats exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be a commander like that, with full control.
M&C: But if you had that power and control you would make positive choices with it.
BKT: Yes, yes, absolutely. I wouldnt be an evil dictator.
M&C: Do you have any Vader body art?
BKT: I do. I have him tattooed on my foot. And my right arm is solid black. Hes not finished. And I need to get a better spot for him than on my right foot.
Hes all over my life, everywhere in my office, my home. Hes around me always. Im staring at a photo framed photo of him on this little shelf in my kitchen. A strange place to put him, in the kitchen. But I spend more time in the kitchen than anywhere in the house. When I hang out in my home, I hang out in the kitchen. I do my interviews in the kitchen.
M&C: Its your safe place.
BKT: Yeah, thats my safe place.
M&C: Vader is also an image of what could have happened to you had you made the wrong choices with power.
BKT: Yes. You can get consumed by the darkness. It can take you over. They always said, You have no idea the power of the dark side. Thats true in life.
And I think thats why Star Wars resonated with so many people and especially young boys. It had a little bit of love in it, but not too much. And (it seems like) it was written for us. Im not saying its just for boys. But as a young boy, that movie just spoke to me like no other movie ever could, or has, to this day.
When I hear the title song come on. My ears perk up. Its one of those things Ill never get over. Its a part of me. Its in my DNA.
M&C: You dont know the power of the Dark Side so dont start messing with it. I never thought of the saying in that context. Thats brilliant.
BKT: Its like playing with an exotic wild animal. It may look beautiful, and it looks mysterious. And you see the power of it. You think, Well, hey, its not gonna hurt me. I can play with this tiger. And then it bites you in the neck and you bleed out.
That is what happens to evil tyrants and dictators. They have power for a time, and then they are destroyed by their own power. And I never wanted to be that. I wanted to dissect Darth Vader and be him and talk about him, because I was never tall. I was wanting to be tall and be that powerful guy I wanted to feel that.
I was like, Why would anybody want to be Luke Skywalker? That dudes a dork. Darth Vader hes got stormtroopers.
Its so funny how you can create this story can transform in your own head. You probably talk to Star Wars fans all over the world. And its a little bit different to everyone, isnt it?
M&C: Everyone applies it differently to their own lives.
BKT: And I think thats a beautiful thing.
Connect with Brian Keith Thompson on Instagram here. To follow the rest of Monsters & Critics Star Wars coverage, join us here.
- Ink Evolution - Flathead Beacon - February 20th, 2021
- Review: In a Promising Debut Feature, Test Pattern Chronicles the Search for Care After Sexual Assault - thirdcoastreview.com - February 20th, 2021
- The 50 Best Tattoo Parlours in America Big 7 Travel - February 17th, 2021
- Los Angeles Tattoo Shop Studio City Tattoo Los Angeles ... - February 17th, 2021
- Inkies Tattoo - February 17th, 2021
- Las Vegas BEST friendly and professional Tattoo Studio 21 - February 17th, 2021
- World Tattoo Studio Custom Tattoo Shop in Denver, Colorado - February 17th, 2021
- The Pittsburgh Tattoo Studio - Dormont Pa - Tattoo and ... - February 17th, 2021
- Vivid Skin Tattoo Studio - Home - February 17th, 2021
- Paramount Tattoo Studio - Piercings, Tattoos - February 17th, 2021
- Auckland Tattoo Studio | Otautahi - Unique Tattoos New Zealand - February 17th, 2021
- Tattoo Shop in Houston | Houston Tattoo Shop | Tattoo Shop ... - February 17th, 2021
- Home | InkBook Tattoo Software - February 17th, 2021
- Kenan Thompson says words were 'twisted' in controversial 2013 interview about the lack of Black women on 'SNL' - Yahoo Lifestyle - February 17th, 2021
- Charlie Cartwright: The Godfather of Black-and-Grey Fine Line Tattooing - Scene 360 - February 17th, 2021
- Tributes paid in memory of talented Blood Rush tattoo artist - Leighton Buzzard Observer - February 17th, 2021
- Artist and Influencer Mikey B Made It is legally trappin art from the hood to Hollywood - Press Release - Digital Journal - February 17th, 2021
- 14 up-and-coming queer Irish creatives to support in 2021 - http://gcn.ie/ - February 17th, 2021
- The Canvas Tattoo & Piercing Studio A tattoo and body ... - February 15th, 2021
- Tattoo Studio Game - Play online at Y8.com - February 15th, 2021
- Tattoo Studio | Virginia Beach | Whiskey River - February 15th, 2021
- REV23 - Tattoo & Body Piercing Studio Software, Apps ... - February 15th, 2021
- Firme Copias Tattoo & Art Studio - Best Tattoo Shop San ... - February 15th, 2021
- Aliens Tattoo | Best Tattoo Studio in Mumbai /India | Best ... - February 15th, 2021
- Tattoo artists share the common request many of them will refuse to do - Mirror Online - February 15th, 2021
- Blue Light Body Arts to open on the bricks in spring - Hays Daily News - February 15th, 2021
- Fire in tattoo studio in Husthwaite near Thirsk | York Press - York Press - February 15th, 2021
- Frosted Flakes: Kusche Sets Mile Record, Neanderthal Poop and a Very Good Dog - Corn Nation - February 15th, 2021
- 'My girlfriend thinks my tattoo is for her - I don't have the heart to tell her the truth' - Mirror Online - February 15th, 2021
- Norfolk tattooist turns to art in lockdown - Eastern Daily Press - February 15th, 2021
- Tattoo artists reveal their worst mistakes ever and how the clients reacted - Daily Star - February 10th, 2021
- Student, 23, who cant tell her left from right gets L and R TATTOOED on her hands as a permanent reminder - The Irish Sun - February 10th, 2021
- Nine things tattoo artists hate clients doing when they get inked - Daily Star - February 8th, 2021
- Tattoo Studio Software Market Analysis, Size, Regional Outlook, Competitive Strategies and Forecasts to 2026 - AlgosOnline - February 6th, 2021
- Celebrating five of Salisbury's independent salons and shops - Salisbury Journal - February 6th, 2021
- Machine Gun Kelly Revealed That Pete Davidson Gave Him The Worst Tattoo On The Set Of "Big Time Adolescence" - BuzzFeed - February 6th, 2021
- Columbus rappers and engineers embrace work from home with new DIY spaces - Columbus Alive - February 5th, 2021
- Student, 23, who cant tell her left from right gets L and R TATTOOED on her hands as a permanent reminder - The Sun - February 5th, 2021
- Woman who has 'always struggled to tell right from left' gets them tattooed on her hands - Mirror Online - February 5th, 2021
- Two Singaporean women pioneering in the rise of hand-poked tattoos - News24 - February 4th, 2021
- The most basic tattoos artists secretly hate as they reveal the one inking they will NEVER do - The Sun - February 4th, 2021
- 'Basic' tattoos artists secretly hate doing - and the ones they'll refuse to do - Mirror Online - February 4th, 2021
- Keeping It Real - INKED - February 4th, 2021
- Pizza, tattoos and a smoke shop: 5 businesses coming soon to New Braunfels - Community Impact Newspaper - February 4th, 2021
- Six tattoos artists secretly hate doing and the offensive requests they refuse - Daily Star - February 4th, 2021
- Petition calling for reopening of body modification studios gains more than 10K signatures - CTV News Winnipeg - February 4th, 2021
- 'I'm healthy in every sense of the word': Young men on living life as HIV positive - The Tab - January 27th, 2021
- Hublot Expands Its Classic Fusion Orlinski Collection With Two New Ceramic Watches - aBlogtoWatch - January 27th, 2021
- Sterilize your knives and other kitchen utensils with just the push of a button - Yahoo Lifestyle - January 27th, 2021
- Ireland Baldwin Tugs Down Her Pants To Show Off Her Lace Panties, Butt, And Tattoo - The Inquisitr - January 27th, 2021
- Sherbrooke-based tattoo artists ready to get back to the studio - Sherbrooke Record - January 22nd, 2021
- Musician tattoos | Tats inspired by their own music - Alternative Press - January 22nd, 2021
- Tattoo Studio Software Market report has been assessed in accordance with the current Market trends 2020 - NeighborWebSJ - January 20th, 2021
- Tattooist publicly shames customer who tried to get away without paying 'due to Covid' - Mirror Online - January 20th, 2021
- The 5 Top Piercing Trends Pros Are Predicting For 2021 - Refinery29 - January 20th, 2021
- What it has been like to be a tattoo artist in Lincolnshire during the pandemic - Lincolnshire Live - January 20th, 2021
- Rhude Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear Collection - Vogue.com - January 20th, 2021
- New Mural in Brewery Block - Big Island Now - January 15th, 2021
- UD Artist Spotlight: Colleen Anderson The Review - University of Delaware Review - January 15th, 2021
- Tattoo artists share 6 of their favorite designs to ink, and 5 they don't really like - Insider - INSIDER - January 12th, 2021
- Parents cause outrage by subjecting their 7-year-old daughter to a tattoo on her leg - Explica - January 12th, 2021
- What it has been like to be a tattoo artist in Nottinghamshire during the pandemic - Nottinghamshire Live - January 9th, 2021
- Buzz in the CBD as Lismore inks in new tattoo studio - Northern Star - January 9th, 2021
- Ashley Martson removes tattoo dedicated to ex-husband Jay Smith - Monsters and Critics - January 9th, 2021
- ON THE RECORD: Harmonica man Sugar Blue and 'huh?' - The Sanford Herald - January 9th, 2021
- Young Cornish tattooist is 'like an old lady' because of condition - Cornwall Live - January 5th, 2021
- Business notes: Cinder and Sea to hold art classes in the new year - Cowichan Valley Citizen - January 3rd, 2021
- Striking image takes first place in Cleator Moor competition | News and Star - News & Star - January 3rd, 2021
- 15 things to watch out for in the new Pixar movie - Inspired Traveler - December 31st, 2020
- The Glasgow 'society tattooist' admired by Billy Connolly and the upper classes - Glasgow Times - December 28th, 2020
- blackbear Thrived This Year and Probably Will Next Year - SPIN - December 28th, 2020
- Planning chiefs give the go-ahead for retail unit to be turned into tattoo studio - Salisbury Journal - December 25th, 2020
- Ink Master Season 2: Where Are They Now? Ink Master Season 2 Winners Today - The Cinemaholic - December 25th, 2020
- Kat Von D, famed tattoo artist, slams California's 'tyrannical' overreach: 'Indiana here we come!' - Washington Times - December 25th, 2020
- Disneys Snow White: 10 Evil Queen Tattoos That Prove She Was The Fairest Of Them All - Screen Rant - December 25th, 2020
- Bollywood tattoo artist Vikas Malani on how COVID-19 affected the tattoo industry - The Hindu - December 25th, 2020
- Man travels 7km along SH1 on back of his stolen ute, trying to convince alleged thief to stop - Stuff.co.nz - December 25th, 2020
- COVID-19 and Tattoos: The Correlation To Your Safety - Mid-day - December 19th, 2020
- Sabrina Carpenter Shows Off Her First Tattoo, And Her Costars Have Some Thoughts - The Inquisitr - December 19th, 2020
- How Many Tattoos Does Dua Lipa Have? Inside All of Her Tattoos and Their Meanings - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - December 19th, 2020