Garden Grove

“Star Wars” fan has a world of space

MICHAEL J. HILLMAN kneels with a shelf full of the “Star Wars” items in his Garden Grove home (Orange County Tribune photos).

By Jim Tortolano

If you want to immerse yourself in the epic worlds of the “Star Wars” series, you don’t have to go to a “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” All you have to do is navigate yourself to a cul-de-sac in Garden Grove where Michael J. Hillman presides over a houseful of dioramas, most of which celebrate the universe of Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Yoda and other household names from the hugely-successful nine films from George Lucas and J.J. Abrams.

There are 80 three-dimensional dioramas with a collection of over 4500 miniature vehicles, figures and landscapes. He’s won honors from modelers and artists for his craftsmanship.

HILLMAN makes many of his items out of recycled materials.

Hillman, 50 and a lifelong resident of Garden Grove, started his relationship with “The Force” at the age of 8 when he saw the original “Star Wars” film, now rebranded as “A New Hope.”

“The only reason I became an artist was because of ‘Star Wars’,” he said. “I saw that as a kid in 1978 when I saw the first film. It was over at the old Cinedome [movie complex in Orange]. We stood in line and I realized that people were doing that as a job, and I could do that.”

A DESKTOP DIORAMA of the Naboo Swamp.

He took art classes in high school – he’s a 1987 graduate of Rancho Alamitos – and started his artistic career as an artist for Vans Shoes, a pioneer in the skating footwear and apparel industry. “It was a dream come true.”

Now he’s at home, taking care of his 89-year-old mother and recreating movie memories in miniature. “’Star Wars” actually motivated me to become an artist. And now I do this just as a natural hobby and it’s fun and people enjoy it. I’ve had over 100 tours here of family, friends and neighbors. I’ve been in nine events in the last five years, art shows and model contests and libraries.”

He recalls his youth playing with figures as a kid, and enjoys creating his art from common household items. “People will just give me bags of stuff,” he said, turning recycling into the heart of his work.

Does he have any literary criticism of the now nine-film series? “I take it as it comes,” he said. “I have no power over that and it’s futile to argue one character from another. I take it that what they [Lucas and Abrams] do is going to be ‘Star Wars’.”

Hillman will be at the Regal Cinema in Garden Grove at 9:45 a.m. on Friday to see the local debut of “The Rise of Skywalker,” and likely to gather new ideas for another wave of table-top space travel art. Happy will he be.


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