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PORTLAND, Maine — Mich Ouellette is a bantha-sized Star Wars fan. Ouellette’s love for all things Jedi is as big as the Death Star and twice as durable. He’s even fond of the prequels. To leave no doubt about his dedication and rebel scum street cred, Ouellette had a two-foot-tall portrait of Jar Jar Binks tattooed on his back.
In recent weeks, a picture of the strange and life-like tattoo hit the internet, causing a great disturbance in The Force. Since then, Ouellette’s gotten death threats, adulation from a porn star, questions about his marital status and more grief than anyone deserves.
Ouellette’s wife Jessica — yes, he’s married — first posted a picture of the year-old tattoo on social media a couple weeks ago. It immediately caused a Twitter storm of wisecracks, insults and even a few sincere compliments. From there, it found its way to websites like Reddit, Gizmodo, Barstool Sports and Some Ecards, and morphed into multiple Facebook memes.
The character of Jar Jar Binks is widely reviled and thought to be the worst idea Star Wars creator George Lucas ever came up with. The completely computer-generated, irritating, semi-comedic Gungan is not a fan favorite.
Binks is so universally hated, you might think, “Ex squeezee me? Hesa musta be nutsen,” to get a tattoo like that.
But Ouellette, better known in Portland by his nickname, The Fuge, is completely sane — or as sane as a guy with a life-sized, permanent picture of Jar Jar Binks on his body can be.
The Jar Jar Binks ink is not Ouellette’s first Star Wars tattoo. Not by a long shot. He already has one whole sleeve dedicated to the dark side of The Force sporting Darth Vader, The Emperor and the planet Mustafar, where Vader lost his legs. His other arm is reserved for the light side with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the planet Dagobah, where Yoda lived.
Ouellette, 42, was born 11 days before the release of the first Star Wars flick. He and his wife also have matching couple’s tattoos on their legs dedicated to the most enduring love story in the whole Star Wars universe: C3PO and R2D2.
In Ouellette’s exquisitely executed back piece tattoo, Binks is giving the thumbs up, saying, “Oie boie, mesa bombad!”
That’s a comedic homage to “Jackass” movie star Steve-O’s tattoo of himself saying, “Yeah dude, I rock.”
That might be a stretch in logic, but so are Ewoks.
The portrait of Binks is the creation of Portland tattooist Chris Dingwell of Squirrel Cage Studios on Forest Avenue. Dingwell, also a painter, likes to create grotesque images of Binks when giving art lessons as examples. He thinks it’s funny. When Ouellette got the Jar Jar idea, he knew who to call.
BDN Portland sat down with Ouellette and Dingwell, on the 42nd anniversary of the release of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” to find out what motivated Ouellette to make such a controversial tattoo choice.
Q: Just for the record, how drunk were you when you got this tattoo?
Ouellette: I wasn’t drunk when I got it — I was just drunk when I got the idea. People always see my [Star Wars] tattoos and joke, “When are you going to get your Jar Jar tattoo?” After years of hearing that, I’m like “[Screw] it, I gotta get one.” Little did they know, I actually like the prequels. I actually like the prequels more than these newer ones coming out.
Ouellette: Yeah — and I don’t have a problem with Jar Jar at all. I mean, he’s not like my favorite character, and I understand why everybody hates him — there’s so many cringe-worthy moments — but I never had a real problem with him. He’s fun for the kids. But I knew it had to be something special. I couldn’t just get a Jar Jar tattoo. It had to be something epic. I was thinking like a sailor tattoo, or a pin-up.
Dingwell: A full back piece pin-up tattoo of Jar Jar would have been hot.
Q: Is it true you got the idea for the Steve-O-inspired design while talking to a bartender at Boda — the Thai place on Congress Street?
Ouellette: Yeah, I have a drink named after me at Boda. It’s “The Fuge’s Dilemma.” It’s really strong. After my third one of those [I told the bartender my idea] and he was like, “Dude, you have to get that.” So, I immediately Facebook messaged Chris.
Dingwell: I said, “Hell yeah, come in today.” I’m usually booked months and months in advance, but I was like, “Man, you’re getting in right now.” Because, obviously, no one else has this tattoo. I mean, nobody.
Q: And a couple weeks later you were in the chair?
Ouellette: Yeah. I wasn’t drunk when I actually got the tattoo, I mean, I was 100 percent committed.
Dingwell: Despite the ridiculousness of the tattoo, it still required a fair amount of planning and design. We struggled to find [pictures] of the thumbs. He’s got these really weird, mitten-hand kind of thumbs. And there’s this leopard print thing on his skin.
Q: How long did the actual tattooing take?
Ouellette: It took three seven-hour sessions.
Dingwell: It had to be a pretty technically flawless portrait to rise above just being a bad joke — and partly for my own sense of pride, of course.
Q: This started out as a really personal joke. It’s on your back — nobody would’ve ever known it was there — but now it’s all over the internet and everyone’s got an opinion. What’s that like, to have it not really just belong to you anymore?
Ouellette: I want to show this thing off. I know how ridiculous it is.
Dingwell: I don’t read the comments, ever. I protect myself intellectually and emotionally by not diving into that whole world. I’m old, so the internet baffles me.
Ouellette: I’m not a nerd who lives in his parents’ basement, who is afraid of the light. I want people to now ask, “So, where’s your Jar Jar tattoo,” so I can say…
Dingwell: Hold my beer!
Ouellette: So I can whip off my shirt and they’ll be like, “Whoa!”
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten when you do that?
Ouellette: I’m in a bowling league at Bayside Bowl. When league [bowling] happens, there’s people that come up to me and are like, “You’re the Jar Jar guy. You have to show me your tattoo.” So, I take my shirt off and they’re, of course, laughing and saying, “I love it.” Ten minutes later, they come back and say, “I just told my friend — you gotta’ show it to them.” My team says I should just bowl shirtless.
Dingwell: What often gets lost is that you can get tattooed just for fun. The tattoos I have, that are light, that are jokes, that are just fun — those are a lot easier for me to live with than tattoos I got when I was young, and in my 20s, and angry, and angsty, and punk rock and political. Those deep statements have just fallen apart over the years, whereas the stuff that’s really fun is the stuff that keeps me afloat, that keeps me going. With all the tattoo TV shows out there now, people have been taught that all tattoos must have this long, deep, personal story about their grandmother.
Ouellette: Well, my great grandfather was actually saved by a Gungan, once. He almost died!
This interview was edited for length and clarity. Chris Dingwell will be creating skin-based art this weekend in Bangor at the Devil’s Half Acre Tattoo Expo.