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Who the F*** Is John Dykstra?

Oscar-winning special effects wizard John Dykstra — who brought the Star Wars galaxy to life on our screens — is the latest subject of our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile.

Words by John Pearson
Photography by Kurt Iswarienko

As the special effects lead on the original ‘Star Wars’ movies, we could be forgiven for saying John Dykstra, ASC, comes from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

But John’s force as a titan of visual movie effects, and appetite to create and innovate, remains just as vital today as it was at the beginning of his illustrious career 45 years ago.

Working with directors from George Lucas to Quentin Tarantino, and on more juggernaut franchises including ‘Batman’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Spider-Man’, this real-life wizard and his team have enriched so many of our lives through the escapism of film and TV.

He was the inventor of the Dykstraflex motion-controlled camera and one of the original founders of Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects and computer graphics division of Lucasfilm.

With three Academy Awards to his name, in addition to a bevy of other accolades, the 73-year-old continues to break new ground. His two Oscars for Best Visual Effects – for ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Spider-Man 2’ – came 27 years apart. And among his most recent credits was working on last year’s ‘Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’, his fourth collaboration with Tarantino.

Here, as the latest subject of our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile, he shares his thoughts and wisdom on life, work, family, aging and the celebration of a new dawn.

John with his Star Wars Oscar in his office in 1978

John with his Star Wars Oscar in his office in 1978


Who the f*** are you?

I am the product of my father’s admonition to pursue my life doing things that I like to do. I have lived a charmed life. I share love and life with Cass and our daughter Chloe. My number in the draft lottery at the time of the Vietnam War was 320.  My avocations have synthesized into vocations.  Even with all that good fortune, it has taken me my entire life to finally be comfortable in my skin.

How are you feeling right now?

Following the election I feel like a great weight has been lifted. I was enervated and distressed by the growing polarization in America. I am cautiously optimistic but still angry at the people who stoke that division.

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Long Beach, California. Living at the interface between the land and the sea. Lots of sun. Surfing. Riding your motorcycle to the beach, the mountains, and the desert, all in a single day.

What excites you?

Being outside. New projects. Collaborating with others. Making a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Going fast in or on anything.

What scares you? 

The loss of my faith in my fellow Americans. Our seeming inability to find and hold common ground. Feckless politicians. Stupidity.

L to r, John with director George Lucas on the Star Wars set, Gary Kertz, Richard Edland, Rose Duignan

L to r, John with director George Lucas on the Star Wars set, Gary Kertz, Richard Edland, Rose Duignan


What is your proudest achievement?  

The relationships I have made with family and friends over the course of my life.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done?

Accepting the physical entropy imposed by age.

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


Who is your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?

My father. He was calm in the face of adversity. He taught me to treat others as I would have them treat me. He told me to follow my bliss.

Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?

In fiction, Indiana Jones. In reality, healthcare workers during Covid-19.

John and the Dykstraflex (L) and at work with a model T.I.E. fleet (R)

John and the Dykstraflex (L) and at work with a model T.I.E. fleet (R)


What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?

A t-shirt, soft and worn.

What music did you love when you were 13 – and do you still love it now?

Dick Dale and The Deltones. Sure, I still love it. Surf’s up.

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?

The Stars My Destination’ by Alfred Bester

What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?

‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ The visuals successfully drove the narrative and It presented totally plausible space travel.

John at work with a Star Wars TIE Fighter

John at work with a Star Wars TIE Fighter


What is your favorite word or saying?

Unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  When you hear that it means you have free rein to invent.

What do you want people to say at your funeral?

Remember that time we…

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

John Dykstra at his Los Angeles home // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko


And finally, a quickfire five favorites…

Car?

1966 Mini Cooper S.

Sports team?

The underdog.

Meal?

Seared Ahi with some veg.

Grooming product?

Exfoliating soap and water.

Clothing label?

Clacton & Frinton.

 


See John’s entire filmography here.

 

John is a world-renowned male model who has been the face of countless leading fashion houses. During his 36-year modeling career he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor, and producer. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to provide a safe space for candid discussion and sharing ideas.

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