Many Star Wars fans are passionate, but few make their passion as permanent as Needles.

This NYC-based tattoo artist has been making a livelihood from his fandom for 20 years and counting, inking fans at studios and conventions all over the United States. His ultra-realistic work has been featured in official Star Wars publications for years, earning him the nickname “Darth” Needles from the Lucasfilm crew and an exclusive invite to tour the Industrial Light & Magic campus.

“[The invitation] was pretty much a dream come true,” Needles told io9 during an interview at Red Rocket Tattoo in Manhattan, one of the studios where he works.I never thought I would actually get there.”

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A long-time Star Wars fan, Needles first saw A New Hope in a drive-in theater in 1977 when he was five years old. From that moment on, he was hooked on the series, collecting as many toys as he could and showing up to elementary school dressed as Luke Skywalker for the fun of it.

The series propelled Needles to pursue a career in art, attending Pratt Institute to study illustration. He quickly caught the notice of his professors, who recommended him for illustration gigs, but—in an anecdote very relatable to many freelancers—Needles started tattooing to make rent since illustration jobs paid 90 days later.

“In art, I could create my own world just like they did,” he said. “One of my favorite illustrators is Drew Struzan, and he did most of the Star Wars posters. I did a lot of studying those and how we went from A to B, and it really, really pushed me.”

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“I had no [tattoo] apprenticeship. No one taught me anything. I figured it out myself,” he continued. “It’s like anything on this planet. You want to be good at it, do it all the time. And that’s how you get good at things.”

Watch io9's full profile of Needles in the video above. To see even more of his work visit his website.

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