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A Centuries-Old Malaysian Puppet Show Puts a New Spin on Star Wars

A long time ago in a theater far, far away…

Southeast Asia has a long history practicing wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry. Dating as early as the 800s, the art, found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia is considered one of the oldest forms of freestanding puppetry. These intricate, beautiful rod puppets, crafted out of softwood and animal hide, have been used to tell centuries-old tales, Hindu mythology, and Balinese sagas. However, the cultural tradition is at risk of becoming a lost art.

“Maybe in 10 years or five years’ time, the acts of shadow play may be no more,” says Pak Daim, a tok dalang or master puppeteer, in the video above produced by Today.

To keep wayang kulit alive and capture younger generations, Daim, fellow puppeteers and visual artist Tintoy Chuo created a special, modern puppet show that tells the story of the Star Wars saga, Malaysian style. They used traditional techniques and instruments, but incorporated special effects and sounds. Custom-made puppets of Stormtroopers, C-3PO, R2-D2, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader whisk across the illuminated screen. The puppeteers even crafted a model of an Imperial Star Destroyer. 

Traditionally, the practice of wayang kulit is passed down by family members, but today performers can receive professional training at academies throughout Southeast Asia. Puppeteers hope new interpretations and uses of wayang kulit will draw in more audiences, like the thousands of Star Wars fans around the country of Malaysia, Daim says. 

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