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April 12, 2012

‘Darth Vader and Son’: What if ‘Star Wars’ villain was good dad?

Posted in: Books,Comics

What if Darth Vader had been around for Luke Skywalker’s childhood — not as a distant threat, but as a loving and devoted father? That’s the concept behind “Darth Vader and Son,” a new book from comic artist and writer Jeffrey Brown. The book reimagines the Dark Lord of the Sith parenting an adorable 4-year-old, his days filled with potty breaks, Lego, bicycle riding and bedtime stories. Brown, the author of “Clumsy” and “Bighead,” chatted with Hero Complex about the book, “Star Wars” and fatherhood.

HC: How did this idea come about?

JB: I got a phone call from Ryan Germick at Google, and he works as one of the homepage designers. Sometimes, for holidays, they’ll have an outside artist or someone do a drawing. And the idea he and a coworker had come up with was wanting to do something with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader for Father’s Day, particularly just playing on how awkward a holiday dinner, you know, getting together for Thanksgiving with Luke and Vader, would be. Just Vader doing normal parenting things. I’d actually done a little doodle at some point of the combination of how I draw my son, Oscar, but made him like Luke Skywalker, so like a little 4-year-old Luke Skywalker. So immediately I thought of doing some sketches with Luke as a 4-year-old and Darth Vader teaching him how to ride a bike and trying to make him breakfast and trying to get him to go to bed. So I did a series of sketches for them to show, and in the end Google decided to go with a different concept. But that idea was so much fun. I really don’t want to just let it disappear. So I asked them if I could take the idea and develop it into a full book, and they said, “Go ahead.”

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A page from "Darth Vader and Son." (Jeffrey Brown / Chronicle Books)

HC: The book is copyright Lucasfilm. How was working with that company? Were they supportive of the concept?

JB: “Star Wars” was the first film I saw in the theater, and half my toys growing up were “Star Wars” toys. So on the one hand, the idea of doing something that was official “Star Wars” was appealing, but I think also, in order to make the book satire or parody without copyright infringement, I would have had to change so much that it would have lost a lot of what made it worth doing for me. So Chronicle has published a few books of mine, particularly these two kind of cute cat books, and the vision I had for this book fit right along the lines of those books. And Chronicle has also done some different “Star Wars” books, and so they had an existing working relationship with Lucasfilm. Their response has been great. Right from the beginning, I think they understood the idea and were not just supportive, but also they really let me have relatively free rein for what working on a licensed property like this.

dv Darth Vader and Son: What if Star Wars villain was good dad?HC: Was there any part of the “Star Wars” universe that you weren’t allowed to touch?

JB: There was nothing that I wanted to put in that they didn’t let in. Nothing that they wanted me to change. Most of their suggestions were kind of minor tweaks. Sometimes I would forget to capitalize the word “Force” or things like that.

HC: This seems like a bit of a departure from your previous work, which has been primarily autobiographical, or satire.

JB: In a way it is, but in another way, it still feels totally natural. In terms of the autobiographical work I’ve done, which is maybe a little more serious in a way, a lot of this book is based on or at least inspired by dealing with my own son, who’s 5-and-a-half now, but was around 4 when I was really working on the book. Just coming up with all these things, the little frustrations that being a parent of a 4- or 5-year-old entails.

HC: Like what?

JB: Like one of the strips is where Darth Vader makes eggs for breakfast, and Luke isn’t happy with them. My eggs are apparently OK for my son, but there are definitely other things I’ve made where he’s been like, “I don’t like this.” And you know, just trying to get him to go to bed. There are a lot of those universal touch points that are in there.

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A page from "Darth Vader and Son." (Jeffrey Brown / Chronicle Books)

HC: Was it difficult to work with established characters instead of creating your own?

JB: When you’re working with any characters like this, there’s so much to them that comes attached. I don’t want to say “baggage” in a derogatory or negative sense, but they come with so much built in. … It’s the same thing like with when you’re working with superheroes. There’s a certain amount of back story, and the people who are super-fans are going to know all these kind of minute details, but even people who are only vaguely acquainted are going to pick up on certain things really easily. … Even the people who aren’t that familiar with “Star Wars” know at the very least that Darth Vader is this bad guy and Luke Skywalker was his son, who was rebelling against him. It just makes it easier to layer on meanings or story without having to really do the work of creating it.

HC: Why “Star Wars”? What is it about that film that has such universal appeal?

JB: I think a lot of it is just the timing that “Star Wars” started at. What it did for not just film, but maybe storytelling. This kind of fully realized universe that just popped into existence. And just in terms of what Lucasfilm was doing for special effects for film at the time. Nowadays, it’s a little harder to have that kind of impact. You have the Internet, and the way hype is built up for things doesn’t work the same. It’s a little bit harder to create something that’s going to have that kind of impact. At the time, “Star Wars” was just something so new and different. At the same time, a lot of what it is built on was kind of these classical ideas of mythology and love story and father-son stuff. You have the classic Greek myth of Oedipus, which is a bit of different, but in a way, the relationship of Darth Vader and Luke is this kind of almost archetypal father-son rivalry which maybe thousands of years from now will have that same kind of presence as a myth.

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A page from "Darth Vader and Son." (Jeffrey Brown / Chronicle Books)

HC: It’s fun to see Darth Vader as sort of a sensitive guy.

JB: I think part of what was so fun about this idea is like, as a parent, there’s things you just kind of have to put up with. They can be really frustrating. So the idea of this dark master, lord of the Sith, having all that power, and in the end, here’s this 4-year-old who can be, “Eh, no Dad. I don’t want to do it.” And he’s powerless against it. He’s gotta maintain that presence of power in the universe, but when it’s his own son, he has to rein it in a little bit. That tension is what was fun to play with.

HC: What else are you working on?

JB: Earlier this year, the movie I co-wrote — it’s called “Save the Date” — premiered at Sundance, and right now that’s just playing at various festivals. Hopefully we will find theatrical release later this year. And then I have an autobiographical book coming out maybe September or October called “A Matter of Life,” and that’s essentially about fatherhood, also, but it’s stories about me and my son Oscar, and also growing up with my dad, who’s a minister, so there’s a lot of stories about growing up in the church.

HC: Would you want to make other books like “Darth Vader and Son”?

JB: There is a follow-up that I’d like to do with, of course, Princess Leia, but I don’t know when I’ll be ready to do that, and I’ll see if Chronicle and Lucasfilm are still interested.

– Noelene Clark

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