When I was nine years old, my dad made the mistake of taking me to see the theatrical re-release of Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope, and it blew my mind. I had caught glimpses of the Original Trilogy in the past (presumably on TBS: the Superstation), but I was too preoccupied with the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers to notice. Seeing these films on the big-screen was an altogether different experience. After that moment I was obsessed. Somehow my less than stellar memory was teeming with obscure facts about all facets of the movies as well as the elaborate fan-fiction formerly known as the Expanded Universe (RIP).
My first son, Charlie, was born just a little under two years ago, and out of all of the great gifts we received two things stick out the most. Those two things? Two copies of Jeffrey Brown’s New York Times Best Seller, Darth Vader and Son. For a soon-to-be dad, who is also a Star Wars fan, this book (and it’s sequel, Vader’s Little Princess) was the perfect gift.
There are a LOT of Star Wars books on the market (both good and bad), and I’ve read my fair share (… both good and bad), but none of them have resonated with me as much as Darth Vader and Son. Brown seems to have landed in a particular niche that wasn’t tapped before — children’s books for nerdy parents to share with their kids. Charlie loves for us to read Goodnight Darth Vader to him, but I guarantee you my wife and I love it more. I had been planning on writing an article about Jeffrey Brown’s work with Star Wars for a while, but before writing it I decided to reach out to the author in the off-chance that he’d have time to do an interview with us. Mr. Brown was generous enough to answer our questions during his down time at San Diego Comic Con. Check it out!
4LN – Obviously Star Wars had a big impact on you growing up. Can you tell us a little about the how and why you fell in love with Star Wars?
Jeffrey Brown – Every Christmas my parents would give me a Star Wars action figure in my stocking. I would go to the neighborhood dime store and buy packs of Star Wars cards. I would read my Star Wars books over and over. It was just part of the texture of my childhood, and there’s no movie I remember seeing in the theater more vividly than when our babysitter took my brothers and I to see The Empire Strikes Back when it came out.
4LN – Can you tell us what inspired you to write each book?
JB – I had been invited by Google to draw sketches for a possible Father’s Day homepage doodle. They wanted something showing how awkward an everyday father and son moment would be between Luke and Vader, and since my son was four at the time it seemed perfect to make Luke four and put Vader in my shoes as a parent. When Google decided to use a different concept, I was able to take it and turn it into a whole book. With the first book, there really wasn’t room for Leia, but me and my editors at Chronicle and Lucasfilm all knew that if Darth Vader and Son did well enough we had to do a book for Leia, too. One response I’ve gotten for those books is from parents reading them to their children to at bedtime. I thought it would be better if I just made an actual, proper bedtime book for Star Wars, which is the new book, Goodnight Darth Vader. I didn’t want to do just another Goodnight Moon parody, so I took the opportunity to just draw all kinds of characters and creatures going to bed.
4LN – When you got married, did your wife have any idea what was in store for her as far as Star Wars nerdery goes?
JB – She didn’t… I wisely kept the depth of my Star Wars fandom hidden from her.
4LN – Your books are seriously funny. My wife was reading Goodnight Darth Vader (which came out July 22, 2014 – go pick it up) and laughed out loud at the Space Slug/Millennium Falcon panel, and the fact that you used the scene where Yoda (spoiler alert?) is dying for the part where he goes to sleep. This isn’t a question really, I just wanted to tell you that.
JB – Thanks! I like to twist things around, so re-purposing Yoda’s dialogue was funny to me. The ‘Don’t let the space slug bite’ line was one of my favorites.
4LN – As fun as these books must be to write, have you discovered anything difficult about writing them?
JB – It’s gotten harder because I’m sticking mainly to the original trilogy, and I feel like I’ve nearly exhausted that material for how I do things, but even that isn’t all that hard. Things tend to feel easy when they’re fun to make.
4LN – In the back of your book there is an illustration of you and your sons in clone trooper armor, how did you first share your love of Star Wars with your sons?
JB – They’ve worn a lot of Star Wars clothes as babies, and I buy them Star Wars toys, whether they like them or not.
4LN – Do your kids love Star Wars as much as you do?
JB – Not yet, but maybe someday they will. So far, my older son, Oscar, has only seen A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, along with the Clone Wars cartoons. I think there’s so many different things competing for kids’ attentions these days, it’s harder for them to get into one thing. Once he’s old enough to see a new Star Wars movie in the theater, I think that he’ll like it even more. My younger son is only one, but he likes pointing at his Yoda skateboard toy.
4LN – Any advice for nerd parents wanting to share their nerd-obsession with their children?
JB – I think if you’re into something, your kids will either love it like you, or hate it. So you shouldn’t try to… Force it.
4LN – What would you want people to take away from the books you’ve written?
JB – I hope they have fun, have their imagination sparked, and get inspired – the same things I get out of Star Wars.
4LN – You’re obviously a long time fan that is invested in this story, what direction would you like to see the new trilogy take?
JB – Personally, I’d like to see it take whatever direction they want – as a fan, I think I’ll get more enjoyment out of being surprised. I’m sure it’d be fun to be involved in shaping the direction, but nothing beats sitting down in the theater and not knowing what’s coming next. I’m even going to try avoid seeing the trailers…
4LN – How many times a week does J. J. Abrams call you for creative input?
JB – I’m sure it’s dozens, but he must have the wrong phone number?
4LN – How do you feel about the Lucasfilm Story Group no longer considering your books canon (sarcasm)?
JB – I’ve never been too concerned about what’s cannon and what’s not, whether I’m making it or someone else is. I think the Star Wars universe is big enough to allow for all kinds of stories, even contradictory ones.
4LN – Do you have to constantly refresh yourself with the films when you are working on these books, or do you just have an archive of knowledge stored away that you draw from?
JB – I don’t know how much I have to, but I do. I usually have them playing again and again, even in the background while I’m drawing the final art.
4LN – There are a lot of positive morals in the Star Wars films, which can seem kind of abstract to kids watching the movies. You seem to have taken those and sprinkled them into your book Star Wars Jedi Academy, which could have a much larger impact on them. Was this intentional or was it just inherent in the story itself? (Star Wars Jedi Academy 2 is hitting stores TODAY, July 29, 2014 – go get it)
JB – It’s partly inherent, and partly intentional. I try to use parallels to the films in my work, so the morals come through. Or maybe I just have Star Wars morals, since I grew up with them!
4LN – Who is your favorite character from either trilogy and why?
JB – Yoda. He’s just so quirky and funny, doesn’t ever take anything too seriously but has that immense power smoldering underneath his wrinkly skin.
4LN – If you had to pick a favorite movie, which one would you pick and why?
JB – The Empire Strikes Back, because of Hoth, which is very similar to winter in Michigan where I grew up. It also introduces great characters like Yoda, Lando, and Boba Fett.
4LN – Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JB – I’m working on Jedi Academy 3 right now, along with one more book in the Vader series. I’m also taking a break from Star Wars to work on a new middle grade series called Lucy & Andy Neanderthal.
4LN – How often do you dominate your friends in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (assuming they even risk playing with you)?
JB – It’s been a long time since I played, but every time I played I was pretty dominant. Unfortunately, we never played for money!
I want to personally thank Mr. Brown for taking the time out of his day to answer some questions. He is a great guy, and his books are hilarious.
If you’d like to pick up Jeffrey Brown’s work, follow the links below:
Star Wars Jedi Academy 2 (This released TODAY)
Also check out Kids Are Weird: And Other Observations from Parenthood
You can also head over to his blog here.