With his new book Darth Vader and Son, cartoonist Jeffrey Brown answers one of the great hypothetical questions of the Star Wars universe: What if Darth Vader raised Luke Skywalker? In a series of single panel comics, we see Darth Vader attempting to run the Empire while still being a good father to young Luke. Brown shares the inspiration behind Vader and Son, explains Vader's fatherly qualities, and teases his Princess Leia follow-up.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Jeffrey Brown: It was back in 2010, and I got a call from I guy I knew who's one of the Google Doodle designers. You know, they do the artwork on the home page, and sometimes they have a holiday or a special day and they'll get someone outside of Google to do the drawing for that particular day. And so he was calling me about maybe doing something for Father's Day, and the idea of it, that he and a coworker had come up with, was something playing on how awkward family dinners or holidays would be with Darth Vader and Luke, like in standard father and son situations. And so I sat down, and my son was four at the time, and so immediately the idea of Luke as a four-year-old and putting Darth Vader through these same trials that, as a parent, I was going through at the time, so not wanting to go to bed, and making a snack and so on. And so I did a bunch of sketches and in the end, Google decided to go with a different idea for that Father's Day. But by then I was really attached to the idea, so I asked them, could I take this idea and make a book out of it? And they're like sure! So I took it to Chronicle and Chronicle took it to LucasFilm and here we are.
For me, it was a very personal project, not just writing about a father-son relationship, but I grew up with Star Wars, and I still have all these Star Wars drawings that I did as a kid. So not just to do that, but also have it be officially licensed by LucasFilm, and to really be able to be true to my experience with the films, it was really fun and rewarding.
Have you gotten any feedback from George Lucas?
The only thing I heard is that he asked for additional copies, which is pretty exciting.
So has your son watched the Star Wars movies?
He hasn't yet. I think maybe for his birthday this year I'll start letting him watch them. He's not quite old enough. It's funny, because he knows all the characters and vehicles from playing with them. He has a bunch of Star Wars toys. He has a bunch of Star Wars Legos. He has some books. He has shirts with R2-D2 and Chewbacca. So it's kind of like, even though he hasn't sent he films, he knows a lot of them already.
Does he have an attachment to Jar Jar Binks?
No, his favorite so far is really R2-D2. One of the things we'll do actually is he'll have me draw R2-D2 for him to color. So I'll just draw dozens and dozens of R2-D2s, and he just sits there and colors them. It's kind of fun.
I tend to associate you with having these really funny but really sad books (I love Clumsy). And this book is really sad, because it makes you think about how none of this really happened. Did you feel sad when you were coming up with these?
No, no. One of the things about the autobiographical work is that it's about coming to terms with all the sad, awful parts of relationships and in knowing that that's part of what makes it all worthwhile. It sucks at the time, but ten years later, you look back and you're like, "Oh, that wasn't so bad. I'm glad I went through that." So maybe that's what Darth Vader is thinking, "I'm glad I was evil and killed people over the years, because at the end, I made up with my son." Something like that.
So you have a more optimistic view of Darth Vader.
Yeah, I mean I try not to dwell on regrets. Things like that. Yeah, just focus on the positive.
How much of Oscar is in young Luke Skywalker?
Well, quite a bit. I guess it's skewed, but I think that Oscar has a slightly different personality. He's a little bit of a show-off and a performer. So he's trying to act in front of people and make funny faces. He's a little bit of a class clown and he also likes to draw. So there are maybe those things that don't show up. But there are things like making a meal for him and having him kind of look at it like "I don't like this," and coming back to the bowl of cereal. Or trying to get him to go to bed. I think all those kinds of experiences with a four to five-year-old that I drew on, my personal experiences.
Is there any way that you relate to Darth Vader?
I think what I tried to get at was that your kids do these things that are so unbelievably frustrating, and you just have to bite your tongue or you just have to put up with it. So I just tried to put Darth Vader through that. I think the difference there is that for him it's got to be even more aggravating because he's this powerful Sith Lord ruling the Empire and yet he has this four-year-old and he's just got to kind of take it.
So you have one panel where Leia shows up. Do you have some parallel story for Leia?
Well, I could have done more with Leia, but personally just in terms of making it more straightforward and sweet, bringing Leia or more of the other characters in would have been too much, would have made it more complicated. And then you have to get into making the book more narrative. But I do have a follow-up in mind for Leia. I won't spoil any details about that yet, but I have a plan for her.
Have you done any Vader and Leia comics?
I've just sketched out some basic ideas of what that follow-up would be like. The only thing I'll say is that it's Leia as the rebellious teenager.
That's very appropriate! Are you basing this off of any real-life rebellious teenagers?
I may have to do some more research with friends who have teenage daughters — or were teenage daughters. So that book will be maybe a little less personal, but maybe thinking a little more about myself growing up and when I was in high school and my friends, just things we all did.
What do you imagine that Darth Vader wants for his son? What would Luke Skywalker grow up to be if he'd had Darth Vader around as his father?
Yeah, I think that maybe he just would have grown up to be an entitled, bratty kid. Like here's Vader who's got all this trouble with the Death Star, but he's got to leave to go bail Luke out of trouble or something. I have this idea of Luke ruining Vader's career, but more unintentionally. Like he's just refusing to join Vader because he's just not interested, or he has some sense that it's wrong.
He's just totally disinterested in evil?
Yeah, he's like, "Uch, Dad! Why are you always having to choke people? It's so embarrassing."
I think for Vader, and this happens in the movies, too, he wants his son to join him in this evil, but at the same time, he's got to be careful about it. So he's trying to not be evil, but he's totally going to be evil. Like, "No, no, I'm just your dad here. But we'll be an evil leader together."
You do get the impression that he loves his son more than he values his career.
It's one of those things that even in real life as a parent, you've got to have a job and you've got to work and you can't always be there all the time, but that love is still there. It's kind of the universal thing.
Do you get the impression that the people who work for Vader are more or less afraid of him with a son?
I think they're equally afraid. You know, they've got to be careful, too. It's kind of like the real world. If your boss brings their kid to work and their kid is actually annoying, you can't say anything or you'll get fired. So all these guys have to put up with it or they get choked.
Luke gravitates toward the less cool, more kiddie aspects of the Star Wars universe, like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. Did you gravitate more toward the cute stuff when you were younger?
I've got to say, I loved the Ewoks. It's hard for me, because I haven't really been around kids that were seeing that when those movies [the prequels] came out. I was around my friends who were in their 20s at the time. So it's hard to have that perspective. I mean, it's also weird how much kids like Disney princess stuff. It's tough, because on the one hand you want your kid to like what you like. On the other hand, at some point you have no control over that.
Do you have a preferred order for showing the movies to your son?
I'm thinking I want to show him the order in which I saw them, starting with the first Star Wars, then Empire, then Jedi, and then the prequels. I think for me there is something really pure and fantastic that first Star Wars film, and I think partially because it was made without — there's so much baggage by the time Lucas made episodes one, two, and three that it was just impossible to make those films the way the first Star Wars — or even Empire and Jedi. Like, the expectations and people's perceptions and whether you try to let that affect you or not. So, yeah, the idea of that first Star Wars film being his first Star Wars film, I think I like that idea.