Inside the creation of Adam Rex's new Star Wars storybook Are You Scared, Darth Vader?
Are You Scared
- TV Show
As those who’ve fallen beneath his lightsaber can attest, Darth Vader is the one who scares. He is not scared in return.
The Dark Side flows through him — not fear.
But a new children’s storybook puts the evil Sith lord to the test as he is besieged by terrifying creatures from our world. Vader maintains his resolve for most of Are You Scared, Darth Vader?, which is new in stores today.
But in the end, it’s the little things that get to him.
Artist and writer Adam Rex, best known for Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, explained his journey to EW:
Entertainment Weekly: You’ve written a book about little kids as they test whether he’s afraid of anything, but this isn’t actually canon.
Adam Rex: [Laughs] No, I don’t think it’s gonna be declared canon. I still have my fingers crossed, but probably not.
How did this concept originate?
I was originally approached about writing possibly a Halloween Star Wars story, so I kicked that idea around for a while, and this is what came out of it. I like the idea of this book presenting itself as a Star Wars introduction to kids who may be glancing at the toy aisle in department stores and seeing the movie posters but aren’t really sure if it’s for them or not.
This brings Vader down to their level.
This gives them an introduction that they can manage, that they can literally manhandle. So by taking the series’ most iconic villain and turning him into their plaything, it will possibly help ease them into the universe. And that’s exactly what has happened with my own 6-year-old.
Was he not fully into Star Wars?
He knew this book before he had seen any of the movies. He was kind of aware of the whole concept of Star Wars, but I’m happy to say he loved this book even though he didn’t really know who Darth Vader was. And now, he loves the movies and I think he has all the respect for Darth Vader as a villain that Darth Vader is owed, but he had the door opened by this book.
It’s a story about kids taking the form of various monsters and scary things, and they’re trying to scare the scariest guy.
Yeah, I think he’s really just more of a put-upon Dad for part of the story. He’s been thrown into the world’s most rambunctious sleep over and he’s just trying to get out of it with his dignity intact.
He’s trying to maintain his sense of cool, or his sense of mystique to these kids. “I’m not scared. You can’t hurt me. I have armor. You can’t fight.”
He spends the entire book touting his unflappable invincibility.
One spread in the book that I wanted to talk specifically about, was Vader trying to relate a monster from our world to something he knows in the galaxy. So a little boy is in the guise of a wolf man. And Vader’s reply is, “Wait. Is that a Wookiee?”
I think that was literally the first thing I wrote. That was my way into this story. I had this kind of vague idea that he would be confronted by some just kind of classic Halloween-ish sort of monsters from our reality, and the first one that really clicked was, ‘Oh, he’s gotta meet a wolf man and think it’s a Wookiee.’ Once I realized that, I understood what the book was going to be, what the voice of the book was going to be. At that point, I honestly didn’t know that there was a kid in that costume yet.
Yeah, that was something that came later as I kept writing. That was the point where I didn’t know where the book was going, but I had the idea of what the flavor of the book was going to be.
Let’s talk about the illustrations. You’ve set it in what looks like the swamp world Dagobah to me.
Yeah, that was the idea. It’s not explicitly said, but I thought it should be a place that we recognize as being a little spooky, but that Vader might recognize it as such, too. I think we all find the Death Star pretty creepy but obviously he’s at home there. I can’t throw him in a haunted house or something. That felt like a little too far. So in all of the Star Wars canon the place I thought Vader might actually be a little unsettled is on Dagobah. So I built this little swamp, and all the backgrounds in the book are my photographs of a model swamp that I made.
Those are real models?
Yes, the portion you see is probably about two and a half feet tall. I sculpted all these little trees and made some set dressing out of dirt and rocks and moss that I bought at art supply stores. And I made this little swamp. And then after photographing that swamp I took a bunch of drawings that I made and super imposed those over the photos.
That’s very retro, like they used to make the old films.
As a kid what really fascinated me about the Star Wars movies is they were building the scale model of the ice planet, Hoth, and making these AT-AT walkers that were three feet high. I loved looking at the behind the scenes photos and the model-making aspect of Star Wars. So when it came time to make my modest little contribution, I wanted to build models myself.
As for the drawings, the monsters and the kids are a little more fun and cartoony, but you went with the traditional, realistic Vader for his depiction.
I wanted him to be the serious straight man at the center of the book. Again, a lot of the book is about him trying to maintain his dignity. I wanted him to have some in the first place. So I made him the serious self-important Vader that we all know before I took him apart a little.
Are there any hidden little Easter eggs, or things that people should look for in the margins of the illustrations?
The most important thing to me is that my son is in there.
Cool! Which one is he?
He is under the ghost sheet. I really made up most of the kids, but my son and his cousin and a friend of my son’s are in the mix in there. He was younger and slowly coming to understand exactly what it was that Dad even did for a living. This was a good way to introduce him to that.
I see him now. He also gets to climb up on Darth Vader’s back in one of the scenes where the kids sort of overwhelm him.
He’s got the biggest close up too, when we really zoom in on Vader, and Vader is finally losing it and said, “All right, make them go away. You win.” Then the kid that … the only other kid that’s in the frame on that one is my son’s big mug, so that was definitely intentional.
Are You Scared