Tony DiTerlizzi’s 7-year-old daughter Sophia already is a huge Star Wars nerd, and he’s getting ready to spread the love to a whole new generation of fans.
The children’s picture book The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight (out Tuesday) kicks off a new series of Star Wars books from Disney Publishing for the younger set. Older sci-fi geeks will love it, too, because it retells George Lucas’ original Star Wars movie trilogy using the artwork of conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie.
McQuarrie, an Oscar-winning illustrator who also worked on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the original Battlestar Galactica, was one of the first artists tapped by Lucas in the mid-1970s to begin visualizing what his Star Wars universe would look like.
“It’s such a great experience to look into that process of visualizing this world that we all know and love so much as it was being formed,” says DiTerlizzi, 45, the author, artist and co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles series with Holly Black. He will appear at New York City’s Books of Wonder on Oct. 11 for the third annual Star Wars Reads Day, and DiTerlizzi also is on a Star Wars/Star Trek panel at New York Comic Con Oct. 12.
The writer talks with USA TODAY about working on the new book, McQuarrie’s influence and how today’s generation connects with Star Wars differently than his did.
Q. While working on the new book, I hear you hung out in the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch.
A. I got to go where all good little nerds go when they die. I’m thinking they’re going to take me to an art room — but there’s R2-D2, the Ark of the Covenant (from Raiders of the Lost Ark), Indiana Jones’ entire costume, Stormtroopers, all the ships. I didn’t even want to look at the art, I just wanted to look at all the props!
Q. Did they let you take any selfies?
A. No, but I touched everything. I’m like, “I’m going to touch stuff until they tell me to stop touching stuff.” I mean, the Ark of the Covenant is not in the crate or anything. It’s just sitting there. I’m like, “That’s the Ark! Don’t open the lid!”
Q. How early were you exposed to Star Wars and McQuarrie’s involvement?
A. If I rewind back to that period, I was 8 in 1977 when Star Wars was in theaters. I saved up money or my parents got me the Art of Star Wars book. Prior to that, I don’t recall there being a lot of books that focused on the visual production that went into a fillm, especially an imaginative one.
I also had The Star Wars Sketchbook, and as a kid I endlessly copied out of those books. Ralph’s paintings were right in there, the developmental sketches for Darth Vader and Chewbacca and the droids. That sense of world-building and trying to find the right design and feel of all these interlocking pieces from the character, that would prove incredibly formative for me as a storyteller and world-builder now.
Q. Was there anything tricky in crafting the classic story alongside McQuarrie’s designs?
A. Interestingly though, in some of the paintings because they were probably done early on when the script was bring written, I found certain discrepancies. For instance, Luke’s hand is never cut off in the big battle scene in Empire Strikes Back. In the two paintings I saw from Empire, he has both hands.
You don’t want to say something different from the films. I would assume that many of the readers also love the films and have seen them 9 million times like me. So I said something along the lines of Luke was wounded by Darth Vader’s lightsaber, but more so by the truth. You’re saying it in a more poetic way but it’s also not going against what’s in the film.
Q. How did you go about tackling Star Wars for a young age level? I would imagine certain themes would hit a 4-year-old different than, say, a teenager or an adult.
A. The economy of words and pictures and page count dictated that right off the bat that we would have to focus on Luke, which is great. All our beloved picture books for the most part do the same — Where the Wild Things Are focuses on Max’s journey and not other characters.
Then it’s a matter of reflecting back on what excited me about these films when I was young. What have I carried on over the years when I think on these movies and smile or they’re on TV and I watch them or now watching them with my daughter?
There are so many great themes, you have to pluck the one you think is going to feel relatable to a 4- or 5-year-old. And for me, it was about family. I really homed in and focused on the fact that Luke longed for adventure, he longed to go out and explore and do these things, but in the end what he finds is a sister he never knew he had, a father who he saves and redeems and a close-knit group of friends like Han Solo.
Q. Does Star Wars have a certain demographic that is its sweet spot?
A. It’s tough, I feel like it’s changed so much in the time that I was in grade school to now. There’s so much more Star Wars stuff. The good vs. evil thing and the learning of the Force, children now are much more versed in it and accustomed to it. They’ve grown up playing LEGOs, they’ve grown up watching television shows, they’ve grown up with the toys. I feel they’re much more savvy.
Q, Does your daughter connect with the overall Star Wars saga in a different way than you did?
A. Being a girl, right off the bat she’s asked why there were not more female characters in the original trilogy and even in the prequels. There’s a strong female character for sure (in Leia), but she wanted to know where the others were — something that wouldn’t have occurred to me at all.
The other things that I feel has changed in the generations — the ’70s kids vs. the kids today — is when Star Wars came out in ’77, the toys came out the next year. But Star Wars did not come out on VHS until after Return of the Jedi (in 1983). In that entire time, I played with my Star Wars toys and I had no major reference — I was just recalling the film from the couple of times I had seen it in the theater. There was a lot of imagination going on.
It certainly wasn’t like it is today where you just click a button and you just keep watching it over and over again. That had an incredible impact on my relationship with this film that’s different than perhaps kids may have today.
Kids enjoy it — my daughter included, because she knows I really like it and it means a lot to me. And then I have to ask myself, why does it mean so much to me and the generation that grew up on it?
Q. What’s your answer to that?
A. That scene (in Star Wars) where Luke looks at the two suns setting, even as a kid that sense of leaving home and wanting to see the world, I remember really relating to that. I don’t know if I was manipulated by the music and the cinematography but it worked.
You had spaceships that I loved, aliens and monsters I also loved, and these amazing swashbuckling heroes I also loved. There was nothing like that at the time. It was like all your favorite things in one film.
Q. Is Star Wars your daughter’s favorite thing?
A. (Laughs) We’re going as Star Wars (characters) this year for Halloween. I have pushed for it many years and gotten denied many years. But she wants to be Princess Leia on a Tauntaun. She kept asking, “Why doesn’t Leia ride a Tauntaun (in Empire Strikes Back)?” “I don’t know, but if you want to ride a Tauntaun, you’ll ride a Tauntaun.”
Q. Today’s generation will be raised on a new trilogy beginning with next year’s Episode VII. As a superfan, what do you most want to see in that?
A. There’s such a hope against insurmountable odds in the original trilogy that you knew wasn’t going to be accomplished in the prequels. You knew as an adult how that was going to end. I would hope that that kind of optimistic, hopeful sense is in these newer films. That Luke Skywalker moment where he looks out at the suns, there’s a hope there.
Over all those films, as dark as they got in places, there was still a lightness to them. They were balanced very well — bad things happened, then good things happened. And at the end there’s a crazy barbecue at the Ewok village. It could be cheesy, but you needed that.