‘Star Wars’ With a Dash of ‘Spiderwick’: Inside Tony DiTerlizzi and Ralph McQuarrie’s Beautiful New Book

by Kevin Polowy, Senior Editor
Yahoo! Movies | October 10, 2014

Like millions of others in this galaxy, Tony DiTerlizzi grew up enamored with the Star Wars universe. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t inspired by Star Wars,” the bestselling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles tells Yahoo Movies. “Since I first watched A New Hope back in 1977, the original Star Wars trilogy imprinted on my creative mind.”

DiTerlizzi’s creative mind melds with the beloved brainchild of George Lucas in the new picture book, Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. The book features the legendarily gorgeous paintings of the trilogy’s original concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie, accompanied by prose by DiTerlizzi that re-tells the first three movies over 60 pages. Consider it a nice introduction to the world of Jedi, droids, and lightsabers for adventurous young readers. And DiTerlizzi, who describes his fandom as “mid-level Padawan,” was long in training the job. “The mythic story structure and world building that went into the production of those films has had a tremendous impact on how I approach creating books for children.”

Then there are the artistic contributions of McQuarrie, the late Oscar-winning conceptual designer and illustrator credited with shaping the visual aesthetics of Lucas’s world. “When it comes to the look of Star Wars, George had the imagination but Ralph had the vision,” DiTerlizzi says. “Ralph’s talent was immense. He was combining the designs of several other artists into one concise image. He would compose elements of costume, architecture, artifact and spaceship design into a widescreen-ratio scaled image, painted in a controlled color palette to create mood. And, he did all of this with acrylic and gouache paint — no computers.” The artwork shows the franchise’s seminal scenes and characters, but often in dramatically different form from their final screen versions.

DiTerlizzi cites the prototypical images of C-3PO and R2-D2 in Tatooine and Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber as some of his favorite McQuarrie paintings. “The characters are clearly early incarnations,” he explains. The images convey the creative dialogue happening between “George and Ralph — not unlike L Frank Baum creating Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, and W.W. Denslow illustrations bringing them to life The Wizard of Oz. This is pure risk-taking creative process and it is amazing to see it in these paintings.”

The Caldecott Medal-winning author says this book marks the first time he’s gotten to professionally explore Star Wars, but when talking with students he’ll often use the saga as an example “for introducing story archetypes and themes, since so many of us are familiar with it.” When it came to writing the book, “I reflected on what aspects of the story meant most to me as a kid and as a parent. There are many themes present in the three films, but the one I felt worked best for a picture book was the theme of family. Luke Skywalker starts out as an orphan, raised by his aunt and uncle — just like Cinderella or Harry Potter. In the end, Luke discovers his sister and redeems his father. To me, that is a theme that strikes an emotional chord deeper than farm boy-turned-Jedi knight.”

Just don’t call The Adventures of Luke Skywalker “fan fiction.” Says DiTerlizzi: “Where, as I understand it, fan fiction takes known characters and creates new stories with them, I am simply retelling George’s story for a younger reader. True, it is in my voice and I do keep the focus on Luke and the theme on family, but otherwise I tried to remain faithful to the films. I believe it is more of an adaptation. “But am I a fan? YES.”

Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.