Across Vader & Son and its three follow ups — Vader’s Little Princess, Goodnight Darth Vader, and Darth Vader and Friends — cartoonist Jeffrey Brown has given us a treasure trove of heartwarmingly funny insight into the weirdest parent/child relationship of the galaxy far, far away. But Brown’s latest dive into Star Wars wants to bring that approach to its next generation.
Releasing later this month from Chronicle Books, Rey and Pals marks the first time that Brown’s Eisner Award-winning Star Wars cartooning breaks out of the original trilogy of movies (and a brief sidestep into the prequel era for the Jedi Academy kids books) and into the worlds and time period of the sequel movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Collecting a gallery of new artwork from Brown, Rey and Pals follows along as Rey and her friends—Rose, Finn, Poe, BB-8, the porgs, and yes, even an angry little boy named Ben, and a few of his villainous mates from the First Order—deal with the biggest threats the kids of Star Wars can face.
…Mainly playtime-based ones. What, you thought these kiddie versions of our heroes would be out fighting a galactic civil war? Absolutely not! Rey and Pals is concerned less with wars among the stars and more with the sorts of things we expect kids to be concerned with: adults being boring roadblocks on the way to fun, dealing with the almighty power of the finders keepers rule, and playing games of red rover.
We recently got to speak to Brown about his process bringing his cartoony aesthetic to the era of the Star Wars sequels, about writing for characters whose arcs we won’t fully realise until The Rise of Skywalker hits theatres later this year, and perhaps the most important debate of our times: BB-8 or porgs? Check out the interview below, as well as a look at some of the art from the book.
Whitbrook: Why was now the right time for you to tackle the sequel era in this line of books?
Jeffrey Brown: I had a good break from making Star Wars books, getting to watch the new movies as a fan. But drawing Star Wars is always fun, I was starting to get ideas, and after wrapping up my middle grade Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series, a new Star Wars book was the perfect palate cleanser before starting my next series.
Whitbrook: Of the sequel characters, who were you most excited to get to “work with”? Was there an unexpected favourite you developed over the course of creating the book and designing the characters?
Brown: I’ve loved watching more and more kids dress up as Rey at conventions, and had been getting requests to draw her, so she was certainly at the top of the list, along with BB-8. Finn, Rose, and Hux were also fun. But I really wish there had been more space for the fathier caretaker kids — I feel like there could be a whole book about them.
Whitbrook: On your prior Star Wars books, you were working with characters and iconography so established that, even simplified, they’re immediately recognisable. Were there any particular roadblocks integrating the characters and worlds of the sequel movies into your style for this new book?
Brown: The biggest hurdle was figuring out how to draw Leia, Han, and Luke. Luke was probably the easiest, because beards make everything easier, but it was difficult to find the right balance to make those three look older, but not too old, and still have the kind of warmth and cuteness they had in the Vader books.
Some of the costuming took a bit of figuring out as well — Kylo’s helmet has quite a bit of detail, so simplifying that was another bit that took extra work. Another aspect of Kylo was his scar, which appeared in all of my idea sketches with helmet-less Kylo, but didn’t feel right for the full colour drawings both in look and tone.
Whitbrook: What was the process in the early stages of figuring out scenarios for Rey and Pals like, given that it’s now the latest in a line of books you’ve done? Do you have any fun anecdotes from that early process?
Brown: Like the previous Vader books, the first step in the process was to come up with a ton of ideas. I found a lot of my initial ideas leaned more toward gags that didn’t have the kind of warmth or charm that I managed to capture in the first books, and it took some time to get back to those feelings. It’s strange, but every time I’ve done one of these books, I do about a dozen initial concepts to give Lucasfilm an idea of what the overall feel of the book will be, and every time all but one or two of those ideas make it into the book.
Whitbrook: While Vader and Son and Little Princess focused on parent-child relationships, here you’re dealing more a group of characters that are more friends (and occasionally foes, in Kylo’s case). How did that dynamic change the tone of the scenarios you wanted to explore for Rey and Pals?
Brown: With the first two books, even when other characters come into play, they’re still interacting within the scope of parenting, and that gave each situation a kind of baseline. With Rey and Pals it was all more up in the air, with lots of different relationships. In the end, I focused on the feeling of family through friendship, which is something that Rey, Finn, Rose, and Poe all kind of share in the new movies.
Whitbrook: On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it not to just put porgs in every illustration?
Brown: I would say 5. I had a really good joke with Chewbacca eating porgs that didn’t make the cut, no matter how hard I tried to push for it to be included.
Whitbrook: And on that note, of the cuter additions to Star Wars in the sequel era, who was the most fun to deal with, the porgs or BB-8?
Brown: I really like how much depth there is to BB-8’s character — the porgs are cute and fun, but don’t have as much personality to work with. There’s also something really satisfying about colouring in BB-8’s orange bands.
Whitbrook: In the original trilogy-era books, you’re dealing with relationships that, while malleable in the context of these books, are clearly known and established to Star Wars fans — we know Luke and Vader’s journey together, we know Luke and Leia’s relationship with each other. Rey and her friends’ stories are still more nebulous to the audience, so was the potential to explore those relationships more freeing to you as a storyteller because of that, or a new challenge?
Brown: It was definitely a challenge. I had to keep to what was in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi without closing off possibilities, so I wasn’t able to explore as much; with the OT characters there’s so much more material beyond the movies to draw on, and I could use what people were familiar with to switch things up unexpectedly. Rey and Kylo are still having their stories shaped and built up, and it’s going to be another 40 years before they have roots and branches as expansive at the characters from A New Hope.
Whitbrook: Speaking of which, given the unknown when it comes to these characters, what was the process working with Lucasfilm like this time a round? Were any ideas for the book nixed because they might’ve contrasted with reveals we could expect down the line?
Brown: I thought maybe some jokes were rejected because, but I don’t know, it’s all poker faces there! There were some jokes that were rejected and I found myself wondering: Was it because it hints at something in the new film, or because it went the opposite direction of where the new film leads? But then I was asking [Lucasfilm’s] Leland Chee about that possibility, and he said it was really all about the jokes and how everyone felt about them. I don’t mind, I like going seeing the new films not knowing anything and being surprised.
Whitbrook: You’ve tackled the originals, now you’ve tackled the sequels… you’ve also done the Jedi Academy series, but is there any chance we might see an Ahsoka and Pals in your future?
Brown: I have to admit I’m still behind on watching Rebels, though I enjoyed Clone Wars and what I’ve watched of Rebels. So I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle Ahsoka yet, but I really loved both Rogue One and Solo…maybe there’s some young Lando stories to be told. Or if I can figure out how to keep a book about Jyn and K-2SO from being too dark. And, of course, I’ve only drawn a handful of pages dealing with the prequels, which leaves a ton of possibilities that doesn’t even include what Star Wars films and shows are still to come.
Rey and Pals hits shelves on August 20.