Tom Angleberger obviously has a sharp intellect and a thoughtful way of looking at life. Getting to interview him was a treat, especially for my 11-year old daughter who absolutely loves his Origami Yoda series of books. But Tom is the author of quite a number of books in addition to the Origami Yoda books. In addition to that NY Times bestselling series, Tom is the author of The Qwikpick Papers novels, Fake Mustache, Horton Halfpott, the picture book McToad Mows Tiny Island, Crankee Doodle (which he did with his wife, author and illustrator Cece Bell), Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run (co-authored with Michael Hemphill), and the upcoming Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall!
But Tom is also the author of one of the newest Star Wars novels to be published by Disney Press. He was tapped to do a re-telling of the classic Return of the Jedi story as a way to introduce a new generation of fans to the Star Wars universe. Geared to the middle school crowd (for which Tom seems to have a special knack of relating to), this book I would argue appeals to Star Wars fans of any age. I know it appealed to me. Tom was gracious enough to let me do an interview with him about his newest novel and about writing in general.
Tom, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I really appreciate it. Tell me what inspired you to write the book from the narrator’s point of view? When I read the novel, I couldn’t help but imagine Sebastian Cabot’s voice popping up. Then there were times I thought of the narrator from the 1960’s Batman television series – especially when you added sound effects into your narrative. Did you have any particular voice or style in mind when you wrote it?
I wanted to write the book with a little bit of the Victorian novel flavor that was in my book Horton Halfpott. But I also wanted to give it the breathless, non-stop narration of The Furious Flycycle by Jan Wahl, one of my favorite books as a kid.
As for the sound effects…. when I saw how Tony DiTerlizzi used the sound effects in his picture book, The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, I decided to steal that idea.
You are known most famously for your wonderful Origami Yoda series of books. When I told my 11-year old daughter, Emma, I was going to interview you she said, “Tell him how much I like his books!” She’s read them all and loves them. What was it like writing Yoda from a different perspective? And is he your favorite Star Wars character or do you secretly have another? (My daughter also wanted to know if there would be any more Origami Yoda adventures!)
Wow, I’m so glad your daughter has enjoyed Origami Yoda. I had so much fun writing those books! (The series is over, but we may get to do another how-to book someday…. or who knows maybe another series. “Always in motion the future is…”)
Yes, Yoda is my favorite… with the possible exception of Artoo.
It’s been very strange, after spending so many years writing about Yoda, to have written TWO farewell scenes, one at Dwight’s house and one on Dagobah.
I mentioned in my review of the book that I never thought of the Ewoks as anything more than sweet, loveable teddy bears, but you changed me completely on that. Where did that angle come from on the Ewoks? What made you give that perspective of fierce warrior?
A lot of people underestimate the Ewoks. A lot of people don’t think a bunch of Ewoks could take down Stormtroopers…
That’s what the Emperor thought, too!
These creatures are small, but are also at the top of the food chain on a barbaric, uncivilized world. They’ve got to be ferocious predators just to survive on a daily basis. So just imagine how they’re going to react once they are fighting for their lives.
While written with middle school kids in mind, you also dabble into some deep thinking in your book. I loved in particular the part about Jerjerrod thinking he was really just an architect following orders, but that if he was honest with himself he was contributing to all the cruel things the Empire was doing. Where did that insight come from? What made you want to write about the flipping of buttons and making of elevators?
I think that’s something George Lucas was getting at, but maybe didn’t have time to spell out. The Evil Empire isn’t made up of evil people. It’s made up of people who follow orders, fill out paperwork, wear very nice grey uniforms and don’t ask questions.
The elevators in particular were mentioned as a nod to Tiny Death Star, which is a cute-as-an-8-bit-button game that makes the same point.
What one or two new insights into the Star Wars universe was your favorite to create in writing this book?
One was the idea that having everyone get “captured” by Jabba was actually a lot easier than having everyone try to storm Jabba’s palace. Han may not have been impressed when he first woke up, but Luke’s plan really was a good one.
Another was the idea of having Mon Mothma try to “talk some sense” into Leia. And failing, of course.
I was given this amazing chance to revisit ROTJ armed with so much more information than when I first saw it as a kid. For example, now we know about Anakin’s life, his wife, his padawan … and his three masters.
All that is still in Vader’s head – seething and raging behind his mask, no matter how hard he tries to forget it.
Alright, just a few fun questions to finish things off. I asked these of Alex and was curious what you’re answers would be. What is your favorite book or author?
Among present day authors, one of my very favorites is Grace Lin, who wrote Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky. I really hope she writes a third book that ties in with these because they have some of that Star Wars magic… BIG STORIES with very small characters struggling to overcome long odds.
When you are writing do you have any favorite “go-to” items (favorite food to snack on, favorite place for take out, favorite spot to write, etc.)?
To write Return of the Jedi, I rented a small (VERY SMALL!) office in town and spent many pleasant mornings there poring over movie stills and the movie script.
Curiously, this office was very close to the defunct movie theater where I had first seen ROTJ 30 years before.
If they make a movie about your life, who would play you (assuming it was filmed now instead of twenty years from now)?
Is the guy who played Arvid on Head of the Class available?
And if you could decide to build any Star Wars attraction at a Disney theme park, what would it be?
Since I hear they’re already building a life-size Falcon, let’s do something like:
Breakfast on Bespin, featuring chocolate chip pancakes with your animatronic pals, Lando and Lobot.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Tom! My daughter is such a big fan and she’s inspired me to be a fan of yours as well. Thanks again.
Beware the Power of The Dark Side! comes out in bookstores everywhere and online September 22nd. Pre-order your copies now.